Monday, September 13, 2010


Last week, I typed these two little words--


--and completed the first draft of my novel-in-progress.

Big deal? YES. Because I've been in first draft hell for 3 years, more or less. (When it comes to these sorts of things, a slightly fuzzy memory is essential to one's self-esteem.)

I spent the bigger chunk of that time wrestling with a historical novel I just couldn't make work. I still love the story idea. I still think it could be a good book someday. But in its current form, it's missing something deep and vital, some unknown thing that would set my heart pounding. My gut knew this almost from the beginning; but for a long, long time, I refused to listen. Even after I did start paying attention to that uneasy feeling, I spent months more agonizing over what it meant, while still hammering away at that first draft. Meanwhile, I rained my doubts and fears onto my writing group (bless you, good and stalwart people, for putting up with my weekly fits of anxiety), my sweetheart, my friends, and my wise and very patient agent, who has always believed in me and whose cool, calming advice was like the paper bag to my hyperventilation.

I finally decided to put that novel aside, unfinished. Part of me felt like an absolute failure. But my gut--which had been telling me all along that the book wasn't right--was jumping up and down, squealing, "Start the next novel now! Start the next novel now!" The thing was, I'd come up with an idea as different from the historical as could be...and whatever the historical lacked in the heart-pounding department, this idea made up for. In spades.

So: the same day I made the decision, I cleared every trace of the abandoned historical from my office. Eighteen or so library books went back to the library. I filled an entire footlocker to bulging with all the other research material I'd collected: dozens more books, plus WWII-era magazines, pamphlets, letters, and other eBay finds--one of which I'd spent 2 years searching for, and had finally acquired less than a month previously.

I clearly heard the universe laughing at that one.

The next day, I threw myself into the new book with a firm resolution: to have a first draft complete within 6 months. Now, I've never written a first draft that fast. But I have friends who can and do (heck, I have friends who can write a first draft in 6 weeks), and I reasoned that if they can do it, so can I. I would be a writing machine.

And I was. But guess what: it still took me 10 months.

Lots of writing lessons learned, these past few years. Among them:

ALWAYS listen to your gut.

Everyone writes at their own pace. What works for other writers may not work for you.

On the other hand: outlining actually CAN be useful.
Sort of. (Oh heck, let's just make that its own blog post, shall we?)

So now what? Going to Disneyland, right?

*sigh* I wish. The first draft is the literary equivalent of the half-baked cake. A distressing amount is comprehensible only to me, at this point, because I know what I meant, but it's sort of not actually on the page. Yet.

That's the job of revisions. And so, after a brief gulp of fresh air...

...back into the story I go.

Second draft deadline: 2 months. Can she do it? Stay tuned...