Someone asked me if I am so conceited or naive that I believe I can just knock out a novel, see it instantly published, made into a movie or maybe a Netflix series, and then retire wealthy and live on an island. No, I’m pretty sure that’s not the way life works.
Here’s the deal: I enjoy writing. Many days writing is mechanical for me, a chore that I know I have to do. Some days, my brain is so full of ideas that I worry I won’t be able to put them to paper in time before they’re lost forever. When that happens, I wake up early, energized, excited to get to my computer. The pleasure I feel as a story unfolds at my keyboard makes up for the times I sit at the computer for hours trying to catch a single creative thought.
I want to improve my craft. Eventually, I’d like people whose opinion I respect to say I write well. Yes, it would be great to make money. If you tell me you write only for the art, with no eye to what people will pay to read, then you’ll lie about other things too.
I am aware that the process of writing a novel, revising and re-revising the shitty first draft, then finding an agent and everything following that, takes a long time. It may be several years. It may be that agents and publishers eventually decide that our world is messed up enough and my writing will only make it worse. I hope not, but I suppose it’s possible.
Meanwhile, as the gripping saga of Eric, boy novelist, unfolds, I’m finding these blog posts to be a fun writing prompt. There should be enough material here for years of my often-snarky commentary. I hope you enjoy it!
This evening I’m sitting here pondering how sometimes life recapitulates high school. Back then, I was a committed nerd (my kids would say I haven’t changed much) and my friends were nerds. I also ran cross country, so I hung out with some jocks. But of course, my jock friends would never consider socializing with my geek friends. So I had to jump through all sorts of hoops to spend time with both.
I’ve become enamored with Scrivener as my writing platform of choice and with Grammarly as a tool to sharpen my use of language. I do not always agree with Grammarly’s suggestions, but when she and I differ, I make myself defend my choice of words. Unfortunately, Scrivener and Grammarly do not work together without entering cut-and-paste hell. One may well laugh and tell me this is a first world problem, and it surely is, but I can’t help but think it should be easy to fix. So many of the world’s problems cannot be ameliorated by the appropriate application of computer code. Scrivener/Grammarly should not be an issue.
Legend tells of authors who outline their entire novel before they write. If these brave men and women exist in real life, I bow to them. I started my book The Chokecherry Tree with an idea for a character I liked, and a few scenes. Scrivener is great for writers like me who need a place to put scenes as I think of them that can eventually be rearranged into chapters, to keep and add to character back stories and to house research materials that may or may not be used. My initial story arc ended at a point about a third of the way through the novel; when I got there, I realized the story wasn’t over yet. The characters themselves directed the flow of the story. For probably six months I had no idea what the title would be, but once I figured it out it was evident. At one point I learned a character’s last name by listening to another character yell at him using his full name. I was excited to see how the novel would end, how all the plot twists would resolve without resorting to some silly deus ex machina for closure. I cannot imagine trying to do all this with a regular word processor. Scrivener made this process much less painful than it would have otherwise been.
In my first post, I shared that I completed the first draft of my first novel, The Chokecherry Tree. That’s an achievement, to be sure, but the truth is that first drafts aren’t outstanding. Everyone’s first draft is lousy, even experienced writers. So why should a neophyte expect to be different? No, the real work starts now. Somewhere inside my first draft is a terrific novel. My job is to find it.
The brilliant sculptor and painter Michelangelo once described how he approached a block of stone. He said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Writers don’t have a block of stone with which to begin their work; our raw material is the first draft.
The initial rough chisel-work requires the writer to get some distance from his or her first draft. We’re told to stay away from it, to work on something else. Stay away for weeks, or even better, for months. Then re-read the work, in print, and the inconsistencies and mistakes will be more apparent. That’s what they say, anyway, the self-styled “experts” of varying pedigree and experience. Honestly, just between you and me, I’m finding it difficult to stay away from a project in which I’ve invested many of my waking hours for almost a year. At this point, I care about the characters. I’ve woken up at night thinking about them. Earlier this week I began work on the second book in this series. Is that a good idea? It is hard to say goodbye to close friends who’ve been in my thoughts every day, to tell them I’ll see them in a couple of months, goodbye, good luck, have a nice life! What’s been your experience with distancing yourself from your first draft?
A week or so ago, I completed the first draft of my first novel! I officially began work on my book in October 2016, but honestly, the ideas have been percolating in my head for a long time. And then if you ask me when I first thought about being a writer, I’d have to say it’s been probably fifty of my fifty-eight years. It’s okay, I’ve had a pretty cool life: lots of travel, laughing, crying, living. So I figure I have lots to write about. The question is whether I have anything to say that other people care to read. We’ll see, won’t we?
Not too long ago, I read that 97% of would-be novel writers fail to complete their first book. So already I’m a three-percenter! Go me!
Nope, not so fast. I printed out a hard copy of my book, eighty thousand words, which I put in a very thick binder. It’s currently sitting atop my kitchen island. I feel good when I see it, but I’ve read that the real work starts now. My goal is not to self-publish; rather, I want to find an agent who will help get my novel published through traditional channels. That means I’ll need to forge my first draft into something that I can truly say is “the best I can do.” I’ll have to rewrite, cut parts I like (someone called it “killing your darlings”), I’ll have to rework, revise, and then probably cut some more. I understand that this process will take more time than I’d originally thought, and will likely involve repeated rejection. So basically, success in this field requires the same effort as does success in any worthy field.
Walk with me through this adventure, if you would, and together we’ll see what happens. That will be the main subject of this blog, though from time to time I may carry on about something else that tickles my fancy.