So, I Finished a Novel - Travis Senzaki

So, I Finished a Novel

Well, I finished a first draft anyway, but it still feels pretty darned significant. I’ve never finished a draft at all, before, besides non-fiction stuff back in school, and I had certainly never written 190,000 words on any single subject. But now, I have. I wrote a novel. I’m just going to keep on saying that, because it makes me feel really good.

I’ve been at this nearly 8 months, since beginning on Nov 1, 2012. (Yep, started with NaNo, but that didn’t work.) Since then, I’ve gone through two outline rewrites, a half-dozen discarded chapters, and, when it came down to the gritty end, I decided it wasn’t gritty enough and rewrote the whole thing on the fly. Those are actually my favorite chapters now, but I digress.

By The Numbers

or “Proof the Magic Spreadsheet Works

In May 2012, I started listening to Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing podcast. I started with episode 150 in the archives, the oldest freely available at that time, and started my slow march through the episodes. The most significant advice I took away from her podcast was “allow yourself to suck.” I didn’t have to worry about writing perfect, beautiful sentences the first time around, the story didn’t even have to be perfect. That’s what editing is for. It went against every writing habit I’d built in college/ grad school, where I was a one-draft guy, but eventually, I gave in.

In August, I started world-building while I was at my parents-in-law’s house. In October, I moved on to outlining, following Michael Stackpole’s 21 days to a novel pattern. On November first, I started writing, thinking that I could get in on the NaNo community and feed off that combined effort feeling to get myself into a consistent pattern. But, while I had successfully written every day during October when I was outlining, I crashed quickly in NaNo and really ended up finding the community to be a font of junk mail. I had annoying daily rah-rahs from my municipal leader, and nothing else.

For 2013, I resolved to write at least 500 words of fiction each day before I allowed myself to get on facebook. This kicked my word production up quite a bit, but I still wasn’t writing every day. Weekdays were no problem- I’d write on my commute and lunch breaks- but on weekends, I just couldn’t bring myself to sit down at home to write. Then, Mur podcast about the Magic Spreadsheet. Ah, the Magic Spreadsheet. I will write a blog solely about it, someday soon. But first, I promise you, it works! Unfortunately, I had not yet caught up to the present in the I Should Be Writing podcasts by that time, so I learned about the spreadsheet late, but once I heard it, I was there. Gamification? Yep, I’ll give that a try.

So here’s how the novel progress went:

Month Total Words Average Words/Day Comment
Nov 2012 11,000 366 NaNoWriMo Fail!
Dec 2012 5,128 165 Post-NaNo letdown and family trip to Hawaii. You try writing in Hawaii!
Jan 1-20, 2013 11,372 568 New Year’s Resolution: 500 words/day or no internet
Jan 21-31, 2013 8,889 808 Joined Magic Spreadsheet
Feb 2013 24,498 875
Mar 2013 34,458 1,112
Apr 2013 36,364 1212
May 2013 44,746 1,443 4-day Work trip to Vietnam = writing time!
Jun 2013 37,967 1,309 Finished the novel!

Now, if a day goes by that I don’t write, I feel wrong.
*Yes, if you’re doing the math, those figures add up to over 214,000 words, but that includes a rewrite of my outline for the last 15-ish chapters, background material for the rewrite, and writing exercises on top of my novel progress. In the past, that would have been an either-or proposition.

The Result

Throughout this process, I have allowed myself to suck, although less so as I approached the end. I didn’t worry about going back to fix awkward sentences or spelling mistakes. I did a lot of writing on the Nexus my wife got me for my birthday, so there are a lot of spelling mistakes. And I didn’t go back to rewrite when the past chapters didn’t necessarily serve my current process. As a result, what I have here is rough. Rougher than that. It’s a chocolate mess. But that’s not the point.

The point is that my purpose here was to practice. In a way, a lot of my early chapters are thematically connected writing exercises, such as the chapter I decided to write entirely as a tagless dialogue. Yeah, that has no place in a book, but it was an entertaining exercise in voices. As a writing exercise and a planning exercise, it worked. I learned a lot about my writing strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve addressed a few of those points in other posts, I also learned a lot about story structure and the things that should have been in my outline but weren’t. It was a lot more enjoyable than doing a series of disconnected exercises or plots, and I think it was quite effective, if not efficient. But that’s me, I’m the guy who’ll pay the greens fees for 18 holes to tweak my game, rather than paying a fraction of the price for a big bucket o’ range balls.
*Note: This is just an analogy. I’m a writer. I can’t afford greens fees, anymore

The Next Step: Rewrite

Some might say that I should move on to another project, in fact the inestimable Mur said as much in a recent blog post (not about me), but I’m not going to. I’m going to rewrite this monster from scratch. I want to try to apply the lessons I gained from the first draft and I need to tell this particular story. Besides, I’m finally beginning to understand my characters (even the ones that will change sex for the rewrite), so I need to stick with them. Besides, I proved to myself that I can do a first draft, but that’s not enough for me anymore. Now I need to prove that I can take that allowed suckage and get it in shape. (Otherwise, I’d be too afraid to suck next time.)

The rewrite starts now!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.