Here’s to all of you who are setting out on drafting a novel this month. I salute the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) program for encouraging aspiring writers to compose 50,000 words during the period. Good luck to you, stick with it, and learn tons – about yourself and your world – as you do so. Keep your eyes and thoughts on that goal.
I want to add a caveat, though.
That finished first draft is where the labor really starts.
As one observer noted: Talent goes into the first draft; genius, in the revisions.
I’ve come to be a bigger believer in those revisions. They move the text from being what’s important to you privately and on to what’s important to engage with the reader.
The revisions are where you dig under the surface to liberate the unexpected ore and lore of universal value. The process requires clearing away a lot of the vegetation and dirt, as it were, and it gets messy.
The core of my own published fiction arises in three large drafts I composed in a year I took off as a sabbatical back in the mid-’80s. While those stories were ambitious and original, they also rambled in search for a focus. One now spans four novels. Another, three.
During the next quarter-century, in addition to working full-time in a newspaper office, I kept returning to these at home in my free time, along with a slew of poetry. One book – Subway Hitchhikers – was published in 2001 but got swallowed by the first Iraq war, a terrible book-selling year overall.
Starting in 2013, the revised novels began appearing in Smashwords editions. I’ve been touting the works here at the Red Barn.
While most of them dealt with aspects of the hippie era, something still felt unfinished, at least in my mind. What happened to the movement? What are its lingering accomplishments?
The thoughts were gathering but not coalescing. I knew where I wanted to start, had a new character to run with, even came up with the trigger, but the next steps pointed nowhere.
Then, in 2014, I came across an unusual structure for a novel that ignited my imagination. Rather than the usual 20 to 24 chapters typically arrayed in chronological order, this one had 16, and each one was a kind of panel or module that could be moved about somewhat randomly or even as elements of a mosaic. Yes, some of these would have to appear later than others, but there was an overall freed of ordering. It was like wandering about in a room of paintings.
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