Dear Friends and Enemies,
I finished the first draft of my novel a little over year and a half ago, just before I moved from Portland to Oakland. I set it aside, first because the conventional wisdom is to let your first draft sit, and then because I wanted to try working on smaller pieces for a little bit. I kept saying to myself, “Just finish this story and send it out, then get right back to your novel!” But there was always another shorter piece to finish up and send out. There still is.
But my novel’s characters are getting louder. They’re threatening to riot if I don’t come back to them soon. And more than that, there’s a greater sense of urgency now than I’ve ever felt around this thing.
I started the book in 2012, just as I was finishing up my anthropology degree at Portland State. I’ve dropped it and picked it up again and again over the years, setting it aside for long stretches. But at the end of 2017, when I finally got it finished, it was as though the book took on a soul of its own. Something changed that gave the world and the people in it a sort of vibrance that hadn’t been there before.
I didn’t want to lose that, but I didn’t want to fuck it up, either. So I put the thing in a ZIP file, made several backups and squirreled them away for safekeeping, then moved on to my short stories. That felt great, at first. Crafting stories, selling stories. In fact, this month I finished a full novella and drafted two more shorts. With the novella out looking for a home and the short stories in need of more time boiling in my brain goo, I realized that it’s time to get back to the novel.
Now: the thing to know about how I wrote the first draft is that I did not use Scrivener or Ulysses or Evernote or One Note. Nothing like that. I made a new Word document for every chapter and several dozen more Word documents for things like “some bits about the pixie scene” and “thoughts about currency—bus ride version” and “more details about hats.”
In addition to Word, I also took scandalous advantage of notepad files, sticky notes (paper and digital), several spiral notebooks, and the notepad app on my phone. Did I outline? Sort of. I found a file named “Outline” that I started three years into the writing of the novel and apparently gave up writing after chapter ten. I am not what one would call a “plotter.”
But nor am I really a “pantser,” either, as I think the sticky notes and spreadsheets of fictional family trees can attest! I like to think of my writing style as that of a sculptor. I gather up all my raw materials—a bunch of words scribbled out across half a dozen mediums—and only after it’s all piled onto my work table do I then look at the whole mess and start to carve out a story.
Piling all that raw material onto my work table (in the case of this novel, I decided to give Scrivener a shot), has so far taken me twelve solid hours of work time and I’ve still got the geography/maps and politics sections to add. I also created my own character worksheet, but I have yet to fill out anything in anyone’s sheet except their name and a line about their primary purpose to the story.
I figure I know enough about them in the first draft to be able to continue, and there will surely come a time a month or two from now where I will feel the need to get work done on the novel but I really won’t have an afternoon’s worth of editing in me. And then, oh then! I can pull out my character sheets and spend a day at the coffee shop filling them out like I’m a one-woman Tumblr character generator.
For now, though, I have enough energy and forward momentum built up to carry me through these first few weeks of brutal revisions.
A favorite distraction on the Internet: Fashion For Bank Robbers on Instagram. There is a great deal of experimentation and exploration of fashion in my novel. FFBR allows me to indulge in some recreational ogling while pretending it’s for work.