90,887

= the number of words in my first draft.

Which is, amazingly enough, DONE.

I owe a debt to Novel Girl on this one. She wrote a friendly little comment on my last post about the value of deadlines, and immediately I began making excuses in my head. “Well of COURSE that’s a good idea,” I thought, “for OTHER PEOPLE. I can’t POSSIBLY do that. I am too busy.”

Um…doing what? Seriously. I thought about that for some time. Yeah, sure, I have a busy life – welcome to the human race, Liz. I also somehow find the time to work out, surf random sites on the Internet, and play a lot of Cake Mania. So explain to me how I am too busy to write?

You’d think it was some kind of weird obligation. I like writing. No – I love it. It’s as much a part of me as breathing. And yeah, sometimes it’s a chore – when I’m not inspired, or when I’m stuck in a plot corner, or when I realize that a scene I’m writing just isn’t going to work and I have to go back and rearrange a few major plot points. But nobody else is making me do this. Nobody else cares if I do this. It’s all down to me, and how much I want it.

So after I realized I was whining, I made a commitment to myself to write 2000 words per day until I was done. And with the exception of two days – one day when I was too exhausted to stay up late enough, and the day I finished – I did this for 13 days, from March 2 through March 14.

And I finished.

My daughter has a book called Uncover a Frog. It’s the modern version of the old transparencies you used to get in encyclopedias – a three-dimensional version of a frog’s anatomy, with each page stripping off another layer of detail until nothing is left but the skeleton. I’d been thinking of my first draft as a skeleton: the bare bones of the novel, more or less complete, but needing a lot of detail filled in.

Instead, it’s more like the cover of the book – a transparent, vaguely frog-shaped outline, waiting to reveal the details within. There may be some bones here, but I can’t even be sure, at this stage, that they’re in the right place.

My husband shared a better analogy: it’s like being handed a canvas and told to paint a mural. You start with a sketch, and you put down your general ideas, with some loose guidelines about where on the canvas those details will end up. And then you step back, look it over, and fill in a little bit more detail, moving elements around, making them larger or smaller as needed. You iterate and iterate, each time adding more shape and more detail until you are finished.

Nah, that sounds too artistic. I think I’m comfortable thinking of mine as a fuzzy, empty frog-shaped outline.

There are three things I need to do next, before I start diving in and doing revisions:

  1. Figure out what is happening with everybody else in the story. My first draft follows my two main characters; but their actions are interwoven with the actions of a lot of other people. I need to sketch out what is happening with those other people so I can get the timelines and the details right. Some of those sketches will probably end up in the revisions as well; but regardless, I need to know so I can make sure the action is structured logically.
  2. Rewrite the prologue. It’s abysmal at the moment. I knew it was abysmal when I wrote it, but it started me off, and that’s what I needed for NaNoWriMo. Now I need a proper introduction. I have an idea what to do, but I may need to try a couple of different angles before I find something that works. I need to have a reason for telling it the way I am telling it.
  3. I need to ignore it for a while. I can’t believe it’s only been three days since I finished; I feel like I’ve ignored it for weeks, which gives you an idea of how enmeshed I am right now. I need to back away from it so I can edit it with less of a sense of immediacy. I need to see the big picture, and right now all I’m capable of is knocking off spelling and grammar errors.

I had expected some sense of elation when I finished the draft. In reality, it felt abrupt, and kind of disorienting. I’m still absorbing it a bit – not having the novel to finish anymore feels a little like I’ve left my purse somewhere. I keep looking around, wondering what I’m supposed to be doing with myself. Elation will come later, I suppose.

What I am not lacking, much to my relief, is beta readers. I have three people lined up already. Additionally, a friend of mine gave me a lead on a freelance editor. I’ve no idea what she charges, but she does not charge to give quotes.

I plan on revising this draft, with a goal of finishing the revisions before November of this year. (I may need to get more ambitious than that – the sequel is already whispering in my ear.) Once that is finished, out it goes to the beta readers. Once I have incorporated their feedback – off to the editor. By then, maybe I will have decided whether I want to try for a publishing house, or just self-publish digitally.

Publishing in 2013 is probably an aggressive goal. But maybe I’ll put it on my calendar anyway.

On First Drafts

I have a goal now: by this year’s NaNoWriMo, I want to have a revised first draft of my novel.

This, I think, will turn out to be ambitious.

I have been chipping away at the book, but I still have about 1/3 of it to write, maybe a little more. Most of it is laid out in my head, with a few plot points still fuzzy; so it’s generally a matter of putting my head down and writing.

Those reading may notice, at this point, that blogging about writing the novel is not actually writing the novel.

In some ways, time is the enemy for something like this. NaNoWriMo was perfect – full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes, ignore the plotholes – just WRITE, no looking back. But now, without a real deadline, I can dither. I can chew on sentences and take an hour to write 250 words. I can go back to earlier passages and start revisions. (I can’t count how many times I revised the original 1000 words I sent to my mom and the message board. In total, I probably changed about 60 words. That’s not a whole lot of changes, but it was a whole lot of time.) There is nothing compelling me to ignore the minute details and just get on with it.

It’s suffering as a result. When I re-read what I have, I notice that the momentum is pretty strong for the first several chapters. For about 30,000 words, this thing goes like gangbusters. And then it starts to stutter and flail around a little. This makes sense – this is about where I stopped writing the story linearly, and started skipping around, writing a few interim scenes and then the ending.

But filling in the gaps has been only intermittently successful. Sometimes I pick up a thread, and I can knock off a few thousand words that scream the plot forward nicely. Sometimes I get stuck in the mud, and end up meandering around irrelevancies and little plot points that I’m going to have to move somewhere else. It gets translucent and pulls apart, like wet kleenex.

Yeah, I’ll catch it in revisions. But hey, without a deadline…

What’s interesting is that in November, I didn’t have the option of revising as I went along. If I wasn’t sure where a scene was going, I came up with something – anything – to move it along, and just kept writing. A surprising number of these off-the-cuff decisions work well in the narrative. It’s only when I stop and think that I get mired in goo.

I did get some feedback on my forum posting – my writing buddy did, in fact, respond. He said, essentially, that it wasn’t his genre (which I knew), but that he liked it. (He mentioned that it started slow, which was my own feeling about it; so it was nice to have that sense confirmed as well.) Best of all, he, like my mother, said he would turn the page. Maybe more ugly-baby stuff; but boy, it’s nice to hear. (He also pushed me into renaming my planet – I had unapologetically ripped off Futurama, figuring I’d change it later. So I did some research, and killed about half a day coming up with a new name.)

I want people to read my novel. It’s not ready yet, of course; but I like this story. Maybe I’ll be the only one who does. But maybe somebody else will, too – and how cool would that be?