Saturday, July 21, 2012

On Building My Novels Like Blocks; Or, How Love Is Enough to Push On

After taking a side-trip to work on a quite unexpected - but delightfully realized - novella, I've jumped back into the "Billy the Kid" novel.  Been over a year working on this one, every single day, and I have to say I've really loved it. First of all, it looks like - barring anything further unexpected - this the first novel draft I'll ever actually finish.

And that, in itself, is saying something.  Especially considering I spent five years re-writing the first half of my first "novel", and then a year and a half writing 600 pages of my second "novel" before it ground to a halt a little over a year ago, before I began the Billy Project.  And even before that, TEN years ago, my first-first novel (an overly-bloated monstrosity of 178,000 words) didn't even end, but finished with  a cliff-hanger "to-be-continued" ending.

And, I have an outline to thank for it all.

Never thought I'd say that.

See, I used to be one of these folks who'd write by the seat of their pants, "going with the flow", discovering the story along the way.  My favorite writers did it -  Stephen King, Robert McCammon - so why couldn't it?

Problem was, I kept getting frustrated.  Stopping, rewriting, changing the story...because I didn't know the ending. I wasn't necessarily a first-draft perfectionist, as blogged about by Mike Duran, but not knowing that ending really screwed up the works.

Then, I wrote Hiram Grange, and because I was on a deadline, I used an outline. Was pleasantly surprised with how quickly I wrote because of that.  But then dismissed it with: "Well, that's fine for a novella. I'll never outline my novels.  They occur best organically."

And then, a year and a half later, I ground to a half on my second unfinished novel.

Because I couldn't nail the ending.

And then I read an interview with NY Times Bestselling author - and very helpful - F. Paul Wilson, in which he adamantly advocated outlining, his words being something like: "It's my damn novel, and it'll do what I want it to." That gave me pause, because by then I'd fallen deeply in love with Paul's work and Repairman Jack.  So I thought, "Wow. If outlining produces novels as streamlined and well-paced as Paul's...."

So, before plunging into The Billy Project, I took the time to outline it first.

And here I am, little over a year later - having written the most words ever on one project - confidently closing in on the ending.  And that's the key word for me, there. Not faster. But confidently.  Because I know the ending. I'll finish it. And because of that, I've enjoyed this writing project as much as Hiram Grange, more than another other writing project I've ever worked on before.

Because I know where it's going.

I've also really enjoyed the editing process I've applied to this novel.  Encountered it first in one of Norman Partridge's blogs, in which he likened it to a house. You build the foundation - write the opening chapters, establish the story - go back and edit them.  Then move forward on to the next "section" - edit - and move on.  And that's what I've done with Billy, most specifically:

1. written a section long hand, until I felt I needed to stop
2. typed it, editing it along the way
3. line-edited that typed segment
4. applied edits
5. moved on to write next long-hand segment

And again, I've loved this. It's so immersive.  It's allowed me to shape and tweak the story along the way, as well as show me how much I can cut out, too.  And, who cares how long it takes, really? Especially right now.  There's no guarantee I'll sell this anywhere.  And no pressure, no deadline. Maybe someday, there will be deadlines pushing me. Or maybe never, and I'll never sell another piece of fiction.

Either way, I'm enjoying this. Loving it, the way you're supposed to.  And right now - that's good enough.  That's all I need, to love it, and do it every day.

Which dovetails perfectly into my next post...loving it and doing it every day being all I need to push on...