I finished the first draft of the book (aka "THE SHITTY EYES CLOSED FORWARD AT ALL COSTS DRAFT")! It's 342 pages and 2 inches thick -- and while it's no masterpiece, there is a beginning, a middle, and end.
Plus I managed to complete the mss in less than three years from first glimmerings of an idea in February 2004 to typing THE END today -- less than two years (20 months, to be exact) if you start counting from the day I began writing the first page of this most current and complete draft in March 2005.
I am very pleased with myself. I managed this while ALSO planning my wedding, taking the entire summer of 2004 off to wed and honeymoon, taking five weeks off in 2005 to gallivant around Africa, AND taking much of this summer off to work on my essay for "Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys."
So I rock. Especially since the last novel I wrote from start to finish took me eight years and eleven partial drafts before I completed a start-to-finish mss.
Now, before we all get too excited about this, let's remember: I finished the FIRST draft. There are at least two more draft coming before I'll feel comfortable showing the book to friends and family, much less professionals. So don't expect to see a glimmer of it until near the end of 2008 -- I'm going to put this draft aside through the holidays, read it with pen and post-its and a legal pad in hand in Jan '07, try to brainstorm the issues I discover during that read from Jan '07 through Memorial Day -- I'm assuming that brainstorming is all I'm really going to be good for in the first months of sleep-deprived baby-haze -- then try to start Draft 2 over the summer.
Draft 2 will be the "FIX THE STRUCTURE, PLUG THE GAPS, REALIZE THE PLOTS AND CHARACTERS AND THEMES DRAFT." Once Draft 2 is done, I'll start the process again: set the mss aside for a month or two, then come back to it with pen and post-its and a legal pad in hand, then brainstorm the issues and begin Draft 3.
Draft 3 will be the "POLISH FOR TRUSTED READER FRIENDS DRAFT."
Draft 4 will incorporate reader notes into the "AS GOOD AS I CAN MAKE IT DRAFT," and then I'll release it into the publishing world.
Wow. Amazing. Taking the next few days off to mark the occasion.
Then it's back to work, focusing on story drafts for my collection,
And then I stopped.
I finished Chapter 15 on a Thursday morning, so I took Friday off (I try to take a day off when I finish a chapter or story, a recommendation I picked up from Dorothea Brande's fabulous book Becoming a Writer). That evening, Husband and I headed off for a weekend getaway to Berkeley, our last shot at some vacation time before the two of us become three.
Monday I returned exhausted, so I took another day off. Normally I might have pushed on through, but again, "woman's work" intruded--the exhaustion attendant to the growing of Number Three won out over my work ethic, and even dulled the guilt a little bit b/c it's not just me I'm thinking about when I sleep most of the day now.
Tuesday, I forced myself back to my favorite table at my favorite cafe--and discovered another problem related to Number Three: I'm no longer comfortable for long periods of time in the cafe chairs, so after several hours of producing NOTHING I gave up and went home. I spent most of the afternoon working on transforming our office to Three's room.
Wednesday I woke up determined to work at home, in my far more supportive chairs. We all know how it ends when I try to work at home. More energy pumped into Three's room.
Thursday and Friday I decided that as long as I was resisting work, I might as well give myself REAL permission to do so--and so I poured myself into Three-related projects, with no thought to the novel at all. The only condition: Monday I would return to work.
And I did! Yesterday I made notes for what will be the last chapter of the first draft of this book, and today I wrote the first 500 words of it!
Despite the "lost week," I don't feel as badly as I usually do about walking away from my writing. Part of that has to do with listening to the David Allen podcasts at www.43folders.com. One, in particular, is about procrastination, and ways around it/through it.
Regarding working THROUGH procrastination, it was suggested that often the problem has to do with the task at hand not having been broken down to the most basic WIDGET property of itself. In the case of Chapter 16, then, I set myself the MOST BASIC WIDGET STEP of reading the notes I'd been gathering for the last several years regarding the ending of this book.
But easy as that should have been to do--the notes are very neatly collected in a binder that is tabulated into three acts, and the acts themselves are separated into chapter groupings--I still didn't wanna. Part of that, obviously, is my general weirdness about finishing things--I get a little wonky when the end is near. I know that about myself, which I why I am a hugely happy follower of the WIDGET approach--tiny little baby steps distract me from the finish line. I'm not COMPLETING THE FINAL PAGES OF MY NOVEL. I'm "preparing the chain of events" for the chapter; I'm "writing 500 words"; I'm "writing 500 words"; I'm "writing 500 words"; and somehow, 500 words from 500 words from 500 words from 500 words from now, I'll surprise myself by making it to the finish line.
Which is how, of course, I got back to work yesterday.
But last week, I resisted the WIDGET approach, and still, I got a lot done. I moved Husband's clothes in the master closet, and turned what had been his closet into Three's domain. I sorted all the baby clothes my mother had saved for 30+ years into bins by size, and laundered the clothes appropriate for Three's early months. I sorted through 6--count 'em, 6 banker's boxes of Husband's unfiled papers, and filed them. And I started selling books we don't want, to make room for Three's first library and storage system. I didn't write--but I did something important, and pressing, and this is also GTD-appropriate. Like Allen said in the podcast, if you're procrastinating one thing, then you better have a lot of other things you're doing until the resistance passes--and I did!
That said, by week's end I was near my usual "I haven't written in a week and I'm falling mentally to pieces" point--I do get crazed when I stop work. That was sort of a relief, actually--I'd been worrying that maybe I'd be okay, not writing, just doing house stuff ... and I'm pleased to report, I'm not. I can do it about three days before I start to ache for my writing. By a week, the ache is a full-blown "get thee to a word processor!" scream in my head.
I'm guessing the moodiness isn't easy on Husband. But he did get a fully organized, color-coded wall of the master closet in return for my week at home. And I got reassurance that despite the unbelievable amount of time and attention I devote to Three's impending arrival, I haven't yet completely lost myself.
So I'm happily back to regular programming.
Then he started calling. And calling. And calling. It’s nice that he likes to check in, and in fact I adore hearing his voice pretty much WHENEVER. But I like it less when I’m working, which tends to be in the mornings, before life is too distracting, and I like it LOTS less when the calls start, “Are you home?”
So I’ll be honest here: for a couple of weeks I just straight-out lied. My cell would ring, he’d ask, “Are you home,” and I’d say, from the comfort of my chair at our kitchen table, “No.”
That worked for awhile. But I was also battling the creep of personal affairs onto the territory of professional ambitions. Our life this summer has catapulted us into the realm of True Adulthood in a number of ways, and Adulthood requires a hell of lot of a person to do at home. It can take up every minute of the day, really.
The only thing to do when that happens is to get the hell out of the home, as quickly as possible.
Another triumph for spending a little money when you need to free up a bunch of time.
I'm not fearful of critique, and in fact I sort of relish having my work torn up by discerning reader-writer friends, because that process always always shows me ways to deepen and focus what I'm trying to produce. But critique is not editing -- critique is a "Take it or leave it" sort of thing, a reflection on what your READER pulls from your work, and a suggestion about ways to fix it that are entirely left to your own discretion as WRITER, to do with as you please.
Being edited is another thing entirely, especially when the editor in question is an "endgame editor," the final authority on whether or not your work will see the light of day. The changes suggested and the notes proffered feel more compulsory when you're working with an editor, b/c ultimately your work has to fit the editor's vision even more so than your own.
As I've previously posted, I spent a lot of time this summer working and reworking an essay for the the collection GIRLS WHO LIKE BOYS WHO LIKE BOYS, which is to be published by Dutton / Plume next June. I wrote nine drafts on my own terms, then I sent it to the editors--and then the real work began.
I struggled with the first round of rewrites they wanted. Much of what the editors suggested was helpful and spot on, but still I struggled with notes and suggested cuts that I felt messed with not only the ryhthm and shape of my essay without offering alternative structure suggestions, but also erased my voice. Voice was a huge concern for me--I think personal essays are driven almost completey by voice.
Despite my misgivings, for the most part I complied with the editors' suggestions--this was their book after all, not mine. But with every change I made, I distanced myself more from the project, and the draft I ultimately returned to them was no longer something I felt I owned. I did my best to make it work, but I didn't like it.
The work I did on that draft made me think a lot about my own practices as an editor. Obviously, I am an editor of a different sort than the editors of GIRLS WHO ... I don't work at the end of the process, as they do -- I intervene at earlier stages, because I am working with my writers to hone THEIR visions, not my own. So when I make notes, I'm thinking about the ways I can help my writers achieve their own goals first--I try to help shape their project from within their own vision, I try to see what they see, to help them write the book that they want to write (not the book that I might prefer, not the book that I might write out of the same material).
Which is why it can be hard to see the changes an "endgame editor" requires. Part of this is ego--but another part is pride. One of my biggest challenges as a writer is my own perfectionism--I don't ever want to release a piece of work with my name on it unless I know it is the absolute best I can do, that it sparkles and shines as an expression of myself. This can be a handicap, obviously, since it means I spend a lot of time working on things that other writers might consider finished (Husband, for instance, always thinks I'm done many drafts before I do). So that first edit really bothered me, b/c I didn't think I'd manage to take the suggested edits and integrate them into a sparkling whole, nor preserve my true self-expression. The resulting draft left me cold.
Thankfully, as is generally the case, editors are editors for a reason--they're generally smarter and more insightful than they first appear. This is because what an editor does in concert with a writer can be compared to what a writer does on his own--draft, revise, polish. Round one of edits can feel a step backwards, as it often creates a messy and confused draft out of what you considered a finished product. But hopefully round two puts the pieces back together again, better than before.
Which is why I was thrilled with the notes I was sent for the second round. The new notes cut and restored and moved things around in just the same ways I think a real, down-and-dirty revision ought to. I was in my element with this second go-round, and really felt like the editors and I were in sync. I spent a long week in deep thought with the new edit, and what I produced was in many ways a completely different essay,than what I'd sent them in the first place. Tighter, more insightful, more balanced, more true to myself. I was thrilled to send it back to them.
Fingers crossed they feel the same way.
I knew what I wanted to write about pretty much the instant I was approached for the collection. Then I started writing, and it started falling apart.
I’ve been meaning to post an ode to my office for months now. I’ve wanted to share the sense of purpose I felt each day, driving to work in my own private space. I wanted to talk about the joy of having all of my books and papers and files around me, arranged exactly as I wanted them, never touched or moved by anybody else. Nobody bothered me because I didn’t have a landline, and I didn’t send or receive mail. At my office, I could be totally the WRITER ME, independent of anything else. Plus I was two blocks from Starbucks. It couldn’t get any better than that.
So I didn't get work done this morning. Arrived at the office after lunch, meaning to dive right into the EdMoi essay, but of course I killed two hours surfing workarounds for Blogger categories ... for some reason, I really want categories.
I've killed a lot of time this week, working on things like that, so that the mid-week review of this week's projects looks like this:
Draft EdMoi 1.0: In process. Have the first couple of lines, and a working structure. Still, that's a hell of a long way from a complete draft 1.0.Four out of five by Thursday afternoon is nothing to sneeze at. That said, the pattern here is one I struggle with a lot: using housekeeping to avoid the much harder, far more important act of creating. This is particularly annoying to me because for several months now I've been convinced that I have this issue under control ... I've been working working working like crazy at the office, at the expense of keeping things up at home, and as much as it kills me to come home to the mess each night, I've been patting myself on the back for not cleaning the mess at the expense of sitting down and doing my real work.
Move sklevy.com to dreamhost: Complete. Took the better part of a week, but as of today it's all up and happy.
Integrate blog to sklevy.com: Complete. Hence the new simplified layout and color scheme.
Integrate services page to blog and sklevy.com: Complete.
And it's been working. Since the last post about my progress, I've written both those letters I'd mentioned, and received replies; I've finished a workshoppable draft of "Seven" 4.0, overcoming the structure issue by working working working through it; and I've completed a workshoppable draft of "JD" 2.0, a feat I'm particularly proud of because it involved my cutting the story from 12000+ words to just over 9000 (go me). So it's not like I'm slacking on the work front.
But that's no excuse for what happened this week. When I put all those site and blog tasks on this week's project list, I told myself that was "business development." Which, I suppose, it is. But it shows a bit of priority snafu-ness that I let myself put so much time into developing a "business" that is still damned short of work I consider strong enough to sell. So let's not sugar-coat it. This week's focus on my web presence wasn't so much biz dev as it was housekeeping of the virtual variety.
So, new rule:
WEEKLY "HOUSEKEEPING" TASKS (read: any task that doesn't involve THE ACT OF WRITING) are to be COMPLETELY IGNORED until WEEKLY WRITING TASKS are complete.And with that, I seem to have worked up enough energy to dive into EdMoi. Onward!
1. Revise "Seven" to a workshop-able draft
Spent 9 hours getting "Seven" to draft 4.0. Not workshop-able by a longshot, but at least I got the structure wrestled out.
2. Write and send letter to Friend re. her new, wonderful book
3. Write and send letter to Writer Whom I Admire and would like to befriend
Which means we're at it again, this week -- with deadlines!
1. Revise "Seven" FOR workshop (Weds Mar. 1)
Biggest hurdle: fix the ending. It loses steam in the last quarter, and of course, with all stories, the last quarter is really the whole point. That gives me another hour or so this afternoon, then all day tomorrow, and the morning of Weds to fix it ... and Weds afternoon to close my eyes and xerox it for critique (for better/worse).
2. Write to Friend
A good Thursday activity, as hopefully I'll be feeling productive enough in the wake of Wednesday's deadline to reach out and chat about the biz with this Friend who hasn't heard from me in a year or so.
3. Write to Writer I Admire
A good Friday activity, since the following week I'm going to New York and can hand this letter to my good friend, who is also the wife of Writer I Admire's best friend ...
One of the main tenets of Neil Fiore's THE NOW HABIT is that you must never end blocked or down -- you must always manage a half hour of real work before giving up. So that's what I'm going to go do now.
The other night, a Friend pointed out that this blog seems to be a good way for me to work through my process, to get my head around my work. I'd thought of it, until then, as pure reportage--"here's what I'm working on, and how." But he's right--today, just venting about how un-focused I feel has me feeling a little less unmoored than I felt before I posted this note.
Revise "Seven" to Draft 3.0 -- complete!Anyway, I'm feeling pleased with myself, especially since next week looks fairly clear on the project-level, so I should have the entire week to try to wrestle "Seven" 4.0 into some semblance of workshoppable shape. "Seven" has been a real struggle -- I wrote a first draft over two years ago, and then last week I wrote an ENTIRELY different second draft, and this week, a COMPLETELY new third. Still, something's misising. It's ringing really empty still.
I finished the third draft of "Seven" yesterday. Unfortunately, it STILL doesn't work, so I launched right into draft 4.0, trying a completely different direction. Complete "Seven" Draft 4.0 is item #1 for next week ...
Draft critique of mss for friend -- complete!
I finished my notes for friend on Wednesday. Nearly 400 pp mss took me about a week to read and three more days to assemble written notes for, which is encouraging, considering I've decided to go pro.
Launch editing business with email blast -- complete!
Sent the email announcement yesterday, and created the site for my new venture today.
Hopefully a weekend spent away from the story will bring some sort of clarity or epiphany to my work next week -- it's rare that I have so much difficulty getting the bones of a story down the way that I want. It may be that this is just too close to the vest -- one of the things that I've found to be a failure with it is the tone (I tend to get breezy when I'm writing about things that touch me too closely).
It could be I just need to sit down with a pen and paper and write it longhand, try to get out of my head that way. Hmmph. Who knows. Frustrating to kick something around for so many years and still find myself stymied. I've tried as an exercise boiling down what I'm trying to say in a single sentence, but no matter how I frame the sentence, I'm having trouble figuring out how to dramatize it. Probably that means my focus isn't specific enough. Which means before I keep writing I probably have to go back to the brainstorming board, and boil down the question I'm attempting to answer here ...
As most of you know, I’ve spent a good amount of time over the years reading, critiquing, and editing the work of my friends. Happily, lots of these people have gone on to great success with work that I’ve been lucky enough to help shape. I really enjoy doing this—my brain likes playing with logic and structure—and I believe what I’ve learned helping my friends has gone a long way to sharpening my own work.
Now I've decided to take what all my brilliant friends have been teaching me, and pass it on to the paying public.
I've posted a description of my services here:
Here's what I did manage to do, despite all the silly distractions. I chose three projects for the week, and made headway on them all:
1. Revise "Seven" to a second draft -- completed!Looking over these notes, I'm feeling encouraged by the amount I accomplished despite this being a "bad week"-- go me. Once again, the power of three proves itself -- three projects is just enough to make me feel productive without feeling overwhelmed.
2. Critique mss for friend -- in progress -- read his mss, but still need to write up my critique notes for him
3. Launch editing business -- in progress -- collected comments on my one-sheet, but decided to wait until I was finished with friend's mss to draft the email blast about the venture ... Dilly-dallied as I debated with myself the pluses and minuses of opening shop, worrying about whether I can spare the time from my own writing to edit others on any larger scale than I'm already doing free, for my friends. But this afternoon I decided that I can always turn away clients if I need more time for my own work -- the point of this business is I can modulate it anyway I like. So next week I get this thing off the ground.
Next Week's Big Three:
1. Revise "Seven" to a third draft.
2. Complete and deliver mss notes to friend.
3. Send an email blast about my new editing business.
And I thought: yeah, well. Isn't that how this whole art thing works?
That's how it works for me, at least. Last night, I brought the second draft of "Albert & Nancy" to Group. I'm so deep in it I have no idea how it's playing, but Group seemed to love it. (They had amazing insights for deepening it, as usual, but general comment seemed to be it's damn close to done). So that was wonderful.
But rewind a week, and things really sucked. See here, direct from the pages of my notebook:
27 January 06 7:10 am Starbux
Tough writing day yesterday. I powered through the structure draft in the morning, only to return to it in the afternoon convinved it was unreadable and unworkable. That so freaked me out I spent the rest of the afternoon on other projects, like reading for Friend. Whas TOTALLY depressed by the time I left work after 4. Husband asked to look at it, so I let him, and then I went to wallow in a bath.
Which is where I decided the problem with the story was that it had the wrong protagonist--that it really ought to be a story following her. Husband disagreed. He liked it as Albert's story, liked the writing, thought for the most part it was working, just needed more of the WHY these people like each other, a little less stock-character stuff, and more evolution of the relationship, more WHY.
I got in the car to meet Friend at the Ahmanson, still disagreeing with Husband, head all abuzz with the possibilities for Nancy's story, called "The Good Nurse." Got to restaurant before Friend, and wrote out a series of note cards for the new version, then could barely watch the play because I kept hearing lines from the new version in my head. Went to sleep with the sinking feeling that I had to start completely anew and cobble together the new version in less than a week so I could submit it for Group.
But then this morning I wroke up and had a few insights into how to fix the current, Albert story. If I still hate it, I can always write Nancy's story, later. But I must commit to finishing this, to not sabotaging myself at the very last moments. So I have cards of notes I scribbled while brushing my teeth this morning, and today I hit these points ...
I can't say it too often. 2006 IS THE YEAR OF PUTTING THINGS TOGETHER.
Last week, I set myself the goal of reaching 75 points over the course of the week. I so loved filling in all the task-tracking bubbles that I actually hit 110 points. Even more amazing: I let the laundry pile up, and we ate out A LOT. Husband even cooked. The world didn't end, and I wrote a TON, spending in excess of 12 whole hours TYPING. UNTIL DARK. IN MY OFFICE. I even found the time to do a little editing for a friend.
Prize: Levenger Pocket Folders for my work-bag. I've been jonesing on those for awhile.
This week I upped the ante to 100 points. Work continues hard and heavy, and I'm at 66 points as of this morning. It's shocking how motivating this all is.
Granted, it helps that I get fun prizes. This week I'm writing for a pair of noise-cancelling headphones like these, which are perfect for when I'm stuck working at Starbux or at home or on airplanes. (The price bump up from the Levenger Pocket Folders is determined by the fact that I actually FINISHED a damn strong second draft of "Albert & Nancy" in two weeks!)
Conclusion: Printable CEO rocks my world.
Finally back at work after a long holiday / travel hiatus. In the interim, I’ve bought a fabulous wonderful amazing new horse; packed up my childhood bedroom in preparation of pending sale of my childhood home; turned 30; and traveled all over
But it’s now firmly 2006, and time to consider what I’d like the New Year to bring.
First step for setting this year’s goals is a look back at last year’s successes and failures on the same front. So, a quick re-cap of 2005:
Reality check: Didn’t finish the draft. Did, however, write more than 200 pages of a draft I expect to run somewhere in the 350-400 page range. So that mitigates the disappointment of not finishing somewhat. Another consolation: I made it that far without once looking behind me and/or starting over, so that’s a big step, too.
Complete collection of stories.
Reality check: Didn’t finish the collection. Did, however, complete and submit one story from the collection, and complete a first draft of a second. Plus I brainstormed all the other stories for the collection, and have a working contents list.
Publish in three places.
Reality check: that didn’t happen at all. Which is not to say I didn’t make an effort—“Dirty Darlene” went out to forty-five venues over the course of the year. Still awaiting word from more than twenty of those publications, but my hopes for “Darlene” finding a home are not that high. It’s a pretty dark story. That said, the more high-profile magazines among my submittal list showed the most interest in “Darlene”—I had lovely personal notes about it from Agni¸ Zoetrope, and Esquire—so that’s something. Anyway, the lesson actually learned in this category is that I need more product if I want to publish, plain and simple.*
*That said, I did attempt to produce more than these goals make clear. Over the course of the year, in addition to my other work, I also wrote several drafts of a travel essay that it now seems clear is meant to be the germ of a short story, plus a novella-length story about a young acrobat struggling to fly free of her domineering dad.
Conclusions from 2005.
The failing on all counts is none of my projects progressed as quickly as I’d hoped. Mostly that’s because I let life sidetrack me over and over again at the cost of my work. At the end of the year, I had lots of good work in pieces, but no product.
Which is why I’ve decided 2006 is The Year Of Putting It All Together.
Putting the novel together.
I’ll complete that shitty first-draft.
Then I’ll complete the second draft.
Then I’ll hand out that second draft to friends and colleagues for critique.
Putting the collection together.
I’ll complete the collection, story by story.
And I’ll submit each finished story for publication.
I’ll finish the acrobat story.
I’ll finish the honeymoon story.
And I’ll submit both pieces for publication.
Obviously, to do all this, I need better work practices and strategies this year. As usual, I’ve gone looking for them in the GTD / Productivity websphere, and found a pretty cool framework I’ve decided to adapt for myself this year: David Seah’s Printable CEO.
So I got right to work brainstorming on his system. Here’s what I came up with:
MY LARGER GOAL
To answer the questions “What do you write? Have you written anything I’ve heard of?” with a confident, “Well, I’ve published here, and here, and here.”
HOW TO GET THERE
In order to publish my work, I have to write it. That means a lot of time alone at my desk. It also means a good deal of time face-to-face with friends and colleagues who can help me perfect my work. (Offering critique is also helpful in terms of honing my own work, and even better if I’m paid for it!) Ultimately, it means making sales by submitting to appropriate venues, which, of course, are made infinitely more “appropriate” by making myself known to them by previous, positively received work or social connections.
THUS, WHAT’S WORTH DOING?
 Pen-in-hand editing
 Submitting work for critique
 Submitting work for sale
 Posting to my blog
 Taking an artist’s date
 Furthering social / business development
 Other market research to find homes for my work
 Maintaining old or making new relationships