Progress Update: Last Chance for Gas

Today, a pretty big milestone in novel progress.

Thanks to a gargantuan push stemming from a renewal of gumption at the beginning of the week, I processed the last thirty pages of the draft over the past three days and am ready to start on my last phase of rewrites for this first editing pass.

To clarify, “processed” means I read it, cleaned up the stinky bits of language, corrected typos, and fixed the bric-a-brac on the shelves, all the while making notes about walls that need tearing down, wires that need ripping out, and pipes that need sealing. That’s the big, scary work, and that will begin … probably next week. Tomorrow I hope to review the first half of the novel to recreate the notes I lost with my old notes and finish creating an outline of the book as it stands. If I have time leftover, I’m going to map out the character arcs and think about re-ordering some portions of the novel.

To be fair, the processing was the easy part, and the much harder work–rewriting the crap bits, changing major plot points, going back to the beginning to plant seeds which need to be fully grown by the end–is still ahead. That’s the stage that’s truly harrowing. It stretches out on the horizon like an endless desert, and somehow I know there are no pit stops along the way; there will be no gas stations or emergency call boxes if I blow a tire or make a wrong turn. However, the big push this week has me crackling with energy and enthusiasm to keep pushing.

And the funniest thing happened as I was reading the last pages.

I realized that I really, really like the story. And I’m saying that not to toot my own horn, but because I truly think that for all the tribulations and for all I thought the book was awful when I was writing it, upon further review and after several months to get some space, ultimately it seems to me that the novel is not that bad. I’ve still got big decisions to make, the fates of characters to decide. I’ll have to destroy some of the helpless squealing unformed bits that I enjoyed so much at the beginning and create brand new replacement parts on the fly, but somehow that task doesn’t seem so daunting.

And that’s not even the best part.

When I was writing the first draft, I could feel myself running out of steam by the end. The last twenty thousand words or so felt like the last miles of a marathon; even with the finish line in sight, even riding on the balmy current of you’re-almost-there-itis, I could feel my knees giving out, my quads locking up, my lungs collapsing in on themselves. I felt like the ending I was writing was simply a placeholder, something awful I was writing to simply get the project to a stopping point so that I could rewrite it later and forget I ever wrote something so bad. But reading it the last couple of days, I find that I’m actually a pretty big fan of the ending. The characters end in good places (while good of course doesn’t necessarily mean “good” for the character, but rather “good” for the story), the critical loose ends are tied up, and there’s a nice sense of completeness to the whole thing. My wife thinks I should leave it open for a sequel in case this thing goes all Harry Potter on me, and I think that the potential to continue is there, though certainly the story could (and does) stand on its own.

There are holes to patch. Rotted boards to replace, rough edges to smooth down. But on the whole I think this thing is moving as it should past the ugly formative stages into the workable beta-reading stage. Which is itself simultaneously amazing and terrifying, because that means that I’m going to have to pry my whitened knuckles from its tender edges and let it go out into the world to be read by people who don’t know the time I’ve spent with it, who don’t know the love and the pain and the suffering and the insanity and the laughter and the frustration and the days and nights and the weekends spent living with these characters, exploring all the plotlines, envisioning the world of the story. Nobody can know all that, but they’re going to have to judge it all the same, and my only hope is that when that time comes, maybe they won’t return it to me and ask, “why did you bother?”

For all my confidence at the high points along this journey, I am still terrified that I’ll be unmasked as a pretender at this whole writing gig. I fear that my internal barometer for assessing the story is hopelessly warped and that I have no proper idea what makes a story actually readable or compelling or enjoyable in the least. But this is no time for entertaining those fears. It’s nearing time to cut the cord and throw this fledgling creation of mine out of the nest and see if it can fly.

I just hope that when that time does finally arrive, I can survive the feedback.

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