I always thought it would happen with a cigarette and a glass of champagne. I’d type THE END then lean back from my rustic, well-worn desk, ala James Caan, and soak in the satisfaction and relief of having poured everything I had into telling a story that needed to be told.
The truth is, it was nothing like Misery. For starters, I don’t smoke and I’m no fan of champagne. But even beyond those trivial discrepancies, it was not at all how I expected it. There was no Kathy Bates, just misery.
The misery of knowing that there’s still so much to do. Yes, I have a 320-page manuscript, a complete story that works. Or so I believe it does. But there’s much work to be done: the latter 200 pages are still cool in the center and this is a very labor-intensive cooking process.
I didn’t write THE END because there is so much to do. But I did print a title page. I did allow myself that one conceit.
The first draft is done. Yay!
The first draft is done. Sigh.
Workflow in Process
According to one of the many spreadsheets that I built to track my progress, I’m currently 39% complete with Tailwinds Past Florence. This assumes all stages are equal in weight and difficulty, which they’re not. The hardest part is done. The step I labored over and resisted and procrastinated against. That part is done. The blank page has been slain.
My intent when I began writing in 2016 was to not revise a single sentence until the first draft was complete. I didn’t want to chance falling into the trap of endlessly polishing a single scene before I had any idea if the story even worked. This plan went out the window once I got accepted into my wonderfully helpful critique group. My workflow split along parallel paths, two lanes if you will. One was slow, riddled with speed-bumps and tolls. The other was fast, and fun to drive. The left lane, the cruising lane, was revision. The other: my first draft.
So I altered my workflow again. With roughly twenty-five scenes left to write, I revised my approach to my first draft. I realized that what I was writing was really more like Draft 1.5. It was better than a lot of first drafts probably should be, but it was slow going. I wasn’t TK-ing anything (leaving details “to come”). I was writing emotion, dialogue, setting, description, and feeling all in that first draft. And doing so took time.
So I adapted my process. And managed to write three and sometimes four new scenes each week, all the while continuing to advance another scene each week from first draft to third, with the help of my critique group’s feedback.
And now the first draft is done. These latter scenes are more like Draft 0.9 compared to those that precede it. They’re raw. I wouldn’t let my dog read them. It’s mostly blocked out dialogue and action with little emotion or internal feeling and thought. There’s no metaphor or simile, no clever turns of phrase. But the story’s there.
And best of all, I know what I need to go back and add.
A Touch of Twitter Success
I try to spend no more than twenty minutes on Twitter each week. And when you look at it as briefly and sporadically as I do, it’s easy to miss the benefits of the platform. Fortunately, a couple weeks ago I happened to log in just as the Fuse Literary Agency posted about their critique auction benefiting the ACLU. Their dozen or so agents were each auctioning off one and two chapter critiques in exchange for a winning donation to the ACLU. I had been meaning to send a donation along anyway — they can use all the help they get these days — and this was the perfect opportunity to give more than I might have otherwise and gain a professional critique in the process. I didn’t expect to win one of the critiques, but damn if I wasn’t thrilled to do so.
So I sent off my first 44 pages two weeks ago and hope to get the critique back within the next week or two. Those chapters have been heavily revised and even been shared with beta readers, but this will be the first professional set of eyes to see them. I’m as excited for the feedback as I am nervous to hear what she has to say.
That same day on Twitter I also saw mention of a Pitchfest being hosted by The Knight Agency. Describing a 94,000-word novel in 140 characters is a skill all its own and, if I’m being honest, participating in the Pitchfest was certainly me falling victim to Resistance, but I convinced myself it would be a good experience (I can talk myself into just about anything). So, the next day, I Tweeted my pitch. And then an hour later, I revised and Tweeted a different pitch. Then again. And, finally, I did it one last time.
— Douglas Walsh (@doug_walsh75) April 5, 2017
And the head of the agency, Deidre Knight, requested my submission. Yay!
So one day of yielding to Resistance became two as I spent that evening and the following day writing and revising a query letter. Something I still need to do as I fear it still reads a tiny bit too much like my synopsis.
I probably won’t hear back (if at all) for at least another month or two, but there’s no hurry. I’ve got a lot of work to do.
61% to be exact.