Major massive milestone

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Ten years.

That’s kind of a long time. Over the course of the past decade, aside from the usual 8-5 job and various successes there, I’ve built most of a house, added a workshop, duck-house, chicken-coop, took up woodworking (I managed to sell a few pieces of furniture), fiddled with bonsai, learned much about the art of home-brewing, and, not least significantly, had three children (okay, I didn’t, my wife did, but I was present). In short, a lot has happened. I’m sure at this point you must be thinking: This guy is a smug and self-important bastard isn’t he? If you’re not, perhaps you should be -I would be. The thing is I’m not. In fact, if you think I’m calling these ‘accomplishments,’ you’re wrong*. These are the daily distractions of my life, all of which I have chosen, for the past several years, but don’t worry, I’m going somewhere with this.

When our first son was born, I had my trusty notebook with me for the hospital stay, where I was treated to three nights on a too-short couch and the absolute panic associated with being a new parent. The story I was working on is the very same I’m working on now. It started as two separate sci-fi novels that morphed and merged into a single fantasy series that dropped all of the sci-fi elements**. Back then, I was mostly focused on background and constructed language development. I’d be a lying jerk if I tried to claim I had anything like a plot, and the characters were sketches of people, without any sort of personality.

Now, for the milestone bit: I finally, after a decade, have a full first draft.

Holy crap, it took you ten years to write 90,000 words? What’s wrong with you?

Hey! – I got it done, and bits of it are fairly well polished and have even been through beta-readers. It happened last night. I hit the end of a sentence and spent a few minutes trying to think of where I might go next with it and realized the remainder of the ‘story’ was superfluous. Nothing more needed to be said.

Wait! You dodged the question about what the hell took you so long!

Alright! Jeez. It may be that it took me a decade, but in all of that random stuff I was spending time on, I wasn’t necessarily spending much energy on writing. In fact, there were stretches of months, maybe even as long as a year, where I didn’t spend any time thinking about writing at all. It wasn’t until about two years ago that I once again dusted off my notebook and started working on my story. I made some serious progress. Over the course of a few months I ran through what’s now the first five or six chapters of the book, as well as a few other chapters sprinkled in throughout later parts of the book. Then, I sort of shelved it again. We had some family stress and I just didn’t work on it.

An interesting side note here, I had only confided in my wife about this project while working on it, that is until last spring. I started thinking about it again and decided to confide in a friend and co-worker what I was doing. I’m not sure why, but I did.

Anyhow, sometime last summer, I had a shit or get off the pot moment. I don’t remember it exactly, and neither does my wife, though she assures me that’s what happened. The bottom line is that I said (probably after a few beers), I’m going to finish this book dammit!

Are you going to get to the point or just ramble on?

I’m just about to get there, stop interrupting.

What I think I realized is that I had been waiting for some sort of inspiration to strike me. (Emily Russell wrote a good article related to this, if for some reason you’re reading this and haven’t seen that, just stop and read that first – but come back here!). Inspiration isn’t going to finish a book. It’s not the sort of thing that just hits you while you’re driving down the street thinking about the trees*** It happens while you are trying to write, while you are actively thinking about your story. Sure good creative ideas do seem to strike in a flash of brilliance, but the truth of the matter is that you were thinking about it. It’s even better if you’ve written something down. Of course, I’ve had those moments where something strikes me as funny or odd, and I scribble down a note for later. Perhaps that’s a bit of inspiration, but inspiration doesn’t make a book. Writing does. Work does. Effort does. Like it or not, sacrifice does.

Possibly one of my favorite inspiration stories is the J.K. Rowling story about Harry Potter. She was on a train and the boy who lived just sort of walked into the train car with her. Isn’t that lovely? Boom – A multi-million dollar franchise was born! Bullshit. After that bit of inspiration, Rowling worked her ass off on back-story, setting, character development, plotting, and themes. It took years and loads of work (and quite a bit of luck too, but I’m not going there). For all practical purposes, ALL of the story comes from hard work and focus.

So. There it is. Lesson learned. If you want to finish, you have to focus and not make excuses about having too many other responsibilities. One paragraph per night? Good enough. You’ll get there, just keep on it.

* Except for the day-job stuff. I really am pretty full of myself there, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

** Someday I will blog about the circumstances leading to this, but not today.

*** I do this, don’t laugh. My family all thinks I’m a freak because I’ll fawn over the trees on any sort of hike. I will actually stop on a trail, grab a leaf and pontificate about a particular type of tree.

Is writing a book like building a house?

When I was working on my house, I added about 1100sq. ft., about five years ago. The first parts of the project were fairly easy in terms of planning. First a contractor came in and set the foundation, then I put in the floor joists and sub-floor of the first story, rolling straight into wall framing and sheeting. After that, I took the roof off the existing structure, and put in the floor joists and sub-floor for the second story. Once that was all in place, once again, I was framing and sheeting the walls, which was followed quickly by installation of roof trusses and roof sheathing, which led immediately to shingles. Having all that done, the real work began and the strategy started to become more about preference. Living in Alaska, I opted to focus on insulation, windows followed by interior framing, and then wiring. Normally, this would have occurred in a slightly different order, but if I wanted to continue working that was how it needed to be. Now, once I got that sorted, it was really a matter of preference.

It seems to me that this is where I’m at with my story. I’ve got a few chapters near the end to move from outline to draft, the first major revision, and polish, to the subplot, and of course I still need to go through again and really get that main character nailed down. He needs to be strong and charismatic, and he’s not there yet. I feel like where I’m at in my story is analogous to the point at which I walked into my newly dry house, and looked some 28 feet up the empty stairwell into the trusses of a hollow shell of a yet-to-be dwelling. It hit me like a physical pain back then. I have so much work to do, was my thought. I’d just spent every free moment of my summer getting it to that point and it wasn’t even half-way. I was right, the struggle went on for another 18 months. I tried to tackle things in a certain order to make life easier when I got to the next part. I’d like to approach my story in the same way. My intuition is telling me to just get the whole damn thing written, and worry about the details later, but another part of me says, don’t waste your time on the end because you don’t know all of the details that got him there yet. I suppose in the example of building a house, revision really isn’t on the table. With a book it’s just the nature of things. So, with all of that rubber-ducking and reminiscing out of the way. I’m going to commit myself to drafting out the last few chapters, leave the sub-plot revision until the end, and see if the end of the story doesn’t help me get a better sense of my main character. Is this a good strategy? No idea, never done this before. Anyhow, no I’m off for a run before the night gets away from me.