Thursday, July 12, 2007

Progress in Writing

Having survived the disappointment of getting the equivalent of a "Dear John" letter from a publishing house that had given me hope that my first novel would lead to a contract, I've pressed on with my writing (while my agent shops my second novel and we wait for the last couple of opinions on the first). I decided, about twenty thousand words into the book, to stop writing with one eye on the "rules" everyone talks about, rules that govern the Christian publishers like the tablets that came down from Mount Sinai. No, there's no profanity, no sex scenes, nothing that I'd be ashamed for my mother, bless her soul, to read. But I just opened up and "let 'er rip" as I wrote. And novel number three is now nearing completion.

For those of you who like to know how others write, here's what feels comfortable for me. I start with a premise, develop a "hook," figure out the two minor story arcs that I want to help carry the major arc to its conclusion, and then populate the story with the major characters. For me, that's not too hard, since I'm still using the same protagonist and his wife. But this one needed some bad guys and some auxiliary good guys. I had faint visions of them, and once the book got underway, they introduced themselves to me quite nicely.

Then I do what Anne Lamott calls a "$#!**% first draft." (If you've read Bird By Bird, you can fill in the blanks). This corresponds to the advice I first heard from Jim Bell: "Get it down, then get it right." I do just that by going back through the first draft and correcting obvious mistakes, smoothing out inconsistencies and making motivation better, etc. Then I spend $15 at Office Max to have the whole thing printed out. (I've figured out that this is cheaper than my buying ink cartridges and paper to print it myself). That's when my IR gets hold of it. Stephen King (see prior post) speaks about his "Ideal Reader," and (as is the case with King), my IR is my wife . I asked Kay to go through the manuscript as though she were reading one of our favorite Robert B. Parker novels, noting where things got dull, pointing out poor motivation or inaccurate actions, etc. At that point, the printed manuscript comes back to me. I've now read through it on the computer with the annotated manuscript in front of me, and have made lots of changes. In addition to rewriting a number of scenes, I cut about ten percent of the novel. I do this by cutting the extraneous scene and pasting it into a new Word document that goes into a folder I've created for the purpose. In one or two instances, I was able to reach down into that holding tank and rescue paragraphs that had merit, but, by and large, once the words are gone, they don't make it back.

Now, all that remains is for me to go through the manuscript once more--probably in printed form again--with my editor's hat on. After that, it will go to my agent, who will undoubtedly have more suggestions. Then it will be ready to make the rounds.

So, it's not done yet, but it's pretty much all downhill from here. Stay tuned for further developments. And don't forget to write. (Double meaning definitely intended).


Anonymous said...

When I was a little girl, I meticulously colored inside the lines, making the colors vibrant.

Now as a grown up lady, I write way outside the box, still hoping to make the colors vibrant.

You simply must be who you are, the one God is making you to be.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has decided to start writing fiction, this was a help to me. Thanks Richard.