Nope, I haven’t stopped.
In 2018 … man, that year seems so long ago … I began outlining my first novel.
In 2019, I went from outline to drafting, completing the rough draft right before the year ended.
As the teenage years of the 21st century reached their climax and we stood poised to enter the Roaring ’20s (oh, who knew how they would roar?), my progress on the book filled me with optimism. Maybe it would take four months, maybe six, but I figured that by summertime, with some dedicated revising, I’d really have the thing done.
Instead, 2020 schooled me the same way that 2019 and 2018 did. No matter how much time I put in, no matter how hard I think the work is going to be, this book would always require more.
While each new draft took a little less time to complete than the previous one, none of them took me to the finish line. I finished what I called the first draft in February (about nine months after I began), the second draft in July, the third draft in October and the fourth draft this week. Each time up to the present, I shared text with a few different people, and in each case, they offered me encouragement — and more to work on.
Shortly after that, I was privileged to get a look at a draft of a novel by @jonweisman, another full-time job/kids/writer person. It’s a beautiful book, and I was encouraged by his ability to write it amid the other challenges of his life.
— Josh Wilker (@Josh_Wilker) January 1, 2021
The notes process is always a painful one — not only because it’s difficult to take any critique of something in which you’ve invested so much, but also for having to decide which notes to take heed of and which to respectfully ignore. The choice is not always black and white. Sometimes, the notes are so dead on that I can’t believe I didn’t see the issue before, and I’m so grateful to get them. And then, more than once, I’ve gotten notes that I’ve disagreed with on the surface but that hinted at a different (and maybe deeper) problem with the book. It’s like the readers know something is wrong but can’t quite put their fingers on it, and it’s my job to translate their misgivings into something that will make it better for all of us.
As I’ve said before, part of the reason this process has taken me as long as it has is sheer inexperience. There’s no doubt I made mistakes in the execution of this idea that, now that I understand the process better, I’d like to think I’d avoid. No matter how many times I’ve had to add new material — and even more excruciatingly, had to tear up existing material — it never gets easier.
But also, no matter how much I developed the characters and outlined the story before beginning to write, there was just no way I was going to see ahead of every blind spot. There was no way I was going to anticipate every direction the characters would need to take me. There was no way I was going to stop having inspiration. Even after writing 105,000 words, there was no way to avoid the dreaded this needs something here … but what?
So what happens now? Before I answer that question, I feel it’s important to say that I like my novel. I like it the story I’m telling. I like the characters’ journeys and the way the themes of those journeys have meaning for me.
And I like it because in what quickly became a more difficult year than I could have possibly imagined, my novel has been one of my closest friends. It gave me a hard time here and there — sometimes, I was so angry with it, furious with it — but it was my companion, and it was always there for me to pour my heart out to. No matter what happens, I will always be grateful to this book.
My novel doesn’t have superheros or cataclysms (or even a pandemic). It doesn’t have magic realism or parallel universes. It’s a down-to-earth and intimate story about people dealing with the extraordinary challenges of ordinary circumstances, and I hope readers will connect, invest and feel rewarded. I guess we’ll see about that.
In the short term, I will get some reactions to my latest draft, which I hope will take me close enough to the point where I can actually try to get this thing out into the world. I feel like I’ve just about done everything I want to do with this story — or at least everything I can do on my own. Soon, I hope, the time is coming when my novel is ready to take a bold step into the professional world.
Maybe 2021 will be that year. But even if it isn’t, I won’t stop.