I find I have to work on something, even if it’s the wrong thing, for the right thing to come to me. I have what I call nurse-log novels. A nurse log is a dead tree from which new saplings can take root in all that rich decomposing soil. A nurse-log novel is a dead novel, one that I’ll never publish, but that gives life to sapling books.
Somehow, writing Monday’s post on Tuesday doesn’t bring as much guilt if the Monday in question was a holiday. That’s good to know, and an important part of this whole figuring out what I’m doing as a writer thing. I’d never heard of a nurse-log novel before I read today’s quote, but as soon as I did, it resonated, because I do that as well. I’ve learned that I need to be telling some story, or I’m going to drift off into open water, out of sight of land, and nobody wants that to happen. Some might say that it’s counterproductive to work on something nobody else (or only a very few select people) will ever see, and at one time, I would have agreed, but now, I don’t.
Most weeks, I don’t set out with a theme for my blog entries, but when I hit on today’s quote, it fell into place. I will accept that gift. Over the last few hectic years, I’ve started book after book, and they all, at different points, peter out. Doesn’t matter how many words I count (I have since understood that’s not how I work in the draft stage) or how long I bash my head against the wall in pursuit of some “should,” if the book doesn’t have life in it, it’s not going to live. Some stories are not viable, and that’s that. Sad thing for any writer to admit, but true, and, I would argue, necessary, though that doesn’t mean that the non-viable story was wasted.
I’ve learned some valuable things from these books-that-wouldn’t. One, Regency is not my thing. I tried. I really, really tried. The whole plot of I Would Know You fits with my brand. Star crossed lovers make it work out in the end, even though they both think the other is dead, and with good reason. There’s a creepy villianess who loves her brother too much and not in the right way, my heroine has a passion in life other than the hero, the connection between them is strong, the plot makes sense…but it felt like moving popsicle stick puppets around a cardboard box stage. As long as I was with my lovers, I was on fire. Regency things come into play, and it was like dumping a bucket of lukewarm water on that fire. A longterm critique partner, finally having had enough of my “why won’t this book worrrrrrk?” whining finally gave me the answer. “You hate writing Regency.”
Umm, what? Nononono, Regency sells. Regency is the most popular setting. Agent who shot down my medieval said write a Regency and send it to her.
“But you hate writing Regency.”
We had a few rounds of this, with decreasingly vehement protestations from me. She’s right. Regency is a perfectly lovely and popular period, but it isn’t for me as a writer. If that ever changes, fine, but I am now under stern warnings to Not Try To Write Regency or critique partner will come after me with bladed weapons. This story will still happen, though probably in the Georgian era, which seems to be my current default, or possibly Edwardian if I want to try something different by that time.
Then there’s the Time Travel That Has Had Many Titles. :long exhalation of breath: I describe this as the book where it and I glare at each other from our separate corners, come together in the middle, beat the crud out of each other and retreat to lick our wounds and glare again until the next round. Maybe I’ve created a supervillian (or hero?) here; I don’t know. What I do know is that I let too many voices into my head here, tried to please everybody and ended up losing my hold on two characters I love like very few others. (Yes, I do have favorites.) Still waiting for the toxins to drain from that one so that I can revive it, which will likely involve chucking everything I previously wrote and starting from scratch. (Those in the know, that scene will stay, though. It’s essential.) It’s not a contemporary romance, it’s not a fantasy novel, it’s not a romantic suspense. It’s a time travel. No, not the hottest subgenre at the moment, but that’s the story the way it came to me, so that’s what it’s going to be.
There are others, more of a mulch pit than a nurse log. The American Revolution novel that rebelled against me, because I had my hero on the wrong side. I tried, I really did, and it would have had a home, but no matter how glad I am to be an American, my hero wasn’t, and I couldn’t make him. (Honestly, I think they’d both probably rather stay in the islands than go back to that mess.) If I ever were able to master real-life time travel, I’d go back and rescue two collaborations that fizzled due to other life committments, because I do love those stories, and I think, maybe someday…. Who knows? Maybe. Stories started in genres I decided not to pursue go in that mulch pile. Short bits of things written during writing group exercises, an unfinished fanfic that I stopped in midstride because it really wanted to be a historical romance. Okay, a few of them. Writing fanfic helped me accept that historical romance is my home, and I am grateful to it for that.
I keep an index card file now, soon to be more than one, with bits of mulch that I can combine to properly fertilize the stories that will go out into the world. This, too, is part of how I work, and the books that do make it will be all the richer for it.