Recovering the Mindset
Recently I received the latest round of edits and notes on the third and final Boone Shepard novel. As usual, the entire manuscript had been heavily annotated, with many parts questioned and re-writes suggested all over the place. I’m pretty used to this by now, but on the night I opened the document and saw how many changes there were to make and how time consuming it would be, I couldn’t help but feel a little defeated.
I wrote the first versions of Boone’s adventures in 2008, when I was sixteen. I left him for years, then, in 2013, had a run at writing a new version of the series. Over the course of the next year and a half, I wrote five novels back to back; The Broken Record, Darkening Ventures, An American Adventure, The Silhouette and the Sacrifice and The Vengeance of Vincent Black. When the series was picked up for publication in 2015, the mutual decision was made to skip The Broken Record and make what was then called Darkening Ventures into the first novel, reworking it so that it could feel like an introduction. At the time, I was still close enough to the time I finished the series that recapturing the headspace was pretty easy. But as every year went by and I got further away from the massive writing binge that led to the initial drafts, getting back into Boone’s world became harder and harder. If you spend ages writing stuff that is tonally and stylistically as far from Boone Shepard as possible, you start to wonder how you can ever get back in touch with the person you were when you wrote those stories to begin with. What’s more, when the final novel is comprised of what were initially two different manuscripts mostly written in 2014, the job becomes to rewind four years and recapture the same passion that led to the last versions, except now you have to do it better.
The fact is that Boone Shepard has been a major fixture of my writing life for a long time now, and while I’ve loved documenting his journey and hearing from the people who enjoy reading it, I’m reaching a stage where I think I’m almost done with the character. That’s not to say I’ve fallen out of love with Boone and Promethia, just that there are other things I want to explore. After a decade, I just don’t think I have much left to say about him. More than ever before, re-writing can look like a chore, especially considering where my head has been recently.
Over the last few months, as I’ve extensively documented in this blog, my focus has been on Nelson and the Gallagher, a YA coming of age dramedy, and Windmills, a sprawling psychological thriller about the consequences of human failings. Voice wise, Nelson is a little closer to Boone, but not that much. Nelson was written in the voice of a bumbling, insecure teenager. Boone is a sarcastic but melancholic swashbuckler. There’s not much crossover apart from a slightly similar sense of humour. In fact, in some ways going from Nelson to Windmills was an easier transition because, while thematically they don’t come close to each other, they’re both naturalistic stories prominently featuring teenagers. Boone Shepard is a different matter together.
But the thing about taking steps into the territory of professional writing is that you no longer have the same luxury to pick and choose what you want to write and when. What I want to do is keep working to get Nelson as good as possible and start expanding Sunburnt Country into a full novel that can be the start of a series. What I have to do is finish Boone.
Of course, the best writing comes from loving what you’re doing and it’s hard to love something when you see it as a job. So I had to find a way to force myself to fall back in love with writing Boone Shepard. Re-reading the previous two novels to find the voice again wasn’t really an option; I did that before the last round of re-writes and doing it again so soon would only result in me hating my own work. So instead, I turned my attention to all the Boone Shepard short stories that I’d written over the last couple of years. Some have been published online, others haven’t, but all were only written so that I could have fun with my characters in the Booniverse. There was nothing mercenary about those stories, and what’s more, I’d barely looked over them since first writing them.
It worked a treat. Sitting at the pub the other afternoon, I read the shorts back to back and before long was wondering whether, with a couple more, these could be published as an anthology. And thinking about that got me thinking about Boone again which got me reconsidering the third novel and so the next day I started work. I scrapped the prologue and first chapter, re-writing both from scratch and in the process finding a far more exciting way to open the book that also ties disparate plot threads together far more effectively. Last night I effusively told my girlfriend all about the new ideas I’ve come up with and found myself reading her passages like a kid looking for approval about the new thing they’ve made. And that is precisely the feeling that writing should be giving you.
Finishing the novel no longer feels like a chore. There’s a lot of work to do, but rather than terrifying me, it excites me. Because, as I reminded myself the other day, this could be one of the last times I get to spend with these characters. And I care too much about Boone Shepard and Promethia Peters for their final adventure to be a half-formed, passionless slog.
You might feel like you’ve moved past a certain story or like you’ve got no passion left for it, but that story is a part of you, and that part of you isn’t going away. It might become harder to see, but all you need to do is remind yourself of why it mattered to you in the first place for the love to come cascading back.
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