Saturday, August 24, 2013

I'm Finished!

No, I did not just murder someone, a la Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood

(Quick digression, the novel on which this movie is based on, Oil! by Upton Sinclair, is waayy different than the movie, for those of you who haven't read it. I have read it, and it's a massive behemoth of yes, oil drilling, but also college life and politics of the 1920s in Southern California,  human emotions and the satire thereof, and many other things. It's an interesting read, but not anything you can finish in one afternoon.)

But! (see what I did there?) I do have one thing in common with this final scene of the movie.

I'm finished.

With what? you may ask.

The answer to that, my friends, is the first draft of my novel. Now, for many of you, who are also writers, this may not seem like a big deal. I know people who can whip out manuscripts and toss them around like flapjacks. Maybe these manuscripts are a little crispy, like burned pancakes, but they're tangible, they exist, and their smell sort of waifs through the house until you open all the windows or turn on a fan.

I'm getting off topic.

I am done with the first official draft of my novel. Bits and pieces have found their way onto this blog, but nothing substantial, because really, before now, there wasn't much to call substantial. Gather round, everyone, and I will tell you the tale of my novel, and how it's been a long and arduous journey, but one that will pay off...eventually.

Picture this:

A thirteen year old girl has a dream one night. It's filled with snakes and pink water, and a red balloon. She wakes up the next day and thinks, "Hey, that'd make a good story." Now up until then, the girl had written things, stories and poems, but this dream inspires in her something that is more than just one story; this idea is good enough to be a novel. The big one. The one that will make her famous.

So the girl sets out to write her novel. (Side note, this all took place during the last century - yes, yes, I'm sort of admitting to my age, no matter - and there will be mentions of things that are not commonplace nowadays.) She does not have a computer, so a notebook will have to do. Much like the notebooks from Harriet the Spy, the girl uses a composition notebook with the word "Private" written on the cover:

From the 1996 Nickelodeon feature film. See? Private. This means you keep out. 

And the girl writes, creating characters and places that exist only in her imagination, but are real to her. Because her dream left quite a few plot holes, the girl fills them with new ideas, each idea seemingly better than the next. One notebook is filled and so she moves on to another one. She hides the notebooks when they are at home. She does not want anyone to see her writing until it was completed, and she is devastated to find her notebooks out in plain view when she returns from school one day. Alarmed that someone read what was in them, ignoring the "Private" label on the front, she brings the notebooks with her to school,  scribbling away whenever she can, wanting to devote all of her spare time to the novel. 

It turns into an obsession, and it is if the notebooks call to her when she is away. Her edits, in purple pen, become messy, and she realizes that she is she is to continue, she must start typing her novel. 

Enter typewriter #1.

  Just for reference, in case you didn't know what one of these contraptions are. 

The typewriter she uses is big and clunky, but it gets the job done (and looks a little different than the one in the picture above). There's even an option to erase the text, similar to the delete button on a computer. The girl keeps writing, the pages of her novel growing. 

And then, disaster sets in. The typewriter runs out of tape, and she does not know where she can get some more. After inquires to her grandmother (who at some point or another, owned the machine) and looking at local stores, she finds that she can purchase the tape at her local Sears store, a very unlikely venue. A new cartridge purchased, she sets off at a galloping pace to keep on writing. 

The girl has now reached high school, and has moved to a new city. In the midst of the move, the typewriter was thrown out, and she must resort to using her notebooks again, as she still does not have the use of a computer. Solace comes during her sophomore year, when upon a search for supplies in her math teacher's cabinets, she finds a typewriter, similar to her grandmother's but even more aged. The teacher allows her to take it home, and renewed by this, the progress of her novel continues. 

Alas, she runs into the same issue as she had with the previous machine, and the tape runs out. A visit to her local Sears store results in an embarrassing interaction with a sales clerk who informs her that the tape for her typewriter is no longer being produced. Not shut down so easily, she journeys to other stores, and finds a treasure trove of cartridges at Wal-Mart. Several cartridges are purchased as back-up and her novel finds life again. 

This continues on for the next few years, her schedule becoming more and more packed, filled with basketball games and practices, student government activities, homework, and as graduation approaches, she finds less time to write. The pages that she has written are stuffed in a binder under her bed, hidden again from the world to see. Thus far, it is been her eyes only that have seen the words on the page. Others know of her ambition to write, that the role of writer is her chosen profession, and some have even been lucky enough to hear what the novel is about, but they have not seen what it is that she has to offer. 

Graduation comes and goes, and the girl goes off to college. Now, she has a computer all her own, and with piles of pages and pages, she sets upon transferring all of her hand and typewritten pages to a more convenient, electronic source.  The story at this point has changed multiple times, with characters bouncing in and out, and plot lines created, taken out, and created again. She gets everything saved onto the computer, and thinks to herself that maybe it is time that others see her work. She takes a writing workshop and for the first time, shows her novel, her baby, to more or less, a group of strangers. 

Some like the work; others don't understand it. Others rip it apart and if they had physically handed her the pieces of paper back, it would have had the same affect on her. All the same, she takes into consideration some of their suggestions, rejecting others, and edits, edits, edits. 

Disaster strikes again, when her hard drive crashes during her junior year, and she loses everything. Not one word for the saved draft can be resurrected, and she feels not unlike Michael Douglas's character in Wonder Boys, Grady Tripp, when his literary agent, Terry Crabtree, loses Grady's 1000-plus page manuscript. 

Tossed to the wind. Gone. 

Though her manuscript is not nearly as long, the pain of losing literally years of work is not a pain that goes away easily. After the procurement of an external hard drive and the acceptance that she will have to start off not quite at square one, but pretty damn close, the girl sets about writing another draft of her novel. 

She takes another writing workshop during her tenure as an undergraduate, and the piece is met with more positive response. Enthralled by this, she decides that she would like to pursue a MFA degree in creative writing after graduation. She believes that perhaps her manuscript will get more recognition and perhaps even get published. She's dabbled in a few other stories, beginning another novel or two, but this is the story that keeps calling her back, the one whose characters don't allow her to relax, their voices constantly calling at her to come play with them, to write their story. Even when other things have distracted her, when life has gotten in the way, these are the characters that she always returns to.  

Several applications and rejections later, the girl is not accepted into any of the graduate MFA programs, and is distraught. Her back-up plan, to get a MA in English Literature does pan out, and she travels to Boston to fulfill her dreams in another way. 

This time in school, however, life is much more of a distraction, and her novel sits quiet, unfinished, unfulfilled. Her friends have other dreams and don't quite understand hers. The novel is set aside and waits for her to return to it. 

Her graduate degree complete, the girl returns home to a life that she does not desire. It is filled with real-world problems, and she spirals down into despair of what her life has become. Her novel is not even a thought in her mind, as she comes home from a job every day that she despises and instead of writing, it is the television that she turns to. 

After some time, the girl decides that she must change this, that her writing must be continued, that her novel must be finished. Her novel, as well as the city of Boston, have been calling her, and so, she applies once again to a MFA writing program and is accepted. Spurred by this, she begins writing again, really writing, and focusing on her novel; her characters glad to see her come back.

She returns to Boston, with a fresh start, with more ambition, and decides that big changes are in store. Surrounded by like-minded people, she finds new friends with similar ambitions, and feels more at ease. The novel goes through more edits, more changes, and is workshopped again. She makes it her goal to finish this novel, and whether it is good, bad, or ugly, it will be completed. She sets time to write, make it a priority, and enlists the help of one of her good friends to stay on schedule, and to make deadlines for herself.

The summer is almost at a close, and the girl has just finished her novel. It is the first complete draft, and though it is very different from where the story began thirteen years ago, and will probably change several more times, the girl can now show her work to the outside world, and perhaps one day, hopefully soon, someone will find merit in her work and she will have her name on her book on a shelf in a bookstore. 

There you have it, my friends. The story of how it's taken me thirteen years to finish my novel. Now I can start the querying process, which will bring along its own set of issues, but at least I can say that I have a completed manuscript, and not just a work in progress. 

This is definitely how I felt when I finished writing.

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