Thursday, February 6, 2014

One Down, A Lifetime To Go

I haven’t been open with you lately, withholding exciting news: two weeks ago today I finished my novel. Despite the lack of announcement, I was wildly excited. So excited that I didn’t say anything, unlike most people who are eager to scream these things to the world. I usually feel that way too—but this achievement feels different.

For those who want to know, in exactly 44 days I wrote 160,000 words (think Two Towers length). Half of those days were in November, the other half in January. I wrote like the devil. My goal was 2000 words per day; it was hard to meet that first week. But while I maintained that as my daily goal throughout the weeks, I was averaging about 5000 words per day by the end; about 10 single-spaced pages. One day I wrote 9500 words in six hours.

I’m immensely proud of myself. I’ve found what I’m capable of. I’ve increased what I’m capable of. Moreover, I’ve found a pace and system that works for me. I didn’t realize it was a system that other authors used until I did some reading about Veronica Roth, 25-year-old author of the newly famous, extremely engaging Divergent series, who does a similar thing. The strategy goes like this:

Step 1: Write as much as you can, no editing. Many burgeoning authors start out their day editing the previous day’s words, but most of my role model-authors prefer the word-vomit method.

Step 2: Take a break. Read some good books. Get back in touch with life.

Step 3: Read through and write a list of all the major changes that need to happen. Like, “The climax is wrong.” Things like that.

Step 4: Save the first draft separately and then copy-and-paste your words into a fresh document labeled ‘Draft 2.’ This will help you with cutting the stuff you’re attached to, and you have the old stuff as a back-up if something goes wrong.

Step 5: Edit. Get other people to help.

Step 6: Write query letters and summaries. Send to lots and lots of agents; it takes an average of 52 rejections to get an acceptance, and that’s on average. Cross your fingers and wait for a positive response.

Right now, I have completed Steps 1 and 3 and am in the midst of Step 2: relaxation. So I’m reading through things like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Divergent at break-neck speed and trying to figure out what else I do when I’m not writing. It’s hard to remember; my characters are floating in my head, bumping out memories of what I used to do before I had them.

I love my story. I have a lot of ideas for how to make it better. I have lots of ideas for the next book. I am dying to jump into book two, write the darn thing, and then to go back and edit the first one. (Editing always works best after you’ve had some time away. You come back with a fresh perspective. That’s why editing comes after the relaxation.)

But I can’t. I’m Supposed To Be On Vacation.

This is why I’ve been having a hard time these last few weeks: I’m proud, I’m excited—and I want to keep going. I haven’t lost any momentum.

How is it that in forty-four days my life turned from part-time writer/editor, part-time housewife to full-time writer? Forty-four days is all it took for my habits to be rewritten. I used to do chores on a regular basis. Make myself ‘real food’ for lunch. And…do other stuff. I don’t actually remember what I used to do. This is my life now. This is my habit. Breaking the daily writing habit these last two weeks—doing zero writing except here on my blog—has been as hard as starting a regular exercise routine was. Habits are hard to break.

So this vacation is driving me crazy. I spent the first week wandering around aimlessly, playing Sudoku, and cleaning our hideously dirty kitchen (an hour’s worth of dishes, folks). This second week I started my reading; I’ve already read 4 and a half books out of the 9 on my list.

And, I couldn’t help myself, but I’ve also been resorting to other art forms since I’m ‘not allowed’ to write. I’ve been composing songs on piano every day. I’ve been sketching characters and scenes from my novel. I’ve been drawing out plot maps of the next books. (They really are maps, not bullet points or anything like that, so I don’t count this as writing.)

Can you sense my restlessness? My desire?

It’s a beautiful relief to be done writing my book (my mom said it sounded like pregnancy and just wanting it OUT) and wonderful to have time to read again, but I’d rather be writing another book more than anything else in the world. Nothing else makes me feel so…purposeful. Fulfilled—and not just that, but like I am fulfilling something bigger than me, too.

It’s not because writing is easy for me. It is easy in the sense that I found no difficulty in starting a daily writing habit. I love to write. That’s the easy part: the desire. But storytelling is still grueling work. There’s lots of thinking and reworking and mapping and talking aloud to my hubs and our parrot. It’s a grind, but it’s a grind that I love.

That’s what life is supposed to be: hard but well worth it. Humans were made for questions and doubts and wrestling and toil. We were made for work. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember that we are made for resting, too.

I’d rather have trouble enjoying rest than trouble enjoying my work. I’m okay with having this problem. In the meantime, allow me to get back to my tortured vacation where my fingers ache for my keyboard and the familiar feel of my desk.

Word count: 990.