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NaNoWriMo Notes 11: The Doubting Game

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Well, it’s done. Yesterday afternoon I finished the first draft of volume one. Yes, that’s right, volume one. I had come to the realization about three weeks ago that I wasn’t going to be able to fit the whole story into one volume. So, I had to start readjusting my thinking.

I hadn’t even reached what I was considering the halfway point of the story and it was already over the number of words that was a suggested length for a first novel. I’ve been writing single spaced pages the whole time, and saving each chapter as a separate file, so didn’t have any concept of the sucker’s actual size.

I saved it all into a plain text file to make one long document and converted it to the standard manuscript format requested by publishers and agents alike: double spaced, one-inch margins all around, and twelve point type. Sat back to let my poor little laptop make the changes, and presto — I had 325 pages of something or other.

But in the last two weeks, I ran into a bizarre block. I couldn’t bring myself to finish. The closer I got to the end of volume one, the more I wanted to put it off. On top of that, I couldn’t figure out the best way or place to end it. Eventually I realized what the problem was. I didn’t want to finish.

I had two pretty good reasons for not wanting to finish. The first was that I’d have to start re-reading the sucker and making corrections and edits to the best of my limited abilities. The second, and I know it sounds a lot like the first but it is different, was that I’d have to actually read what I’d written.

Reading for editing is one thing, it’s dispassionate and purposeful. You’re looking for typos, mistakes in grammar, and listening to the words to see if they’re saying what you wanted them to say. I find the best way to do that is not to read for content; in fact, when I’m proofing something I usually start at the end and work back to the beginning just to avoid that trap in the initial scan. That way typos and other things stand out.

Even on the second read, I’m still just checking it sentence-by-sentence, and paragraph-by-paragraph. Does each sentence sound right, and does each paragraph express the idea I was trying to put across? On the third read through, I check to make sure that there is a proper flow to what I’ve written, a beginning, middle, and an end.

Do my opening paragraphs introduce the subject matter, does the body of my piece cover the right territory, and does it all lead to a conclusion? For a short article like a blog piece, if it does all that, I’m reasonably content. All I want from this type of piece is for people to have an opinion about what I’m saying. Whether they agree with it or disagree with it doesn’t matter so much, as long as it’s interesting enough for them to have an opinion.

But a novel or a story is a different kettle of moose meat. I want people to be captivated, to not be able to put the book down at night because they need to see how things turn out. In order for that to work, a book has to have the tonal quality, the right pitch. When I was writing, I had an idea in my head of how I wanted my book to sound. People say that seeing is believing; for me, with a story, hearing is believing.

It’s hard to describe, but when I’m writing fiction, I’ve an objective in mind above and beyond the writing of the story and transmitting the information about plot and character. I’m searching to capture a certain quality that conveys my love of language and respect for the power of words.

As much as I enjoy a good story, I enjoy the employment of words as building blocks for creating art. Does that sound pretentious? I hope not, because I don’t mean it to be. It’s just that I want to take advantage of the gifts the English language offers a writer that enables him or her to go beyond the prosaic.

The trouble is that, more often than not, it feels like my ambition exceeds my reach. I feel like I don’t have the skill set yet to balance the two needs I see inherent in a novel; the story and the manner in which it is told. Sometimes, I’m sure I get carried away with trying to be too fancy with words and end up digressing miles off course.

Faced with the prospect of the first read-through of the story once I finished my first draft, I became more and more nervous. What happens if it’s just a whole pile of self-indulgent crap and I’ve ignored the story? How about the opposite, if it’s just another boring adventure novel?

Part of me is very proud of myself for having completed this task, but another part of me is terrified that it’s all been a waste of time and that I’ll have to start over again from scratch. People can talk all they want about the experience being good for me, but that just doesn’t feel like it will cut it. I’m not even talking about it getting it published, although that would be lovely. I just want to have written something that I’d enjoy reading.

Sure, we’re our own harshest critics, and we will always be able to find things that could have been done better, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to enjoy reading our own work if its any good. I mean, if I don’t like reading it, how can I expect anyone else to?

“Here, I wrote this novel which I think is a piece of crap, you want to read it?” I can see that going over really well in terms of publicity and even just getting a friend to read it.

Anyway, all these types of insecurities have been floating around in the back of my head for the last two weeks as I’ve tried to finish the book off. Finally, I just said the hell with it. There’s nothing I can do about it now, so I may as well finish and see what I have, lower my expectations somewhat and be prepared for masses of rewrites now and forever until it is published (or not).

When I first started out on this project back in November, I figured my biggest obstacle to overcome regarding finishing the book was my willingness to actually exert the effort required. This feeling was intensified when I went a good three weeks without so much as writing a single word of the story. But that was more due to exhaustion born out of writing close to 70,000 words in the space of a month. I simply needed a break.

Once I was able to recover and start heading towards finishing volume one, I found I was able to pick up where I left off. But when it became evident that I was going to be able to finish, that’s when I began to question its quality. As is so often the case in these circumstances, I discovered new ways of becoming my own worst enemy.

Yet, in spite of that, I’ve been able to finish, and I do feel a certain sense of accomplishment. Last night I took a quick glance through the opening of chapter one, and discovered, to my delight it wasn’t half bad. I’m hoping that’s a sign of things to come.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site He has been writing for since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • Elvira Black

    gypsyman, you said:

    “As much as I enjoy a good story, I enjoy the employment of words as building blocks for creating art. Does that sound pretentious? I hope not, because I don’t mean it to be. It’s just that I want to take advantage of the gifts the English language offers a writer that enables him or her to go beyond the prosaic.”

    That doesn’t sound pretentious in the least. I hear you!

    I’ve never aspired to write fiction, and writing several hundred pages of anything strikes me as a helluva accomplishment. If it turns out upon rereading that it’s not all you’d like it to be, I don’t think this makes it a waste of time by any means. When it comes to writing, I think the act of writing and rewriting–rinse and repeat–almost always makes for even more accomplished writing in the long run.

    My hat goes off to you, gypsyman! Great post–I can relate to what you’re saying.

  • John Spivey

    Congratulations gypsyman. There are several things that are hard to take on about writing. The first is to actually admit that one is a writer and mean it way down inside. Another is to get to the point where one can admit that one’s writing is good; it might need some editing, but basically it’s good. I think that when one can make this sincere admission then the writing quality increases profoundly in proportion to the self-confidence.

    You gotta love the play of language. Nothing pretentious about it all. Stay with it.