Writers’ workbench: On the ecstasy of the home stretch

herman4 So here I am, late summer, deep in the heart of the first draft of a new book. I’m in that euphoric, terrifying, mysterious frame of mind that arises when the end of the draft is almost in sight. I try to write about 1000 words a day, which translates to about four pages of double-spaced manuscript. I’m on about page 350 of a book that feels like it will be around 450 pages long. Everything’s set up for the ending, all the characters and clues and tools are in place, and now mostly I have the feeling of standing back, watching the storm I have created roll through the village.

I don’t know if people who are not writers can relate to this at all, but I wanted to linger over this moment with you here. Right now, the world of the book I’m writing is really all I care about. It’s what I can’t wait to do once I get up in the morning, and when I’m doing it, I”m about as happy as I can be, and when I’m finished, I start to think about what I’m going to write tomorrow. Each tiny block of pages brings me closer and closer to the end. I know a lot of what’s going to happen, but not exactly, and there’s still room to be surprised, both for better and for ill. But this particular place– the home stretch–is such a delight.

I have hopes to be done with this first draft by summer’s end, which would truly be impressive (and tidy, since it means I wouldn’t be dragging summer projects into the academic year.) I am such a confused flibbertygibbet of a writer that I really have to go through two drafts, just to have a first draft, because even at my most careful, I am still capable of writing, “A hole fell out of the wall.” (The HarperCollins copyeditor actually caught this one recently; with deep chagrin I had to change it to, OF COURSE, “a stone fell out of the wall, leaving a hole.”) And so on. It is so easy to get blind, in the whirlwind of this part of writing.

Steve King encourages writers to write 2000 words a day, if possible, and to spend no more than 3 months on a first draft. I’m a fast writer, but i’ve never been THAT fast. Still, these fantasy books I’m writing have come faster, and been more fun, than almost anything I’ve ever done. The problem is that, every 200 pages or so, I have to completely stop and go back and fix all the things i’ve screwed up because only writing the story lets me know what the story is. And while this might well be a crazy way of writing (rather than planning it all out in advance), I’ve NEVER been able to do that; for me it’s always writing blindly but with hope, and then going back, and fixing it, and fixing it.

So coming down the home stretch is especially exciting because the options narrow, and I’m less likely to go off down a blind alley. AT this point, I’ve been down so many of them that the number of false moves has been reduced– because I’ve already taken so many of them.

This particular project, by the way, is FALCON QUINN AND THE (SOMETHING SOMETHING) (we’re keeping the something something secret for now). It’s book two of the Falcon Quinn project, and i’ve just learned that book one, FALCON QUINN AND THE BLACK MIRROR (the cover for which is here) is now slated for April publication. I’ve had such a ball with these books, and even now I am still doing what I started doing two years ago with book one– doing a morning’s writing, and then reading the day’s work to my boys at day’s end. Zach and Sean continue to be some of my best critics, especially with this book, which I’ve written for (and in many cases, with) them.

It’s funny, though, I will end book Two before Book One has come out yet, so I wont’ know whether there will be books Three and up (and yeah, I have a pretty specific idea of how many of these there will be) when I have to hand them in. So I have to come up with an ending for Book Two that will end the series if we end at two, but also provides an opening if we go more than that, which I surely hope we do.

At any rate, I am not at all sure that this makes me a very fun or pleasant person to be around right now, because my mind is really drifting away to Shadow Island and the world of the story all the time. Deedie is long suffering and patient about this, having long ago decided that the best way to deal with a writer-spouse is to pretend I’m normal. The boys, meanwhile, want to CONSTANTLY talk about the latest twists and turns in the story. It’s such a fun and fulfilling place to be.

There are times I wish I could stay in this frame of mind forever. But that’d be no fun, because then I’d never find out how the story ends. And I’d be denied the even scarier, even more amazing prospect, of staring something new.

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2 Comments

  1. Tex
    Posted August 7, 2009 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Definitely end with room! I look forward to reading the series for some time! Love you all

  2. Helacious
    Posted August 7, 2009 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been reading you a long time. THE PLANETS (I know, not quite “your” book, but not quite not) was a cult fetish fave of one of my exes; my spouse and I read SHE’S COME UNDONE together just a few years before the spouse decided to transition once and for all. But what I wanted to say is “A hole fell out of the wall” is PURE GENIUS, and you should find a way to use it! Reminded me of “The sound of someone trying not to make a sound” from John Irving. I actually wrote it down in my commonplace book. Thanks!!!

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