Tag Archives: rewriting

The End

I’m terrible with names, but I remember clever comments, even if not always verbatim. I had to look this one up: author Jonathan Carroll likened a short story to a  sprint and a novel to a marathon.

Although it can take a long time to write some short stories, it’s possible to complete one in a day, or even in an hour if it’s “flash fiction.” Novels are a very different matter. Planning and writing a work of that length and complexity chews up a great deal of time.  I need eight to twelve months to finish the first draft of a novel.

Minimum. Sometimes it takes much longer. Life can get in the way. Other projects can get in the way. The dreaded writer’s block can get in the way. So you can imagine the thrill of crossing the finish line by typing the words, “The End.”

I did so a couple of days ago with my SF/humor novel, Space Operatic. This marathon was longer than usual; it took about three years. I had a lot of fun writing it, but time and again I had to shove it onto the back burner, while at other times it simply stalled. But now it’s done!

Done being, of course, a relative term. After a brief hiatus to gain some distance from it, I’ll launch into the revision work, and after a two or four passes through it will land in the hands of my editor-wife. More revisions will follow. Eventually it will be ready to send out into the world.

This one we probably won’t publish under our own imprint (Serpent Cliff). I don’t think it fits with our publishing program. Instead, I’ll probably look for an agent to represent it.

That could be a whole ‘nother marathon . . .

 

An “Ice on the Bay” Milestone

A couple of days ago, I completed the first draft of Ice on the Bay, my third Howard County mystery. Its completion coincides with another change in my life: a job change. For the past 10 months I’ve been making a two hour commute by car, train, light rail, and foot from my home in Baltimore County to northern Virginia. Today is my last day there. On Monday, I assume a new position much closer to home.

Both changes impact my writing. The completion of a first draft is a time to sit back, relax, and recharge. Not that I don’t continue writing. I currently have two other projects in the works: my SF/humor novel Space Operatic, which is about two thirds complete, and the rewrite of a manuscript my father left behind. But now I need to get some distance from Ice on the Bay, so that I can evaluate and revise it.

The job change means I won’t have writing time on board the commuter train anymore. Much of Ice on the Bay was written while riding the rails. I won’t know how my writing life will be arranged until I see what the new position is like in terms of schedule, commute, and work load. In previous positions, I often wrote on my lunch break. That may or may not be possible this time.

Either way, change provides new inputs for writing: new people, new experiences, new settings. All parts of life are interconnected, even if only in subtle ways, and any of it could be fodder for the next story.

 

The Umpteenth Draft

If you’ve ever written anything, including term papers for school, you know what a first draft is: a complete but unedited work. So what comes next? Well, you say, obviously editing. And you’re right. But what kind of editing?

Broadly speaking, the adventure starts with overall structure and gradually works its way down to typos. Although not always that neat, once a first draft is done it’s time to step back, draw a deep breath, and look at the big picture.

Ray Bradbury, in his mystery Death is a Lonely Business, summed up the process rather graphically. His lead character, a writer, develops a friendship with a local police chief. The police chief, it turns out, harbors literary ambitions, so the writer helps him get started. His key advice: “Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.”

That’s worth remembering, if only to remind you how good your first draft likely is.

These days, few of us use typewriters. Via computer, it’s easy to edit as you go, and I regularly do that. Most days before writing anything new, I get a running start by rereading what I wrote the prior day and cleaning it up. By the time my so-called first draft is done, it’s already been edited substantially. Even so, it won’t be free of structural problems, substandard writing, or scads of typos. It remains a first draft in spirit, if not precisely in number.

Usually I crawl through a story at least three times before I’m happy with it, after which my wife tears it apart and makes me fix it up again, often contributing new material along the way.

These rewrites are not merely finding better words or fixing spelling errors. I rearrange material, throw out entire scenes and start them over, and add new scenes. I fix glaring continuity errors, plug up holes, and expand upon ideas.

To take one small example, in Ice on the Bay (my current work in progress) , I introduced a stack of boxes at the back of a room in which a murder had occurred. At the time, I didn’t have any plans for them. I didn’t even know what they contained. Nearing the end of the first draft, I realized that Eric Dumas, the principal investigator of the murder, never bothered to ask what was in them, much less look for himself. He should have. And once he did, it turned out to be important.

Completing the first draft may seem like a lot of work, but once it’s done, the real work begins. And until it’s done, one doesn’t have a story worth reading.