A dandelion stalk in Portland in July. Photo by Jennifer Willis.

this writer’s ragnarok: here’s (some of) what’s going on

I’d initially hoped to release Twilight Magic, the sixth and last book in the Rune Witch urban fantasy series, around the middle of this month. That is in no way going to happen. Then I thought I could get it out toward the end of August; that’s a remote possibility at this point but not very likely.

A significant reason for the delay is that my health is of course getting in the way; that’s hardly news. Another factor is that I’m really very tired. After The Oregonian discontinued my long-running Northwest Love Story series in the newspaper following the April 2018 installment, I started a new job. The pay is better but the hours are longer. (An unexpected “bonus,” if you want to call it that, is that this job proves to me what my limitations are, week after week. Even at only 20 hours per week, I honestly can’t work any harder or longer than I am already, due to chronic illness and pain. And that’s good to know.) I enjoy the work and I think I’ve adjusted about as well as I can to the new schedule, but I’m still quite fatigued pretty much every day. Unfortunately, that’s just how it’s got to be for the time being.

A casualty of this new job, of course, is progress on Twilight Magic. I am absolutely still working on this book, but at a much slower pace.

Which brings me to the main obstacle I have on this project. It was something I promised myself I wouldn’t do again (after I faced the same hurdles with book 5, Chaos Magic), yet here we are.

The first draft is a mess. Don’t get me wrong — all first drafts suck, and they’re supposed to. But I wrote the first draft of Twilight Magic *before* I wrote Chaos Magic. That’s right. I wrote book 6 before I wrote book 5, because I didn’t initially realize that there needed to be more time and more story between Raven Magic and Twilight Magic. So there’s a lot of now irrelevant material in that first draft, and a fair amount of hashing out of things that ended up feeding book 5 instead. And my writing style has changed a bit since I first wrote Twilight Magic nearly four years ago, so that makes revisions kind of clunky, too.

I told myself I would just scrap that first draft and start from scratch — which is what I should have done with Chaos Magic, too. I would just read through that old first draft to re-familiarize myself with the story and build a new outline, and then I’d start a fresh draft.

But is that what I actually did? No, of course not. Because I started reading that messy draft and found that I really liked some parts of it and shouldn’t I try to save this piece and that piece, and maybe I really can just do a little editing to make this all fit.

Please, please, please. If you find yourself in a similar circumstance, don’t do what I did, and what I’ve been doing. I’ve spent about a month try to wrangle all of that preexisting material and right now I feel like I’m flailing about in a tar pit. Maybe it’s not that bad. Frequently, whatever I’m writing is not nearly as bad as (and is actually quite a bit better than) I fear it is. But part of what I’m doing right now is going back to read over what I’ve re-written so far, just to make sure that I’ve not been investing myself in an irredeemable morass of a manuscript. And what I’m seeing is evidence of how tired I’ve been.

Take for instance these 400 and some words from the first chapter (which doesn’t have too many spoilers):

Loki’s shoulders slumped as he watched her drive by. Of course she would have known he was here, even though he’d remained by the creek, far from her car and from the old Yggdrasil. Magick senses magick. Chaos magick in particular.

This wasn’t the first time he’d followed Sally. He preferred to think of it as such, just following her. Not spying on her. He was interested in her well-being and curious about her activities. He never interfered, nor did he share his findings with anyone else. But since she’d been skipping out on her lessons with him, he didn’t have too many other options for keeping tabs on his young pupil.

This was the first time, though, that he’d followed her to the old World Tree, and he got the distinct impression this wasn’t her first pilgrimage. He hoped her visit signaled her acceptance of her new role in the pantheon and in the world at large. She’d had the whole thing thrust onto her rather inelegantly. No one had offered her a choice. But no one had offered Loki a choice, either. He didn’t think so. He couldn’t really remember anymore.

He would take it all away from her if he had the power to do so. He’d done his best to prepare her for the mantle that would too soon settle onto her unsuspecting shoulders. And there was so much more he needed to share with her, and warn her about, but her stubbornness had taken her to a place beyond listening or learning. And he was fast running out of time.

He watched her car cross the modest bridge and turn left onto the highway heading east toward the city, her red taillights gradually fading into the rainy darkness. He looked into the sky and wished he could see the stars. The old constellations were some of the only anchors he had in this world in these late days, but even the stars weren’t unchangeable.

There was nothing that could have readied him to be this particular wielder of chaos magick, and nothing to guide him as he imparted his wisdom to his pupil. He thought it was right that she would protest and rebel. She had every reason to be angry and distant. Loki liked to think that he had been the same way.

The danger now was both ignorance and hubris—for all of the members of the Lodge, really, but especially for himself and for Sally. If he couldn’t find a way to reach her in these waning days, the entire world would pay the price.

Probably. He couldn’t be sure of anything anymore.

Not awful, but EEEGH. That needs some work. Even for Loki, the language is too formal and meandering here, and the preceding section from Sally’s point-of-view is much worse. The author’s fatigue is all over this section.

I’m about half-way through the current rewrite and I can already see how much more work I’ll have to do on the next pass. I should have scrapped the whole thing and started from scratch. I may still do that — except that I’m stubborn and I’ve only got a few thousand words more of extant material to wade through before I write a bunch of new material to fill the wide, gaping hole that I left in the first draft. (I had a weird drafting pattern for most of the books in this series, and I’ll have to blog about that at some point.) Either way, this one is going to take a good bit longer to complete. And since it’s the last book in the series, I need to take extra care to wrap up loose ends, make way for new beginnings, and do my darnedest to write a book that will thrill, enchant, and satisfy readers who love the series and have come along on this journey with me. I may yet have it out by the end of the summer — fingers crossed for a release before Labor Day — but please don’t wager anything important on it.

In summation, don’t be like Jen. Be kind to yourself and scrap old material that isn’t working instead of being a curmudgeon and struggling to make everything fit. Also, don’t let something sit for too many years before going back for a rewrite, because you’ll be a different writer when you come back to the older material.

Posted in writing & publishing.

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