Sunday, January 31, 2010

Now For My Next Trick

Well, I finished the manuscript. 75,000 words in 77 days, and only 988 words off target. I don’t know about you, but I’m well impressed.

The method I used dragged me through the mid-novel slump and even the bit where, when I saw the end looming ahead of me, my fear of what I was going to do once I finished tried to sabotage me by insisting I drag my feet. It didn’t remove those feelings, it was just that I still had to produce until I hit my target. Every single day.

When the last day arrived, I got up at my usual time (5 AM) and just hit the page running, so to speak. It was Saturday, so I didn’t have to stop to go off to work, I just got up, sat down and started writing. About 1,500 words later I found myself typing THE END, and at that exact moment (I’m not making this up) the sun broke over the horizon and lit up the living room.

Not that this was in any way meaningful of portentous, it was just really cool.

And the problem of what to do next has been solved, as well. I always planned to put the manuscript away for a few weeks after finishing it. Despite being eager to get on with it, this step has come highly recommended by many professional writers, so I thought I’d give it a go. The problem was what to do in the mean time. I toyed with the idea of trying a few short stories, but then a new project landed in my lap that is going to take a few weeks. Perfect.

This next phase—-the new project included—-is more about revision and editing than getting words on paper, so I am still wondering how I am going to plot my progress, but I’m sure something will occur to me as get further into it (I’m all about plotting progress).

So I’m off on a new adventure, which is probably going to continue taking much of the time I usually spent surfing the Internet and updating my blogs. I’m not abandoning my on-line presence, just putting it into perspective: do I want to be an Internet personality, or a writer?

Someday, I’d like to be in a position to do both, but as long as I have to make a choice, I know which one I’m going to choose.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Doldrums

Imagine that! A post about writing on a blog that purports to be a writing blog where I write about writing. That’s what I started out to do, at any rate. I guess I got in the way, or, perhaps, I wasn’t doing enough writing.

Currently, I’m enjoying feeling like a writer. Being in the deep throes of a first draft does that to me, especially when I’m pushing through that saggy, middle bit where even successful, bestselling authors claim to grapple with the notion that the manuscript is crap and despair of ever finishing it or, if they do, of making anything coherent out of it. I’m at that phase now, the horse latitudes of the first draft, what marathon runners call The Wall. The good news is, because of The Method, I am not flagging.

Noting again that everyone is different and that what is working for me may be a hindrance to you, I am encouraged by my progress. Forcing myself to reach a specific word limit every day means that, even during these dark days when I would usually do anything to avoid working on the novel, it is still moving forward at the same pace.

The advantages are numerous. The disadvantages are:

- Writing every day means just that. Writing. Every. Day. I don’t get to sleep in and tell myself I don’t have to do anything that day. I must get up. I must face the key board. I must not leave it until X number of words have been produced.

- What I am turning out is not a first draft, but more of a rough draft. I may be giddy with reckless optimism now, but at some point I am going to have to face that pile of words and try to make something out of it. I am trying to trust the process, but I have to admit that occasionally, late at night when I think about what I am proposing to do, my blood runs cold.

- Even though I generally finish my allotted number of words within an hour and a half to two hours, it leaves me drained, and I don’t feel like writing much else the rest of the day. This means my blogs are being neglected and needlessly obligates me to produce forced-sounding posts (like this one) periodically to keep them from feeling abandoned, like a parent who is too busy to get to junior’s oboe recital on time and takes him out for ice cream afterwards as a means of assuaging guilt.

But despite all of the disadvantages, they are mitigated by the fact that they are temporary; I expect to finish the rough draft soon, probably sooner than I had planned. After that, there are many more obstacles to come, but they are for other posts.

Who knows, maybe this writing blog will start to be about writing after all.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Because Even I Can’t Believe It

I’m still enjoying my new toy and, except for a ‘minor hiccup,’ we’re getting on just fine. That minor hiccup, however, was nearly the end of things, and I offer it here as a cautionary tale to benefit us all:

When I got the laptop, I immediately copied my novel directory onto it. Since I no longer had to work on multiple computers, there was no need to constantly copy my novel to a USB drive. (The astute among you already see where this is heading; but wait, it gets worse.)

I spent four days installing software, copying files, tweaking and happily working on my novel. Then, because I had too much time on my hands, I managed to uninstall the video drivers.

There are mitigating circumstances surrounding this, but listing them here would take too much time and would not negate the inescapable fact that it was a boneheaded thing to do. Especially since, as a computer professional, I should know better.

At any rate, I found myself with a perfectly functioning, brand new laptop that would show me nothing but a black screen. It seemed almost amusing at first, until it dawned on me that four days worth of my unbacked up novel were hiding in the dark on the laptop’s hard drive. At my current rate, that’s about 5,000 words gone. Or, more maddeningly, sitting there in front of me but, like a treasure sitting in plain sight in a pitch black storage room, totally inaccessible.

I was sick. I tried everything—safe mode, plugging into an auxiliary monitor, even tinkering with the BIOS. Nothing worked. Not only had I destroyed a two-hundred pound piece of kit, I had lost four days of work, and the worse thing was, I couldn’t blame anyone but myself. I was so frustrated I went to bed at eight o’clock because reality was too harsh to face. Naturally, I didn’t sleep much, but over the course of that sleepless night, I underwent the seven stages of grief and woke to my 5 AM alarm with fresh resolve.

I recalled the last sentence I had written the day before, so I fired up my desktop PC, opened the most up to date novel file, spaced down a few lines and picked up where I had left off, proposing to fill in the gap when time permitted. After a few paragraphs, however, a thought occurred to me: opening my novel involved a series of keystrokes, and I thought I could go through them even with my eyes closed, so to speak.

Not wanting to waste my writing time, but unable to get the absurd notion out of my mind, I opened up the laptop, started at the blank screen and started pressing buttons:

Enter to log on, open a desktop explorer, down, down, right, down, copy, up, up, left, down, down, down, down, paste. My USB port blinked. Something was being copied to it. I put it in the desktop PC and was so incredulous when I saw my novel fold there I thought I must have actually backed it up and just forgot about it. But the timestamp confirmed, I had done it; I had miraculously reached into the black abyss and come out with my novel. I opened it—all the words were there—said a quick prayer of thanks to the writing gods, and got to work.

Later that day I pulled out the laptop’s documentation and there, at the bottom of the last page, was The Command, bracketed with warnings in bold capital letters to never, ever use it except in a dire emergency, as it would restore to laptop to its original state and destroy everything else on the hard drive. This looked like an emergency to me, and my novel was the only thing I had needed to save, so I invoked The Command. Fifteen minutes later, after many “Are you sure?” warnings, my laptop was, literally, good as new.

The subsequent set up, having just recently been done, was repeated in about two hours. Problem solved.

I realize I was luckier than I deserved to be, but the lesson was not lost. I always back up my work to a USB drive after every session now, and I never, ever tinker with the video drivers.

Now if I can just get that mouse driver updated...