Done and Undone

I finished a new chapter today! Wheeeee!

I finished the chapter, yes. I did do that. Technically.*

But in order to spend the time finishing the chapter, I wasn’t able to: talk to anyone but the barista; return the phone call; work more on the promotion stuff; update the websites; upload the postcards** to get them printed; write the email; write the other email; complete the new budget; put away the laundry; do the dishes; finish cleaning the living room; return the library books; send out the thank-you cards; work on the new idea; pick up the prescription… there was a bunch more stuff on the list but I forget what.

I’ve been carrying around a to-do list that I force myself to look at throughout the day, but that doesn’t mean I do much of anything on it. Sometimes my brain’s tired and I just want to watch four back-to-back episodes of True Blood Season 2 (on the free HBO I got for one month just because I called the cable company to see why our cable box was so slow!). Sometimes I just want to sleep in (the travesty of this past Friday). Sometimes I just want to write a blog post ’cause I wanna. And tomorrow’s Monday yet again, which means I won’t have the time and energy to really tackle the things on the list until the next weekend.

All I have room in my head for sometimes is the novel. Sometimes I trip over a shoe I left in the middle of the floor and I think, Where did that shoe come from? I haven’t worn that shoe in years. And I look around and I have no idea where to start getting things together and I think, My life really is unraveling. Shoes I haven’t worn in years are crawling out from under the couch.

My book better thank me for this later!

* My first-draft method is this—and keep in mind I’m a big fat cheater: I write each chapter in scene order, taking as long as it takes because that’s how long it takes and I don’t rush it. I use chapter sketches and my so-called outline to make sure I hit all the beats, but I let myself go off on tangents. Tangents are okay. Skipping around is not.*** Skipping entire scenes will not be forgiven, even if one scene takes one whole week. I write each chapter in a file separate from the rest of the novel and keep it single-spaced and sometimes in a different-sized font so I can’t be exactly sure of the page count. I don’t want to stress over the page count. But once I’ve written to the end of the chapter, I paste it back into the main novel file, double-space it, resize the font, and see how many pages I have. You’d think now I’d move on to the next chapter. Nope. Now I am very, very bad and I line-edit the chapter I just wrote. I do it guiltily, but lovingly, like how you lick a chocolate ice-cream cone in the middle of winter where there’s no excuse for ice cream because it’s freezing out and you really should be eating dinner. I line-edit for as long as it takes. I read back from the start of the chapter every single time, tweaking and rewriting as I go, until I am able to get to the end without stopping at a mismatched word and cringing. Sometimes, in reckless moments, I highlight in yellow a word or phrase I know I will want to change later. Sometimes I make a note in purple about a continuity issue that will have to be fixed in a previous chapter. Once the line-edits are made, I am two-thirds done with what I call my first draft. After all the chapters are written, I will print out the novel and do line edits again. I will cut with abandon. I will spit out new scenes wherever I want them. Then I will go back on screen and edit again. And make cuts again. And maybe I’ll read it once more just because. After that I am fully done, and my first reader is allowed to read it. This, my friends, is how not to write a first draft.****

** I can’t even take credit for making my own postcards! E took over and handled it yesterday while I was busy doing… you guessed it: WRITING THE CHAPTER.

*** Skipping scenes within chapters is not allowed, but skipping whole chapters to write the end of the book is not just allowed but encouraged and, hey, I make up my own rules, don’t look at me like that, I can write the end of the book whenever I feel like it, I just haven’t felt like it yet.

**** My “first” drafts do end up being pretty polished though.

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