Kind of a waste of paper

I’ve hit the 30% mark on the first draft of The Senator’s Pants (which is really a pre-first draft, or rather a pre-pre-first draft because I like to tinker a lot before calling something a first draft; but, come to think of it, even if I do 43 more drafts, I think the one I send to an editor is referred to as the first draft (not that I’m going to send it to an editor)). (Let’s just call this the first draft now, for simplicity’s sake.)

Sometimes people ask me, “How many pages is that?” The answer isn’t as simple as one might think. These things called pages vary in size, shape, typesetting, margins, color, weight, price, etc. But as an example, in Times New Roman, 12 point, double-spaced, on a middle-weight stock, preferably light green and purchased at wholesale price, 30% amounts to 93 pages; the final document is an estimated 325 pages. Kind of a waste of paper, if you ask me.

I’ve been working in tenths. (I finished the 2nd tenth in October and the 3rd today.) It’s not a bad scheme. I start out excited. I work hard. There are long periods of creativity, where I feel at the top of my game. It’s all very exciting and enjoyable and the hours melt away. I get about 80% of the way done. The goal’s there in front of me, so I burst toward it for a longish period, but when I look up again, to my surprise, I’m not any closer (like the charging knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail). I’m sort of annoyed. I take short cuts. I weasel out of things. It has become a chore. I don’t want to think about these chapters ever again. I don’t want to think about writing anything ever again, in fact. Might as well give it all up. But then I set the pages aside, call the bundle “good enough,” and magically, unbelievably, a huge burden has been lifted off my shoulders. It really is a feeling of lightness. My mind is free, creativity is stirred up; there are a million possibilities before me; I sit down and start scribbling again.

The most recent tenth, however, was less straightforward. The mixed-blessing that is a surge of paying work made it difficult to do a good long stretch of writing; the ersatz vacation I took in late October kindled my laziness; and for a long stretch I was unaware of the wrong turn I had taken. Cruising along at a good pace, (without thinking about my destination at all) I blithely followed the map I had drawn up at a much early date, plunging 7,000 words down a road of potholes, spikes, road construction, old ladies at the wheel, cattle, sharp bends, and so forth. But I was headstrong. I was going to follow my map because it was my map, and that’s what maps are for. I was going to fight my way all 10,000 words uphill, against typhoon-speed winds, on ice, with a flat tire on both ends of each axle, and an empty gas tank.

Well, to turn a long road into a short cut, I realized my map was rotten, tossed it out the window (it, and the sort-of-bipolar love-interest, the character that looks exactly like the late senator (“the double”), and the mutant strand of DNA that turns everyone into a pumpkin), and teleported myself back to where I had taken the wrong turn. There I spotted a four-laner with no posted speed limit and a race-car for sale at deep discount. I was off.

(It turns out that when writing a novel you need to consider the motivations of your characters. Who would have thought it, huh?)

It makes for interesting reading. One character disappears from the story completely and none of the other characters bother to wonder what happened to her. The chap who’s headstrong in one tenth is conflicted and neurotic in the next without apparent reason. Another character appears out of thin air in the last tenth, and everyone treats him like he’s been around for all the previous adventures. And so on.

I think it’s the kind of surprising, genius, brilliant, unconventional, visionary, fractured, wildly-original narrative everyone has been longing for.

Next week: Why I’m throwing away everything I’ve written and starting over from scratch

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