Thursday, May 27, 2010

334 Pages! Hallelujah and All That!

At about 4:45 p.m. Central time on May 26, I finished the first draft of the novel. 334 pages. 82,000 words. It took everything in me not to type “The End” to make it official. I reached this milestone on the back patio of my sister’s house in Glen Rose, Texas. A huge grin came over my face. Then I felt like bawling. Then I felt like shouting. Then I grinned some more.

Alone for the afternoon, I had no one to tell in person and cell service was spotty out in the country. I actually didn’t feel like telling anyone at first. I kept downplaying the significance. My heart wanted it to be a big deal but my mind took the critical road, reminding me it was a ‘draft.’ “What’s the big deal about a draft?” it said. “Draft means unfinished.”

When my sister got home from work I asked for a hug and she asked me what was wrong. I said nothing was wrong but that I finished the first draft of the novel. She hugged me like nobody’s business and insisted she and I go out to dinner.

Facebook friends have been enthusiastic over the news, which helps me give that critical voice the finger. I texted Micki, my friend and fellow writers’ group member. She called, shouting her congratulations from Durango, Colorado. I could feel her smile through the cell phone, which was going in and out, but I got the gist of the message. She understood the significance of the moment because she had experienced the same gamut of emotions after completing the first draft of her book last October.

Like Micki did with hers, I took my draft to a photocopying place and made spiral bound copies for the writing group to review and mark up. Then my sister and brother each wanted a copy. I ordered six and charged a hefty amount to my credit card. Worth every damn penny because it gave me a substantial and ceremonious way to say “This phase has ended! Hallelujah and all that!”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Don't Kill Michael Ventura: He's Only the Messenger

This week, I ran across a fascinating column by Michael Ventura (well, all his stuff is thought-provoking but some pieces slice to the bone and leave you bleeding without a tourniquet).

Here’s an excerpt:
Writing is something you do alone in a room. Copy that sentence and put it on your wall because there’s no way to exaggerate or overemphasize this fact. It’s the most important thing to remember if you want to be a writer. Writing is something you do alone in a room. Before any issues of style, content, or form can be addressed, the fundamental questions are: How long can you stay in that room? How many hours a day? How do you behave in that room? How often can you go back to it? How much fear (and, for that matter, how much elation) can you endure by yourself? How many years can you remain alone in a room?

Ventura had validated the insanity I’ve felt at times (ok, often) when trying to find a literal room in which to write or the writer’s room in my mind that allows me to create anywhere and anytime. It gives me pause to think about being in either room for YEARS, silently creating, desperately rewriting, anxiously waiting… Waiting for what? I’m going to be in this ‘room’ for the foreseeable future, whether or not I publish the current novel I’m writing. Why? Because the second one has been waiting patiently (not so patiently) for me to finish the first. Then the third one will tap at the door, asking to be written, and I’ll still be in that room -- me, myself and I.

I used to think the anxiety I felt before sitting down to write was because I hadn’t found the perfect room. That search could be endless: a comfortable chair and desk, the right rug, a piece of art, maybe a favorite mug. The room would have to be the right temperature in all seasons. What a time suck (and mind fuck) to search for the elusive room when it's right there in front of us, scary as hell and empty, waiting for an occupant with the sheer mental tenacity to be a writer.

What I love about Ventura is his bluntness: regardless of your talent, you must find strength of mind and spirit to survive the isolation of a writer’s life.

Oddly, I don’t feel overwhelmed by this message. It’s the smelling salts I need right now to face what I’ve always known: writing is hard, writing is lonely, writing is as essential as air and water.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Of Marathons, Cupcakes and Champagne

I recently posted on Facebook that I’m close to finishing the first draft of the novel but I needed to stay motivated. My friend and work colleague, Janet, posted a comment saying my situation sounded like “mile 10” of a half marathon. She described it as a point when she feels almost a sense of relief, yet knows she still has 3.1 miles to go. She said she just digs in, focuses her mind and pushes through.

I haven’t run a half marathon but I’ve walked three. Janet is so right. By mile 10, I’ve put in so much hard work I want to cry. I get an odd sense of euphoria and despondency about the last push to the finish line. I start making deals with myself. “Dear body, if you just finish, I’ll let you eat whatever you want. I’ll find you a hot tub to soak in. I’ll find some ice for that knee. I’ll schedule a massage.”

Today, I can see my writing finish line, just right there, off in the distance — 85,000+ words committed to paper, ready for review by trusted friends and writers.

That’s just the end of the first race, though. Completing a rewrite is half marathon number two. Landing an agent is a marathon. Getting a publishing contract is the Iron Man Triathlon.

Each finish line deserves respect and celebration. I could have sworn that Deonne (a writer whose blog I follow) celebrated her first draft with champagne and cupcakes, yet I can’t find that on her blog. Maybe I was daydreaming of the way I wanted to celebrate. In fact, that sounds damn good. Champagne and cupcakes all around (if you’re in Durango, Colorado, that is.)

I'll cross the finish line sometime in late June or early July. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, any ideas on how I should celebrate other than sobbing hysterically and napping for 18 hours?
P.S. Cupcake by Yellow Carrot, Durango. Photo by Carson Jones, Red Scarf Shots.