Thursday, May 10, 2007

More On Stragety*

In my recent post A New Voice, I detailed how enthralled I am with the notion of writing an enduring children's story and mentioned that I had started my first children's novel.

Later, when I was talking this over with a friend, I started to feel foolishly misdirected. I had, after all, talked about the mainstream suspense novel that I've been working on for a good stretch, a novel that's over 80,000 words and should, if I had my wits about me, be nearing completion.

How, I thought, can I sensibly charge ahead with a new novel?

It felt like a serious loser's gambit.

I decided, after some abusive self-assessment, that I would park the new novel and turn my attention back to the nearly completed one.

My first order of business was to print out the 400+ pages and give it the first clear-headed read I've ever had. Predictably, parts of the novel felt like they need serious attention. Not so predictably, the excitement I'd felt for the story when I first started writing it came charging back. I rewrote a couple scenes, rearranged some story elements, and wrote a couple new scenes that felt immediately at home.

Even after having completed two unpublished novels, I've never been sure how to handle the pacing of the work necessary to craft a such a long work of fiction. Stephen King, in On Writing, recommends that we simply tear through a first draft--seeking no outside critique--in order to protect the fragile energy required do the work.

John Gardner, in On Becoming A Novelist, recommends parking a novel for at least six months after its initial completion in order to be able to read and edit with a clear head.

In the case of my suspense novel, I hit a flat spot--not so much with the story, but with the writing energy--some months ago and then began to wander. On the good side, it served the purpose of giving me some editorial distance and allowing me to see the story fresh. On the bad side, it allowed my mind--and eye--to begin to stray.

Not smart for a writer with serious ambitions. And not a move I plan to repeat any time soon.

As part of my quest for discipline in the writing process, I've set a goal of July 15th for getting this book finished and out into the world. In the end, it's pretty clear that bits and bytes--even hundreds of thousands of them--have very limited value. The story--in printed form--has got to get out into the world for evaluation. The final goal, after all, is a sale.

I'm hoping that the act of stating my intentions publicly--and writing the finish line on the calendar--will help encourage my drive to completion.

Along the way, I'll let you know if I learn anything that I find interesting or useful. And I'll tell you when and how I stumble.

Wish me luck.

*My apologies to Bugs.

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