Are you an unfaithful writer?
Writers are often asked what camp they’re in. Plotter or pantser? Self-published or traditional publisher? Genre or literary fiction?
There’s one question you’re rarely asked: faithful or unfaithful?
Because I am not a faithful writer. At all.
Living a lie
The weird thing is, I’d forgotten about this faithlessness until recently. I don’t know how this happened – perhaps I was inspired by listening to stories of authors who commit themselves to entire novels and see them through to the end.
Inspired by this sort of dedication, I started projects in NaNo and dedicated myself to their very existence… until I ran out of steam. I focussed on one story at a time – spending all my energy on one set of characters and solving plot points for just the one story (generally at 2am when I’ve been trying to get to sleep for hours). Sure, I may have flirted with another project or two along the way, but they were short-lived things. I always came back to that main story.
But it was all a lie. A façade. An attempt to ignore my true nature.
For most of my early writing life, I had so many stories on the go that it was possible to write the wrong scene in one and put a completely different character in another. If I was bored with my sci-fi story, I’d hop across to my ghost story. If I was in a mood for fantasy or ghost trains, I had options for both (there were a lot of ghost stories in the mix – I’m not sure what that says about me).
Perhaps if I’d focussed, I’d have written a complete novel by the time I turned fifteen… but I was having much more fun spreading my attention around. It meant I could experiment and try different genres instead of being stuck with one.
It meant I was never bored.
The unfaithful (but never bored) writer
I can’t believe I spent so long pretending I was happily committed to one story at a time. What happened to me? How did I manage to forget my true nature for so long? I honestly think my current story was a bit of a cry for help with its constantly-changing genres and settings.
Now that I have the time to focus on writing, I’ve decided that means I can focus on a lot of writing on a lot of different stories. And by “a lot” I mean “three”.
Well, three for now. Who knows how many I’ll have in a few months’ time?
In the meantime, let me introduce you to my three contenders.
The Current Crush
Title: Yeah, I’m still working on that part | Word Count: 60,236 | Status: In love
I started writing The Current Crush during NaNoWriMo 2014 – I had no plan and no plot and I just went for it. It was a coming-of-age fantasy story until I read a fabulous sci-fi story and wished I’d chosen that genre instead. So I changed it mid-story with the intention of changing the beginning to fit, before deciding that it would be much more fun if the change somehow became the story.
I wrote 45,000 words during NaNo and I’ve since added another 15,000. In recent times, I’ve even found a plot for the whole thing!
This story is ever-changing and always surprising me and I have at least one character who can’t seem to decide if he’s on the right or wrong side. I basically spend the whole time tormenting my main character and I love it.
Title: Ryn’s Final Episode | Word Count: 30,359 | Status: Can’t keep away
It feels as though The Fling has been around forever, probably because it technically started around 2007-ish as a massive collaborative story with my friends. I’ve been promising them for years that I’ll finish my character’s story and I keep toying with it but it’s not done yet.
Part of the problem is that I’m experimenting with not writing in linear fashion – I dip in and write scenes whenever I want with no idea of how they all fit together (or whether they’ll even be included in the finished story).
The other part of the problem is that I don’t want to give it up.
I know how the story ends, which is a rarity for me. The only trick is getting all the preceding bits in the right order.
The Old Flame
Title: The Black Fiddle of Barnet | Word Count: 145,994 | Status: We just need another chance
Then there’s the one I can never forget. The one I actually finished. The one I wrote mostly over one Summer holiday when I was working in a school.
The Black Fiddle of Barnet.
It was only ever a first draft and I knew it needed work but I didn’t know where to start. Plus, it took me quite a while to realise there was a massive problem with it: my main character, Jeannie, is kind of unlikeable. She’s driven and talented and loyal and really good at playing the fiddle… but she kind of grates on your nerves. Whenever she gets into trouble (which is a lot, because she’s the main character, so obviously), you nod and think, Well, you brought that on yourself, didn’t you?
Luckily, this problematic realisation didn’t come to me on its own: it brought a friend with a plan. Why not turn one of my other characters into a first-person narrator? He’s funny; he’s engaging; he’s always mocking the main character in a way that renders her almost human. Not to mention he has a massive secret that could act as a shocking turning-point.
So here’s the thing: all I have to do is re-write the entire book from Cianan’s first-person point of view instead of Jeannie’s third-person subjective. Easy. So easy. Let me do that tomorrow before breakfast.
(Oh good lord – I literally just starting thinking about this and massive ideas fireworks have gone off in my brain. It turns out that Jeannie’s objective in the first draft is actually the wrong one. Which changes an early section of the book. Which adds extra dimensions to the entire setting of the story. And all of this comes about because Cianan’s secret has to tie in better with the existing plotline, which has the flow-on effect of completely changing the existing plotline. And so help me, I want to re-write this thing right now.)
Ahem. With that interruption out of the way…
I love the idea of telling a massive story from a by-stander instead of the person creating the change. It’s something I’ve always loved: stories told by the people you wouldn’t otherwise notice. Although you would notice Cianan. He’d make sure of it. Plus, there’s the other massive secret of his that I can’t reveal here in the hopes that one day this will be an actual book that you can actually buy and actually read.
Why do I think this will work?
Firstly, this is going to work because it’s the way I’ve always worked. I’m returning to my unfaithful roots!
Secondly, it will work because it gives me options. Single-minded focus on one story is great… until that story wears out its welcome. So when the Current Crush isn’t going well and the Regular Fling is flinging somewhere else, I can count on the Old Flame to be there for me. Each of them is different in some way, whether it’s style, genre or audience, and the Old Flame is something else again, being a new draft based on an original. There’s a lot of variety in that bunch.
The only trick will be making sure the right characters stay in the right stories!
Should you consider being unfaithful?
Are you tempted to try this, too? I highly recommend being an unfaithful writer, mostly because it comes with this handy list of benefits:
1. You’ll never feel trapped
You know that awful feeling you get when you’re bogged down in your own story and you’ve written yourself in a corner? When you’re an unfaithful writer, you can escape to another story and give your creative mind time to think of a solution.
2. You can pick your own (fictional) friends
You can choose your story based on your mood. If you don’t feel like hanging around with the character who always makes the worst life choices, go for the one who lives the charmed life!
3. Choose your point of view
Perhaps you’re in a third-person frame of mind one day and have a first-person craving the next. When you have multiple stories on the go, the choice is yours!
4. Skip the writing entirely.
What if you’re not in a writing mood? Good news! When you’re unfaithful, you can go for editing or revising instead!
I’m a pantster. I’d like to get a contract with a publishing house. I definitely write genre fiction.
And I am one hundred percent an unfaithful writer.
What about you? Are you faithful to one story or not? Please share your thoughts in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!