Friday, May 31, 2013

Work in Progress: May

May, as it turns out, is an excellent month for writing novels. After 30 straight days of writing first thing every morning, my draft now contains 60,000 words, fourteen chapters (with five more to go), and 207 manuscript pages. My goal was 31,000 words; I ended up writing 47,751. I don't know if I'm allowed to be so openly impressed with myself, but all I have to say is: DAMN. Also: someone bring me a mimosa, immediately, please and thank you. 

photo credit.

While this first draft still has a long way to go before I can call it done, and while it will require hours weeks months years of revision before it's even close to publication-ready, I can't help but see this as a milestone. The last time I wrote so much in such a short span of time was years ago, during National Novel Writing Month, which I "won" four years in a row. But those drafts weren't anything I cared about - they were crazy plots that I made up as I went along, all in the name of quantity. While they were a good exercise in daily writing, the habit never extended past November. As soon as I hit the 50K finish line, I put those projects away and never looked at them again. 

While I wrote almost as much this month as during NaNoWriMo, it felt different. I wrote with purpose, with a plan. My outline, which I drafted in March, made all the difference - every time I sat down, I knew, more or less, what would happen next, even though I revised it as I went. (The one day I did not hit 1,000 words was May 10 - I only netted 315, but spent an hour drastically revising the arc of an important character, so I didn't feel too badly.)

Another thing that aided my word count was the groundwork I had already laid. I've been writing about these characters for over a year now - they first appeared in two short stories I wrote and workshopped in a fiction class during the spring 2012 semester. Then I took those characters with me to the year-long novel writing workshop I just finished, where I continued working with them, fleshing them out, building their world, finding their voices, and discovering what they were most afraid of losing. Once I understood that final piece (and figuring it out took some time) I finally knew how to shape the plot, which thread had to be the central story line. Then it was just a matter of showing up every day and writing it all down. 

Coffee & words.

I say "was," but the truth is, despite my celebratory feelings and dreams of mimosas, the first draft is far from finished. There's about a third left to write, and it'll be the hardest part. I'm at the point in the book where all the bad decisions the characters have made (because what is fiction, but a series of bad decisions?) are coming home to roost, and a lot of terrible things are going to happen to characters that I've grown to love. One of the critiques that I get about my work most often is that I don't let things get messy enough - I often take a situation to the edge, and then cut away at the last minute. Maybe it's because I'm a mostly nice person, and I hate to see people suffer, real or imaginary. Maybe it's because I'm a bit of a coward when it comes to confrontation, and that comes through in my writing. Whatever it is, I need to write through it, and I will. Page by page, morning by morning, 1,000 words a time. 

Which means tomorrow morning, I'll show up again, with or without a champagne hangover, and get back to work. I'm looking forward to it.