Sunday, September 6, 2009

Triumphant Joy and Hazy Terror

Today I finished my novel. I went through two cups of coffee at Starbucks and one sandwich and I came to the end. I didn't even know I was that close, but there it was. The obvious and complete end. Unless it isn't. I have eight pages to read to my fabulous critique group on Thursday and they'll let me know if it is really the end or if I was hallucinating.

And what is more, I finished it exactly, to the day, two years after I thought about beginning it...or maybe three years. Well, maybe it was more like two years and seven months. Or maybe it was three years and two months. But anyway, what a coincidence, huh?

Actually, it took two and a half months of false starts before I could even begin. I'd come to work and say, "Okay, here is what happens..." I'd rattle off the beginning and they'd wrinkle their noses and shake their heads. "That doesn't even make sense."


A week later I'd say, "I've got it!" I'd spew out my idea and they'd look pained. "That is stupid."

A week and a half later I'd say, "This is really it. It really is." They'd listen and when I finished they'd look at each other and assume a commiserative expression and say, "Well, your protagonist sounds like an idiot and it is completely unbelievable."

One day I spent an entire day at Powell's Books and found a great book, not on the subject I wanted, but on female pirates. I wish I had bought that book. I'll probably have to go back and get it when I get filthy rich. But then I happened upon a Time-Life book called "Fighting Sail". It had all the information I needed to give me the opening to my book.

I went to work, two and a half months after I came up with the idea of having a female adventure on the high seas, and said, "Okay, here is what happened." I told them.

They sat forward with wide eyes. "Really?"

I sat back and a smug feeling of excitement overtook me. "Yeah, really."

So I had my beginning. For the next year I did research. Brilliantly exciting, fabulous, enthralling research. Never had research been so breath-taking. Unfortunately, it consumed me and everyone I met got an earful of history. One day I was researching sailing ships from 1805 at the library when a retirement aged man stopped at my table. He leaned over the book I had open to the anatomy of a ship and said, "Those were wonderful ships, weren't they?"

"Yes," I smiled. "Quite thrilling."

He grunted. "I was an Able Seaman in the Navy. I'm retired now."

I raised my eyebrows and all sorts of questions popped into my head. Before I could ask any of them he said, "You know the old saying, 'A sailor has a woman in every port'?"

I nodded.

He rocked back on his heels. "Well it simply isn't true." I sensed I was about to learn a secret everyone would like to know, but doesn't have the courage to ask; kind of like finding out exactly what is worn (or not worn) under a kilt. "Yup. A sailor just doesn't get to every port."

That is when I started doing my research at home.

So tomorrow I'm taking my Elizabeth Lyon book, "Manuscript Makeover" to the beach to start reading how to write my book all over again. It is a totally scary project, but I've got to cut out 13,000 words. My friend, Paul, who has written and published a thesis for his masters and is therefore an authority on writing, said cutting out 13,000 words from a 113,000 word manuscript is simple. Just do a "search and delete" for the word "the".
I think I'll stick with Ms. Lyon's advice.


  1. I have a great list of words to delete from a Cynthia Whitcomb class I took last year at Willamette Writers Conference, but it's on the other computer! One day I shall be centralized, organized, and better compartmentalized, but not this day.

  2. Great blog entry! I'm so excited that you're at a "first finish" point. That must be equivalent to when I sign my paintings. I think I'm done. Then as the days pass and I look at them, they draw me back to work on stuff that is so blatantly in need of attention that I can't believe I didn't see it before. But it must be much easier and faster to look at a painting and see it in its entirety and figure out what needs work than to fix and polish a manuscript. Have a wonderful day at the beach. I hope there are surfers there.....

  3. Well, as it turned out I went to Emergency Fast Food with Carol and didn't get to the beach. We did a pre-read and I've got lots to edit on my last seven pages.

    I can't even imagine editing a painting.

  4. Blow me down, Melanie. You finished her! Now set a course for home and safe harbor (that is, may your rewriting process go smoothly) and all will be well with you--of this I have no doubt!

  5. 'Tis an ill wind blowing what makes the followin' seas rough. I'm likely to suffer the heevy-jeevies while jury-rigging my manuscript.

    All hands, all hands to the bilge pump.

    Thanks for your comment, Jane. It made me smile.


Comments are great fun. Really. I love them. Except from the bots that have found my blog. I'm enabling the word verification to block them. Sorry.