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...


Melissa Amateis said...

Yay! I'm so pleased and happy for you. I know exactly what you mean about still working on the novel even when the gut is telling you no, that it's not ready yet. I made that mistake with my last novel and although, like you, I think it has a lot going for it, it's not ready to be told yet. Someday. Maybe even after I'm done with the novel I returned to (the one I abandoned when I wanted to write the other).

We've both been on a bit of a parallel in the writing world, haven't we? :-) Best wishes on meeting your two month deadline - you can do it!

Christine Fletcher said...

Melissa, we have been on a parallel--I've noticed that, too! :)

Thanks for the vote of confidence--I can sure use it. I'm puttin' on my big-girl revision pants and buckling down to it, starting...NOW.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Yay!!! Congratulations!

I also abandoned a book last spring, and started writing a new one. God how I love the new one. Best decision I ever made. It will be going out on submission soon.

I heard Laini say one time - abandoning that one that doesn't feel right is like letting yourself out of jail. So true!

Happy revising!!

Christine Fletcher said...

I heard Laini say one time - abandoning that one that doesn't feel right is like letting yourself out of jail.

Lisa, thank you for this. Being let out of jail is exactly what it felt like. I love my new novel, too, and I also think it's the best decision I could have made.

Best of luck with yours on submission--I can't wait to read it!

Walter Rowntree said...

Sounds like 'The End' is sorta' like 'The Beginning'. Have Fun seconding.
I have a rough idea of what the historical novel was/is about, but you never did post a one-paragraph synopsis of the new novel. Can we know? Pretty please?

Lisa Nowak said...

Woo-hoo! I'm drinking a Guinness in your honor right now. Okay, so I was drinking the Guinness anyway, but now it's dedicated to you.

May your second draft flow quickly and smoothly!

And I'm with Walter. Let's see a teaser even if it's only a logline.

Christine Fletcher said...

Walter--yes, the end of the 1st draft is really just another beginning. But it's the beginning of revision, which I love.

Lisa--Thanks for the Guinness dedication! I am honored.

And since you and Walter asked so nicely, I will post a teaser for the new book...soon!

Jenny Seay said...

Yay!!! Congrats! And best of luck as you move through the revision.

Christine Fletcher said...

Thanks, Jenny! I have my own brutal chapters, as you do (or did!)--I hope I get through them as well as you.

Sally Nemeth said...

BIG CONGRATS. I have three unfinished novels I set aside for good reason. Doesn't mean I won't revisit them when the time is right and the solutions to the problems in them present themselves. In the meantime, I finished TWO novels that were, like all novels, problematic. But they were solvable, and exciting problems. All things in their time. And this was clearly the time for THIS novel. Woot!

Christine Fletcher said...

Sally--my writing mentor, the incomparable Karen Karbo, says that we learn how to write all over again with each novel. Meaning that each book presents different problems than the one before, problems that we have to figure out how to solve. And yes, some of those problems are unsolvable. At least at the time.

In that way, it's very much like training puppies. Every puppy has his own unique issues, and no two respond to training alike! (Too bad novels don't respond to bribing with hot dogs...)

Andrea said...

It always amazes me when I hear people in other professions say they want to be writers. Why, exactly? I mean, it is so $@^!ing hard sometimes. Just the decision making alone (key word here: alone) is enough to cause many sleepless nights. And it's that way for many of us even when nobody out there knows or cares what we're writing.

But for you, my friend, there's an audience. And we're patient. Get comfy in those revision pants and take your time.

And BIG congratulations on getting that draft finished!

Marilee said...

Loyal fan here, very excited and happy for you with this greatest of news. I would gladly wait years for another novel of yours but I am overjoyed for us both to learn the wait won't be too, too much longer (one can only re-read those N&R class notes so many times). Besides I haven't scored really big in the god-mother birthday present arena since Ten cents. May the words of revision flow from your fingers!

Christine Fletcher said...

Andrea, this reminds me of the famous quote (Hemingway? I think?): Writing is easy; just sit down at the typewriter and bleed.

So far, I'm loving the revision pants. I know there's a blog post not far in the future, though, in which wailing and gnashing of teeth will be heard. :)

Hi, Marilee! So glad to hear Ten Cents scored you godmother points! And now I have an added incentive to hurry with the new book, because it's certainly cruel and unusual punishment to reread those class notes.