In The Books

I am writing novels. I wrote a novel just this November for NaNoWriMo. No, it is not a readable let alone publishable story. I think I know the differences. My November drafts are forays, experiments, and practice. I pick a rather random idea and write to it. I do some structural planning, but I do not put much thought into them. This might seem bad, but for me it is good. I have no limits when I write, no outline to guide my creative process. I follow enough scene-level form to keep me on the straight and narrow; I don’t need more.

I have five novels in the works, 2010 through 2014. I ran for a year with 2010 just because that was all I had in the hopper. It grew to 80,000 words and I am still fairly happy with its characters and ideas. But it takes place in Newfoundland, and it makes me uncomfortable. What right do I have to write about that province and their peoples’ events? If you have read February by Lisa Moore, you might catch my drift. By the way, she is coming here in February 2015 and we are so excited!

I also ran for a year with my 2011 novel. It is a long Canadian epic at 120,000 words, and it screams for twenty thousand more. My reading suggests publishers want short first novels, something less risky. And lets face it. Two years of fiction writing does not a writer make. I knew I needed to improve my knowledge and skills of this craft. Craft. Let’s all remember that writing is hard and it takes broad and in-depth knowledge and experience. I wasn’t there yet; I am not there now. There are also rumors of grant money for Canadian stories in 2017, the country’s 150th anniversary. I decided to let it sit.

My 2012 story excited me from its conception. I had nothing but an image in my head on October 15th. After two weeks of active brainstorming and diffuse thinking, the premise came to me. W5 plus how. I was excited that first day of writing, and the excitement stayed with me for the month. Yes, there have been ups and downs. I have asked myself a lot of hard questions. I have put my story and my skills up against firing squads. Like Colonel Aureliano Buendia, we have both survived. Unlike the good colonel, I hope to someday emerge from my solitude. I concluded edit pass number four this past week on December 15th, 2014.

So what to do next? Approach an agent? Pass it on to more beta readers? Let is soak? Stick my head into it again? I have two marked up version #3 manuscripts from beta readers I have not even looked at yet. I pouted for a few days, celebrated my daughter’s 25th birthday on Friday, and I printed out the first six scenes, 83 pages. I went to Starbucks, ordered a Venti coffee, and read the cut off MS. I marked it up as I read with a fountain pen I had lost for seven months (we moved) and an ink I haven’t used in a while.

I found myself marking up many words, phrases, and sentences. I clarified some things and unpacked others. Nothing particularly major but every page was becoming marked up with violet ink. Most changes were to make the sentences clearer. I changed “these” to “those” a few times. I removed much thinking, mostly “know” and “feel.” But I also added some literary flair:

He gave up on being a dad before he met Jill, and she had not changed his mind. “I don’t know how to be the father I never had; I can’t become him.”

I refuse to say if it is good writing, but some of my additions made my heart thump. The good part was I was happy with the story structure. My second and third scenes have always been bloated, and pass #4 was designed to remove bloating. Still, most of my changes this weekend were significant enough to warrant another serious pass. I concluded I need to continue with this edit before I let anybody else read it. I am focusing on the writing and not so much the structure; though I have already killed a significant paragraph. Today I updated 40 pages of changes and modified some of the mark-ups.

I am setting a short deadline of January 15th as my drop-dead date. It currently sits at close to 122,000 words, so this will be an intense few weeks. But it should be a fast edit. Hopefully most of the scene shuffling is over with. Hopefully I can focus on the writing and get it to where it needs to be, to where I want it.

Oh, I made a stunning discovery. I have been reading John Updike’s Rabbit Run and I learned it is one of the early, well regarded use of third person present tense which I use in my story. Like me, Updike drifts up and down in his perspectives. I probably drift more than he does, and I incorporate much reflective past tense as well. Unlike Updike who changes perspectives — sometimes it’s Rabbit and sometimes it’s Eccles — mine stays in one person’s head. In only a handful of places at most do I hint at drifting away. 

One of my beta readers made an interesting comment as we chatted briefly about it. “It reads like one of those novels your high school teacher asks you to read and you never forget.” My line of the year 🙂