It’s a wrap!
The last four weeks have been quite productive for all five of us. We all came in with different goals and finished happy with what we accomplished. I went out of alphabetical order for this wrap-up to finish with Matt’s mini guest post about his project. Here’s what everyone has to say!
Even though I made almost no progress the last two weeks, I have had a meaningful project here and a jump-start.
I didn’t meet any of my original goals, but I got a lot done and finally got an idea for a mystery novel (something I’ve always wanted to write). I continued to work on a short story I started forever ago, and I got some solid revisions done.
Overall, I didn’t finish a story, but I got some work done, which is so much better than no work. I also came up with some ideas for additional projects, so I’m satisfied that these four weeks were a success!
This week I wrote 1,087 words. For the four weeks I wrote 5,254 words. My plan was to write 7,000 words, so I made 75% of my goal. I’m pretty happy with that — I didn’t expect to write that much. I mostly wrote on the weekend because the work week is too busy. This project has re-energized my novel writing — I was somewhat stalled for a while, but now I have some fresh ideas and a pace that I can keep up through the semester. I hope to finish the draft of the novel by the end of the semester, around 85,000 words, and do the editing during the summer.
After darned close to eighteen months’ steady work on a long-suspended project, I used an invitation to Laura Power’s four-week writing group as an excuse to set myself a deadline. By the end of January, I would have a readable first draft of my book. There are a couple of reasons why this is an important event for me.
One is that this book, which in my head I think of as a novel, is not a novel. It is made of several parts, most of them prose, some of them comics, and some fake research. One of the pieces of prose is novel-length on its own. That was the first part, and it was written almost twenty years ago (fortunately for everyone, it has changed a lot since then). The pieces evolved over time; another prose story a year later, a few comics four years after that, then a whole bunch of comics over a two year period. I knew they were related, but I was unsure about the nature of their relationship.
In 2014, I began to work in earnest on a plan to draw together the disparate elements I had already created. How could they all exist together? What would it look like? What would it take?
I decided that it would take four new stories and a framing device, which is what I’ve been doing for the past year. It’s all one story, but it’s a lot of parts, and bringing it all together means that I can finally step back and look at it as one thing. I can finally start considering all the big questions and figure out what it’s all about.
Shouldn’t you already know what it’s about? you might rightly ask. As usual, glibness saves the day. The human mind loves a binary, so allow me to unapologetically assert that there are two kinds of stories. There are the constructed stories, where your characters and places and plots begin to reveal themselves from lists of attributes. These are the stories that begin as writing exercises. This is not an indictment – these exercises are not only a valuable way of organizing information, they are paths to inspiration. You may start with a topic sentence or an exquisite corpse, but it leads you somewhere and the magic takes over and holy shit you may never have gotten there otherwise! But for me, when I’m writing a constructed story, it’s much easier to ask myself responsible questions like “What does my character want?” and “What are the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving those goals?”
Then there are the stories that just smash you in the face and you never had a chance to figure that stuff out in advance. You sat down to jot a couple of ideas before they got away from you, and the next thing you knew you’d filled twenty-four pages of a legal pad and you can’t stop now to ask where it’s all going. When I’m working in a world like that, which is mostly where I’ve been, I prefer to wait, to trust the thing that wants to come out. After it’s all out, then I’ll try to understand what I’ve made, and what I can do to make it better.
See, this process has involved keeping so many things active in my mind, so many voices coming out of my own head, that it’s finally gotten to be a bit overwhelming. When it existed as a collection of individual stories, I could not stop shifting and folding and pinching them. I had to put them together to make them quiet, so I would finally be able to see the whole.
And I knew it was time to finally share the burden. It is a scary prospect, this weird naked thing that is surely not ready to be seen, but I need other voices. I need people who have not been living inside it, not living with it inside them, to look at it and tell me what they see.
The strangest thing happened. I put the stories all together and suddenly, it became utterly inert. The voices were gone. I looked at this thing and I asked myself, What does it need?, and I had no response. What are you about? Are your characters three dimensional and consistent?
The book was silent.
I sat on it for a couple of days like a hen, but nothing happened. Because I was still holding on to it.
Anticipating the completion of this first draft, I had already lined up a few people who were willing to read it for me. At this point, feeling deeply ambivalent, I decided to try something.
I shared the book with just one of them.
And I waited.
About a day later, it happened. The voices. The obsessive note-taking. The constant onslaught of thoughts! All the parts of my book have started reorganizing in my head, becoming the whole that I’ve been trying to force them to be. I just couldn’t see it. Remember how I said that I needed to be able to take a step back and look at what I made? I believe that the simple act of sharing it with one person achieved that degree of removal that I required. My head is filling back up with questions that need to be answered, and after having felt like I had run out of steam, I’m starting to feel that I will actually be up to the task of taking on the next leg of this journey.
I set myself the challenge of creating a readable first draft. And it is readable, at least in the sense that it is typed and composed mostly of complete sentences. Though I will admit to some small indulgence in sentence fragments. For emphasis.
Is it ready to be shared, in any meaningful way? Probably not, but writing is that curious artistic endeavor that practically requires the work to be shared before it is ready. This is a necessary step, and I truly thank the people who have agreed to be a part of it with me. Know I am aware that the thing I’m about to send you is dense and verbose and probably full of fat that I should have cut out, and perhaps it lacks focus where it shouldn’t, and maybe I’m not sure that the reward is worth the journey. Yet. But I’m working on it, and no matter what comes of this part, sharing it with you is part of my process and I hope you don’t regret it.
For the moment, I’m going to try to enjoy this milestone for what it is. Not an ending, but a goal. A little triumph along the way. Not so very long ago, “readable first draft” seemed almost unattainable, but I got there. So who’s to say I can’t make it the rest of the way?
Good work, everyone! We’ll see you back here for the Summer 2016 group!
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