Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Big Fat Beautiful Book

THE E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies)I tweeted over the weekend (Sunday to be precise) that I had typed those two fabulous little words at the end of what might be arguably a dirty first draft: the end. Typing these words is both a catharsis and a relief, but it is also a disappointment. For months, you live, breathe, sleep and think the novel. You are in the heads of these characters; you ride their emotions and experience your own emotional journey. When you finally type those two little words, it is both wonderful and terrible.

Wrung Out

Delighted as I am to be done with the dirty first draft and as excited as I am to getting ready for the edits, it is very much the same feeling you have after nine months of pregnancy and hours of labor. I am almost too exhausted to be bouncing off the walls thrilled. Unfurling inside is a deep sense of personal satisfaction: I did it. I achieved my goal. I told my story. However, coupled with this satisfaction is the realization, that now I have to nurture this new little life, edit it, nudge it and shape it so that it can stand up and walk on its own two feet.

Ages and Stages

Many authors think of their books as their babies and they are. They gestate in our minds, they keep us up late into the night, they wake us at odd hours and they can be capricious in their demands, not always doing what we want them to do. You could argue that the gestation to the page is the most difficult age and stage, for some authors it is. However, as with children and their parents, every novel is different.

This novel has been brewing in the back of my mind for many years. I'd written the first chapter in 2003. So it's not a surprise that I wanted to go back and shepherd it along – but what I first envisioned in 2003 became very different in 2010. I reworked that first chapter, wrote a couple more and then hammered the vision down into a plot framework. That plotting was a new step for me. I've always been a pantser (someone who just writes from the seat of the pants and worries about organizing the plot later), but I chose a different route this time.

Of Plots and Particulars

Plotting presented a new set of challenges. I had to think about what was coming, so it made layering foreshadowing and hints in earlier chapters a little easier. I didn't have to go back to season those in later. It also required that I dig deep for the emotion and the action, eliminating any "digressions" that pulled me off the path. From start to finish, it was roughly 13 weeks to write this dirty first draft. Since the novel is about 15 chapters in length, I was writing roughly one chapter per week. Not bad when you consider how little time, I actually spent with the characters in the great grand scheme of things.

Now comes the hard part – what you thought writing that first draft was hard? Challenging? Yes. Hard? Not so much. No the hard part is the editing, the refining, the tweaking and the massaging. It's going back through and choosing which words to trim back, which to enhance and where to add more story and where to take away. Now the metaphor is not so much about pregnancy and giving birth as it is about taming the unruly, wild garden into something civilized, exotic and inviting – not always three words you hear together.

Shaking the Post Partum Book Blues

In addition to a head cold and a sick kid, I've wrestled with my post partum book blues. I've coped with the inevitable wrung out feeling and now I'm getting excited. Now I get to go back and read to refine – that's exciting. So rather than hearing finality when I type those two wonderful words, I'm, often reminded of the Black Eyed Peas version -- you know: The E.N.D. -- the energy never dies.

In three weeks, my dirty draft and I are on the road to a Margie Lawson workshop where I get to have some quality Mommy-Book time to really make the process complete. Exciting, n'est-ce-pas?