The Beauty of “The End”

Almost four months ago to the day, I wrote this post about my rather unsatisfying writing vacation at Gun Lake, where I had hoped to finish a good first draft of my current WIP, but only succeeded in getting lots of words down on the page that I knew I’d have to fix later. I’ve been picking away at it on and off since then, adding layers and altering plot lines and deepening characters. And I am happy to be able to say that it is now ready for my first beta readers’ critiques. It feels so good to not only have it finished, but to be happy with it. I’m not truly done, of course. Once I get feedback from a few readers I’ll have plenty to edit. But the first big hurdle — writing the dang thing — has been cleared.

In reaching The End, there is a loosening of something that had been wound tight in my chest, a liberating sensation that I am now free to work on a new story, one that has been forming in my mind for weeks, like a flock of birds ahead of winter’s snows. After all, The End is really just the beginning of something new…

My Mind Full and My Pen at the Ready

The scales have tipped, the tumblers in the lock have fallen into place, the dominoes are all lined up and the finger is making contact with the very first one.

What am I talking about? My next novel.

Next novel? But you haven’t even published your first one. Yes, that’s true. But writers write. And this next one, which I hope will be my second to be published (eventually), has been brewing in my mind since the day after I typed “The End” at the bottom of my last manuscript. And on Thursday night, a key plot element was birthed in my mind like a baby star and I am just about ready to really start writing.

Since early March, I have been feeding my mind a steady diet of classic literature in preparation for writing this next novel, and a few weeks ago I finally picked up this beautiful book, a gift last Christmas…

dickinsonI’m smitten anew and excited to say that Emily Dickinson’s life, spirit, and poetry will get a major nod in the novel. In fact, the backbone of the story is constructed of books and poems, the kind that stay with us throughout our lives and to which we return again and again. It is precisely the kind of story the English major in me can hardly believe she will be privileged to write–one that celebrates our vast body of literature in English, makes a case for the singular importance of the printed book, and traces how our identities are wrapped up in what we read at formative points in our lives.

I’m so excited to get started, I don’t know that I will be able to wait until NaNoWriMo, which I had been thinking of attempting for the third time. And if I cheat, I simply could not wear a t-shirt like this with any sense of integrity…

tee shirt

And this is kind of how I feel about that shirt…

napoleon-dynamite-gifWill patience prevail? Only time will tell.

 

The Thrill of that First Paragraph

This morning as I drove home from dropping my son off at school, I found my mind working on words. I’ve been thinking about and taking notes on a new novel since the very day I wrote the last word of the first draft of my last novel. But I couldn’t start anything new at the time. I wasn’t mentally ready. I was still embroiled in the last plot, the last set of characters, the last setting. Which is good, because I still had revising and editing to do!

So I just let things start percolating in my mind and committed only notes to paper. I started to do some background reading for the new novel idea. I tested the idea out on a few friends and got instant and enthusiastic validation (thank you Zach, Valerie, and Ted) as well as great plot ideas. These friends were immediately excited about the story idea and their synapses began firing. What if this happened? What if that happened? One friend, also a writer, said, “This has legs. I want to write the screenplay when you’re done with it.”

I don’t think I have to tell you that I wanted to put pen to paper (or fingertips to keys) right then and there. I couldn’t, of course, mainly because I was driving 75 mph, but also because the idea was in its infancy. It needed more time. I needed more space from the manuscript I had just finished.

Then this morning, the first sentence wormed its way into my mind. Then the next. Then the next. And I ended up with 126 mood- and scene-setting words that can usher me into this new story. It’s a great feeling. The feeling of something new and never-before-seen. It continues to amaze me that we humans can take our thoughts, put them into words, string letters together to make words and words to make sentences and sentences to make stories. Something that doesn’t exist comes slowly into being. And it’s all made up of 26 arbitrary black marks on a white page.

It’s truly thrilling and it remains for me some of the most convincing evidence that this world came about and we came about as the product of an endlessly creative mind rather than a chaotic string of random events, and that we bear the mark of our Maker.

How to Write Your Novel’s First Draft in Just 2 Months

Late Tuesday night, I happily typed the final words of the first draft of a novel that I began 65 days before. 92,615 words, averaging out to 1,425 per day, though if you’ve been following this blog, you probably know that I don’t write every single day, and I don’t even advocate writing daily (though, if that’s your thing, more power to you).

Beyond writing, I do work full time Monday through Friday; attend church and teach Sunday school on Sundays; take my son to karate on Mondays and Fridays; teach ESL and attend choir practice and Bible study on Wednesdays; commute halfway across the state on Thursdays; and make halfhearted attempts to keep up on housework (well, sometimes).

So how? How can someone with a full life still find the time to write the draft of a full length work of fiction in a little over 2 months?

I’m glad you asked. Because I bet you can do it too–if you want to.

First, spend an entire year thinking about, researching, and sketching a rough outline of the novel before writing anything. Go ahead and make notes of scenes or particular phrases or dialogue you think of, but don’t start the real writing until you are ready. Really ready. So ready that you can’t hold back any longer. I put this first not only because it comes first chronologically, but because it was so obviously the most critical factor for me this time around.

Second, build in some concentrated blocks of writing time. I probably could have managed most days to write something on my manuscript, but to write fast and in the moment, I needed to have a string of empty days where nothing was on my schedule except writing. That’s how I got momentum. I took one week of vacation at the very beginning and another six weeks later. More than 50,000 words were written in those two weeks alone–over half the book.

Third, write first. Write before you go to work, before you do the dishes at night, before you collapse in bed and binge on House of Cards. Put the writing first for this limited amount of time while you’re working hard to get that first draft done. Now I have the whole rest of the year to relax a bit and enjoy life more while I edit at a far more leisurely pace. But if you don’t put it first for awhile, it will always get pushed back down the priorities list until it’s the last thing you do with the dregs of your energy–or it may fall off entirely.

Fourth, resist getting bogged down. There were times, especially near the end, when I had to slow down and look at the big picture again before I could see the way forward. But if you stand still too long in the muck in the middle of your book, you may find that you’re cemented there. Leave it too long, and you might give up on it. Push forward whenever you can.

Fifth, eliminate your biggest distractions. TV? Facebook? Video games? Friends? They’re all crouching on the sidelines waiting to devour your time and brain cells. Do whatever it takes to control these distractions. Have a friend take your TV and your X-box for a while. Go Cold Turkey on time-sucking Internet sites. Have your mom dog-sit for a couple months. Schedule some special times with your friends for a few months from now so you have something to look forward to.

I want to stress that I didn’t set out to write this draft at breakneck speed. I was fully expecting it to take at least twice as long as it did. The speed happened because the story wanted so badly to be told after my copious research. It was all wound up inside my brain and once I let it go, there was no stopping it. But along the way I had ample opportunities for it to get derailed. And that’s where the last three pieces of advice come in.

You have to want it. And you have to be willing to sacrifice for it, if only for a time.

I’m a pretty firm believer that a person can do almost anything for set amount of time. When I was running a lot, I convinced myself to go further and run longer by forcing myself to “at least get to the end of this song” and then “at least get to the chorus of this next song” and then “at least go one more minute.”

Can you give yourself a time frame and tell yourself that you can write for “at least this one hour today” or “every day for just this next week” or “1000 words a day for just this one month?” If you can do that, push yourself a little harder. Give yourself a deadline. Then beat it.

13,652

This is why you should occasionally take a week of vacation just to write if you have a full time job and are finding it difficult to set aside concentrated writing time. I had a goal for my week off to net me three chapters of my new book. Instead, I ended up with five chapters and a nice, encouraging total of 13,652 words–a little over 2,700 per day.

Because I waited to start writing until I was really, really ready (in other words, until I just couldn’t hold back the tide) I had very few moments when I struggled with what to say or what should come next. And it took about a year of musing, outlining, researching, and a few false starts to get there. Now I wish I had a couple more weeks off lined up this month! Still, if I make the time at night or during a few early mornings, I can still manage to keep up a nice pace.

I hope if you made any writing goals for the new year that you are actively pursuing them and that when your passion or energy inevitably fades (as mine will at times, I am quite sure) that you pick it back up before letting the dust settle.

Write on!

Should I Really Get Myself into This?

NaNoWriMoCapture

I’m sure that some of you out there know what this is. For the rest of you, go here and then come back.

Are you back yet?

Last year I participated in NaNoWriMo and started writing a novel that I still intend to get back to at some point, but I didn’t finish out the month. I actually don’t really remember why I dropped the project.

But this year the timing is just right. My research for my next venture is nearly complete, I’m chomping at the bit to get started, and I really want to commit to consistent writing to get a huge chunk of this sucker done before the end of the year and keep the momentum going. My husband is also ready to start his next novel, so we can write together every night just like we did a couple years ago.

I do have my last three short stories to write. October’s should be done this week and I think I could get November’s started up as well so I wouldn’t be doing the entire thing next month. But another reason for me to go gung-ho on the novel during November is because early next year I want to put together my short story collection, which will require time to do interior design, and I want to write an ebook about my experiences with more intentional writing this year that will contain lots of great advice about finding a writing rhythm, dealing with problems and blacks as the arise, and self-pubbing.

So I figure if I have 50,000 words of the novel’s first draft written before December…well, I’d feel pretty dang good about myself.

What about you? Have you ever participated in NaNoWriMo? Ever thought about it? Think you could give yourself over to your writing for one month? Imagine what you could come out with on the other side…