Writing a Book: A Review of a Journey Fulfilled

On October 26th, 2016 - as a kind of exercise in exploration of possibilities - I wrote a post listing ideas for possible novels to write in that year's NaNoWriMo. I completed ("won") NaNoWriMo over the 50,000-word mark. But the book wasn't done. So I kept going. And two days ago, at just over 110,000 words, done it rather suddenly was.

Last night, as I began to reach back out from the gully down which I have been white-water-dashing out words upon words, the wise and mighty Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons (@KJ_Fitzsimmons) suggested I write a little note to myself so I can remember the good of this milestone when I am once again waist-deep in the raging currents of revision. (Sans paddle, sans boat, sans strong desire to swim at all.) So here you have that.

Here's what I wrote about this germ of an idea back in October:

Unified Fairy Tales
Working Title: The Faer Tales, or, The Spinning Wheel...
SYNOP-BLURB: Long ago, but not so far away, the world was segregated between the human folk and the faer folk. When the walls began to come down between the two, stories of strange incidence and magic burst through the seams of history. All these "fairy tales" that we now take for granted, when properly arranged, tell the story of the world exchanging hands from the faer to the humans. One faer - the last - tells us how it all goes together, to tell the story of how it all fell apart.
This is an idea that came to me while I was trying to cope with a particularly infantile book of fairy tales with which my daughter was obsessed. I thought I was just passing the mental time, but I made some notes and eventually decided this would make an awesome storytelling podcast series. If only someone would write it.
Pros: Lots of imaginative excitement, clear framework, and some pre-writing research all done.
Cons: Lots of problem-solving and additional research; not conducive to word count.

Funny Things About That:

  • "The Faer Tales" is a terrible, terrible title for all of the reasons, except maybe for the explicit purpose of confusing people.
  • I put "fairy tales" in "quotes."
  • I've been mulling this over for a couple of years. I had forgotten that. So, I am not that spontaneously creative after all.
  • Oh YEAH - podcast! Heh.
  • LOLOLOLOLOL: "clear framework"
  • LOLOLOLOLOL x LOLOLOLOLOL: "not conducive to word count" (lol)

Hindsight is always embarrassing for me; and this is not for the purposes of hindsight after all, but to speak of the moment. I just felt some curiosity about where this journey began, now that I'm at its ... middle. If it is even the middle. I thought I was almost done with my book on December 1, and instead I was almost precisely halfway through it. So...

What I've Learned (So Far):

  • So that's what all those people, all these years, meant about the story/characters doing what it/they want. Ohhhh...
  • Mental space must be made and maintained, and that means giving up distractions. All of them, if you can manage it.
    • AND: Writing time is for writing, and writing only. Use the mental-space times for research, day-dreaming, problem-solving, etc.
  • Bricks build a wall. Walls build a house. The roof will be ugly at first but ... one small piece at a time.
  • Artificial goals (like daily word count) work; best at the beginning, but always helpful.
  • I am verbose (in writing).
  • I am not above tricking myself.
  • Having fun is key.

I have a lot to learn about what comes next - review, revision, beta readers, editing, pitching, selling... - and each one of those things is its own coursework. I'm also coming out of this huge, aggregate time-commitment feeling very sincerely that I have to honor that time. Maybe it never gets published. Maybe I'm never happy with it. Maybe I'm too scared to give it to anyone, or maybe someday I'll read it and just say to myself, "well this is all complete dreck." Still, even if all that is true, I am powerfully compelled to see it through as far as it will go. If for nothing else, than because I tapped sometimes for hours each subway ride and evening, just about every day, for over two-and-a-half months, to get here and now, with a completed first draft of a new manuscript.

The now: It is not stupendous, it is not overwhelming, it is not a relief. It is surprising, in a quiet way. It is gratifying - both in terms of the simple fact of accomplishment, and the responses I've had to sharing that fact on social media. (Which, to be objective, are almost always gilded; no fault in that, just the medium.) It is heart-warming. That may sound a bit mushy, but it's the closest I can come to this newish feeling I get to have. When the going has gotten tough in terms of ordinary life stuff in the past two days, I say to myself, "Hey dude: But you wrote a book." And I smile a little, inside, because my heart feels a little warmer.

You can bet I'll be riding that pony as long as it's breathing.

This was a clear goal for me in my life. I've never had to justify why, and maybe I still don't. Maybe you just get it. "Write a book" is a pretty self-explanatory aspiration, no matter the subject, or if it's something you aspire to one day or no. For me, it was never "write a good book" (though that's of course my aim), nor "become a paid author" (I will kick - kick - movie options away from my door!). Just: Write a book. I did that. That's done.

The future of my creative life is uncertain. I know it will be there, in some form, because it has delivered the message to me repeatedly throughout my life that it is a blood-sucking immortal that does not care how tired I am or how much money I lack. But it's uncertain, because I'm a dad and husband, and I'm all-in on that, and frankly I am not much of a multi-tasker. For a time I hoped I could smoothly transition from acting to a writing life, as though those two were just - I dunno - filters you applied to slotted spectacles. Now I understand that - oh no, Jeffrey - writing with any intention is a whole, big THING. Just like anything else one wants to do semi-OK with.

Yet this book, this thing I did, scratched a most persistent and heretofore unreachable creative itch. The novel is mine, top to bottom, and I finished it. (Yes: First draft. Understood, Superego. Why don't you super-go take a long walk off a short pier?) I never managed that with acting, and I tried. (O, the one-man shows you were spared.) I never managed it with directing. And though I accomplished it in several small ways with writing projects, this one was different. Special. This wasn't the usual wire walk. For this one, I wore stilts, carrying untrained puppies, my wire stretched out across the Arno, and we walked the whole length and back again.

I think the puppies may have even survived. Well, at least one.

And I'm enormously grateful. That's the last thing - a familiar feeling, this one. All creative exploits owe a lot to all kinds of support from all kinds of people, near and far, past, present, and future. This one had a particular tenor of cheer-leading thanks to NaNoWriMo, and it made all the difference. Thanks.

So, Future-Me? I have my 248 printed pages in my hands, and I have a red pencil. If I am reading this, and I never finished a first pass on revisions, let me be as kind to Me as possible and just say: WHAT THE PICKLED SQUASH IS WRONG WITH YOU?! EAT! PAST-ME! SO! HAAAAAAAAAAAAARD!!!

But hey dude: You wrote a book....