Those of you who follow my Facebook fan page and Twitter profile know that — ta da! — I officially have finished writing the first draft of Baby Grand. Yay! To celebrate, I took a two-day vacation from my manuscript (I’m right now winding down Day 2).
While I’m thrilled to have written the last line — one I’m actually happy with — there’s lots more work to be done. Somewhere in the 77,000+ words there are inconsistencies, grammatical errors and huge, gaping holes (I know of at least two…) to be fixed, as well as plenty of writing that sucks and needs to change. Very daunting and exciting. I’ve given myself 2 weeks to reread — about 20 pages a day — before I have to submit to my agent. I’m hoping that will do it.
But during this two-day reprieve, I thought a lot about how I was able to do this, finish writing a novel — a dream, by the way, I’ve had since I was a child — and I came up with the following 5 reasons (I’m sure there are more):
5 Things I Learned from Writing Baby Grand
- I needed to know the ending of this book in order to finish it. I hear so many authors say that they leave their endings wide-open and go wherever inspiration leads them. For whatever reason, maybe it’s my journalism background, I found that kind of open-ended writing nerve-wracking (where is my story going? where?!) I also tended to get bored when I didn’t have a destination, and my story would peter out. For me, there was one thing that separated this project from the many, many other novels I’d started — works that are still languishing somewhere on my computer — and it’s this: I knew how it was going to end. I could always see where I was going, a big red finish line flapping in the breeze somewhere in the distance. Although aspects of the ending actually did change the closer I got to it, the parting image, the last line of the novel, remained the same.
- I don’t need character outlines to get started. With previous novel attempts, I was so concerned with knowing everything there was to know about my characters — eye color, backstory — that I got lost in the details. For this novel, I started with what I thought was a strong concept, and just took it from there. (Interestingly, if you’ll notice, while many writers don’t know their endings, they map out intricate character details beforehand. I do the reverse — let the characters develop as I write toward an ending I already know. Hmmm…) By the time I reached Chapter 50 of Baby Grand, I had a strong sense of Jamie Carter (my protagonist) and everyone else in the novel. I created characters that felt right within the story as I wrote it.
- Take it a step at a time. Sometimes the enormity of a large task stops us in our tracks and keeps us from going after what we want. This novel was written a word, a sentence, a paragraph, at a time. While my goal was always in mind, often I gently brushed it aside to concentrate on the here and now, whatever scene I was working on. And the pages came.
- It is important to set daily goals. I needed a daily goal to make this work. Something consistent. As readers of this blog know, early on my goal was to write two pages a day. That totally didn’t work. Sometimes two pages of dialog came to, like, 400 words, and I didn’t feel satisfied. Writing 1,000 words was doable for me — as I’ve written before — and gave me the freedom to leave my laptop and do other things as well during the day. That, too, is part of my process — I need to get up, hug my kids, watch TV, do something else besides write, and I found my writing was better.
- Everyone’s process is different. While it’s great to read how other people write, you shouldn’t let that pigeonhole you into thinking you can only do things a certain way. The last thing I’d want for you after reading this blog post is to think that you should have your ending in mind before you start writing and do away with character outlines, or write 1,000 words a day. These things worked for me, and perhaps they might work for you too, but if they don’t, that’s okay. Maybe writing in bed or by the pool turns you on. Maybe you need to do 20 jumping jacks before writing a single word to get your heart pumping, or you need to commit to writing 3,000 words every day. Develop a system of writing that best suits your work/life habits, and then use and abuse it.
Of course, there is one overriding thing you need to remember as well: You can do this. But you have to want it. Because while your friends are inviting you to go places, and your kids are demanding your attention, and your house is falling apart, there needs to be something driving you to ignore all those things and sit in front of your computer. As my writing professor, Dr. Julia Markus, used to say, “Why else would anyone put themselves through this?”