December 11, 2015 is more of a ceremonial date because I’m not sure how much writing I did at the start. Did I sit down and type, “Tildy sat up so quickly her head swam” – the first sentence of the first chapter – that first day? I don’t think so. I’m pretty certain I didn’t have her name yet. If memory serves, I started with the prologue, which has a boatload of too much historical context in it.
I recall thinking about a new direction for my story over the Summer of 2015. I started parts of it twenty-five years ago and I still liked much of the world I’d created. However, I needed to inject something into it: something to make it appeal to a broader audience and something to reinvigorate myself as a writer.
I wondered what kind of books the real world needed. It occurred to me that we could use more stories with empowered female characters, and they had to appeal to girls and boys. As simply as that, I was running, sprinting, in a new direction.
The writing came suddenly. One day I wasn’t writing; the next day I was.
Three years later, and more than a thousand hours of effort, I’m coming up on 190,000 words, which is about 100,000 more than I intended. I’ve also removed characters, places, and scenes to cut another 30,000 words. And I’m pretty sure I’ll have a bit more culling to do.
This month, I’m finishing up the final chapter and the epilogue, and then the mid-draft is complete. I’m now using this term instead of a numbering system for drafts because I’ve discovered I reaaaaaally don’t edit in a linear fashion. I read and edit. I jump around. Re-read and re-edit. I jump up, jump up, and get down. Some parts of the book have changed twenty times. Others have been touched once or twice. While it would be easier to tell someone, “I’m working on the third draft or eighth draft”, it’s just not accurate. I have the first draft, mid-draft, and final draft.
Once I finish the mid-draft, I print the beast: 374 pages of 12-point Arial font in MS Word. Thirty-seven chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue. If I keep my head down, and don’t write too many blog posts, maybe I can get this to the print shop before Christmas. This would allow me to start reading it over my holiday vacation, and hopefully, I’ll enjoy myself.
That is, until I whip out a dozen colored pens and start marking up the crap out of it. Call it my New Year’s Resolution.
But it’s also the draft where I can hand a completed copy to a trusted reader or three. I’ve shared the beginning chapters with nearly twenty people now, but no one has read the entire thing completely. I’m asking a lot, so we’ll see if their enthusiasm wanes explodes with delight! As I mentioned in a recent post, That Time I Shared My Writing #2, I’m extremely grateful for my trusted readers, and I’ll take any feedback they have, even if it’s, “You lost me on page 1.”
After all of that, we’re on to the Final Draft, and then, maybe after that, I can start looking into literary agents and publishing. In a serious manner, though, not in the I’m-unmotivated-to-write-and-need-a-distraction-so-I’ll-daydream-and-do-“research” manner.
That’s the plan.
As I was re-reading my one- and two-year anniversary posts (links below), I saw that I’d described some things I’d learned. Here are the big moments from Year 3, in no particular order:
- I significantly under-described some scenes in the original draft. Or I decided I had plenty more to say. Candidly, I think some first-draft sections were glorified outlines.
- Related to that, I finally found a consistent plotline that connected everything in a sensible way. Or so I think. Having not read it straight through myself, I guess we’ll see.
- I’ve always been a huge gamer, and it’s been the bane of, well, many things. I think I struck a better balance this last year, and I often chose to game and write in an evening, instead of letting one monopolize my time.
- I recommend connecting more with other creative people, even if they aren’t in your genre or medium. They’re as hungry for feedback as you are. I’m now exchanging time with a former colleague who’s starting a podcast, and we’re each interested in the other’s project.
- No matter how many times I’ve lost my motivation or my rhythm, I’ve always gotten them back. Maybe I’m lucky. But also, I persevere when I can do nothing more than type with one finger or disparage every single word I’ve ever written ever. EVER. There will be black days, but man, there will be some brilliant ones, too.
- And finally, one thing I re-learned. Writing can be your escape, your salvation, your energy, your love, your greatest hope. I do it because it’s all these things to me. After an extra-long workday, a gross commute, and a kid that wants to sit on my lap all evening to play iPad games, I can still be completely recharged by a couple hours of writing.
So, there you go. That’s what happens when a writer gets inspired and spends three years working on a project. There aren’t too many things in a person’s life that she or he spends this much time on, in my experience.
As much as it has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, it’s also been one of the most wonderful and rewarding and fulfilling. Here’s to a great 2019. Good luck with your own writing!
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© Michael Wallevand, December 2018