Thursday, May 19, 2011

Done . . . in a sense

As I've said before, the lines drawn between drafts are arbitrary, and the "finish line" itself is somewhat arbitrary. I won't really think of it as done until it gets accepted for publication, the publisher is no longer accepting input from me and it goes to press. But right now -- since yesterday morning -- I do think of the book as done in an important sense, though that other finish line is still a long way away.

One, I finished what I was calling the fifth draft. In getting through that I probably had some of my lowest moments. For about two weeks straight I did nothing but go over the first four chapters repeatedly trying to deal with the preface/exposition/starting problems that I wrote about earlier. It was a lot of heavy rewriting and revising, printing it out, discovering it wasn't working and trying again. I was convinced I had written a catastrophic weakness into the opening, but I finally found the solution I was looking for, and I finally got my wife's approval of it.

Second, I finished up addressing every problem in the book I know how to identify on my own without sending it out in the world to some more amateur or novice readers and to hear what they think. By amateur or novice readers, I mean people who didn't see it in earlier drafts (e.g. not my wife), or people who I'm not expecting to coach me on the next draft (not other writers). It's ready for purely readerly responses -- including from child readers, since this is a children's book. I have some readers like this lined up and have set in motion the wheels that will put the work as-is in their hands for a response.

Of course, their feedback will lead to more work and the first of hopefully very few additional drafts, but I can't help thinking of this as crossing a threshold that, while not meeting the strict definition of "done," feels like it deserves the badge anyway.

And I met my timeline, too. Back in January when I was starting the rewriting and revision process, I anticipated that it would happen in fewer drafts in name but with essentially this kind of work in character, and my goal was to achieve that before the end of the college semester. Yesterday afternoon is when I collected final materials from my students. Later that afternoon I handed a printout of the typescript to one of my readers.

That means it took just about 8 1/2 months exactly with breaks and it almost exactly coincided with the academic year. As noted before, I forgot to record my exact start date, but it was approximately Sept. 1, 2010. The drafting vs. rewriting was split almost exactly down the middle. The first draft was done 4 months and a week after I started.

For the record, it is now 294 pages (with front matter) and 70,355 words. I had it down close to my goal of 65,000 words at one point. In the last few drafts it yo-yo'd between 66k and 71k. The last revisions I made in the last week pushed it up about 2k to the current. I'm not too worried about it being too long. 65k was a good goal, but 70k doesn't read too long I think. In general, I think it reads pretty fast. I was aiming for what I imagined to be a sixth-grade reading level, and I think I shot a little low. And, apart from the technical reading level, I think it's pretty punchy. It's certainly dialogue heavy, which always reads faster.

I'm not sure when the whatever is next will be. It will surely take a few weeks at least and probably half the summer to hear back from some of these readers. I'm sure it will be good for the work to let it sit as long as possible. I probably ought to have let it sit more during the revisions so far than I did. Of course, I'm eager to get going to the next stage, but I guess I'm feeling less impatient than I have between other drafts. It feels kind of like graduation day and the start of a deserved summer break, not least because of the coincidence with the academic calendar, and I'm not looking for excuses to start draft 6 tomorrow.

The schedule for the next step will be partly determined by the other project that I plan to focus on during the first month of the summer. More on that another time.

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