Progress: 14 Chapters and 70,000 Words

About ten days ago I took a trip to the Keys. We went as low as Bahia Honda but spent the nights on Islamorada. On returning I had a burst of new energy and set about editing Part II (26,000 words). The editing stirred a lot of good ideas and when I started writing again I was writing over a thousand words a day; one day I did 3,000 words.

In my early plans for the novel, I imagined 50-60,000 words would do the trick. I had plans for two follow-on novels, but I felt I could get a lot said in 60,000 words.

Today I passed the 70,000 word mark and I have five chapters to go. So, at 5,000 words a chapter I’m looking at 25,000 additional words. I’m hoping to cut the last chapter down to maybe 2-3000 words but most calculations give me 90,000+ words.

I realize that a lot of what I’ve written for Part II is crap, so I’ll need feedback from my editor to reel it in. And I’m starting to feel pressure because I don’t expect to submit to agents or publishers before September. And I won’t wait beyond October to publish. That means I’m cutting it close if I intend to enter the world of conventional publishing.

I enjoy the writing more and more. I am living the story through my characters and it is a unique feeling. I’ve said it before but I think there’s an aspect of writing that’s akin to mental illness. I told one of my editors I don’t want to be a ‘Writer’ or ‘Author’ and she was curious. She asked why I write and I told her that I want to tell this story. She logically concluded that I see myself as a ‘Storyteller’ but I told her I don’t see myself that way either.

Maybe when I finish the novel I’ll be able to classify myself. I write because I’m compelled to… does that make me a ‘Compulsive’? I suppose that’s it, although I would hate to be thought of that way.

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Part II is Half-Complete

A couple months ago I put Part I of my novel (40,000 words) aside to work on Part II. My editor Caroline had some very interesting idea that I explored. For one thing, I’d been inventing ways to make my heroine more active and it lead me down byways that were hollow. With Caroline’s evaluation I saw my way to an entirely new approach in Part II.

I started the new Part II with a complex outline. I was focused on tying historic events into the plot that my characters could interact in, but the main focus was to let my protagonist bloom. As of this date I’ve completed five of ten chapters in Part II or about 26,000 words. The new approach is very satisfying and I’m writing 1,000 words a day now… well, when I’m working. For example, next week I’m going to the Keys for a sentimental journey.

It looks like the novel will require another 25,000 to 30,000 words. Even if this thing expands to 100,000 words I think I can edit it down to 90,000 or even more in a final draft. Originally I was trying for a 60,000 word total, mainly because of self-publish costs; the cost of hard cover and paperback books can run up as word count expands.

Anyway, this cost thing has me rethinking how I go about getting published. Perhaps I’ll have to search for an agent/publisher. And after all the work I’ve done I’m not looking forward to hurling myself into that process. I could e-publish easily enough, but I like books and just can’t imagine going through the ordeal of writing to walk away without a nice hard cover book sitting in my book case. I suspect this is archaic sentimentality.

 

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A New Dilemma

Part I of my novel is complete and I’m good with my decision to significantly change Part II. The decision is good for a lot of reasons but I find myself churning a lot of publishing ideas. The dilemma is, if I wait to finish the Part II it will take months more of writing and editing, then trying to sell the story to agent or publisher.

Part I is about 40,000 words, but I pulled a lot of material in the interest of making the two parts roughly equal in size or a total of 80,000 words for the entire novel. I’m also finding that as I write Part II, it will exceed 40,000 words. So there’s that also.

Part I has been edited or commented on by five different editors. And it’s in the hands of two beta readers at the moment. I expect I’d have to put some additional work into it to make it standalone publishable, and it might expand to 45,000 words–more of a novella.

My plan all along has been to offer Part I for free, as an introduction to my writing. So financially there’d be no loss if I just self-publish as a standalone work. I’m cognizant of the possibility that self-publishing might alienate any agents who might be interested in publishing my work; I get that. But I anticipate writing several follow-on novels with  many of the same characters. The other thing is, while Part I and Part II have the same characters, the story and locations  are very different.

Publishing Part I as a standalone would certainly make writing a story synopsis much easier. Heh. So who knows? I’m leaning toward the self-publishing option but there’s still a lot to think about though.

UPDATE 22 May: Just did the math on both parts. I’ll stick with original plan to publish a single two-part novel. Just anxious to complete this thing. Part II to is intricately connected to historic events, so the writing is demanding. What a mess. heh.

 

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Part Two Re-do

I think it was El Gallo from ‘The Fantasticks’ who spoke the line: “You wonder how these things begin” or something like that. That’s were I am now.

There was always two natural parts to my novel, both heavy with plot and characters. But part I was truly a story, when I finally understood what I’d written for part II, I realized it wasn’t a story so much as a plot. I was afraid to let my protagonist take on the kind of role that was necessary for it to be a real story. In short, I see the problem now.

So I’m rewriting part two. It’s basically the same plot but it’s more like my first draft. In fact, many ideas from that first draft are being reintegrated; funny because I really didn’t like the first draft. Anyway, part two will be about 40,000 words but I have about half of that already written… more or less.

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Writing is Easy, but Writing a Novel…

I’ve had my writing voice for many years. I don’t know why it evolved the way it did, but it is easy for me to express my thoughts with this style. I write very fast most of the time and that means I have to go back and do a lot of self-editing. I sling sentences around until I’m okay with the way they sound in my head. It’s comfortable for me and this voice is why I write in first person, present tense.

Blogging and other forms of writing are relatively easy for me because there’s not much at stake, but writing a novel is another matter. I had thought that after over a decade of conceptualization and research, this novel would be relatively simple to write. And the first draft was relatively easy, although looking back at previous posts it looks like I was struggling even then.

But I’ve been learning much more about this novel, this story, as I dig deeper into it. The characters are becoming more complex, even the ones I already knew would be complex. There are hundreds of threads that must be reconnected at different points along the way. If I knew in the beginning what I know now I’d have built my outline around the threads. It’s something I’ll do in the follow-on book or books. There’s also the subtleties of first person writing.

I’ve read that 90% of all science fiction novels are written in third person, but I’ve also noticed that there are more first person sci-fi novels in the past decade. Well, that’s subjective. I don’t have any research on this and don’t particularly care because I’m sticking with “the horse that brung me”, first person.

Something Must Be Wrong

My editors have noted something in my writing that concerns me. All of them (four editors) seem to point this out; that is, I will say something that I don’t explain in more detail immediately. For example, I might say “It was the system controlling the [unique mechanism] surrounding the transport ships.” And editors might want to know what the ‘mechanism’ is or what it does, or words to that effect. In my mind it is a simple question that suggests a complex system, it’s a curiosity, but doesn’t have to be answered for the story to work. It’s not intended to raise suspense in the story. I will explain the term later in the story because I feel it require further explanation, but I’m speaking in real-time, present tense. If I stop to explain it, I’ll be writing a lengthy descriptions or back story narrative.

Are These Ideas Right or Wrong?

So what’s wrong with lengthy descriptions? I think it works okay for third person writing, where things are being explained in a more traditional narrative. But you are walking into my story and there’s a lot you’ll not know about the scenes because it is a complex plot. I’ve chosen to leave out details like what a ‘unique mechanism’ is because there are much more important things to reveal. My notion is that by adding to the ‘mechanism’ description later it will hit the reader as an, “Ah, I was wondering about that.”

There are two other reasons I don’t feel I can go into explanations, aside from “Show don’t Tell”. First, I have friends who are avid sci-fi readers and both of them dislike a lot of explaining or back story at the beginning of a story. In one case, the reader feels the same way about third person. The second reason deals with my changing view of stories; that is, I see my stories as if they are motion pictures or television series. For example, you can be dropped in a scene and the only thing you have is a couple of people talking about this or that, but you don’t have a clue as to what’s going on.

I write from the perspective of a movie. The problem is, when you see a story on-screen you can draw a lot of conclusions about place and characters from what you observe. This is where the editors are dead-on right, you have to describe the scene or the reader will be lost and confused. And I’m ready to acknowledge that I must be coming up lite on these descriptions, but I’m also convinced that my editors see my writing through the lens of third person. One editor went as far as to suggest that I don’t attempt to write in first person because it is very hard. Hmmm.

The Story of Max Perkins

Last night I watched a magnificent HBO movie, “Genius”. It’s a story of Scribner’s Sons editor, Max Perkins, editor to Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and a young Thomas Wolfe. If you enjoy the writing of that era, it will enrich your understanding. Basically, Max Perkins helps Tom Wolfe reduced the size of a giant manuscript (330,000 words) entitled O Lost into the highly successful Look Homeward, Angel. In my mind Perkins took a wildly undisciplined and self-centered young genius and helped him realize his potential.

For his second book, the film depicted Tom Wolfe bringing in three crates of writings, representing hundreds of thousands of words. It was everything I’ve read that you should not do if you want to get published. But Perkins believed in Wolfe’s genius and spent the next two years intensely helping Wolfe create his second novel, Of Time and the River, another great success. But there was an undercurrent in the story, Perkins wondered if all his editing might have destroyed the true value of Wolfe’s work.

Not mentioned in the film was the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Matthew Bruccoli, who reassembled the original manuscript for O Lost. It was finally published in 2000 because Bruccoli believed the Perkins’ editing resulted in an inferior work. I tend to believe that Thomas Wolfe was lucky to have been mentored by Max Perkins. I don’t have to read the original to be certain that the Perkins edited work was the true masterpiece. One reviewer of Wolfe’s first work said, “…the product of an immense exuberance, organic in its form, kinetic, and drenched with the love of life…” The book must have been a great event at the time and while I can appreciate Wolfe’s poetic genius, I’m inclined to feel “drenched” in Wolfe’s lack of discipline and self-indulgence. I know, I know. I’ve committed a sacrilege and I apologize to those with a better understanding of literary genius. Let me reiterate, Wolfe was damned lucky to have been mentored by Max Perkins.

Moving Forward

One thing the HBO film has done, it has increased my sense that I must write the way I know how. However, I’m very mindful of what I’ve learned from my editors. Btw, I think I’m lucky to have done some early work with different editors.

Writing a novel is hard, for me that is. Some popular authors can create new books like clockwork, and maybe I’ll be there some day. But for now it is very hard work.

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Stalled at 52,000 Words

I got a manuscript evaluation from my editor and it was very insightful. One of her valuable observation was that I should divide the novel into two parts. I’d done this before but pulled the divisions out because I just wasn’t sure it is the way to go. Now I’m sure. An objective point of view can really help. Also, I’m making notes for the final draft, but I’m finding myself stalled out with only five more chapters to write.

I’m twelve chapters and 52,000 words into this novel. I really want to complete the remaining five chapters–about 20,000 words–but the really irritating thing is, I’ve written these chapters before in the first draft. And the basic plan and ideas are the same. But I’m blocked again. I’m pretty sure that the holiday ‘thing’ has slowed me down, so I’m not beating myself up too badly. I just wish I could breakout and race to the ending.

In the meantime, I’ve been creating two maps, one to be included on Part One and the other in the middle of the book at Part Two. The maps were also something I’d been thinking about, but my editor and I discussed it and now I’m more confident of the necessity.

I’m also working on a cover design, although I don’t have the artistic talent to make my ideas come to life. And then there’s the novel synopsis. The synopsis is something I really hate because I don’t see how they can explain the complexities of a novel, not to mention the emotions. Nonetheless, agents seem to thrive on having a synopsis, so I’m learning how to do this, but mainly I’m just reinforcing my hatred for writing a synopsis.

The final chapters requires that I improve my knowledge of several historic characters. Maybe this is part of my dilemma also. Oh well… on with the show.

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46,000 Words to Editor

I decided that it’s time to send the manuscript to my editor. It’s not complete, only 46,000 words, but I’m ready for the next wave of edits.

I’ve been looking for a good editor that I can truly work with. I learned a lot from my first editors, but I’m ready for an editor with more experience. I’ve worked with magazine editors in the past, so I’m used to the ebb and flow of the process. But this is a novel and the challenges are more advanced.

The main issue I have with many editors is that they underestimate you. They revert to trying to mold you into what they think you should be. I’m seeking an editor who will try to understand who I am, then help bring out the best I can create. I’m looking for a coach who sees my potential, rather than someone who endeavors to train to be like themselves. This may sound simple but my experience tells me its not common.

While the editors do their thing, I’m back to trying to finish the remaining chapters.

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