I’m on the homestretch. The opus of my twenties is nearing completion. Yes, I realize that I am now thirty, but I’ve been working on this project more or less since I was twenty-five. I have about 100 manuscript pages left in my LAST PASS and shit is getting real.
It’s been hard to focus on anything else. I’ve only polished other drafts, began and abandoned a dozen other books, and submitted existing works for publication (including this shameless plug about a piece coming out in an anthology soon – details to come!).
Where does this leave me mentally? I can’t really describe it.
Really. I can’t. All my words are dried up and my brain is dead. I took a nap about three hours before my bedtime. That’s the state of the union here. The republic still stands, but its knees are shaky.
I desperately want to describe what this literary journey has been like, but I just don’t think I have it in me right now. I ate chocolate cake for dinner.
So I raided the gif folder on our desktop. After a certain point (in the day; in the twenty-first century), gifs will become the only mode of self-expression. Thus, I promise, promise, promise this will the last time I use a gif to illustrate a point on this blog.
I take that back. I don’t want to make that promise. I fucking love gifs.
So, yeah. Sorry. Not sorry.
This is kinda how the whole five-year-long writing process went. More or less. On a bright and dismal July morning in 2009 the idea struck.
Pirates, I thought, are awesome. But what if they were IN SPACE.
It might just have been crazy enough to work. (Probably not, but I was hungover.)
The brainstorming part of the creative process began.
Seriously. I spent 22 STRAIGHT HOURS making notes that first sweet day. I had a sunburn on half of my body and a crick in the neck like a horrible acupuncture session gone wrong. I went through two pens and a whole mechanical pencil.
Eventually – about a year later – emboldened by the creative methodology I’d honed in film school, I sat down at the computer and started writing.
And it went really well for a while. I scribbled in notebooks and typed away like a mad man trapped in an endless comments section loop. I gave up on socialization; gave up on showering; basically, gave up on real life.
After about a year of that, I finished my first draft. Excited by the idea of space pirates, Dr. Roommate wanted to read it. I was terrified.
She said she loved it.
She threw the manuscript across the room when I killed off one of the characters, and even started shipping another character with Sandor Clegane.
But she had notes. And I had not quite been happy with that draft. It’s easy to lose perspective of the objective qualities of one’s own work. That is why notes from others always help; they at least open you up to new opinions. Anyway. Revisions began.
And went on.
Holy hell. It was really painful guys.
I’m finally ended up with a draft I was happy enough with. In retrospect that happiness was a lie. At some point earlier in this journey, the masochistic tendencies wore off and I just wanted it to be over. There were problems with the manuscript, but it was easier to ignore them than fix them. Especially when you simply don’t know HOW to fix them.
It is much less emotionally damaging to buy the lie you tell yourself! Hell, it was easy to believe! An agent even expressed interest!
But she told me that – at 160,000 words – I had a lot of cutting to do. I had to get down to the thick of the plot.
But then I never heard from the agent again.
So nothing happened for a while. Because that’s sort of the way things go.
In the meantime, I wrote a whole other novel. I got married. I moved to England. I moved back. I convinced myself pirates in space was stupid and terrible and a waste of four years of my life.
Eventually, in a fit of navel-gazing, I decided to read my elegant tale over again, expecting to find a hideous fragment of a past life: an artifact I could hold up as an example of how much better a writer I’d become since way back when.
But no. It was actually… pretty good. The distance from it gave me more of an objective perspective.
Perhaps I was a genius after all!
But there were still issues. Something was off with the book but I couldn’t quite say what.
In all that time while I thought I was running away, I was learning to trust myself. I learned that art takes work. I learned that this book could be something special but it wouldn’t happen by accident. I needed to tell the story I wanted to read. Eyes open, I was finally able to discover the problem at the root of the book. It was the voice.
This meant, of course, going right back to the root and blowing it all up.
I could make this good – I could make this work – but it would mean essentially rewriting the whole thing.
There were a lot of tough questions I would have to ask myself.
How convincing are my characters?
And their conflicts?
Do they develop and change over time, as shaped by their experiences?
What about subtext?
Are the shocking moments actually shocking?
The humour actually humourous?
As it stood, everything was… adequate.
So as I readied myself for this undertaking, suddenly overwhelmed and panicking, Husband decided he would like to read it. I love him and trust his judgment; he’s a harsh critic and a terrible liar. What’s the worst that could happen?
So he finishes the book and delivers his verdict: it’s not long enough. Simple as. (Which makes me frustrated with the old advice from the agent, she of word counts and plot supremacy.)
I had been so worried about plot but Husband just wanted to spend more time with the characters. He wanted more backstory.
So there it was – no more revisions – just more writing.
Which is always the fun part.
No really. It is. I promise.
And he was right. He was SO right. At LAST the book works! Finally it is something I truly love. It’s the characters people want to spend time with; it’s their fate the reader sticks around for. I should have learned this lesson from Dr. Roommate, but I just hadn’t yet learned to trust myself back then.
So I’ve printed it out and am currently going through this last draft with a thick, red pen.
At the end of the day, it’s my story, not an agent’s. At the end of it all, I don’t care how long it is; I just care how much I enjoy reading it.
It would be nice if something came of it, but that no longer feels essential. There’s no point in shooting for the moon when you can curl up with a good book.