The best thing about having an agent–or anybody who is really invested in your novel, who would risk giving you constructive criticism in order to make it better, i.e. not most of your friends–is that they’ll push you to make it that much better even when you think you’ve figured it all out. Over the weekend I figured out a way to fix one of the things my agent thought needed fixing on AUT, which I already thought was okay to begin with but I firmly believe in doing most (read: not all; sometimes you need to fight to keep your vision intact) of what your agent (and, I assume, your editor, although I haven’t yet gotten to that stage) recommends. It’s just that you’re not usually in a place where disagreeing with them is the best idea; you’ve been working on your book for years (six, in my case) and you probably can no longer see it for what it really is–flaws and all–you just think about all the time and energy and thought that went into what it is now, and you have a hard time imagining that it could be any better. But it can. It always can.
Anyway! So. I figured out a way to fix this thing, this problem that I originally didn’t even think was a problem but now I totes do (sorry to be all vague, can’t post a blurb until it’s all done and dusted), and I emailed Joanna for her thoughts. She liked it, and she agreed with what I said about how it tied into Protag #1’s character arc, but she was still subtly pushing me to do more. And I was thinking, “What, this doesn’t fix it? I totally thought it would fix it,” but then, last night, I figured out how to get it to where she thinks it ought to be (I hope). I also, interestingly, think I’ve found a way to fix a big plotting problem I’ve been having with MB, my next WIP, which I’m currently putting on the back burner so as to tend to these edits.
My point in with that little vague anecdote was that all of the revelations I’ve been having recently about AUT and MB have all occurred on public transit. I love public transit–my father is a transportation planner, so it’s sort of in my blood, to the point where I made my friend Kim accompany me to the MTA New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn Heights over Thanksgiving. When I was growing up, the biggest piece of “art” in my parents’ office/bonus room was a giant framed, glassed-in print of the London Underground map. I specifically like that part in the middle that’s shaped like a bottle, and how one of the stations had the same name as our neighbors, whose father was, indeed, British. I do all my best thinking and formulating in motion. If I need to mull over an idea, the last thing I need to be doing is sitting in front of my computer. I need to take a walk or a ride on the subway or bus. Maybe it has something to do with shaking up my brain cells? I have no idea.
When I was finishing up AUT for my MA thesis, I pretty much did all my conceptual work on the 10 block walk from my apartment to campus. Oh, and I must always have music. I try to fit the music to what sort of work I’m trying to do. I have a playlist on my iPod for each project (the AUT playlist is hideously long and bloated–I really need to cull, esp. now that I”m trying to streamline the MS), and there are usually several songs that correspond to specific scenes. For an IRL example, if I want to think about how I can change/make better a scene where Protag #1 goes through a humiliating public breakup, I listen to “Rootless Tree” by Damien Rice. When I’ve been thinking through the party scenes in AUT, I like “Night and Day” by Tech N9ne, “No Retreat” by Dialated Peoples, and “Saturday Night” by Ozomatli. Etc. One of my favorites is the epilogue, which is set partly to “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers and partly to “California” by Rufus Wainwright.
One of the best things about momentarily moving on to MB is that, while it’s still a YA mystery so it has its dark moments, it’s a lot lighter than AUT, so I can listen to more upbeat music. Now, of course, that I’m working on AUT edits I’m back to the gut-wrenching ballads and angry alternative, but eventually I’ll be able to leave that behind, which will give me a much-needed break from all the angst I’ve been pouring into AUT for the last six years.