“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.”
Last Sunday, I sat down and outlined the final thirteen chapters of this book. It took a good hour – I tend to be looser with my planning at the beginning of the novel and more meticulous toward the end – and even still, even after combing through my writing journal for ideas not yet folded into the story, even after switching scenes around to make them all fit, even after actually closing my eyes and imagining the final chapter, the fact that I’m nearly finished the first draft feels completely surreal. In some ways, it seems like I just began this journey with Remi and Charlotte. In others, it seems like I’ve known them forever. In actuality, it’s been about two and a half months, with another one and a half to go. I can see them inching ever closer to Point B, and when I think back to Point A, to how much they’ve already grown, I’m super proud of them and super excited for them. I’m also super excited for this book. There’s just something about it that I can’t put into words. Writing it makes me feel like I’m flying. Does that sound totally corny? Probably, but that’s okay.
I must admit, though: this manuscript has been a surprise in many ways. It’s evolved so much from how I first envisioned it, and I think that’s mostly due to the format. This is the first time I’ve ever written an entire book from dual perspectives. I’m alternating between Remi’s chapters and Charlotte’s, weaving their individual stories in parallels and perpendiculars to create a tale that’s uniquely theirs together. Going into this, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about having two main characters. Would I connect with them both equally? Suppose I liked one more than the other? Would it be easier to write one’s story than the other? With twenty-four chapters down and eleven to go, I can answer those questions now. Although Remi and Charlotte are most definitely their own people, I do feel connected with them both. I feel like each has a place in my heart. Charlotte’s chapters are more challenging to write – setting them in 1957 means I’m constantly researching as I go along – but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. I’m never sad to stop writing one character’s scenes because it means I get to leap back into the other’s. I’ve found that keeping a day in between really helps me segue from one voice to the other. Mondays and Tuesdays are devoted to Remi, Wednesdays are for querying Mine to Love, and Thursdays and Fridays are dedicated to Charlotte. So far, the system has been working out beautifully.
The only thing? Dividing the book between past and present, between Atlantic City and Nantucket, between Charlotte and Remi, means that I only get half the space for each. For someone who already has a problem reining in her word count during first drafts, this has been quite … interesting. If you told me a couple years ago that I would essentially have to tell each story in seventeen chapters, I’d have laughed. Loudly. For a very long time. But honestly, there was never a question in my mind that this is how the book needs to be written. Sure, it could all be from Remi’s perspective and there could simply be flashbacks to Charlotte’s life, memories told by her through conversations and letters, but it would’ve been all wrong that way. Because this novel isn’t only about Remi. It isn’t only about Charlotte. It’s also about who they become to one another. That’s meant being really strict with which scenes I write. It’s meant scrapping some ideas in favor of others. It’s meant some very careful planning, especially now, as I work towards finishing this draft, because it is not easy to cover nine months of two different people’s lives without soaring way above the word count guidelines. Yes, this draft will be too big. It’ll need to be whittled down. But … but … factoring in the fact that my chapters tend to be longer toward the end, I’m still looking at an initial word count of under 130,000 … perhaps even closer to 125,000. For a book like this – and for a writer who had to delete 50,000 words from her last manuscript and even more in the previous one – I’m counting it as a win.
No matter what happens with this in the future, I’m counting this whole manuscript as a win. It’s made me fall in love with writing all over again. It’s reminded me of the joy storytelling can be. It’s gotten me thinking about my characters during all times of the day and night. It’s turned my journal into a springboard of ideas frantically jotted down, my hands trying to keep up with my head. It’s taught me about my characters, about myself as a writer, and about so many things I’d never have heard about otherwise (side note: anyone know what a Pluto Platter is? No Googling!). Most of all, it’s helped me to further believe, and hope, and dream.
When I first envisioned this book, I thought Charlotte’s half would cover her life from 1957 straight through to the present. Ha. Hahahahaha. On what planet did that ever seem like a feasible thing? It would’ve been encyclopedic in length. At first I was bummed about having to rework things so majorly, but now I can’t even imagine it as originally brainstormed. Once I jumped into writing and let the characters start leading the story, they showed me exactly where they needed to go. I adore that. It’s one of my favorite parts about the process. So, to Remi and Charlotte: here’s to the next five weeks of this awesome journey. I can’t wait to see where you take me.