Wednesday, May 2, 2012
It's tough to imagine over a hundred thousand anythings collected in one spot. "The Big House" at Michigan can hold 107,501 drunken, angry (at least in recent years) Michigan football fans. And, of course, a year famously consists of 525,600 minutes (I hate that song with a passion--you're welcome for the hell that I've caused you by planting it in your sub-conscience for the rest of the day).
But I never conceived that I could create 100,000 things, let alone words arranged in a somewhat haphazard-but-intended-to-appear-to-be-intelligent manner.
Apparently, neither could Microsoft Word, which just threw up its hands and croaked out "Really?" in that Steven Hawking computer voice when I reached the 100,000 word mark, and stopped keeping track.
But after four full months of work on my first novel, after 141,148 words written in chunks 1,000 to 7,500 at a time, I was able to write the two words that matter most, words numbered 141,147 and 141,148 for those keeping track at home:
I finished up the rough draft Tuesday afternoon, and proudly posted my "achievement" on facebook and twitter.
I then did the next logical thing, what I always did in law school after finishing up a paper or outline:
I went to Kinko's and printed the damned thing out and had it bound.
Want an insider tip? Invest in Fedex-Kinko's stock today; I'm sure it'll shoot up after the bill I dropped there yesterday. The folks at Kinko's must've thought I was nuts, in large part because I told their copier/printer to kindly print the document double-sided, and THE DAMNED THING PRINT IT SINGLE-SIDED INSTEAD!
Oh, those crafty bastards; try to drive up my binding prices, will you? Well, if that's the case, it absolutely worked: three bound volumes of single-sided pages later, and I'm sure that they're laughing all the way to the bank. The things I do in the name of "editing on paper"...
They say (and I have no way of knowing who "they" are) that 80% of all people want to write a book of some sort during their lifetime. Of those people, only 1% will actually do so, and of that 1%, only 1% will send it off to publishers, or self-publish it on Amazon, I-Books, or...whatever Barnes and Noble calls their ebook store. "Nook" something? I don't know.
So, to be clear, finishing up the first draft of a novel is quite an "achievement."
And still, I have to put "achievement" in quotes because I haven't "achieved" anything yet. The book isn't actually finished yet; I still have a long and painful editing process ahead of me.
No one else has read the thing yet, even a draft. A book's singular purpose in this universe is to be read by others, and by that definition, I don't even have a proper "book" as of yet. All I have is a collection of words that may or may not even come together into a coherent whole, and that have to be pushed, pulled, cajoled, and massaged into their proper places over the next month or so.
And trust me, there is plenty of work to do. I've already restructured the novel a couple of times in my head, so there's going to be some decent surgery. Not to mention the typos and errata that have to be remedied and eliminated, respectively, before publication.
But to get those words out in a fairly understandable order is an accomplishment, one that I will certainly celebrate to some degree.
Of course, this morning, I didn't quite know what to do with myself. I'm so used to just going into my routine and writing most of the afternoon that after a restless night of sleep, I found myself itching to get back at the keyboard this morning. Before I machine gunned this post out, I got 1,000 words of my next novel down, a novel that I already think is infinitely better than the first draft that currently sits next to me, and which is causing me to reevaluate the quality that I imagined sits in those 370 or so 1.5-spaced pages, currently unread and unloved. Nothing like a little fresh self-doubt to get the gears going in the morning!
One of my friends on facebook (Hey Brandon!) asked me how it felt to finish up the draft. Like the incorrigible smart-ass that I am, I said something about how it felt like I had a lot of editing to do in the coming weeks. But now that I'm a night removed from it, I can honestly say that it feels good. It feels like I'm driving back from a long trip somewhere, and I keep seeing those mileage signs on the side of the highway counting down the miles as I approach my destination. I started at some big number, like 239 miles or something like that, and thought "there's no way I'll ever get there. It seems so far away!"
But after day-after-day of steady progress, putting in the time at the computer, plotting the story and watching my characters grow and develop their own personalities before my very eyes, I'm getting a lot closer. Let's say I just passed the sign that says "20 miles." I can almost hear, smell, and taste the ultimate goal.
And it feels pretty damned good.
D.J. Gelner covers the Rams beat for insideSTL.com, and is an aspiring author. Follow him on twitter (@djgelner) or facebook (here). E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also listen to his podcast (Bottle and Cans) here.