I am writing a book. No, check that. I am writing a novel. Yeah, that sounds better. When you tell people you’re writing a book, they think “So what, any idiot can write a book. I can write a book. Snooki wrote a book for crying out loud!” Fair enough; it’s hard to argue with such a statement. But change the word and you change the connotation.
“I’m writing a novel.”
“Really? Wow, that sounds great. You must be the best writer ever! I totally respect you now, am envious of your skill, and find you incredibly attractive and charming.”
Ok, I may have taken some liberties with the last sentence or two. The point is, if I want others to believe I’m serious about my writing, I need to start acting as such. One way I plan to do that is by sprinkling in a few more posts about my novel, the progress I’m making (or lack thereof), and the lessons I’m learning along the way. So if you haven’t already figured it out after the first 170 words, today is one of those posts.
About a month ago, I wrapped up what I thought was the “hard part” of this whole novel writing thing; the outline. After months of sporadic sessions with my novel-writing software, I took an idea from the “lightbulb-going-off-in-my-mind” stage, through the “little-red-notebook-full-of-incoherent-thoughts” stage, all the way to the “chapters-full-of-scenes-that-actually-seem-interesting” stage. Upon completion, I started with Chapter one and read through each chapter, scene, and plot line I had created and felt surprisingly good about the result. Finally, after all that tedious outlining, I could open up a blank page and let the creativity come spewing out like cheap beer after a long night of drinking.
But spew, it most definitely did not. In fact, I opened the computer and stared at that blank page on three separate occasions before I even landed one keystroke. You may be thinking writer’s block, I know I was at first. But this was different. I knew the words I wanted to write. I knew how I wanted to begin. I could even visualize the opening scene in my head, right down to the warmth of the sun and the smell of the air. My problem wasn’t that I couldn’t find the words, it was that I couldn’t find the right words.
I was approaching the blank slate as if it was literally a slate, unable to be changed or edited once chiseled. I felt like every word had to be perfect, every sentence golden, every scene worthy of a Pulitzer. I would sit for an hour at a time, painstakingly typing out 100 words at best. Hell, my soon-to-be 3-year-old could keep up a quicker pace. Over the course of my first week writing the manuscript, I had tallied a grand total of 656 words and felt like I had completed the mental equivalent of a triathlon. It was exhausting.
That’s when another lightbulb went off in my head. I paid attention since they don’t happen very often, and I realized that I needed to remind myself that this was the 1st draft. There is a reason why it takes the average novelist a year or more to produce a finished piece. You write, you edit, you re-write, you stick it in a drawer because you can’t stand to look at it any longer, then you probably edit some more.
It is said that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 3 days. That comes to about 20,000 words a day. Well, I’m not Robert Louis Stevenson and I don’t think you are either, so it’s important that we throw away the notion that we can write a perfectly polished manuscript right out of the gate. I had to remove the filter and just let the words flow freely, no matter how dirty they were (hmm…that metaphor didn’t really land did it?).
So I reminded myself that my ability to sling words is mediocre at best and that rather than agonize over every line of narrative or every quip in my dialogue, it was more important to get the words on paper. As of today, my word count now stands at 5,427 and I’m attempting to stick to a writing schedule in order to keep the momentum going. I am confident in both my progress and the certainty that what I have written will need to be thoroughly rewritten…but I’m ok with that. There will be plenty of time to critique my work, laugh at my complete inability to write well, cry a little, and then make it better once I’ve completed the 1st draft.
After all, that’s what us novelists do right?