Thursday, August 13, 2009

Getting Beyond Chapter One

Anyone who's keeping track may notice a gap of several months between my last blog post and this one. I'd like to say it's only because I've been so busy writing a novel these last few months, but that would only be partly true. Given that this blog is ostensibly devoted to the interchange between history and fiction, and given that the novel I've been working is distinctly non-historical, I haven't really been in the mindset that would lead me into thoughts that fit the blog.

But that doesn't mean I HAVEN'T been busy writing a novel. In fact, after starting one at the beginning of May, I've just finished a second draft of 275 pages. I didn't quite make the "write a novel in a month" deadline, but I finished the first draft in about six weeks -- which, if I say so myself, is pretty amazing. Not that it was a polished piece of work, but I suppose that wasn't the point. What WAS the point, you may ask? Just to get words on paper, to get the creative juices flowing, I suppose. And to get to the end.

Like some other writers I know, I have a tendency to start every day's writing session by going back over what I've written before, revising it, moving a comma here or there, second-guessing all my previous choices. Taken to an extreme, this can lead to writing the first chapter over and over and over again. So after a few months you might end up with a really good first chapter, but no second, third, fourth, etc. So I'd have to say that forcing myself to write a draft this quickly was a good discipline.

And did it lead to a good result? At this point it's too early for me to tell. I did quite a bit of revising in the second draft, but I'm still at the stage where I'm not sure I have enough distance from what I've written to tell whether it's working or not. For that I'll be looking forward to the reactions of a few others, including the members of my invaluable writing group -- which I've roused from its semi-dormancy for the occasion.

But even if I end up deciding that this novel is one for the recycling pile, at least I won't have wasted years of my life on it -- months, perhaps, but not years. And time spent writing may never be truly wasted. If I've made mistakes in writing this partiular manuscript, I hope I'll be able to learn from them and not make the same mistakes next time around. In any event, I certainly enjoyed the experience of writing it (or most of it, anyway), and -- as almost always happens when you really put your mind to writing something -- I feel I gained a few new insights and made a few new connections between things along the way.

And now it's time to try to get back to the early 19th century.... I'm afraid the next first draft may take me a little longer than six weeks, but let's hope that after six weeks I'll at least have moved beyond the first chapter.

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