Sunday, September 10, 2006

When I'm Not Blogging

Despite good intentions and not-as-good efforts, blogging has fallen off over the past couple of months. I'm pleased to report that there's a good reason.

I've gotten to the text phase of my novel.

It's been longer in production than I care to admit. I started writing it in the 1980s. It was going to be "Left Behind" before there was a market for "Left Behind."

Then I read The Gulag Archipelago (the whole thing--I was riding the bus to and from work every day and had lots of time), and the idea that American Evangelical Christians would get a free pass on persecution seemed empty. But I still had these characters and their experience seemed to have the capacity to go deeper, and so it changed and changed and changed, and I "finished" it. That was in the mid-90s, I think.

So I tried to market it. I got some "good" rejections (if you don't write, you probably don't know that there are levels of rejections, sort of like Dante's hell, but I'll spare you the misery; if you do write, you know the wailing and gnashing of teeth). But in the process of leaving no stone unturned, no agent unqueried, I collected 250 rejections (another embarrassing admission). But I wouldn't trade that binder of rejections for what I learned from the process: At some point they stopped being demoralizing; at 125, they started being funny. Did you know that some literary agents subscribe to a rejection service, the way some preachers subscribe to a sermon service? I made that up, but it sounds like it. You know you've gone around the bend when you're holding up your own query letter to the light to find out if the "Not for us" scrawled in the upper-right-hand corner is actual writing or a stamp.

The comedy lost its luster, and I desk-drawered the novel around 1999. In 2002, I pulled it out, queried it again (I don't recall why) and got at least one publisher writing back and telling me that if I had pitched it to them a year ago, they might have taken it. I thought about revising, but I didn't know how.

Disaster struck around 2003. An unbacked-up hard disk crash destroyed drafts 7-9 of the novel. After an appropriate time of wailing and gnashing of teeth (see above, multiply by 9), I decided to start again from scratch. I've read Robert McKee; I've taken excellent workshops from Larry Brooks, Candy Davis and recently Marc Acito. I've worked on plot structure, story arc, writing the novel from the bones outward. Each time I thought I had drawn near to actually writing text, I've learned something new that I wanted to incorporate into the entire draft. Sometime in August, I finished with the structure. I knew I was finished, even though I hadn't finalized the last chapter, because I felt that if I did one more thing, I'd be done, too done to finish it.

So I printed up the outline, put it into a three-ring notebook and haven't looked at it since. If I get lost in the swamp, I've got the map, but now I'm following the road where it leads. It's gritty and surprising, and I may have departed from the map already, but it's rolling along, and I keep reminding myself that I can fix it later.

And I'm writing it by hand, in those wonderful Mead composition books with the stitched binding and the wide-ruled sheets. The goal is to put down the pen and not lift it. To keep reminding myself that I can fix it later. To wander where my characters take me. Page by page it goes, about 100-150 words per page, 200 pages per book, five notebooks ready for the draft.

I hoped to get it done by next summer. I don't know if I'll be able to do it. If I get in 500 words per day, I should be able to do my 90,000-word first draft in about six months.

So if I'm not here, that's one of the places I am. I'm off to get my 500 words in for tonight.

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