October Novel Progress Update!

It’s been a busy month, but not for novel-writing.

When I last posted about my progress on my new novel I was getting back into the game after a 3 month hiatus brought on mostly by my new job and recent move.  Taking a break from writing helped me get a lot of stuff taken care of, but after so many weeks away I realized I had to get back to the novel or else I risked becoming even more disconnected from it than I already was—and that wasn’t a good thing.

 

The Story Thus Far…

If you’ve just stumbled on to this blog and need an update, here’s the rundown: I’m working on a second novel about creative writing grad school programs in the Midwest.  It’s a lighthearted satire of academia and what it’s like to be a creatively-minded New Englander in a conservative midwestern city with no mountains or lakes.  Needless to say, there are jokes.

From November 2015 to August 2016 (before I started this blog), I wrote the rough draft while I was working days in a greenhouse in Nebraska while and picking up side jobs for extra cash.  Progress was slow, but I eventually finished—and that felt really good.

Part of the reasoning behind my relocation to my home state of New Hampshire last September was so I could work part-time at my Secret Work-From-Home Day Job and focus more on my novel, which I definitely did: from September 2016 to June 2017 I finished both a second draft and a third draft, which included ironing out all the major characters, plot points, and story progression (i.e. the really hard stuff).  Boo-yeah.

What I have now is a readable third draft of a novel with a beginning, middle, and end.  All the major pieces are in place, but I need to spend more time fine-tuning the paragraphs, trimming sentences, rewording tricky areas, and fixing a whole bunch of little things to make it more kick-ass.

The novel isn’t quite ready to be seen yet because most of it’s still fairly sloppy, with a lot of not-quite-set-up-the-way-they’re-supposed-to-be scenes that won’t have their intended effect in their current state.  As it is now, instead of moving readers to laughter or stirring them to uncontrollable emotions, most of it’s likely to leave a reader less than blown away—or worse, bored.

Trust me, this stuff matters—a fine-tuned piece of writing that moves the reader with its intended effect makes all the difference between greatness and garbage.  That’s why fine-tuning multiple drafts is so important—and in my case, I’m thinking that a fourth and then a fifth draft should do the job nicely.

 

What I Did in October

Unfortunately, before I can start the fourth draft, I need a copy of the third draft that I can work with.

I always write first drafts on the computer—it’s quick, easy, and it helps me get the basics of a piece down fast.  Then when it’s time for a second draft, I print the whole thing out and go at it with my trademark blue pen and a notebook, revising the whole thing by hand.

Why do I take the extra time (and paper) to edit by hand?  One of my undergrad teachers, the late Steven Bach, told me once that switching what you’ve written into a different font helps you see it with a new set of eyes.  Normally, when you’re looking at the same words in the same form on the same screen that you used to write them, it’s easier to glaze over what’s really on the page because you’re just repeating what’s in your head instead of analyzing what’s really there.  Changing the font forces your eyes to adjust to a new setup and spacing so you can gauge whether what’s on the page is what you really wanted to say or something that doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Printing out hard copies of my writing helps me in the same way—on a printed page, I can look at a scene with a fresh perspective. I also feel more comfortable pulling out the pen and toying with the sentences until I can get them where they need to be.

Revised rough draft of the blog entry you’re reading right now. Note the addition of expletives and exaggerated excitement.

 

Unfortunately, hard-copy editing means I also have to spend extra time typing all the handwritten changes back onto the computer.  This process is pretty easy (and feels super-rewarding!) but it can take a LONG time, especially if I’m retyping every single change from the hard-copy edits (as opposed to using the existing Word file).

As much of a drag as retyping is, it syncs up with another piece of advice I got first from the writer Jonathan Lethem and then from Andre Dubus III: retyping the draft forces me to look over it an extra time so that I get to know it better.  Seeing the pages again between drafts keeps them fresher in my mind, so it’s easier to know how something in Chapter 3 relates to Chapter 17 as I work through that section of the new draft. It also keys me in to problems in the existing draft so I can think about them in the time between retyping and the next round of edits—since we all know that a lot of problem-solving happens in the space between work time.

 

Third Draft Retyping Progress

As of my last update I was just about to start typing up the third draft edits, and since then I’ve gotten through 55 pages, or about 20% of the novel.  This is well short of where I want to be, and I can chalk that up to three major factors:

  1. I have a full-time Secret Office Day Job now. This isn’t an excuse per se, but it’s something I spend a large portion of my week on, which means the remainder of my time is at a premium.
  2. It’s Art Swap season, and I’ve been writing a lot of emails, checking in people’s projects, and working on my own yearly Swap project—another major item for the To-Do list.
  3. I had not one but TWO Secret Projects come up in the past few weeks, one of which carried some strict deadlines that led me to pull an all-nighter, and another that I’ll be working concurrently with the novel over the next few weeks.

This means that I’ve got a lot of different things to spend my evening and weekend work time on, so that my time’s more scattered than it was a few months ago.  Since I want to get those other projects finished and off my To-Do list as quickly as possible, I’ve been devoting a lot of time to getting them done…but since I also don’t want to lose touch with the novel, I’ve got to put in hours there as well.

It’s a pretty rough balancing act, but one that’s going to get easier in a few weeks once the first, and then the second of the Secret Projects clears up.  I’ve already restricted myself from taking on anything new (sorry to the people I’ve had to say no to!) until I can get back on track, and honestly, I’m hoping that writing this entry can help keep me motivated and accountable—after all, I’ll want to have a longer page count to post next month ;-)

Until then, wish me luck…


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