Early and Late Joys

I’ve written before of my first moment in which I was consciously aware of my desire to be a published author.  I was in first grade, riding in the back seat of our family’s dark green ’71 Pontiac station wagon.  I had my Big Chief tablet in my lap, a big pencil in hand, and I was writing about adobe houses of the Pueblo and Hopi Native Americans. I asked my mother, as she was driving, if I could submit a handwritten manuscript to a publisher and would they publish it (translated from however I might have said it as a first grader).  My mother answered, “Yes,” doubtless the way most parents, driving with children in the back seat, answer questions: sound that ends in an interrogative tone, met with a tossed out response with a fifty-fifty chance of being the right answer.  But that was all I needed.

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A Shadow Life?

Earlier this year, while I was nearing completion of the first draft of my novel, and during the period of time I’d set aside to try to discern this vocational impulse around writing, I read (again) a pointed passage from a book I’d first read five years ago.

In the shadow life, we live in denial and we act by addiction.

We pursue callings that take us nowhere and permit ourselves to be controlled by compulsions that we cannot understand (or are not aware of) and who’s outcomes serve only to keep us caged, unconscious, and going nowhere.

The shadow life is the life of the amateur. In the shadow life we pursue false objects and act upon inverted ambitions. . . . .

The longer we cleave to this life, the farther we drift from our true purpose, and the harder it becomes for us to rally the courage to get back.

–Steven Pressfield, Turning Pro, p 18

The need or desire to have a vocation as a writer—as opposed to, say, the desire to write every day, and the fulfilling of that desire in action, no matter what—itself can be a matter of Resistance.  This thinking of writing as a vocation can be little more than posing, of taking on airs, an insulating facade one places on oneself to avoid the thing one needs to face most of all.  It can be as superficial as taking on and putting off a disguise, the assumption of a character, a role in a play.  God help me, there were times, in college, when I fear I fell into this trap.  Do I cliche myself?  Very well, I cliche myself.  It would have been worse if I’d worn a beret or a cravat.  But not much worse.  As Anne Lamott writes in her delightful, Bird by Bird, wanting to be published more than to write will not get you where you want to be.

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Turning Pro; or, the Second Draft

Stephen Pressfield describes the years of running away from writing, pouring himself into shadow careers and selves, and the moment of “turning pro” in his The War of Art:

I dragged out my ancient Smith-Corona, dreading the experience as pointless, fruitless, meaningless, not to say the most painful experience I could think of.  For two hours I made myself sit there, torturing out some trash that I chucked immediately into the shftcan.  That was enough. . . . It hit me that I had turned a corner.  I was okay.  I would be okay from here on.

He later published an entire book called Turning Pro, on this aspect of crossing over from amateur to professional.  By professional, he does not mean published.

On 31 July of this year, I completed the first draft of my novel.  My first ever novel.  The next morning, I woke and the entire world was different.  It was electric with possibility.  My future was different.  My present was transformed.  But as I think about the nearly two months that have passed since then, I don’t think that was my “turning pro” moment.  Or if it was, it was not fully realized yet.

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The Editing Process After the First Draft is Complete

Three weeks ago today, I began a fourfold editing process. Earlier this afternoon, I completed the first phase. It was a micro-analysis of the structure of each scene of the 99,000 word novel. It was frustrating and tedious, and as I have learned, very necessary.

First, a little summation. When I began to write the novel (that is to say, it’s fourth version), I did not do any research, nor did I do extensive character descriptions and backgrounds. I didn’t get detailed about location. I began the novel by first writing down the theme, the overall major moments (inciting incident, crisis, climax, etc.), divided those moments into the three main acts, and then outlined the first fifteen scenes of the first act. As I completed each of the acts, I outlined the next one. And I kept writing, once I had taken it up again, until it was complete. There were only two occasions when I went back and completely rewrote scenes from scratch. It was so obvious that they did not work that I knew they would have to be cut. So I did, and completed new versions of them.

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First Draft Lessons

A few days ago, I completed the first draft of my novel. This was the fourth version I’d written of it. I started it in August 2011, got swamped by the size of it, and quit. I started it again in early 2012, and had the same experience. A third try in 2014 ended the same as the previous times. By September 2016, I had gained some new knowledge of how Story works, the essential elements to the novel, its three main parts and their purposes, and so forth. I created an outline for the first part. I had word count goals. I created a tentative schedule of writing. I had a plan. After less than two weeks, this fourth attempted ended as it had before.

A couple of months ago, I made another attempt. After fifty days of daily effort, I typed “The End” to the manuscript. I had finally done it. I had written my novel. I’m not completely sure why this fourth time was successful where the others weren’t, but here’s what I’ve come to thus far.

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The Day After

At about 10:00pm, Monday night, July 31, 2017, I intentionally typed “THE END” after typing the last sentence of the last scene of my first draft of my first ever novel. It was a long-time life goal that I finally accomplished.

For years, as I wrote down my annual goals for each year, at the top was, “Write Novel.” Year after year saw me failing to accomplish that goal. In 2011, I had written tens of thousands of words on this very project (in the first version), only to abandon it before the end of the year. In 2012, I started again, from scratch—and again abandoned it. In 2014, I took it up a third time . . . and, yes, abandoned it again. Three attempts, each from scratch (though dealing with the same basic characters and same basic plot overview). Three failures.
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It’s True

Recently, I re-read these passages from a couple of Steven Pressfield's books.

The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows we're about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it's got.
The War of Art

Crashes are hell, but in the end they’re good for us. A crash means we have failed. We gave it everything we had and we came up short. A crash does not mean we are losers. A crash means we have to grow. A crash means we’re at the threshold of learning something, which means we’re getting better, we’re acquiring the wisdom of our craft. A crash compels us to figure out what works and what doesn’t work—and to understand the difference.
Do the Work

I am currently finishing the final seven scenes of the middle part of my novel, what Shawn Coyne in his The Story Grid calls the Middle Build. Given my daily writing over the last month or so, I am on track to complete this first draft of my Middle Build by this weekend, and I am currently working on the final scenes including the crisis, climax and resolution. More than that, I am on track to finish the full first draft of my novel no later than mid-August, and possibly even sooner. This past weekend, I scheduled my time to finish about seven scenes, in a major push forward. That momentum carried into this week right up until Tuesday. I have not written less than two thousand words a day in the last week, except for two: a 1500 word day and a 1700 word day.

Then Tuesday, my work out put came to a screeching halt. I wrote a little over 500 words. Wednesday was a little better. I wrote a little over 600. Whereas I had been writing two or three half hour or hour sessions per day over the course of the last week, On Tuesday and Wednesday I wrote once each day, and could not bring myself to write any more.
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