Tuesday, April 22, 2008

One year anniversary and finished with Chapter 5 rewrite

Today is a big day for a couple of reasons.

First, it was a year ago today that I started working on the novel. For a couple weeks prior I had been sketching out various stories and episodes, including one that has become my chapter 1 in the book. For some reason that morning I couldn't sleep and woke up about 4 a.m. and sat in the living room with my journal, and while I was sitting there, the basic outline of the book came to me--a completely meatless skeleton on which I recognized I could hang just about anything and that would serve well for the kind of drifting around and false starts that were going to be necessary as I learned how to write a novel.

Another way of looking at it was that I could see clearly what kind of trouble my character was in and how the story could end and I had confidence that I could create a story that would connect the dots to that ending. I started making notes and within a few minutes I understood that I was working on a novel. Thank god for the generative power of occasional insomnia.

I looked over those notes last night, and I was proud to see how little I've drifted from the original concept. (Actually, the ending, which was what gave me the confidence to get going, is the thing that has changed the most.) I had done some freewriting on what the story was about thematically, and that still fits. I made notes on some of the techniques I would use and the technical problems I would have to deal with, and all that is still relevant.

There is one wildly inaccurate note. The journal entry begins. "Story idea. A novella." Ha! It is this point an obnoxiously long novel.

I'm also proud that on April 22 of last year I did not know that I could finish a rough draft and set out with only that initial goal, and I achieved it. Right now, I don't know that I can finish a rewrite resulting in a sensible draft, and I've been working steadily on achieving that.

The second reason today is a big day is that I finished the rewrite of Chapter 5, which has been a big stumbling block since about January 17.

To review, I started the rewrite process last fall (September?) and made slow work on Chapters 1-4 up through January 17. It was a slog and I never felt confident about the results anyway. Then I had about a one-month period where all work stopped while I concentrated on my paying jobs. When I started on the rewrite of Chapter 5, the crisis inherent in all the previous work became impossible to ignore and I floundered for a couple of weeks. Finally, on March 4 is when I had something of a breakthrough by developing my "focusing questions." Since then, I started all over again, re-rewriting Chapters 1-4 and now Chapter 5, getting past the hump of what I had been blocked on since mid January. That work has moved at a pace more like what I had imagined from the beginning--3 or 4 days for each chapter, plus some days for personal and business distractions, adding up to about a week per chapter.

I don't know what happens next. Hopefully those focusing questions continue to serve me well and my rewrite work will continue to be on point and not floundering. Even if so, I suspect the remaining chapters will need comparatively more work. Even if it's clear to me what I need to do, it will be more time consuming. My most optimistic goal is to finish the next three chapters--all of part 1--before my big summer trip begins at the end of May. And then to do all of part 2 during that trip before the end of July.

Another thing about Chapter 5 . . . If I compare the plot of the two drafts, there is really only one sentence in the climax that I added that changes the plot. It all boils down to adding that one sentence. But it's a sentence that changes the everything we understand about the character, and I had to lay the groundwork in the character to make that one sentence credible, and before that I had to understand it all well enough myself. Which I didn't before.

Here's hoping I understand it all well enough to push through other obstacles more quickly in the future.

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