Resurrecting a Novel

 

A Long Time Ago

Dead

It was the summer of 2007 when I sat down with an idea and decided to see what I could do.

As we all know the idea of writing a novel is much different than the actual work and when the time comes to turn a dream into a reality it can be a tad intimidating.

At first my little idea didn’t amount to much. A few lines here, a paragraph there. But soon those lines and paragraphs turned into pages.

Lots of pages.

 

What a Mess

death 1

As I look back most of it was a rambling mess but the experience taught me what it takes to sit down with an idea and put it to good use.

The thought of taking this particular novel serious never occurred to me. Not once did I fantasize of a book tour, New York City agents or armed body guards shooing away the groupies.

Did I just say shooing away the groupies?

I thought the opening of the novel was good and the ending decent but the middle slowed which explains the rambling mess.

As time went on and life got in the way the novel was forgotten. The kids were little, my wife was transferred and for a while things were hectic.

 

Dusting if off

Fast forward a few years later we returned to Eugene, Oregon. I entered my first writer’s conference, made my first connection with fellow writers and was invited to my first writers group.

In order to be accepted I had to submit a sample of my writing. Remembering the old novel I wrote I shook off the dust and submitted the first few chapters.

A week later I was accepted. In that group I met my future editor, Molly. Needing the practice she asked to read the entire novel. Say no more, I stated and proudly handed her my mess.

A mess it was we both agreed. She made suggestions and corrections. I wrote countless rewrites but no matter what we did something was missing.

 

Life Support

death 2

I came close to deleting it a few times but something told me no. Looking back I wonder if the characters were telling me to wait.

A tiny whisper from the pages below that somehow caught my ear.

If that’s true I’m happy they did. One evening out of the blue their voices were heard.

About a year after I joined my group I was practicing my beta reading skills with another writer. We would meet every Friday night at a bookstore and share our notes.

At times her teenage son came along. He always sat in a corner far away from us. His headphones on, his laptop busy.

Thinking back he was as close to invisible as one could get.

One night his mom and I finished up early. We decided to join him and, as his mom put it, shake some conversation out of him.

 

A genius hidden in plain site

Small talk was not his thing but resurrecting my novel was.

I can’t remember how the subject came up. A passing comment, a mixture of hope or regret. Whatever it was my dying novel caught the young man’s ears and imagination.

He immediately saw what I was trying to do. But it was more than that, he also discovered the missing layer that I couldn’t find.

I wrote everything he said down. I remember grabbing pieces of scratch paper, napkins and discarded bookmarkers. I’m surprised I didn’t write on the palm of my hand.

When the evening ended I thanked him. My dying novel was not only brought back from the dead it was now on the track team.  

He returned my thanks with a boyhood blush and a quick return to his laptop and headphones.

So what does this all mean, you ask?

For one, never throw away a piece of work you view as garbage. And two, the genus in the room might very well be a skinny, shy kid in headphones.

coffeshop writer

40 thoughts on “Resurrecting a Novel

    1. Don’t you dare. Go back to it. Give it a good look and maybe do what I did. Talk about it to other people and someone might do for you what that kid did for me.

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    1. It would not surprise me a bit if he’s curled up in some coffee shop with his head phones on and his laptop busy. He’d probably give me a head nod then move on to better things.

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  1. I don’t think I’ve ever flat out deleted a story, although there are those I suspect will never be finished. But I LOVE that you got your spark from the non-writer trying to remain invisible. That’s gold.

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  2. Great inspiration Bryan, I have two USB’s filled with different stories I’ve written, all depending on what I was feeling at the time. I too came close to just chucking those words into the garbage.

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    1. Thank you, Madeline. I really appreciate that. I think the key to creativity is to let it go and listen to others. I could have kept it all to myself but I allowed a young man to give me his thoughts. Without them I’m sure the story would have been lost forever.

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  3. Love this! I have a Frankenstein story that has been floundering around in one former another since the 1990s. It’s been a novella, a novel, and has straddled several genres, changing every time dig it out. It is–in your words–a mess.I should probably ditch it, but there is something that keeps going back to it again and again for some reason. Maybe I need that shy kid in the room to put it in perspective!

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  4. You took the words right out of my mouth. If I knew where that kid was I’d send him to you. If you have writing friends ask if their kids do the same. Sometimes a young mind is all it takes.

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  5. Loved the story!
    I gobbled it up! Chased around the ‘messy’ corners you created! Followed it uncontrollably all the way till the end!
    I felt safe and at home. I felt I was there too looking at the kid. I wanted more.

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  6. Love this story, Bryan! I feel the same way about my current Book 2 WIP. Been hammering away at it (and gnashing teeth and using various walls as targets) for 2 years. Finally, out of the blue, figured out what the major stumbling block is. One problem solved, and others to go. Maybe I need to find a shy, skinny kid in a corner… 😀

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  7. Hi Julie!

    Have you shared it with others or talked about it. Conversations can lead to so many good things. You’re not alone in this. Dish it out to others and see what happens.

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  8. Loved the image of your messy corner. I don’t have a corner with those many books and notebooks, but I do have a cupboard full of notebooks – completely or partially filled with ideas, scenes, characters. The kid was probably like Watson in a Sherlock Holmes story – he helped you connect the dots that you were missing 🙂

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  9. Great story! Btw, was this your first novel? Funnily enough I wrote my first novel in 2007 too! It was only about 50,000 words and the writing was/is pretty tragic. Anyway, I’m impressed you worked so hard on yours, makes me almost want to look back at mine too, except it would take months of editing to straighten mine out hahaha sounds like yours was a diamond in the rough (mine’s more like fool’s gold hahaha).

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  10. Take another look. You might have a story within a story. That’s kind of how mine was. He was able to see past all the clutter and focus on the real thing. It was an amazing evening.

    To answer your question, no. In fact I have yet to go back and rewrite it but I do have all the notes. Everything’s ready to go.

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  11. “never throw away a piece of work you view as garbage” I’d tattoo this on my arm…then again, maybe just write on a sticky note and put it next to the computer. Good advice I’ll try and stick to, thank you!

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  12. It’s one of those things that you just never know. An idea you may feel is silly may bring out the imagination of someone nearby. That’s why I always share my ideas. In my case you never when some kid will turn it all around.

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