Friday, January 15, 2010


When I was growing up, I always wanted to be an artist and a novelist. Never a doubt. I might have considered vet school somewhere along the line, definitely clothing design, but the artist and novelist part were a done deal.

The artist I slogged away at, discovering, I think, that my friend Nancy was right, and that I’m an artist with a lower-case “a” not an upper-case, and being okay with that. But the novelist part has been harder to get a handle on.

It’s easy enough to write one, a first draft anyway. But completing one, that’s the toughy. I wrote a complete first draft novel at thirteen, at nineteen, at twenty and one I worked on pretty hard at twenty-seven and twenty-eight. The one that four readers threw across the room. I’m almost proud of that.

And then there was last 2008’s National Novel Writing Month novel, that I fully intend to finish, and this last year’s, which I am working on like a crazy woman during the editing stage, first wave.

Luckily, a lot of words don’t scare me. I’ve written hundreds of articles and a memoir of around sixty-thousand words, so putting things on paper isn’t hard, it’s getting them right. And sticking to it.

Currently, I’m in the honeymoon stage. The part where the characters are telling you what they’ll say next, and inserting scenes that fill out the story. I have to run and grab paper a few times a day because I’ll get an idea for dialogue, a scene, a fact that needs to be explained.

My plan is eight full edits: a chronological re-write, a pass through for dialogue, for tone, for pacing, for scene arc, for descriptions, for character consistency and then for fact details that involve Googling obscure geographical references and behaviorist vocabulary.

This is how I did my screenplay. That sits in a drawer. And won a contest. And became obsolete when the bottom dropped out of high-tech. Sigh.

But it’s all good for writing. Cynthia Whitcomb of Willamette Writers and “Holidaze” fame (the play she co-wrote with Marc Acito), says in her column that writers need a certain number of words on paper (or was it hours of writing) to gain mastery as a writer. I can’t remember the number, it must have been enormous, but whatever the number, it was an encouraging idea.

I’ve said it before, that the years of writing for independent newspapers and magazines without much pay has been my apprenticeship. And maybe four or five books under my belt is part of that. Maybe this will be the one that becomes just right. Or right enough. I’m willing to try.

If nothing else, I think February is National Edit Your Novel Month, and I'll hardly be alone.

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