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I’ve written 40k words on this novel, and thrown out 20k. It’s time for me to outline this bad boy.
I can be particularly hard-headed about digging into a story. For short stories, this doesn’t tend to be a negative. I can get through the first draft of a short story in three or four days, and usually end up somewhere. Whether or not that somewhere is a good place to be is often up to the second draft to figure out.
But this novel. I don’t feel like I’m getting any traction. When I try to push forward, I feel like I’m skipping vital information. So I pause, and I go back. And all the while, the main character refuses to introduce himself to me.
So: back to square one. I need to write a solid, for-real outline. I need to spend some time working on the characters until they start to take shape. Doing it “my way” is not getting me anywhere. I’m not a special flower that only needs caffiene and sunshine to grow — I’m a guy who wants to write a novel, and has never done it before.
Time to put on the humblehat, and actually do the work that needs to be done.
“If captured, I hope Administration will at least consider holding the Boston suspect as an enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes.
If the #Boston suspect has ties to overseas terror organizations he could be treasure trove of information.
The last thing we may want to do is read Boston suspect Miranda Rights telling him to ‘remain silent.’”
That is Senator Lindsay Graham, discussing what should be done with the surviving Boston Marathon bomber – an American citizen, who has the right to a trial.
As I read it, a host of angry thoughts pushed their way into my head. I admit that I do not hold a high opinion of Senator Graham. But as I sat there and stared at my screen, the thought that stood out from the R-rated language was this:
Whoever bombed the Marathon has the right to a trial. But the Boston Police Department, and the people that were wounded, and killed, in the bombing have a right to his trial, as well. We all do.
I want to see this end with no more loss of life. I want to see him go to trial, and I want to see him receive the judgement of his country. And I want him to have to live with that judgement, for as long as he has left.
A Play in Four Parts
PART ONE: Arrogance
WRITER walks into his kitchen, laptop under one arm. The kitchen is in spotless condition. The countertops are clear, and well organized.
WRITER: I’ve got the best idea for a novel, ever. There is no way that this thing isn’t going to blow the top off of the New York Times Fiction Bestseller List. It’s going to have adventure, it’s going to have terror, it’s going to have excitement, horror, pirates, magic, London, and the dank, unknown gods that lurk of the skin of cities everywhere. It’s going to be AWESOME.
The WRITER sits down in front of his laptop and starts writing with a glint in his eye and speed in his fingers.
PART TWO: The Wilderness
The WRITER is sitting at his kitchen table, slumped in his chair, his arms hanging off his shoulders. He looks as if he hasn’t showered in a month, his hair a thinning curly mop that doesn’t quite hide the rising line of his forehead. He may or may not be wearing pants.
The countertop behind him is a towering mess of dirty dishes and stacked coffee mugs. The kitchen table before him has ramparts made of borrowed library books.
The wordcount on his laptop screen is stuck at 20,132 words.
WRITER: What in the fresh hell am I doing? None of this makes any sense! None of these chapters fit together. None of these characters are any good at all. Where’s the AWESOME that I’ve been planning on? I’ve been banging away at this piece of crap for a month and all I’ve got is a wordcount! WHY ISN’T THIS WORKING?!
The good news: I have 20k words in the can. The bad news: this is the same 20k words that I had in the can a few months ago, and they will likely have to be scrapped.
Which isn’t to say I haven’t been writing. I have two stories out to my beta readers (though one is terrible and will probably be thrown in the trunk as soon as I’m done going over feedback). I’m working on a third that will also be joining the rounds by the end of the week. Both of these stories will then be sent to the front lines while I start the novel in earnest.
But I’ve realized: I have a short story addiction. If I don’t deal with this somehow, I’m going to keep putting off the novel (because 80-100k words is a lot of words, and if I can’t get a short story right I can’t be good enough to do a novel — right? My writerbrain is stupid, sometimes).
So here is my solution.
I will write on the novel for three weeks, then I will write a short story. The weekends will be free range time, a wonderland where there are no restrictions on what I’m doing. Do I want to put another 2-3k words on the novel? Great! How about a line edit on that short that came back from your beta readers — also great.
I don’t know how this will play out in practice, but it’s a plan. I’ll give it a shot, but I’m not going to be the plan’s little manservant — if I’m not getting the wordcount that I need or I find myself slipping, then the short stories go in the closet for a few weeks while I get back on track. The idea here is that I will still feel like I’m able to experiment while I’m stuck in the book’s middle third.
I’m going to plant the goal right here: 68,000 words, in the can, by July 1st. (I built in a little leeway, as I will be taking a week of vacation at the beginning of June.) The first draft will be done by July 1st.