Making Your Fiction A Place You Want To Be

Author Janet Key shares the feeling of not wanting to revisit the world she was creating and the tools she used to help make her fiction a place she wanted to be.

Last fall, I decided with great determination that it was finally time to finish that literary novel of mine.

At that point, I had published short stories in literary journals and been told that a collection could be published … with, of course, a novel to go with it. It was disappointing to put the stories on hold, but I wasn’t too worried. I wrote in many forms, including long-form narratives. I had finished full-length plays and scripts, along with other, early attempt novels, and had sold a middle grade book, Twelfth, that I was still doing intermittent edits on.

The literary novel I was trying to write had been picked up and put down a lot over the years, but I was certain there was plenty of good stuff in there, and I was ready. I had the time blocked out. I had my notes and plans prepared. Finally, I thought, I could sit down and finish my real, serious, literary novel.

Only, I couldn’t seem to do the “sitting” part.

I would open the file on my computer and then immediately open YouTube. I would catch myself skimming my own work. More than once I lay my head down on my desk, willing my writing time to evaporate out from under me. As someone who always considered myself unafraid of “doing the work” of writing, this was a new, confusing, and honestly embarrassing experience.

It wasn’t writer’s block. I definitely had a sense of what needed to happen on the next page, and I already had bits and pieces drafted to get me there. Nor had I lost faith in the story I was telling. I believed it was exploring some valuable, big ideas, that it was interesting and engaging, and had moments of well-written tension and tenderness (I still do, in case you’re wondering).

At first, I blamed my problems on the fact that I had picked up and put down the novel too many times, distracted by other projects and jobs, and now couldn’t find the cohesive narrative. There was some truth to that—it was Frankenstein-ed together, overstuffed, and stitched sloppily at the seams—but it didn’t account for how I felt. It didn’t explain the dread, the procrastination, the sort of white-knuckle “just do it already!” self-talk I had to employ to actually write. Those feelings all boiled down to one thing: I just didn’t want to go in there.

But where was there? And why didn’t I want to go in?

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