Word Wars: A New Hope

I’ve been in a writing funk for, gosh, let’s just go ahead and call it three months.

I’d been beating my head against the wall of the edit of my novel and… it’s just so exhausting. Reading the pages over and over again. Checking for continuity. Evaluating the language. Fixing this. Tweaking that. Blasting holes in the drywall and going back in with a blowtorch to re-weld the pipes. The most tedious and thankless of work.

Yeah, WORK. Who ever thought this writing thing would be WORK? It turned into such an ungainly mass of WORK that just like real work, I was hiding from it, finding excuses not to do it, stretching it out, and basically procrastinating myself into a corner, and teaching myself to hate it at the same time. Seriously, if I didn’t love it so dearly, I could almost say I hated the project right now.

But it’s out of my hands now. I’ve passed it on to a few beta readers and I have feelers out for a few more, so now it’s time to cut the cord and let that one fly away (birds have cords, right?). I started thinking about the other novel ideas I had kicking around in my head from a few months back. I stopped stressing about the details of the “finished” work. I began thinking about what sort of deadline I could impose upon myself for a new project; how many words a day I could write, how many months it might take. I started dreaming up characters and themes and plots and motifs and a hundred other little things I want to include in the next story. I cobbled together some notes and a ghost of an outline in Evernote (god I love Evernote, it’s like a personal assistant I don’t have to pay or buy lunch for).

And then last night, the craziest thing happened. I cracked the seal on a brand new word document, breathed in the heady aroma of that blank page, and started writing. Originally I only planned to get a couple hundred words down — just the introduction of a character and a place — but before I knew it I was back in top drafting form, slinging words with abandon, hastily leaving notes to myself, swearing at myself in the margins, in short having a ball of a time. Within just forty five minutes, I’d penned a thousand words, and it had felt as effortless as falling off a toaster. This, I reminded myself, is what it’s supposed to feel like. This is why writing is awesome. Creating people, giving life to worlds, unearthing plot devices from the raw soil of my cerebellum… ahh yeah, that’s the stuff.

The months of ennui fell away like a cobra’s skin. Underneath was the churning engine of creation that so wrapped me up and carried me away at about this time, one year ago. Still purring like a kitten, still snarling like a junkyard dog to chew up some words and spit out some copy. I felt glorious; I felt renewed. I guess this is the start of the next chapter.

When I started my blog last year hand in hand with my novel project, I had a simple system for organizing posts. Everything I posted about the novel here on the blarg last year, I tagged “the project” and/or “commitment 2014”. I had promised myself that I’d get the first draft written before 2014 was out, and I fargoing did it despite my own expectations that I wouldn’t. I’m on Twitter now, so I guess it’s only right that I start the tradition anew.

#TheProject lives.

#Commitment2015 is here.

Fasten your seat belts and hide your children.

Achievement Unlocked: First Edit Complete!

There’s a great moment in Hook, that early 90’s Peter Pan reboot, where Tinkerbell suddenly grows to human size and her house explodes around her as she embraces her true feelings for Peter Pan, confessing her undying and eternal pixie love for him.

Actually, that moment was a little bit weird. Creepy, even, somehow. But that’s off the topic. She unleashes a blast of magic she didn’t know she had, and with a demure little gasp of surprise, she yelps, “I did it!” Just as much in shock as Peter.

Well, that’s me right now.

Because I did it.

I bound up the sprained ankle I mentioned in my last post — you know, the one where I stepped in a literary pothole — and heaved myself bodily across the finish line. And that’s it. It’s over.

Well, not over over. But the first edit is over. Like really, legitimately, no-more-bullsharknado over. The only thing left now is one final pass for formatting, and then I can put the last nail in the coffin and decide who I’m going to burden with the first reading of this coalesced glob of proto-babble I’m tentatively calling a book. And for that step, I’m allowing myself no more than a week. One week — seven days — and then it’s time to figure out who I trust enough to tear my crazily crafted tapestry to shreds.

But here’s a dirty secret. I didn’t want to be finished. No, that’s not right. I was dying to be finished. No…

Truth be told, I was 50-50 split on whether I wanted to be finished with the whole thing or whether I was going to undertake another massive rewrite. It would have been easy to take the rewrite and stretch the process out for another month or more. So easy. I could still do it, in fact.

The fact is, I just slapped a band-aid on the problem of the disappearing character. She had disappeared without a trace, and I just wrote a magical exit from the narrative for her. (There’s magic in my story; I can totally do that.) Solving the problem she presented for me consisted of writing a single paragraph and changing a few sentences in the chapter at hand. That’s all.

But while I was writing the easy fix, a bigger fix crept into my head. A divergent fork in the road. The road overgrown with weeds and bramble and teeming with dark critters and glowing eyes floating in the mist. And this time… this time… I decided to let the harder road be.

You can bet dollars to doughnuts, though, that I wrote down the idea for the rewrite in case I need it later.

So, that’s that. The first edit is concluded. Or so nearly concluded as makes no difference. Concluded in every practical sense. Pat it on the head, send it on its way.

So what does that mean? It means it’s time to stop thinking of this novel as a pet project and get serious about the business of turning it into an actual book that you, reading this, can actually hold in your actual hands. Or, you know, into a collection of ones and zeroes that your handheld computer can belch up at you without the need for all that clumsy processed tree getting in the way. Either way.

And then…

And then, I guess, it’ll be time to don the greasy garb of the pit fighter to begin once again the dirty work of drafting something new. Because momentum matters, and just because the first edit is done is no reason to consider the work finished.

I was reading some notes by Stephen King about how he prepares to work on a story, and he wrote rather anti-eloquently that he gets the idea in mind and then just goes about his life until the muse — and I’m paraphrasing here, but the operative words are definitely his — shits on his head. Maybe I should start carrying a roll of toilet paper around in my man-satchel.

You know, just in case.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

Milestones and Doubt

I think I finished my second pass at the first edit last night. I say “I think” because I’m feeling a tremendous urge to throw out all the rewrites that I’ve completed over the past six weeks or so, and in fact to toss the entire document in my computer’s recycle bin. Which would, technically, put me back in the re-writing process, although more at the even-before-the-starting-point-of-square-one point than at the fixing-what’s-wrong-with-it point.

I’m pretty sure this draft is worse than the first. Tsunamis of doubt about the changes I’ve made are pummeling the coastline of my confidence in this project. I thought last night about how bizarre and awkward it felt writing the necessary changes into the end of the book. Then I thought for even longer about going back and deleting all my new changes and reverting to the first draft I finished with in July. Then I had a drink and consulted with my wife and decided to let the changes breathe for a little while before doing anything drastic (which is probably always a good policy on both counts: consulting with the wife and letting things breathe).

After pondering on it for a night, I’m going to let those changes stand for this pass. I’m going to take one final pass on the story to address my remaining notes and clean up the language, and then it’ll be time to pass it along to some readers. I’m thinking that can be done by the end of January. I’ve missed my goal to have this first edit done by the new year, but given that I had no idea how much time the edit should take in the first place, I’m not unhappy about that.

I recall, now, thinking back at the beginning of this process that I had no idea how to attack it, and I think the process that I blundered into worked … well enough. That would be a process with three legs:

  1. Read the draft, taking notes on major plot points, inconsistencies, character tracking, and anything else that needs fixing.
  2. Rewrite it, smashing the broken bits to pieces and building it back bit by bit. Crowbar in the changes that need to be made and hack out the stuff that’s taking up space.
  3. Read it again, cleaning up language and fixing any lingering errors.

As has been pointed out multiple times on this blarg, I’m hardly an expert, and I don’t know what I’m doing. However, I spent a lot of time hemming and hawing about how I was going to approach this edit, and if I can have this method in mind for the next time I need it, maybe I can save myself a couple days of strife.

So, on Monday, I start on the third leg. I was going to read with a scalpel in hand, but I think after my last post about how bloated the thing has become, I’m actually going to be using a hatchet.


Word Bloat, and a note on New Year’s Resolutions

Perception is everything. Sometimes the only thing.

I was working on the edit last night, and I realized that I’m a lot closer to the end of the first pass than I thought I was. To be precise, there are still a lot of pages between my current position and the end, but the big rewriting is nearly done, and from there it’s just a pruning of the hedges, a dusting of the shelves, and a putting to bed of the toddlers. Then it’s finally going to be time to show this thing to some actual people to actually read it. Those people will then hopefully have mercy on my soul and tell me only in the kindest of terms how many root canals they would rather sit through before they’d turn to my book.

But the end is in sight. Maybe still a pinprick on the horizon, but at least the horizon is no longer an endless blue expanse — it actually looks as if I may be coming back into harbor after all this time. And that’s awesome. Unfortunately, while I was noticing that the end is in sight, I also noticed the word count in the bottom corner of the document. It may be early in the game to be overly concerned with the word count on the novel as a whole, but like a chipped tooth that you can’t stop running your tongue over, I can’t put the number out of my head. The first draft was finished at roughly 89000 words. Now the thing is just a few hundred short of 100k.

It’s bloating. Slowly expanding in the middle, like a middle-aged married guy. And I worry that with the changes I’m making, it will continue to swell like a corpse in a pond if I don’t take measures to trim it down. It’s part and parcel of this whole editorial process, I suppose, for me to find yet another thing to smother my soul in doubt over.

So now, 40 pages shy of the end of the book, I’ve suddenly become draconian in my examination of the language of the thing. I wield my highlight and delete functions like twin poison-coated samurai swords. Which means I’m going to have to re-read the entire novel again making the same ruthless cuts, lest the first half sound like it was written by a living dictionary while the second half was written by a dictionary with all the adjectives and adverbs cut out.

But enough about the edit. It’s New Year’s Eve, which means it’s time to pop the champagne, break out the sparklers, and fall asleep at 9:30, because that’s how we roll in my house. It’s also time for resolutions, which is a tradition as idiotic as any we have in our funny old culture.

The date of Jan. 1 only has significance because we say it does. In the scope of the universe with all its bits of flying dust and nigh-endlessly burning gas and invisible particles and unfathomable tracts of empty space, the significance of one tiny planet making one revolution around one tiny sun has all the import of an ant fart in a hurricane. But somehow, and for some reason, we’ve decided that it’s a good date for “reinventing ourselves” and making vows that have as much likelihood of being fulfilled as my hair has of sprouting into a saucy pompadour atop my dome.

Here’s a hint for resolutions in general: if you’re making them for any reason at all other than because you find it of crucial importance to your life, you might as well write the resolution on a square of toilet tissue, and then use the toilet tissue for its designed purpose. Resolving to lose weight at the new year because that’s what everybody does? Yeah, you might as well just eat a dozen donuts now and save yourself the strife. Quitting smoking on your birthday? Go ahead and stop off for some new lighters on your drive home. If a resolution is worth making, it’s worth starting on it right fargoing now. As in, I resolve right now to stop griping about resolutions and go work on my novel.

See you next year.

The Neverending Edit

A couple of good (read: productive) days of editing the novel have got me feeling, well, productive about my time off from work thus far, but they also have me mired in doubt. I feel kind of like the horse… was it Artex? … from The Neverending Story, who wandered into the swamp of sadness or whatever and finally got so depressed and full of doubt that he was unable to move and just sank into the depths with hardly a whimper. (By the way, what the hell? Who puts something like that in a movie ostensibly for children? Let’s just have this horse — beloved by one of the main characters of the film — just fargoing give up on life. That won’t scar the children in the audience forever. Come to think of it, that movie as a whole is actually pretty bleak. The entire story world gets sucked up into The Nothing? This vast, invisible, intractable force? Okay, let me un-digress…)

Yeah. Mired. I feel like the leg of the edit I’m working on is a solid one, one that does good things for the story, but I’m afraid that I’m doing it all wrong, and as a result, I’m afraid to take much further action. Fearful of breaking the thing further. Fearful that I’ve sunk in dozens of hours working in the wrong direction. Which is probably why I’ve been hiding from the novel behind all those excuses for the past couple weeks.

But we all know that the only thing hiding accomplishes is wasted time, and running from the inevitable means you only die tired. No, the thing to do is to lean into the skid, embrace the suck, power through the rest of this edit, and brace myself for the feedback to come. Because I’m pretty sure that, after I can get all the sprockets and gizmos stuffed back into the chest cavity and do one more polishing pass, I’m going to send it out to some readers and solicit some feedback from a mind that isn’t mine.

And, boy, oh, boy. That was an idea I had pretty much already decided upon in my head, but actually giving voice to it and putting it in writing fills me with an entirely new sense of dread. For all that I think I’m telling a good story, that I think it works and will resonate with audiences, I simply can’t know.

A metaphor that gets tossed around in my life as a teacher is that “we jump out of the plane and build our parachute on the way down,” which always gets a few laughs but is really a horrible way to approach education. The metaphor is apt, though, for the writing world, I think. I just have to trust that this parachute I’m building won’t be shredded like my confidence when I finally unfurl the thing.

Trying for a short story by the end of the week, but outside of that, I may give myself a few days off from the blarg. All the cool kids are doing it, and there is a lot of action for our family (families) at Christmas. So, you know. This might be my last entry for a few days. Unless it isn’t.

Late-night indecision is fun!

Also, look at the lame-o who calls 10:30 late-night! What a sap!