Here I am, “at long last” on the other side of having written the first draft of A Whole Book.
Not necessarily a good one, mind you, but a book nonetheless.
There were highs and lows, good times and bad, moments of inspiration and dejectedness – all compressed into a few weeks’ time. Nothing about this project happened at a natural pace, but that was the whole point, after all. Had I no deadline, I wouldn’t have finished anything at all.
Another milestone – for the first time ever, I’ve let actual other human beings read the finished product. That’s been weird, but also pretty neat. Since I had virtually no emotional investment in this thing, it’s a good test case for me. The reviews have thus far almost all been positive (most with helpful criticism, too,) with one amounting to “Erin, that pretty much sucked, and I’ve only read the first 40 pages.” I had expected more of the latter and less of the former.
I wrote two thirds of it in 13 days, and the rest of it in a few other days here and there, so it’s not as if the criticisms are slashing into My Whole Life’s Work.
Here’s what my daily word progress looked like:
The feedback my friends have given me has been of tremendous help, and included such things as simple typographical errors, complete inaccuracies (Rangers are not Special Forces, for example – how did I forget that?) and general suggestions on how to make it more appealing on the whole.
Honestly, I didn’t expect anyone to finish it. One of the main things I need to work on is to create a more catching opening act – starting out with what one of my readers called “a 35-page rape scenario” was not fun to write, nor is it fun to read. Even writing the first draft I realized, “Ugh – who would want to read this?” and I inserted some flash-forwards to a less irredeemably violent time. One of my readers wrote:
“My thought a few chapters in was “Whoa! Too much!” Enough that if it hadn’t been your manuscript, I probably would have walked away. I think you were going for that feeling, but I it was enough to keep me from suspending disbelief.”
This is exactly what I was thinking, too. Indeed, I wanted it to be awful and dark and painful, but that’s hard for a first act to pull off and still keep readers. Thus, I’m working on creating a more inviting opening. The same reader also said:
“Well, I’m hooked after 16 chapters. It took about 8 chapters for me to not be “reading Erin’s book” and just be reading Ina’s story. But now that I am, I’m pleasantly anxious to see what she does. It became more and more fluid as it went, I think. Well painted.”
I wrote the book almost entirely in chronological order, so it starts out without a definitive voice and style, as I was trying to settle into the groove of writing. I had the basic plot mapped out, but the roads to get from Point A to Point B all needed constructing as I went.
This was the first time I had the experience of my characters “surprising me;” I’ve always read about authors having these sorts of arguments with their characters, and figured I just wasn’t inspired enough to create a character capable of doing that – but a few times, I found a complete change of attitude, action or major plot point staring me in the face unexpectedly.
I also forced myself to “write through” the writer’s block moments, which thankfully didn’t happen too often, given I had the arc mapped ahead of time. It turns out those rambling, forced words can indeed lead to productive places.
The experience was this intensely-shortened version of what I’d imagine writing is like: Instead of weeks of being blocked, I had a few hours; instead of being so sick of the thing I couldn’t touch it for months, I could only stay away for a few days.
I am definitely planning on doing this again next November!
The book can probably be classified as suspense or thriller, but I’m not certain there is enough action to properly be called either.
For now, the book is in the fermenting stage; since finishing it and giving it a quick read, I haven’t been able to look at it again without being completely sick and tired of its every detail.
The night I finished it, I wrote for nearly 10 hours straight, at the end of which time I was pretty bleary-eyed. It was after 4am in the morning, and I found myself writing, of all things, from the perspective of a horse, which at the time just seemed absolutely absurd, but I did it, anyhow. I figured I’d read it the next day and delete every shred of evidence I’d ever done such a thing.
On review, though, it turns out not to be that fatal a problem. I even think it kind of works.
I’m still convinced it is too emo, too predictable, too cliche, too contrived, too brutal, too boring and too silly to think anything will happen in terms of publication, but man it is nice to have just done it.
It wasn’t difficult – barfing words onto the screen was easy. Turning them from barfed words into a workable novel, though – that’s where the editing process comes into play, and I suspect it will be far more difficult work. There are plenty of loose ends to tie up, a lot of description that needs to be filled in and more expository junk that needs crafting (I never would have guessed I’d erred on the side of too little “inner life;” that was a complete shock.)
I’ll need more beta testers at some point – if you’re willing to spend a few hours on it and give me an honest critique, please let me know and I’ll get you hooked up with the slightly-edited version that will be forthcoming. I have it set up as a Google document, and if you have a Google account, that’s the easiest way to get you attached to it. If not, I can send you an RTF document via email. Thanks in advance, and a word of warning for those sensitive to such things – the story contains graphic torture and rape, consensual sex and homesteading.
Next up – stories that I would not be embarrassed to put my name on. I hope.