A lot of people have been asking me variations of the same question…why is it taking me so long to finish Belinda Starr and the Metallic Enchantment? (Read: I mean, good grief, Sarah, you’ve been working on this thing for years! No more drafts! Just finish it already!) Let’s see if I can tackle this one with an analogy, and since I’m sitting here writing this while smacking my lips, yearning for a glass of ice water, I’ll make it a water analogy.
Picture, if you will, a giant reservoir of water. Oh, and you’re thirsty. …Really freaking thirsty. Attached to this reservoir are several pipes with valves, but you have to try several wrong pipes before you can get to the right one, the one that will spout out a glorious rush of sweet, perfect water. Some of the pipe valves are rusted over and only produce nasty rust-colored water. Other valves are difficult to turn and by the time it finally budges, only a trickle of water drips out for your parched tongue. Some of the pipes produce an okay flow, but it just tastes…off. …Like your husband’s been making tea in it and the tea bag is his balled-up sweaty wool socks.
I hope this analogy gives you a taste of why I’ve been working on my first novel for almost three years. If you’re a writer or have ever taken on a project this big before, you might not need such a picture painted for you. You’ve been to the museum. You know what’s up. You know what I mean when I say that never have I done anything so exhausting, so daunting, so maddening…and yet so central to my livelihood and well-being. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever loved doing. I didn’t have to work half this hard to get my BA. Yup. That’s right—in case no one’s told you, writing a novel, especially an epic fantasy, is hard. Six drafts of “Belinda Starr” later, I’m still hacking away at the dirt clump, trying to find the fossil of story beneath it (reference Stephen King).
When I started “Belinda” in 2013, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted, I just knew I wanted to write a 7 (or 8) part middle grade fantasy series. I completed the first draft of the first book, and as a rough draft does, it stunk.
Months later, the second draft was born. It was…eh…okay, but it still had the stinky, rusty remnants of the first draft. I was not pleased. I went back and forth between polishing drafts, producing new ones and taking long, antagonizing breaks, where I plugged away at other projects, all while pining for my dearest Bel. I wrote a few other stories. I honed my craft. I became a better writer. I set deadlines. Some of them I met. Others laughed at me as they went by, cackling like some sort of malicious time monster.
Sometime last year, I threw most of “Belinda” in the trash, because try as I might, I couldn’t get those “bits of rust” to disappear. Most of the characters were mundane or weak. The plot was far-fetched and too complicated. It had a few good characters and some exciting action sequences, but it was just not up to par. In the following months, I watched a lot of Brandon Sanderson lectures, read other middle grade fantasy novels and “how-to” writing books as well as countless articles from writing blogs such as “Writers Write”. I started over, and no, not completely over, because even though I pulled up a new blank word document, the heart of Belinda, most of its characters and the feel of the story, was still waiting for me in the reservoir. I just had to find the right pipe.
Last December, I took a good long look at what it is that I, Sarah, actually want to write. I listened to my squishy insides, and it told me a story. I listened. I went back to the drawing board. I nixed a lot of stuff from the original drafts that while cool in a sense, were just not working. I killed my darlings, as King would say.
Last month, I started to write the “Belinda” manuscript again. As of today, I am two chapters and one vague outline into the seventh draft, which in a lot of ways, is first draft. It’s a first draft with bits of soul from the first six resting in its newborn body. And while I can’t promise anything, I have this really amazing feeling that I’ve at last found the correct pipe. I’ll let you know. I’m still turning the valve.