Completing the first draft: A look back at the writing process – Part 3

While I have on my hindsight goggles, I might as well take a look at the what I would do differently going forward.

Stay focused:

For the most part I focused on Strain. But last year about this time, I had a breakthrough on a story idea I’d been chewing on for years. And I mean YEARS. It was a hypnogogic experience. (Appropriate because the story is called The Strangest Dream.) I followed the trail for a couple of weeks. Really dug into the main character and was just about to jump in with both feet, when my wife asked, ‘what about the book you’re working on?’

Damn. Writus Interruptus.

She was right and she called me on it. I needed to focus and finish one before jumping into another. Otherwise, who’s to say I wouldn’t have run out on that story.

Fortunately, The Strangest Dream will still be there when I’m done with Strain (I suppose it will be good therapy/distraction during the querying process). Of course, Structure of Shadows is all outlined…there I go again.

Speaking of outlines

Outline :

I’ve never been one to outline a story. I’ve never written a book. At 90,000 words, the story is much bigger – physically – than I ever could have imagined. Keeping track of notes and ideas needs some sort of system. Perhaps an outline is the method, perhaps it’s mindmapping.

Mind the creative cycle
This could also be called ‘Don’t get pissy or give up so easily when it ain’t happening’

I’d like to map or plot my creative cycle; the creative ebb and flow of writing, work, and family. I’ve kept a word count for every night I’ve written along with a the individual version. In fact, I have over 175 versions of the first draft on my little thumb drive. Each night I start by saving off a copy with the day’s date. At the end of each draft I enter the total word count. One of these days, I’ll pull all the dates and counts into a spreadsheet or some more effective form of visually expressing the data to plot out my creative cycles.

If I had one regret it would be that I didn’t attempt a book earlier. It would have saved me years of fumbling around in my twenties and into my early thirties trying to find my ass with both hands, a map and a flashlight. (Tip of the hat to Barry. I’d never thought to use the flashlight).

Stay focused: a reprise

In the foreword to Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb, Dennis Lehane talks about the Ticking-Clock Syndrome writers need to overcome to break the chains of daydreaming and return to the task of writing the best sentence you are able followed by another and another. I’ll admit there are days when I do let myself daydream. Typically on the ride to work or just after I receive a client’s second round edits that contradict the first round.

But there was one Lehane anecdote that I truly appreciated. In the forward he describes the three words he wrote on a piece of paper and taped to his wall, ‘No One Cares.’ In my case, the phrase is a little longer: ‘The story ain’t going to write itself.’

It occurred to me during the process that I couldn’t have accomplished this before now. I believe many of my old college classmates would be keen to tell you that I was late to mature. Very late. I think if you were to ask my wife, she’d tell you October 10, 2005. Just after dinner.

I’m unsure how to explain it more than to say, I just didn’t get it. I mean, for a very, very long time, I was waiting for something, maturity I suppose, to come ’round like a package delivered by the mail carrier. Until then, I’d be chasing staring off into space wondering why I wasn’t being an author, or important. I was thick-headed  and terribly self-absorbed. Yes, my old college friends would also be keen to agree with my self-centeredness. (On a side note to the youngsters out there who don’t get it yet, either: don’t spend your time chasing the ladies at the bar. Join a gym, take classes, anything. And don’t discuss your debt consolidation, skin conditions, or ex-lovers on the first date.)

Oh, I had glimpses inside the writer’s school of cool. When I first moved to Seattle from Ohio, I fell in with a bunch of blacksmiths and a couple of artists. I rented a room in the loft of the forge. It was my space just to write.

I furnished it with a couch, a desk, and a radio. I’d write and drink beers. The writing would start off great, but by the third beer, I’d need to take a leak. I’d stop writing, run to the restroom, and then go and hang around with artists actually producing art. It was very social. The small stuff I wrote back at that time was mostly broken hearted callow self-indulgence. I spent hours journaling my deep, smoldering angst.

My life was a bad ripoff of a Neil Diamond song. I had no clue what I was doing. No direction. Aimless. Ugh. I cringe just thinking back to it.

I think that’s enough self-exploration for one night.

Till next time.

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3 Responses to “Completing the first draft: A look back at the writing process – Part 3”

  1. lifelessonsfromwriting Says:

    As someone who’s currently working on ‘the first draft’, I enjoyed reading the thoughts of a fellow writer who already has that stage over with. I’m planning on hitting 20,000 words tonight, which will get me about…one quarter of the way through the novel. And that’s just the first draft.

    I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this!

  2. peterosborne Says:

    Hey, thanks for stopping by. Congratulations on reaching 20,000 words and best wishes on continuing.

    I know I ran into my first big wall at 21,000 words. It was because of the holidays – in 2005. Egad. At the time I really needed to focus on my Day Job. (That’s not to imply that I don’t focus at my Day Job now.)

    And talk about not listening to my own advice: writing this post, I ate up all my time to write for the night. Got to stay focused.

  3. lifelessonsfromwriting Says:

    Heh, I know the feeling. I hit something of a wall yesterday when I couldn’t quite work out how events in the story were going to go (or in what order), but now I have it all straight and it’s just a matter of getting it written.

    Best of luck with your own writing!

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