Surveying the damage

It took me about six weeks to fully read through my first draft, which included 2 1/2 weeks without a babysitter, extensive note-taking and some light editing.

After coming off of the high of finishing the 400-page draft, returning to the earliest days of Part One, Scene One was, well…absolutely depressing. According to my husband, I was depressed for the entire first week.

Like so many things in life, it felt like the Magic Mirror Gate from The Neverending Story:

Engywook:
Next is the Magic Mirror Gate. Atreyu will have to look his true self in the face.

Falcor:
So? That shouldn’t be so hard.

Engywook:
Oh, that’s what everyone thinks! But kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men find out that they are really cowards! Confronted by their true selves, most men run away, screaming!

And good writers find out that they are bad! In small doses, over and over again, for six entire weeks. There’s even a small chance I’m a better person now for having done it.

But Part Five really held up, and is actually pretty exciting and amazing. One of the reasons for that, I think, is that for all that I didn’t do yet in the previous sections, I did manage to successfully lay out the necessary groundwork for Part Five. And now that I’ve gone back and re-re-read some of the worst chapters, it’s easier to give myself a break.

It’s really just a first draft, simultaneously overwritten and underwritten. This is also the first time I’ve written anything in the first person, and I’ve realized that that, alone, is probably going to require an extra draft over what I was planning just to drill down one more layer into Mika’s inner monologue.

So I spent one or two writing sessions last week reading through all of my notes, and then most of today’s developing the next outline for the first serial in this universe–covering a quarter or so of the material from the full draft, while adding more.

So, without further ado, here is my first book (please don’t plagiarize me!):

IMG_0274

 

 

 

Surviving the Fire

I began this blog nearly two years ago (!), and at the time it was not much more than an intention–that eventually, I would emerge victorious from my postpartum brain fog, I would write a novel and I would blog about it.

It was nearly twenty months ago that I abandoned my first effort, and with that the blog went fallow as well. After all, even though all the best advice seemed to say a self-published author needs to have a blog, it eventually dawned on me that what a self-published author most needs to have is a book. And to break it down even further, what a self-published author who is also a stay-at-home mom really, really, needs is a babysitter, which due to some combination of fatigue and insanity I didn’t manage to hire a single time until my daughter was fully a year old.

So a year and three months ago, now, (!) I hired a babysitter three mornings a week and started writing the first draft of my novel, which now stands at about 400 pages. In those early, early days, when nearly all of the work was still ahead of me, in order not to lose heart I indulged in some fantasies in which I was already a successful author.

Tell us,” The award-winning journalist of my mind, thoroughly fascinated by my process, would ask me as I fired up Scrivener to another blank page and took a sip of my cappuccino, sloughing off my daughter’s wails of separation anxiety as I tried to remember how to think. “What is it like to write a first draft?

Over the weeks and months that followed, as I was doing it, I decided that writing a first draft is like running through a city on fire. And all I had to do to make it out alive was get from one side of the city to the other. I told myself that if I stopped to edit anything along the way I risked certain death.

So here I am, a year and three months later, having made it out of the burning city alive. I haven’t actually looked at or read any of it since the day I wrote it, which is why it’s hard for me to feel a huge sense of accomplishment at writing 400 pages. After all, I was there. I watched the city burn for over a year. I have a faint sense of the wreckage that awaits me when I return, and how much work I have left to do.

As soon as I’m done with this blog post, I’m going to begin rereading the entire beast, start to finish. Then I’ll re-outline it into three or four serial novellas, which I imagine will be about 80-100 pages each (I figure I have about 50 pages more of backstory/world building to add, and probably 100 pages or so to edit out). Then I’m going to finish one, figure out how to publish it, and then go back and do the rest one by one.

So, I have already written the source material that I expect will get me through the next several years of writing and motherhood, until gloriously, when the children are all in school, I can speed up the process I’ve begun to establish into a chop shop of write-and-release YA fiction.

And now that this significant, though incomplete, chunk of work is behind me, I no longer fantasize about what people may or may not one day ask me about my process. Actually, being a real writer is pretty boring. Long gone are the sumptuous days of would-be writing, when I had hours to spend waxing romantic about my favorite pen. Hell, I don’t even have the time now to write by hand. I have a writing quota to fill and then I have to get home to put my daughter down for her nap. If it’s a particularly good writing day, I might even have time left to get most of my FitBit steps outside.

My fantasies now are more along the lines of remodeling the kitchen with money I’ve made from my writing.

When I moved out to LA in my early 20s to try to break into TV writing, I remember reading an interview with the hugely successful TV writer/producer Shonda Rhimes. In it, she said something along the lines of, “You have to know you’re going to be successful when you start out. If you don’t know that, why bother?” And I balked when I read that, because I had absolutely zero inkling that I would ever be successful at that. And obviously, I wasn’t.

But this time feels different. To quote Arnold Schwarzenegger on the morning before he became Mr. Universe, “It’s one of those days when you know you’re going to win.”

on killing my novel

I’ve now put six weeks into writing “The Last House in Levittown” after putting it on hold for three years, and last night I realized that I’m not interested in finishing it anymore.

burning-book-001

This happened once with a play–I started writing it when I still lived in Los Angeles over six years ago, and then my entire life upheaved and I landed in NYC in a much, much better place. But still I had this part of a play, called “The Creation of Monsters”–what a great title, right! I was between projects in a writing workshop at the time, and I was nostalgic for what I felt this play could have been. My teacher told me to sit with it for an afternoon and see if I could find my way back into it, and if not, move on. He said plays have a shelf life, and once they expire, the best parts will come back in a new form. (BTW what a wise and wonderful teacher!)

My answer to that was to start a brand new play, first called “The Lights of the Parkway”–then I got rejected from all the top playwriting programs, again, and decided to focus on fiction, where I had total control over the process. I turned my scenes of a play into a novel, calling it “The Last House in Levittown”–WHAT A GREAT TITLE, RIGHT!

That was 3+ years ago. Since then, I got married, I quit my longterm, soul-sucking job, I had a baby–many, many other things have happened and I have gone through at least one evolution from where I was back then. And in the meantime, the shelf life expired–whatever I was grappling with when I came up with this story of Penny and her father, out to get each other on the fringes of a new society, I no longer care about (probably something to do with my father? serious yawn!). But I had nursed this idea as “my one great idea!” “this one will really put me on the map!” “people who i really respect really loved it back then!” etc.

When I told this to my husband last night, he replied that he had sensed this for a while. We both have experienced a lot of getting tied to old ideas over the years that wind up holding us back. The classic sunk cost fallacy, combined with two people who know we’re very good at what we do, can lead to some very precious thinking that can be, at best, counterproductive.

So here is to sloughing off the old and embracing the new–and faster and faster each time (hopefully). I’m not sure what that will look like yet, but I know that in writing “The Last House in Levittown”, I created a vibrant, addictive (to me) new future-world–I think I’ll stay in it, just move on to a more interesting place, character, and storyline that better suits the now-me.

It’s also come up before in my self-analysis that both of my finished plays star a 17-year-old girl. And the storyline I’m most interested in in my “Last House” world is that of a teenaged girl.

When I was growing up, my most voracious and addictive reading period was probably 10-14 years old. So maybe in a world where every story has been told at least a hundred times, and probably better than I could ever tell it at least once, the most exciting idea for me, going forward, is to be the first person to tell it to someone. Maybe that’s why reading was so much more exciting to me back then–books were the wide, open frontier that introduced me to the world of ideas.

So, I’m not sure how to proceed from this point–except to keep writing. Stay tuned! 🙂