The Joys and Pains of Re-Reading My First Novel—Part 1

My task for February is simple. I must re-read The Changelings, the 530-page epic fantasy tome I published back in 2015. I want to publish the sequel book, The Originals, by 2023, and although I have already done a ton of writing for it, putting it together isn’t easy. A refresher course will be helpful for the overall consistency of the world. Plus, reading my previous writing is the quickest and easiest way to gather new ideas. If I want to work on The Originals, I need to re-read The Changelings.

Oh, the Angst

February 2, 2021

So, this is hard.

On the surface it seems easy. Just read a book you wrote. And yet there is a wall. When I first wrote The Changelings, there was so much expectation that I placed on myself, on my story. At times, writing felt miserable. There was constant, constant judgement. If I wasn’t making negative judgments on the quality of writing, I was criticizing how slowly I wrote or questioning whether or not anyone would read it. It was never “good enough.”

I’ve actually worked past a lot of that judgement and broken down that shame, but even so, there is this feeling of regret… for how I treated my writing. For how I treated myself. I was hard on me and my writing; I was afraid, so full of expectations and ego.

Even now, it’s not like I’m sitting back to enjoy reading this book, not like when I read, for example, Hazel and Saul (a love story between a witch and a wizard that I’m currently working on). With Hazel and Saul, the writing is imperfect, but the story is there. It’s fun, and reading it feels like a guilty pleasure… like reading is meant to be… relaxing, consuming, just this great experience.

Reading The Changelings is not something I’d do for fun. It’s a task. It’s re-looking at the past and forcing myself to… what? Re-experience my mistakes? No, I can’t look at it like that. There were also good times. I’ve got to remember those, too. It’s not just looking at the mistakes, its also remembering the love and care and joy and the lessons I put in it. At the same time… it’s just a story. It doesn’t have to be a big learning lesson, does it? It doesn’t have to have so much meaning wrapped up in it.

Later that day…

After poking around the topic on a blank sheet of paper, after delving into my blocks and mental angst, I finally realized that whenever I re-read a book—a normal book I like—very rarely do I read the chapters in order. Instead I skip to the good stuff. That’s how I finally started re-reading The Changelings. I went straight to my favorite parts, the parts that involved Sylvie.

I started with “Translation,” went to “Departure,” and began reading “Prison.” After this, I decided to “dabble” by writing some Sylvie pov (point of view) scenes. I did this until 1:00, by which time I was feeling very tired and a little drained.

As I was dabbling with Sylvie’s pov, I started to feel… well, a kind of tug. Like I was actually writing about myself. I mean, all my characters have aspects of me in them, but Sylvie, in particular, felt… really me. Like she had been so closely related to the ups and downs of my life, it felt like I was reflecting on my own changes throughout the years.

An Honest Critique

February, 4, 2021

I just finished “Prison” which makes my chapter count up to 3. One of the things I now regret is over-editing my chapters. I didn’t trust my voice, and I was too obsessed with cutting down my word count. Sometimes this made me lose some of the emotion of the scene.

But I have to say, when a scene worked, it worked. The part where Sylvie witnessed Myrna’s beating was surprisingly intense. And I kind of like how each scene reveals so much about the world and the different points of view. I am really good at condensing information, that’s for sure. But it’s also interesting that injustice is what causes Sylvie to find her voice and realize the power that it has.

February 5, 2021

Yesterday, I read “The Fort of Entries” while taking a bath, which was interesting, because it was the chapter when Sylvie has a bath. While reading the chapter, I could remember my love of Japanese culture and festivals, but, for some reason, that passion didn’t quite come across as much as I’d have liked, maybe because I focused too much on sensory details and not enough on the emotional connection. The emotion was there, but not enough.

Weirdly, though, the actual bath was what struck me, because I could actually feel it—the emotion in it, the physical sensation. It was an odd glimpse into my younger mind. The freedom of playing in the water, but also the nervous, tepidness with which Sylvie approached it. Sylvie had never been to a public bathhouse, and she was terrified of doing the wrong thing, even though no one was there to see her. Was I really like that?

On a story level, I figured out what needed to happen in the climax of The Originals. I may work on it today.

Later on…

Glorious news!

So in the space of about an hour and a half, I essentially set-up the climax of the book. Now, granted, I still don’t know what the exact scene will look like, but I have all the background information that leads up to it. I feel sort of exhausted but very happy.

You know, I did not expect that every time I read a chapter in The Changelings, I’d feel inspired to write for The Originals, but, hey, I’ll take it.

A Windfall of Inspiration

February 8, 2021

I had the house to myself this weekend, and I spent all Sunday bingeing WandaVision and fangirling over it. You’d have thought that I’d have gotten nothing done. And mostly, I did not. However, as I took a bath, I decided I wanted to read The Changelings. I read “Bad News,” “Judgment,” “Letters,” “Debate,” and “Freedom,” meaning I have read 9 chapters in total, and I am now ahead of my reading schedule. Go figure.

Even though it was late, I decided to write scenes out of The Changelings from Ehre’s pov, summarizing his feelings toward Sylvie and showing the family dynamics with his sister. Did this matter at all? I don’t know. But it was fun, and I was fangirling… about my own story. (Which I do, from time to time.)

February 9, 2021

It is a little past 2:00, and in the past few days, having the house to myself, I have written 18 pages about Sylvie and Ehre’s relationship. On the one hand, this is good, because I am getting the raw inspiration for this story, and I am going deeper into their characters. I have been working through a lot of Ehre’s feelings and traumas.

I also decided to read The Originals Chapter 2, 3, and 4 (the chapters that are actually in pretty good shape). Let me tell you, these chapters are so freaking dense with information, even I found it a bit much. It’s too much plot, too much exposition. I’m going to need to soften it with more characters and more imagery.

February 10, 2021

I have definitely learned the value of writing down all the stuff about the characters I don’t intend other people to see: all the long, drawn-out romantic moments, all the alternate point of views. They help me a lot. I’ve made several breakthroughs, just by diving deep into the characters’ minds.

I feel like the mania that has gripped me the last few days is starting to wear off. I have a headache, and I know I need to start taking better care of myself, being a bit more stable. Drinking water, exercising, washing my hair. Those things. But I still want to write. The raw inspiration, that kind of emotional compulsion, is running dry, but I’m starting to get a vision, which is a little more objective in nature. Inspiration feels like being lost in a moment, but having vision is weaving all those moments into a meaningful narrative.

February 11, 2021

I’m at page 69 of my notebook, and I still want to write. I started this notebook, by the way, on February 2nd. My 80-page composition book is about to overflow.

After 50 pages of free writing, I finally figured out how to write an actual chapter—the one on the boat. I have written scenes with important, plot-moving dialogue between the characters. I have a vision for the Gryphon pirate captain I’m going to introduce. It’s not like this chapter is done, but it is finally starting to come to order, even if just slightly.

Back to Reality

February 15, 2021

Last week was fun, but last week is over. Last week, I was riding high on inspiration, writing frenetically because I could. I felt supremely unbalanced, but I managed not to chide myself on this and just enjoy the rush. I got a helluva lot done, including solving some dilemmas I had been struggling with for years.

But by Friday, the inspiration was running out. That’s just how it goes.

And this week will be different. This week will be “hard.” I feel like, having gotten off balance last week, I need to rebalance. There is the pressure of the To-Do List—for this week and for the quickly waning month.

Reading The Changelings is part of my monthly To-Do List, and to be fair, I did start reading. I got really into it, in fact. You’d think reading would get easier. Well, no, not really. Sylvie is one thing. I have to read her, because she’s me—because she’s in the next book. But everyone else? I’m less connected to them, and in some ways, I feel like I failed.

Why is it so hard? Revisiting my past, pieces of an old self that has started to wear away. What does it mean? Sometimes I wish I could shed my past, just throw it away, as I go on to a new part of my life. Say, “I’ll do better next time” and move on.

But I can’t do that. I can’t just forget the past. On the one hand, it is terrible not to recognize the sins of the past. On the other hand, one should not forget the good stuff—the stuff that got us where we are today. There’s doubtless a lot more issues I need to work through. Well, I’ll work through them then. I don’t want to avoid stuff because it is hard and I’m scared. Fear has less of a hold on me than it used to, but that doesn’t mean that courage is easy.

I’ll try. All I can do is try.

February 16, 2021

It finally occurred to me why I can’t read The Changelings, why every time I think of it, my brain hits a wall. I’m tired. I’m really tired. That’s why everything feels hard. Last week was wonderful, but it took out all my energy and it made my brain muscles sore. So… I need to rest. That’s it. That’s all.

February 18, 2021

Look I’ll be honest, I might not get to The Changelings this week, and it might be less about my feelings and more about my energy. There is a chance, if I start re-reading my novel, that I will want to write new material for The Originals. I will feel inspired and obsessed. That’s all fine and dandy—but do I want it for this week?

This week (which is quickly dwindling down to nothing), I really want to get some “real world” issues out of the way, so that I’m not getting whiplash, moving in and out of reality. I’ll reserve the last week of February to read The Changelings and write whatever inspiration comes out of it.

It’s only 20 chapters. I can do it.

I hope.

Maybe.

To Be Continued…

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