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?

3 thoughts on “On First Drafts

  1. How good are deadlines? Provided I keep my heads, it’s one of the few ways I can push myself through an entire draft. I didn’t do NaNoWriMo but I do say, “Bec, you have two weeks to do this re-write,” and stick to it like I’ll get a nasty smack otherwise.

    Sorry, ramble over. I hope you finish yours.

  2. You know, I read your comment, and I found myself coming up with a ton of excuses why I couldn’t do exactly what you’re saying. Boy, did I sound like a whiner in my head!

    Why CAN’T I make my own deadlines? After all, NaNoWriMo wasn’t enforced by anybody but me, and I did it.

    So: No more whining. 2,000 words a day until my draft is done. Should take me less than a month, unless the plot tumbleweeds get out of control.

    Having said that – along with a professional editor, I think I need to hire a professional nasty-smacker – someone to ring my doorbell and wallop me on the head with a phone book if I miss my word count. 😉

    1. I try for 2,000 words a day too. Stephen King recommends that in his book, On Writing. I laughed when I read your response; aren’t our self-imposed deadlines a funny thing?

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