Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Progress, paralysis

Progress update: I'm at about 55,000 words, or 180 pages of a double-spaced Word document. Now, astute readers may remember that I was hovering around 50K words three months ago. I've cut a lot of words since then. I've killed characters, given up on subplots, and deleted scenes I knew I wouldn't use.

For the past few months, I've been been writing nonstop, but I'm often taking one step forward and two steps back. Overall, since I started this project, I've probably written about 80,000 words and cut 25,000 of them. I didn't delete them permanently; I keep the extra text in a giant scary document called "Things I Might Need Later." But now I have a real 50K words, full of scenes and characters I actually plan to use. And it feels good. 50K words is significant because it's on the threshold between a novella (like Old Man and the Sea) and a bona fide novel. For example, The Catcher and the Rye and The Great Gatsby are each round 50K. And National Novel Writing Month (which starts in November, if you're interested) uses 50K words as its milestone.

Nowadays, the average mainstream paperback is around 100K words. So I want to have a first draft of around 80K, and then expand to around 100K with rewrites. I've finally learned enough to be able to give a realistic projection, so my new goal is to have an official First Draft completed by.... drum roll... Thanksgiving. Then I plan to set the draft aside for a few weeks and work on other stuff -- short stories, research, etc. After the hiatus, I'll come back to the draft with a fresh eye, roll up my sleeves, and start in on the hardest, most important part: rewriting and editing.

My Intro to Fiction class at The Writing Salon has been eye-opening, but I fear it might slow my progress on my draft. Maybe I should've waited until I was on the second draft. By showing me how much I don't know, the class could cause me to think too much -- instead of just writing and writing and writing. The Writing Salon instructor likens a beginning writer to a beginning musician. He says you can't expect, just because you appreciate music, to be able to just pick up an instrument and play. It takes years of learning basic chords, doing drills, and playing other people's songs before you get to the point where it becomes second nature. Only then can you expect to be able to improvise and create your own sound.

All this makes me worry about how much I'm trying to accomplish this year. There's so much to learn. At least being in a class with other beginning students gives me perspective on how hard writing is -- and a cadre of people to share the pain. My first night of class I met a guy named Rob, who has been writing poetry and prose for years. He told me a story that summed it up for me. Recently he had a physician friend, who had never written fiction before, tell him he was going to take two months off and write a novel. Rob told his friend, "that's funny, I was thinking of taking two months off to become a doctor."

1 comment:

  1. Ok yah, but to a certain extent that paralysis will ruin your writing. Just write this draft. Then edit. Then set it aside. Then edit again. Then set it aside. Then edit again. That is what all of my published writer friends do. Often, once they've published their first story/novel, they even have two projects going at once. So just write man don't get hung up.