Anyone who keeps up with my writing or who has been following this blog knows that I’ve been working on my first novel since October. I haven’t posted much about how it is going. When I started, I had what I thought was a completely achievable goal of finishing the first draft by the start of Little League season.
That would be now, of course.
And do I have a completed draft of my first novel?
I do not.
Am I close?
I am not.
I have a piece of fiction that is more than twice as long as the longest story I’ve ever written, but not a novel. Actually, I have not even finished the first part of the book. I have the prologue and most of the first part. The rest is sketched out, but I now know from writing the first part that I can’t expect that to ensure anything.
It takes as long as it takes.
That’s true of all writing, of course. It’s a familiar challenge. But I knew starting out on this that I would encounter less familiar challenges. Novel problems, if you will.
Information management is one. I’ve had characters appear for a scene only to vanish for 50-70 pages and when they come back on stage I blink at them and say, “…I’m sorry…what was your name? Right. Thanks. And…what was it you said you did for a living?” Etc. Setting details stick in my brain better. I see them. But the secondary characters seem to flatten if I’m not using them much. I have several characters currently named, “?????????”.
Stamina and momentum are another. As in, sticking with the same story for so long, which works best if you can achieve and maintain some momentum. The vast majority of my work to date is 7,000 words or less. Most of those are between 3,000 – 5,000 words. I generally crank out the first draft in a week or two or three. Spend another week or two revising. Move on to the next story. So, it’s disorienting to just be typing and typing and typing and be nowhere close to done. I have to fight the urge to start something else.
It gets hardest when the novel is grinding along rather than flowing. When I’m bored by it. When it’s just work. That’s when I daydream about the magic and energy that’s always present when I’m starting something new. There are several seed ideas in my journal that I’ve jotted down since October.
I don’t do it. I won’t do it. Because the solution to this novel problem is well known to me. It goes like this: plant butt in chair and type. Even when it isn’t going well. Especially when it isn’t going well. Because working is the only way to get through the difficult or uninspiring sections. The only way to regain momentum.
I also reminded myself recently that I’m writing what Anne Lamott calls the, “shitty first draft.” No one will read it. I’ll go through it (after enough time has passed to regain objectivity) and cut whole swaths and rewrite whole other swaths and then, maybe, I’ll have something resembling a story I’ll share. Maybe.
Even if I still don’t, I’ll have learned a lot. And, really, if I’ve done my best to tell the story and I’ve gained experience that will help me write a better one, that’ll be enough.