Update! Progress on the Novel

January 22, 2015

One of the great things about writing on your own site is that you can answer questions no one asked. Wondering what I think about using an old school two-sided razor for shaving? No? Well I’m going to tell you anyway! According to science, this is how approximately 75% of all blog posts are constructed.*

Today, however, I am actually answering a question I get in the real world. Those who know I’m writing a book often want to know how it’s going. Depending on how my day as gone, I will likely have one of the three following reactions.

  1. I will offer cheerful commentary on my progress, explain that I’m learning a lot, that even when it’s challenging it’s really rewarding work.
  2. Get a faraway look in my eyes, bite my lip hard, try not cry and blurt out “I’ve made a huge mistake!” End up saying, “somedays are better than others. Still figuring it out.”
  3. Say “it’s fine.”

Fortunately, the first one is my most frequent response. It’s how I feel most often. Even on days where I don’t exactly crush it, I usually still end up feeling okay about where I am and where I’m going. The work really is both challenging and rewarding.

The second one is mostly just awkward. Not that it should be about what other people want, but it’s not what they want to hear. It’s also not how I’ll probably feel the next day or even later that day. I don’t like having this sort of reaction because I don’t want to misrepresent how I really feel.

Incidentally, the last one is the worst one for me, even if other people just interpret it to mean I don’t feel like saying much. This means I have entered a dark place where I have completely shut off my emotions and am just turning my frustration and anxiety into a rage tumor that will surely kill me later.

Aaaaaaanyway, people like to ask questions, and I’m trying to get more comfortable with answering them. It does not come naturally to me, but I know their interest comes from a really good place. I appreciate the sincere desire to learn more about what I’m up to.

But what am I up to?

My two posts recapping National Novel Writing Month were the first time I said publicly that I was writing a novel. I had told people that it was what I wanted to do, but I had never disclosed that I finally jumped into it. I also disclosed that it was titled The Witches of Nicollet Island.** 

Beyond that, I didn’t say much. Even now I’m going to leave out a lot of details because I’m just not quite ready to talk about everything. There’s still a lot that might change in the revision process and even some decisions about a few things that need to be made prior to finishing the first draft. I want this update to be primarily about the book as a project rather than what the book itself is about. There’ll be plenty of time for going into detail about the book soon enough.

Rather than go on at length about my process and progress, I thought it might work best to just list some salient points. Here’s where things stand right now, more or less.

  • I’m at right around 80K words right now. Though there are obviously huge variations in novel length, 75K is considered a good average length. For reference, The Great Gatsby and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy were only around 50K.
  • I expect the final first draft to hit right around 100K, give or take.
  • I have no idea where the final product will land, but 100K feels longer than I want right now. That said, people have greater patience for long-ish novels these days, especially stuff that has supernatural or sci-fi elements because you have to spend some time establishing the way the world works. So…we’ll see.
  • Most people asking me about these things are not aspiring novelists, so speaking in word counts is not terribly meaningful. Page counts are something people understand better, but unfortunately there is no perfect correlation between word count and pages. That said, here are some guidelines that indicate 100K words might be around 250-260 pages.
  • It might seem like 20K remaining words is a lot, and it sort of is, but as I said in my earlier posts about the positive effects of outlining it can go pretty quickly. I have all but a few details worked out for the rest of the story so writing it should not be too challenging.
  • Once I start revising, my first task will be to resolve inconsistencies as opposed to trying to simply improve the writing in purely stylistic terms. This will include relatively easy things like make sure the timeline of events makes sense. If I mention a specific date and then say something else happened three weeks later on another specific date, I want those dates to align.
  • It will also include major continuity issues. For example, about halfway through the story I quite suddenly decided to make a very minor character have a much, much larger and more central role. An earlier scene with that character will need wholesale changes to fit in with the rest of the narrative.
  • I will also go back and try to reconcile the occasional bit of foreshadowing, trying to make sure certain things are set up effectively so they feel consistent within the framework of the story and the characters.*** This will involve both insertions and deletions. I will no doubt find places where I want things to be less clear and more mysterious and other spots where some clarity will, I hope, make the payoff more satisfying later on.
  • Once I clean up the continuity issues and probably spend some time prettying up the prose as well, it’ll be time to share it with people. This will be scary and exciting. Something I’ve told people from time to time is that on some level I do not even care whether this first attempt at a novel is any good. I’ve joked that I want to get it out of my system so I can go on and do better the next time. I still feel the same about getting better, but I no longer feel so flippant about this one. I’m excited to show it to people. I’m confident there are some really fun and funny moments in it. My biggest challenge is pulling together good moments into a coherent whole. It still needs lots of work and I won’t claim it’s going to end up some kind of masterpiece, but I’m not going to dismiss it out of hand either.
  • As far as timing? I think early February will be when I finish the first draft. I’ve hit a few snags that slowed down my pace in the last week (my fault alone). I imagine most of the rest of February will be required for my first pass at pulling the pieces all together. After that? I may show it to actual humans in March sometime. This feels both painfully far away and OH MY GOD THAT’S SO SOON!

So there’s a bit of an update. I don’t feel like I’ve actually said a lot, but that’s partly due to me feeling like I still don’t know much. If there are other questions, I’d be happy to try to answer them more completely.

*The study that proves this can be found here. You may need to move your mouse from right to left to get it to load properly.

**I felt strangely self-conscious about making it known that my book had a supernatural element to it. I think it was mainly about being worried that friends wouldn’t be interested in that sort of story, which is fine really. But I think it’s also tied to lingering sentiment that so-called “genre” writing is inferior or bad to so-called grand works of art. Maybe that’s true, but I can’t say I care a whole lot. I want to write things that are entertaining regardless of how they are labeled. I think this might be a good topic for another post.

***I am sometimes skeptical of what people read into a story about the author’s intentions. When someone tries to explain what a novel is really about, what its allegorical significance is, how a story about how the hungry panda that wants some bamboo is a metaphor for the energy crisis of the late 70s, I’m not convinced unless it’s pretty explicit. This may make me a dumb reader, but I just think it’s easy to see things that are not necessarily there. That said, writers absolutely do this to some extent, and they also work hard to make sure the story unfolds in satisfying but not supremely predictable patterns.

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