confessions / first-drafting / novels / writing

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.

9 thoughts on “Done and Undone

  1. Nova, as I posted with great excitement on a previous post, I found your novel today at my local Barnes & Noble!!! I was soooo excited, you’d have thought *I* wrote it–almost! You asked somewhere that we post photos if/when we see it, so I took some with my iPhone. They are here: (1) and here (2) and here (3)

    I hope your blog doesn’t kick me out for spamming more than one or two links! We’re all going to read the book and are excited about knowing the author. My only problem is going to be one copy and three girls (not to mention their mom!). I clearly am going to have to obtain autographed copies! Congratulations, it’s a BOOK! If your book has made it way out here, you know it’s alive! :o) I’m so happy for you!

  2. I love your description of your writing process–especially the part about line edits being like eating a chocolate ice cream cone. Totally get that. =)

    Actually, I just love talking about process, and how it’s different for everyone, and completely inefficient but still creates these amazing works. Can’t wait to read the book!

    Hope you don’t mind, but I wrote a blog post about process this morning, so I linked back to your post as an example.

  3. Oh. My. Goodness. Your. First. Draft. Method. Is. Amazing. I love it because it is a beautiful puzzle to me, since drafting is such an individual thing, but I know the end result is going to be brilliant. Ok, I am just going to sit over here and marvel. Seriously! Work of art!

  4. Pingback: Nearing the End of My First Full Day without Twitter* « distraction no. 99

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