About a month ago, I finished my book. Rather, I should say, I reached a finished a sentence that I had decided was my last sentence. My word count goal had been reached, and my story had been told.
Since then, I’ve written about 4,000 more words to the book. I’ve added to early chapters and late chapters alike. I’ve beefed up description and rewritten scenes I had hurried through in order to get from A to B as quickly as possible. I’m still revising entire sections. I’m not just editing. I’m removing entire exchanges of dialogue or moving conversations to different days and settings.
I’m confident that all the changes I’m making will improve my book. The story will be more compelling and there will be fewer dull spots.
But how do I know when I’m done? How do I decide that I’m done revising and am only tinkering around the edges? When do I give the completed book to beta readers and ask them to look for holes?
I’ve updated “Books and Reading,” and I continue to write about two times a week over at blogspot.
I walk through bookstores and find myself picking up volumes of fiction–Nicole Krauss, Rebecca Wells, Anthony Doerr–and flipping to the end. I’m counting the pages. How long is a book, I wonder. What is too long? Too short?
I’m a very discriminating reader. I don’t say that to brag; in fact, I’m embarrassed that I’ll quit a book after two pages if I’m not interested. But when I am interested in a book, I fall in love. Thirty pages and I’m smitten. From Jonathan Franzen to Emma Donoghue to Charlotte Bronte, when I start a book that I love, I think it’s the best thing ever and insist that everyone else read it and likewise fall in love. But more often than not, that passion dissipates by the last quarter of a book. I feel like the author tries to hard to tie things together; he or she so wants to create this world within the novel’s pages that the book is too long. Rarely have I felt that a novel worked perfectly from beginning to end. Maybe Nicole Krauss’s “History of Love.”
Short story collections, on the other hand, don’t try to create worlds. Each story, on its own, represents a glimpse into a life; it doesn’t aim to represent the entire life. Maybe that’s why I love collections like Doerr’s “Memory Wall” or Lahiri’s “Unaccustomed Earth.” They end with the same momentum with which they began.
Ah, so, my own novel attempt. I am almost finished with the fifth chapter. It comes out to over sixty pages. This feels like a lot when I’m working, reflecting on everything I’ve done, but not when I stand in the bookstore, thumbing through “short” works of over two-hundred pages. Then I think about the filler–those twenty, thirty, fifty pages that weigh down otherwise impressive books–and tell myself I’m doing fine.
I am almost finished with chapter two. Progress comes in spurts–500 words one day, minus 45 the next–and I hope to develop a steadier pace. But one place I always get stuck and lose motivation is when the story takes me to my protagonist’s job.
So far I’ve glossed over what she does at work. I made her a nursing administrator–formerly a floor nurse–to give her regular hours that perhaps a floor nurse wouldn’t have. But I try to write her at her job and the scene falls flat. Ultimately I want her to regret leaving the front lines and feel stifled and restless in an office, so perhaps I should push forward. I’m just struggling to get interested; and if I’m not interested, what hope is there for my reader?
Even though I’ve been quiet on the site, I’m making progress in my writing. I’ve finished the first chapter of the novel and anticipate only minor changes. Chapter two is underway. There are pieces I like — paragraphs, exchanges of dialog, snippets of descriptions — but it’s slow moving forward. I’m taking steps to simplify my life; I hope this results in more dynamic writing.
I’ve updated “Books & Reading.”
I moved “Ronald & Cynthia” from “Works in Progress” to “Fiction.” I still consider it an early draft, and I’m hoping to get feedback about it from class over the next couple weeks. Because of its length (just under 3800 words, about 13 double-spaced pages) I’ll share the first part tonight and the second half next week.
Now that I have some distance from it, I see that the end is somewhat rushed. I look forward to seeing what three fresh pairs of eyes have to say (and suddenly I have this image of eyeballs, splitting open, and a tongue sticking out; this means I’ve had too much coffee or not enough).
I am almost finished with the first chapter of the novel. While I have a rough outline for the book, there’s enough wiggle room that the characters can still tell me who they are and where to go. I’m happy with what I have, the style, and the amount of details. Now the challenge: keep writing.
Do I set goals in terms of word count? In other words, write 500 (1000 or 1500) words by the end of the day; write 2000 (3000 or 5000) words by the end of the week; write 10,000 words by the end of the month.
Do I set goals in terms of plot points? Write until the husband comes home. Write until “x” happens.
Or do I write for a certain amount of time each day, whether 2 hours or 5 hours?