After the sweep of my summer–those hours at my desk facing west, the late nights of typing, revising, drafting–my expectations are now skewed. I’d forgotten the give and take of writing, the crippling anxiety of a blank page, the ache akin to the moment before a panic attack.
This summer was a beast. I was a riding on a wave of adrenaline, of a schedule so full I didn’t have time to question my actions. I just wrote. I wrote every night and day until that draft of AFOT was done. (The title’s acronym is no longer AFOT, but for the sake of consistency and, as a nod to what the book once was, I shall keep referring to it as AFOT.)
It’s December and I graduate in May and senior year is nearly half way over and, SURPRISE, I intend to rewrite AFOT (again) between now and April, when my thesis–new (and perhaps improved) AFOT–is due. I promised one of my instructors that this will be my last go at it, that after this rewrite, I’ll move onto the book that’s been waiting so patiently for the last few years.
After April, unless extreme circumstances arise, AFOT will go into the drawer for a minimum of five (three?) years and my attention will be given to my fourth book.
This fact stresses me out. It always hurts to walk away, even if only for a short time.
The thing is, it won’t be the first time. An earlier version, the version I penned at thirteen, was in the drawer (well, mostly in the drawer, it slipped out a few times) for 2008 and 2009. During those years, I wrote another book. It was decent. It gained significant interest, but that interest fell flat. I was sixteen, then seventeen, and it was urban fantasy and I couldn’t get my mind to fill in plot holes, and then emotional cracks formed in my real life, and as a means of escape, I needed to return to Audrey, to AFOT, needed to retell Audrey’s story because she was whispering in my ear at night and I finally understood a bit more.
So I did a heavy revision of AFOT in late 2009. Again, an agent was interested, she’d requested the revision. Naturally, she disappeared, literally was removed from her management website, and that was that. I needed a break. I moved to Colorado Springs, and then to Humboldt County, and in Humboldt County, in spring 2011, Audrey whispered firefirefire, and I needed to know, was desperate to know. But at that point, for all of that year, I was sprinting to get into Colorado College–unable to produce much outside of coursework and applications essays and silly poetry and ranting blogs. So it wasn’t until summer 2012–after a sinus surgery that left me couch-bound for longer than I anticipated–that I was able to retell the story and bring in the fire. I wrote that draft in a month, then returned to school, where the Block Plan is such a beast that weeks often drip in one heave.
The heave of my junior year led to this summer. A challenge was sparked in June and I rewrote AFOT again–this time in present tense, at the suggestion of Ellen Hopkins–and I came closer to comprehending what happened that autumn, what Audrey did and didn’t do, what she said and didn’t say. But the fire remained elusive, smoke prevented clarity. I tried, I wrote until I couldn’t sit or type because of the physical pain, I took the book to the highest place it’s ever been. Yet I knew it still wasn’t there.
This September, I planned on letting AFOT brew for awhile. I slipped it into drawer-land with every intention of turning to my Mormon Book.
But, of course, in November, I was sitting in bed, wishing I was asleep because I had to wake for Astronomy in five hours, yet for whatever reason was staring at the weather app on my phone–scrutinizing Colorado Springs’s highs and lows with Eugene’s and Seattle’s and Fairbanks’s and Trabuco Canyon’s–when a wave hit. It sounds so fucking cheesy, so absurd and trite, my character whispering, elements of the story smacking at random, but that’s how it works for me. I can’t plot. I sometimes have a to do list of things that might/should happen, but I can’t plot. I write for the same reason I read: to understand, to get to end, to know what the hell happened.
So I was obsessing over the weather, and the absurdest truth of AFOT glared into focus. A truth that requires, basically, a total reshaping of the original plot. A main character’s age changes by four years. A significant subplot disappears. Someone who died now lives. A relationship is reformed and dimmed, just a bit. A house burns. More secrets twist into view.
Right then, I changed my plans. Mormon Book, I promise, I’ll give you my time so very soon (somehow), but until spring, until the last May snow melts, AFOT deserves my attention. For a decade, I’ve been mishearing, blinded by a lie of a subplot, and not seeing the true stakes of the story. And now, now I’m more intrigued by the fire than ever before, more enraptured by its allure.
I still don’t quite know what happened. What spark fed the initial flame. But that’s good. It means I’ll have to write to find out. So give me the will to find summer’s momentum, to turn off the anxiety, to treat my carpal tunnel and accept my exhaustion but write anyway. I need to tell this story. For me. Me now, at twenty-two, and me at thirteen, who listened to Audrey’s first lie.
On another note, last week was much colder than I anticipated (-14 at one point, still snowing now), as emphasized by the images of the snow I’ve posted as I wrote of summer and writing and total rubbish. Cold. Cold. Cold.
I’m officially prepared for Alaska.
I officially need to go to bed.