The novel I thought I was writing is not the book I need to write

October of last year, I mapped out a new novel, beginning, middle, and end. I fast-drafted it during NaNoWriMo in November, hitting 57k words. The word count topped 50k, so technically, I won. But by the time I’d reached the end, I knew the story had jumped off the rails. I don’t mean that I wrote something other than what I’d mapped out. I hadn’t ventured too far off the mapped journey, which was sketchy anyway. What I mean is that the ending was painfully wrong. Not only that, I knew there were multiple places where the story took the wrong turn. Wrong ending. Wrong turns. Too many fatal flaws. The whole of the novel didn’t cohere from opening paragraph through climax. It seemed a bunch of stiff turds heaped up on a pile and some kept rolling away.

How did this happen? While I’d envisioned a sequel to a previous book, the deeper I dug into the story, the more I realized that the sequel sections were holding me back. Those parts seemed like forced inclusions. And it was the parts unrelated to the first book that gripped me the most. Those parts wanted to be free of the sequel leash. They wanted a chance to dig up their own story. The main character—who’d shown up in the previous book as a minor character—didn’t want to be bound by that other novel. He wanted to live in a different universe where he made different choices. He didn’t want to be that person, and the more I wrote from his perspective, the more he changed who he was. He edged me toward cutting ties and rewriting the story as a new, unconnected novel. So I ended up with an unworkable, messy piece of crap. I thought I could make peace with a crap first draft, but this stinking pile just made me want to puke.

So, am I going to rewrite the book as a standalone story? Yes, I am. I’ve started the process of the next rewrite where I’ll explore the new directions, where I’ll take off the leash. I have no idea if it will work, and how long it will take. I may have to return to the previous version and start over. But hopefully, the process of opening up the story will be freeing. Sometimes you just have to go where your energy is pointing and where your characters are telling you they want to go, even if that means setting fire to piles of words. That’s the book you need to write.