Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Scan Arcana No 5

The last in a series!

I know a little about other novelist's process when it comes to creating a manuscript. Most that I'm aware of don't bother with the handwritten stage. My first stories were written by hand and I've been doing it for a long time now. It wasn't until I got serious about completing a novel that I realized some typing would be in order... eventually. Thankfully I'm well past that stage now but thought it would be fun to wrap up the "Scan Arcana" series by showing off the different phases of the manuscript.

You know me. Showing off is like breathing.

I started on the endless voyage years ago, around the same time that I started this blog. The outlook was mighty different in those days. My ideas for the novel were too many to list here. I was excited to get it written but had no idea how I would actually do it. Heady days.

In its initial form, the manuscript resembled what I'm doing over at Vault of Story: I serialized it. Rather than sharing online, however, I put new sections into a notebook behind the counter of a local coffeehouse where I happened to spend way too many of my waking hours. People were very encouraging with their comments. Those pages are awful in hindsight; then again, I've never been the biggest fan of my own writing, which tends to go the vinegar route with age.

Still, it was good to produce. I got into the daily groove of putting words to the page and the pile slowly grew.

After abandoning the public approach, I went into overdrive. Churn it out, I told myself, just get the words where they belong. A Steinbeck quote recently posted at Secret Forest would have been my credo, had I been aware of it: "Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on."

I didn't quite get the whole novel written. My premise was half-formed, a mistake I'll never make again. Lots of waffling ensued. I didn't know precisely where the tale was going, which is a little like sailing without a compass on a cloudy night. Sailing a sea of perspiration, because that is what you are doing all the time, sweating buckets to finish what you started.

Thus came the part I dreaded: editing.

It wasn't as torturous as I thought but editing a half-baked manuscript does take forever. This marks the beginning of the typing phase. Having a brain that only works in the morning, I'd go into work early and type for an hour. Do this every day and you'll wind up with a manuscript, it is inevitable. It worked fine as a process and the novel suddenly, magically, marvelously, had a beginning, middle, and, yes, the best part, an end. What I didn't know yet was that having a completely baked manuscript means more not less editing.

Sailing the seas of perspiration was never less fun.

Listen, writing is work. It is the hardest thing to do. You are the only one who can convince yourself to do it. Friends and family think you're a good writer and say nice things about what they've read, but it comes down to you, baby, nobody else, to make the damn thing readable.

Every writer's mantra is the same: Make The Damn Thing Readable.

Make it or break it, you have to do something -because stopping is not on the table. Finishing is non-negotiable. You would let down the people in the novel you've come to love, for one, and it tears you up to even consider fating them to the gloomy purgatory of an unfinished story. There's no pressure like that exerted by fictional characters of your own making. It sounds weird but in some ways they are more real than real people. They have startled you with their decisions. They have made and atoned for mistakes that got people they love hurt. The last thing you want to do is make existence worse for them. Nobody can live with that kind of guilt.

We're in the home stretch, the horizon is in sight. The manuscript -toot! toot!- looks the best it ever has and I'm optimistic it will be really and finally done this summer.

1 comment:

fullet said...

Man, I loved that. I'll make sure I save this post.

For me it starts like a graphomaniac's addiction, it's the pen and the paper and some silly drawings and so on. And then the typing. It really works. But I also find very difficult to follow Steinbeck quote. What annoys me is that as a child I used to write that way, I did the darn whole first draft and then edited my tales. I lost that, and now it's like fitting a jigsaw.

So it will be done this summer! I'll have to hurry to catch up with you!