Progress Report: Chapter 2

Despite losing insane amounts of time to researching and implementing David Allen's Getting Things Done system* -- an entire workday, in fact (yes, I am aware of the irony) -- I have completed Chapter 2 on, and in fact, just slightly before, scheduled (initial deadline was March 31). Many discoveries made regarding structure of the novel as I pushed through this section:

(a) I'm 50 pages and 2 chapters into the mss, and in "Real Time" we've just progressed through a single day. Initial outliney-treatmenty-notes mapped the story out in terms of months, which I assumed would be chapter units, but it's clear now they won't -- which means my 11-12 chapter structure is probably out, too. Assuming I'm going to be working in the 20-30 chapter range now.

(b) That said, I think I need to make some changes to the the initial deadlines. Original plan, at 2 chapters a month, was set as followed:

9/1/ 05: Draft 1.0 (the messy, forward at all costs draft)
-- submit to readers

12/31/05: Draft 2.0 (the messy, everything moved around, cut, pasted, noted but not "polished" draft)
--structural changes as suggested by readers and my own notes

6/31/06: Draft 3.0 (first polished draft)
--submit to readers

10/31/06: Draft 4.0 (complete, finished mss ready for agent submission)

(i) Obviously, since I'm probably writing 20-30 chapters, I may need to push all those dates back a bit, though perhaps I'll write with such speed and discipline I won't have to lose much time -- in fact, as my writing stamina improves I may up the REQUIRED DAILY WORD COUNT to 1000 words from the 500 I'm currently pressing upon myself -- it's more psychologically daunting, to be sure, but the fact is my average wordcount has been hovering in the 1000-ish range over the last month anyway, so I know it's possible without burning me out or turning me into horrible, preoccupied, exhausted, irresponsible wife/friend (always always I am worrying about the WRITER/PERSON balance, especially in the face of new and wonderful marriage that I want to honor and strengthen as much as I possibly can DESPITE my anti-social writerly tendencies).

(ii) Bigger issue: I think I need to add another draft to the process. It occurs to me there's no way in hell I can release Draft 1.0 to trusted readers, considering I'm not re-reading nor even spell-checking as I go, and considering even as I scan the pages as they come out of the printer I can already see the ways certain paragraphs need to move and certain motives need punching up. However, I don't want to make the mistake I made with Hart, refusing to release it b/c I was so overcome with the flaws, and thus entering into a cycle of "this is so unfixable" paranoia that had me starting over COMPLETELY all the time until everything good about it had been diluted and lost. So, I'm thinking in the wake of Draft 1.0 I will give myself 1 MONTH and 1 MONTH ONLY to do BASIC CORRECTIONS ON THE CHAPTER LEVEL before going to my trusted readers with Draft 1.1. By no means will I attack overall, holistic mss. structure changes on the page -- I can keep a "kill list" and "structure thoughts" list, but the basic holistic structure of 1.1 must remain unchanged from 1.0. All I'm allowed to do to 1.0 is spell-check, move things around WITHIN CHAPTERS, and make margin notes for POSSIBLE CHANGES. This should effect the draft schedule thusly:

Draft 1.0 -- the messy, forward at all costs draft

Draft 1.1 -- the first reader-ready draft, still messy but slightly "fixed" (not to be confused with "polished") chapters, not affecting the shape of the whole

Draft 2.0 -- the huge, heavily notated structural overhaul draft, as suggested by readers notes and my own

Draft 3.0 -- the polished draft, based on structure of 2.0, to be submitted to readers

Draft 4.0 -- the complete, agent-ready draft

However, I'm not changing initial deadlines yet -- I'm going to press ahead at 2 chapters each month and see where that gets me by summer's end.

(c) But overall, I'm basically happy with where I'm going, story-wise. It's not perfect, I'm already questioning the start point, and the emotional plumbing leaves a lot to be desired, but I've begun to read The Modern Library Writer's Workshop and I think Stephen Koch is absolutely right on when he quotes Paul Johnson thusly:

"A bad novel is better than an unwritten novel, because a bad novel can be improved; an unwritten novel is defeat without a battle."

* More on GTD and my debilitating obsession with organizing processes in upcoming posts.


New Personal Best

Chapter 1 of 2N is complete, at least as far as initial beginning-middle-end drafting goes. All of seven days work! I'm very very impressed with myself.

Am going to let it stay messy and move on to Chapter 2 tomorrow -- my best intentions are just to motor through as quickly as I can and get all necessary events and such down on paper all the way to story's end before I start prettying things up. Not even spell-checking, though I may have to do basic prose-prettying for various Writer's Groups just so I have something to submit . Will bring Chapter 1 to Sunday Group next week, and then I can always submit it again the following week for the floating Mon/Weds/Tues Group and just take all the notes and save them for when I'm through a draft and ready to look backwards. At that rate, if I can get another Chapter done this month, I'll be at least a chapter ahead of myself for Group reads, which would be good -- then at least I can see what's working and what's not as I move along. Granted, there is a risk here that listening to 10 people talk about current work will have me want to kill time going back for fixes -- so Chapter 1 will be the experiment. If hearing Group critiques slows momentum, I will cease bringing Chapters in to read and just soldier on in the dark. However, I do feel that my own personal sense of direction is much stronger than it was three or four years ago when I was first workshopping HART and getting sidetracked trying to deal with all and sundry suggestions. This time I'm older and more sure of my own perspective, plus this story is much better plotted forward and psychologically mapped than were early drafts of HART, so there you go.


Took Me Long Enough, But ...

I have finally figured out, in less than a million words, what my Great Themes / Obsessions are. Sadly, they seem less great when boiled down thusly, but here I go:

The thing I always seem to be writing about, the thing that moves me to the page and informs every word, is love and compromise -- how men and women (and men and men, and women and women) negotiate intimacy, and how much compromising they do to pull it off, and how you figure out how much compromise is bearable/worth it, and how much is too much, and whether or not you can/should live with the way the other person changes you.

At least this is a minor improvement on my usual answer when people ask me what I write about: "Oh, well, you know. Love and stuff."