Phase one has been completed. A draft of the current novel-in-progress exists. One hundred eighty thousand words, it requires editing and revising.
That realization would have once fired me into an arc of despair a few years ago. Back then, when I finished the first four novels, (five, if I include the wreck of the very first miserable novel I wrote), I hated the idea of editing and revising. I wanted to be done with writing it and have the novel completed, damn it. But with the next four novels, I learned to embrace and enjoy this peculiar state. In honor of Erwin Schrondinger’s thought experiment about a cat, I call this state, a Schrodinger novel.
The novel exists but needs work. How much work isn’t known or understood. To reach that point, I must employ myself as a reader. (I don’t use outside readers until the second draft is completed and the initial kinks have been resolved.) Yet, because the novel is still incomplete in my mind and requires work, I, the writer, must also continue employing my intelligence, skills and creativity to resolve the issues.
With a tenth novel finished, I feel comfortable with my process. I’ve become more patient, mature and insightful about how I write. It’s fun and rewarding, because, damn, man, over the course of the last ten months, I’ve written one hundred eighty thousand words. That’s just what made it into the book. Twenty-five thousand more words exist in summaries, tracking documents, snapshots and thought exercises that I documented. Then there’s the stuff that I wrote and cut because it was going down a wrong path, failed to further the story, or I didn’t like it.
At this point, the novel has some semblance of the expected finished novel, subject to others’ feedback. That infuses me with powerful satisfaction.
There is a mood shift inherent in the process. My focus is sharper. I’m no longer fumbling and reaching to create a beginning and ending or to connect the dots. That, which is really the second most challenging aspect of novel writing for me, has been done.
The first most challenging aspect? To keep going when it became frustrating and I thought it hopeless. Sometimes I’d take a wrong turn. Sometimes, I’d write myself into a corner. “Now what?” I wondered. Sometimes, I’d read someone else’s novel and think, “How beautiful. I’ll never write that well.” Yeah, I do, I understand, but my writing is different from their writing, and has its own beauty.
Meanwhile, as I completed the first draft, other titles began arising as potential final titles. I often provide a working title that captures the concept and overarching story’s essence. That’s typically overcome by events as the transition from the abstract embedded in the concept to the tangible required to tell a story is processed and the actual words make their way from mind to page (or screen). One in particular arose more sharply and clearly: ‘Entanglements’. Unfortunately, that title is in use by several other writers for their novels.
As I write that and think, another novel title arises. I want to let it simmer for a few days before writing it for others’ consumption. I have conducted Internet searches, and the title doesn’t show up as another’s title.
The words I write here have the relaxed, intellectual tone of introspection about what was done and what remains. But the physical being that I am is sitting here in the coffee shop with a secret grin. I want to run around and shout it out to the world, “It’s done, it’s done!” But then I would need to amend that, “Well, the first draft is completed. It is, and it is not, something.” (See? There’s that whole Schrodinger’s novel again: what state does it exist in? It’s funny to me, if no one else.)
In a way, finishing a novel, or a draft of one, reminds me of being in love. It feels special. I’m thrilled, pleased and hopeful, but I really don’t know what remains to come. There’s a lot of uncertain energy unsettling the air.
All of those who have been in love will know what I mean.