Then Suddenly The Book Is Done

I spent all day yesterday entering the remaining hand written pages of my finished rough draft for my first novel into the computer. A second chance to clean up some passages, straighten out a few dead ends, add notes for the next draft, and discover what some of my minor characters been holding back from me.

The finished manuscript weighed in as a heavyweight at 665-page (double spaced) and 120,495 words. I printed out the remaining pages for my first reader and my reading copy (which should be the editing copy), and the whole thing as a short version (single-spaced printed on both side that should be the reading copy). After glancing at the earlier chapters and cringing from the horrible writing, I packed everything away to forget about this story for the next three months.

After all that I have done for the last year, I felt empty inside. I didn’t want to write today’s blog post or finish writing a new short story. I didn’t want to watch the new Top Chef Masters that aired this week. I didn’t want to do any kind of writing at all this weekend.

I pulled “Journal Of A Novel: The East of Eden Letters” by John Steinbeck from my bookshelf. I read about 80% of this book in 2007 when I was still playing around with the idea of writing a novel, and lost interest because I decided not to write a novel at the time. I finished reading this book last night, and found my answer to my emptiness in Steinbeck’s own words: “Then suddenly the book is done. It is a kind of death.”

I am in mourning. I am mourning for my finished rough draft. I am mourning with the knowledge that I must leave my story in a box for three months to have the emotional clarity for editing the next draft. I am mourning when everything suddenly got so good.

Never mind that I found the heart and soul of my story in the next-to-last paragraph of the last chapter that ties a significant minor character to a point of view (POV) character in a meaningful way. Or that an underdeveloped minor character made a major confession in the Epilogue that reveals not only the true nature of his character, but this also ties the various plot lines in a way that stuns the other characters, and that the minor character who is deeply impacted by all this declares her forgiveness for him. Or distilling the entire story into a single paragraph in a query letter that I’m a year away from sending out to agents and/or publishers reveals that I have written a coming of age story.

All that waits for the next draft. Until then I must mourn for now and move on.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.

One Year, One Week & 700 Pages Later

One year, one week, and 700 pages later, the rough draft of my first novel is finished. I was crying when I wrote the final scene. When I started out so long ago to write a novel based on my misadventures as a video game tester at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crises) for six years, I had the first chapter in hand, a broad outline divided into seven parts with seven chapters each, and the final scene in mind. Between the first and last chapters, the middle turned out to be a journey not only for my characters but for myself as a writer.

The rough draft was a sprawling mess. I wrote only the events concerning the main viewpoint characters, leaving out the secondary storylines and minor characters. My inspiration was the “Genshiken” manga series by Shimoku Kio, where a group of college students are bound together by their love of anime/cosplay/manga/video games (the Japanese slang term is otaku) and their relationships with each other in their club room. (Video game testers are not that much different when working 80 hours a week in the same room.) There’s no overriding story arc because each story was serialized in a magazine before being published in book form; when read together in all nine volumes, a common story emerges. The novels I enjoy the most are often a series of little stories woven together into one fabric.

Two-thirds of the draft was composed behind the steering wheel of my car while taking my hour-long lunch breaks at work. I wrote one to five pages a day for five days a week during that time. When I got laid off from work four months ago, I had to readjust to writing in my home office. Using the typewriter and scanning my pages into the computer, my page count was two to eight pages a day and my chapters went from 16 pages to ten pages (those longer chapters will probably split up in the next draft). I wrote 38 pages in longhand during the past weekend’s writing marathon to finish the rough draft. Writing a few pages a day really does add up in time.

Now that’s the rough draft is done, what’s next?

I still have 75 pages of handwritten and typed manuscript to enter into the e-file, print out the last pages for my first reader and my own reading copy (orange paper to discourage editing with a red pen), pack everything away, and forget about this story for the next three months. When September 6th comes around, I’ll read the whole thing, make notes, tear it apart to create a detailed outline, and write a new draft. I’m planning to write two drafts in the next year before I start looking for an agent.

Meanwhile, I still have 20 short stories circulating in the slush piles, a new political short story to finish writing, a vampire novella to edit before finishing my short story collection, and developing the outlines for my next two novels that will be 400 pages each. When I’m editing a new draft of my first novel, I’ll be writing the rough draft for either my second or third novel. Being a busy writer means keeping the pipeline full.

In the final words of my viewpoint characters: “What a year!”

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.

500 Pages!

When I finished chapter 35 of my first novel this week, I fell shy of hitting the magic 90,000 words / 500 pages mark. (My chapters have gotten shorter since I switched from writing in longhand to using a typewriter.) Ten months after I started writing the rough draft, I still have 200 pages to write over the next two months before I’m done. The ending is now in sight for this long journey to come so far.

What will happen after the rough draft gets done? Nothing.

I will forget everything about my first novel by hiding the reading copy (double spaced pages printed on orange paper to discourage editing with a red pen), taking down the sticky notes from the brainstorming poster board, and working on other projects for the next three months. When that time passes, I will spend a month evaluating the rough draft, going through all the notebooks, and putting together a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline. I’ll spend the next four months creating the first draft from scratch, take a one month break, and spend another four months polishing the second draft. I should have a finished manuscript to shop around in summer 2010.

I’m looking forward to the three-month break. I just finished the vampire novella that I spent two years working on that needs polishing. When I’m done with that, I’ll drop the novella into my short story collection and shop that around. I still got two dozen short stories I’m flogging around in the slush piles. I’ll be outlining my second novel while editing my first novel.

When I decided three years ago to get serious about being a writer, I thought things would get easier after a while like the Sprint commercial that’s being shown at the movie theaters: a writer gets a phone call from his agent that a deal went through, Hollywood producers transforms his story into something else, and he gives approval over the cellphone while holding hands with his girlfriend at the car dealership. Although that commercial is about how one phone call can ruin a good thing at the movies, I got ticked off since my writing life is nothing like that. I’m still waiting for the girlfriend at the car dealership thing to happen.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.