I'm back again with another Waking From Innocent Dreams author update. In my last email, I wrote about traveling to New Hampshire and working on one of the most challenging sections of the book, Act 2A. If you missed that update, you can find it in the newsletter archives on my website.
My time in New Hampshire admiring the Loons and other wildlife must have been inspiring because, during my last week there, I had a breakthrough. I came up with the idea of writing one chapter as a “day in the life” of Nelson, where we follow my character throughout a typical workday. I have seen this technique used effectively on the TV show House, which I have been binge-watching over the summer.
I thought this style of storytelling might be a fun and exciting way to show the challenges that I faced while working in my first job out of college as a Database Administrator for a local bank. The concept was so clear in my mind that I wrote the entire chapter in a single day, all 2200 words of it. For context, on a typical day, I will write anywhere from 150 to 300 words, and on a great day, I can complete a 500-word scene.
Thrilled with my progress, I returned home from New Hampshire confident that I could complete the next several chapters of Act 2A in a matter of days when I hit a wall. As creative blocks go, it was not that bad, but the last three chapters of this section took a lot longer than I had anticipated. One reason for the delay was the addition of new scenes, which can take a lot of mental effort to write. There is just so much to consider when adding a scene, from where it takes place, to who's in it, to what is being discussed, to how it effects the rest of the plot.
Over the years, I’ve learned that writing often comes in stops and starts, but the seesaw nature of this progress can be emotionally challenging at times. Some days you feel like you’re on top of the world, and on other days you feel like a complete fraud. My favorite quote on this subject comes from the great screenwriter Aaron Sorkin who said:
“One of the mentally challenging aspects of being a writer is that most days you don’t write. You wake up in the morning, and you go to bed at night, not having written anything, it’s a demoralizing feeling. On the other hand, on the days you did write, and you wrote something good, you feel like you can fly.”
If the great Aaron Sorkin struggles to make progress every day, then I’m ok with this section of the book taking longer than expected. Even with the delays, I’m very close to being done with Act 2A. All I have left to do is finish rewriting two scenes, and then do a round of editing and polishing on the 12 chapters that make up this section. With any luck, I’ll be working on Act 2B within the next two weeks.
Another development that happened over the past month was the removal of several scenes that take place at my alma mater Wentworth Institute of Technology. Cutting these scenes was a tough decision for two reasons. One, I had some excellent material, including a scene where my roommates barricaded my bedroom door with all the furniture from our suite, and two because it means leaving out a bunch of friends. I like mentioning my friends because it’s my way of saying that their friendship was important to me, but these scenes didn’t fit into the new story arc, so they had to go.
One of the trickier aspects of writing a novel based on my life is deciding what to include. There are so many stories and little moments that I would love to write about but that don’t fit into the larger narrative, like when my little sister chased me around the yard, and our neighbor almost called the cops because I was hopping over the security fence to get away from her. It can be tempting to include everything because it all feels meaningful, but that would make the book incredibly long and probably not as good.
My amazing editor Rachelle Ramirez has told me several times that:
“Fiction is about what you put in, memoir is about what you leave out.”
I love her phrasing because it forces me to think about what I can, or should, eliminate from the book. Another trick I’ve developed over the years is repeating the mantra “whatever the story needs.” This saying helps remove my ego from the equation because it reminds me that it’s not about what I want to include, but what the reader needs for the story to work. So to my Wentworth friends who are reading this email, I'm sorry, maybe I will write about our adventures another time!
I hope you enjoy what is left of summer, and I’ll be back next month with another update.