It was August 11, 2018, according to my journal, that I made the decision to put aside the non-fiction book I started working on and dive into trying to write my first novel.
On Sunday — 51 weeks later — I reached the halfway point of the rough draft.
Just to put that in perspective, my first book on the Dodgers, from conception to completion, took about six months. My second Dodger book, took about nine, mostly accomodating the interviews I wanted to do.
Those books came with deadlines, and deadlines haunt you like shadows. You can hide, but you can’t outrun them. So there was no choice but to stay up late, wake up early and give over massive amounts of free time to getting those books done.
But still – a year in, I’m only halfway through a draft that will need heavy rewrites. Why am I doing this to myself?
Slow as it has gone, I really do kind of like it.
I don’t have many hobbies that I care about, outside of playing games where you can win real money. And take baseball, for example — it’s not more important that I park myself in front of a baseball game than it is for me to park myself in front of my draft.
I am trying to make sure that my writing doesn’t interfere with my family. I haven’t been entirely successful as far as that goes — sometimes, when I carve out a chunk of precious writing time on a Saturday, I don’t want to give it up. But for the most part, the two don’t conflict, and on some level, I think the fulfillment of writing puts me in a better mental state to be a husband and dad.
That being said, I can’t get over how much harder it has been to write this novel than I expected. And that’s with me going in expecting the most difficult piece of writing I ever willingly attempted.
I thought that if I invested enough time in detailing the characters and building the outline, then the actual writing process would come naturally to me the way a Dodger Thoughts post does. So after writing a single test chapter in early September, I didn’t write another word of my rough draft for months. I focused only on planting seeds.
Finally, as spring beckoned, I decided it was time to harvest, to dive into the draft itself. Let the words flow. But they didn’t flow. I was ready to drive a Ferrari, and my brain was hand-cranking a Model T.
Even what I thought was a detailed outline, with characters I had come to know as three-dimensional people, had countless details to fill in, as if I had designed a needlepoint canvas without realizing how many tiny holes would need to be filled. Each of those holes required me to make a decision, and each of those decisions involved pausing and thinking.
It’s not that I need to have the book done by a certain date. But as with any exercise, when you’re working and working, you want to see results.
In a mix of rationalization and desperation, I began to play a little fast and loose with some of those decisions. In order to give myself at least the illusion of progress, I made some choices that I knew probably wouldn’t hold long-term.
That means more work for me when I start revising. What I’m writing is really, as I’ve come to call it, a sandpaper draft — rougher than rough. But I resolved that I would rather create some mistakes than risk not creating at all.
At the same time, the other important lesson I learned was to begin writing each chapter by really getting in touch with what I felt most passionate about. The emotional importance of every moment in the book is what propels me forward, more than simply advancing the plot. Early on, I would begin each chapter by asking, “What needs to happen?” I realized I needed to ask, “What am I feeling?” Answering that question (within the context of the plot) has brought me where I am today.
This book needs to make you so invested in and entertained by the characters that you need to know what the next line will be. I feel like I can get there. But man, is it a process.
So now, I’m in deep. I know I’ve got enough momentum to keep going, but the road still disappears beyond the horizon. The way I have it mapped out, I will finish the sandpaper draft by Thanksgiving. After that, I imagine it will be six to eight months of initial revising, just to get to where I’d be willing to show the 75,000 words or so to a friendly face.
By that point, I’ll be almost two years into this very modest piece of writing. It’s a stupifying to think about all I might have done instead. But I’m not looking back. I’m looking forward to the second half of the beginning.