My last post didn’t really explain my reasons for starting over, despite its titular claim to do so. Toward bettering this deficiency, here’s a little more information if you’re interested, though you probably aren’t.
When I first sat down to consider a novel, I had no concrete plot or character ideas, but I wanted to write a novel. It’s one of those things some people want to do without any real reason. Anyway, what I did have was the notion that I’d produce a satire. What would I satirize? Good question—how astute of me. A satire is a critique, is it not? And in order to criticize, one needs some fundamental beliefs and some target, and typically some time spent peering into the issues and questions and whatnot. But I didn’t really have any time for peering. I wanted to get started! Well. Um. How about the Senate? I had worked there briefly and so had some firsthand experience of its ethos—even if I had no real critique of it, besides the stale residue gathered thoughtlessly when brushing against our cultural elite, our television comedies, our social-circle cynics, and the like.
Thus I set out with this weak foundation. It got me moving. It was better than trying to write a novel about nothing, I think (unless I was George Costanza, of course). And over time I put down these tracks of a story, without knowing the destination, these different threads only loosely related to each other—in a sense I was searching for the real story. I made great strides and gained a lot of confidence, but where was it all headed? How did these things tie together? In short, I felt the weakness of my foundation.
Though I had some interesting characters and encounters, my ideas for the actual business of the Senate were weak. Despite my research, I couldn’t really conceive of an interesting political battle with the intricate maneuvering one expects. So I kept the politics vague. My main character’s quest was the passing of a bill called Miriam’s Law which I hadn’t even defined yet. I gave my protagonist such a disinterest in politics that any discussions came to his ears as a form of gibberish—long lines of nonsense. In effect I was writing a “political” novel in which politics made no real impact.
At the same time, one of the threads was growing away from the rest. It’s the preposterous story of how our hapless hero is pursued by an older woman yet every action he takes to rebuff her backfires comically and in fact intensifies her desire. It’s buttressed by a few supporting characters who add to the confusion and strengthen the conflicts. This story occupied my mind. It seemed like the “real” story I was searching for, yet I couldn’t help but feel that the Senate setting was at odds with this story, or at least added nothing to it.
Now, jettisoning the Senate setting would mean losing two thirds of my work, and that would be a terrible idea! I’d destroy months of hard work, lose my momentum, and break one of my writing rules—so I rejected it, but regardless the idea remained in the back of my mind.
Some paid work came my way. For a period of two months people had me confused for a working stiff, and I did no writing. When I did return to the novel—reading through it again, organizing my ideas for the coming chapters, reflecting on the issues I’ve mentioned—the terrible truth revealed itself. The Senate had to go. It was a terrible idea, but I knew I had to do it.
It wasn’t without its sense of relief, I should note. If the story really was headed in the wrong direction, it was certainly right to steer it back. To be freed of the problems I mentioned, to be given a new beginning, a real story, a cohesive tale to put onto the page! Ah, how the mind loves new possibilities! Ablaze with inspiration, I scribbled down a thousand ideas over a few marvelous days, and everything seemed to fall into place. In a euphoric moment, I said to myself: this is going to be easy.
Next week: Beginnings aren’t as easy as you’d think