One Backspace at a Time

You may have noticed a lack of hyacinthsnbiscuits in your life. I know I have. There is a reason.

I have been writing a novel. My first novel, as a matter of fact. A feat which I never thought I’d accomplish until I was at least 25 years older than I am now. Because I’ve never had the patience to write anything long-form, much less Establish A Daily Writing Routine, which is what you really have to do if you want to bang out 25,000+ words of a story.

Which is something I’d always heard, but only now know from experience. Back in August (coincidentally, right around the time I let this blog drop off the face of the interwebs), I started waking up an hour before work every morning to write.

Sometimes just a page. Sometimes less than a page.

Sometimes a whole lot more.

Some mornings, I’d delete everything I’d written the previous day. But not often. Usually, I’d reread where I’d left off, then forge onward.

Sometimes I got so excited I couldn’t stop writing even to get up and go to the bathroom. In fact, I often got my best work done in the bathroom. Thank god for laptops. (That’s a mental image you really needed, right?) Sometimes I lost track of time and was late for work. But usually, I’d write for my hour, close the computer, and go off to work feeling like I’d already accomplished something important. I had a reason to go to bed early and get enough rest, a reason to wake up in the mornings.

In November, I finished my draft. I cried a little when I typed the “The End.” I knew I’d written something intricate, delicate, strong, and perfect. Something the world needed. Something agents and publishers were just holding their breath waiting for. I sent the manuscript to a few friends for feedback and put it in a drawer to incubate.

Then I entered what I can only explain as postpartum depression lite. I didn’t know what to do with myself in that early-morning hour. For a while, I tried to write other things, but nothing clicked. So I started sleeping in, staying up late at night doing pointless things on the internet. I felt groggy and awful when I got to work in the mornings. It didn’t help that, around this time, winter descended like a lead blanket.

When I finally took out my first draft, six weeks later, the glow was gone. I saw it for what it was: a messy first draft.

The depression got even worse.

Then I found a writer’s group. I had to revise 20 pages to bring to the next meeting. So I printed out that whole ugly first draft, stuck it in a folder, and took it on a long weekend vacation. While my friends went skiing, I sat in the cabin and crossed out words, sentences, paragraphs. Inserted new words, sentences, paragraphs. Got up and walked around. Made myself sit back down. Buried my head in my hands and moaned. But I kept going.

this is bland & cliche! old version was better...
this is bland & cliche! old version was better…

Revision’s not as neat and tidy as first-drafting. In some ways it’s easier, because I already have a whole pile of raw material to work with. But mostly, it’s a lot harder. Because I can’t tell myself, “Just write a page! Even a crappy page! Just get something down on paper!” Now, I have to ask myself, “Is this word right? Does this page belong? Does the pacing work? How about this dialogue, is it believable? Why is this character even in this story?”

need? why is Nan in this scene?
need? why is Nan in this scene?

But I’m waking up excited again. And I think I’m making progress, one backspace at a time. I know none of this is news–this entire post is the sort of thing you can find in any “how to write” book, the same thing all writers say. The part that amazes me is that I’m now one of those writers saying it.

oh geez, just use normal English.
oh geez, just use normal English.
?! OF COURSE he'd have hard feelings! Gabe is being a wuss here.
?! OF COURSE he’d have hard feelings! Gabe is being a wuss here.

I’m not sure how often I’ll be posting here until I’m finished with the revision, but meanwhile, you can check out my collaborative photography/poetry blog, Gallery of Light & Letters, a project I’m working on with the talented Ali Scattergood:

To be continued…


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