Saturday, March 20, 2010


The other day I finished the first rough draft of my second book, titled The Scapegoatist. I'm still too close to it to make a judgment, so I don't know what to make of it exactly other than I believe it's a good story and that it probably needs a good amount of work. With longer pieces like this I'm finding it takes some time to find the voice of the book- that point where you stop trying too hard and everything clicks and the tone becomes locked in and you start to really understand the character or characters and who they are and why they do the things they do. By that point, though, you've already written half the thing. So now the job becomes to go back and delete all the jokes that really aren't funny and just overall make everything match up. That's what's next for me. Once I do that I should be able to share.

All of this owes to the fact, which I'm not only discovering for myself but have also read, that every time you write a book you have to relearn how to do it. Not to say that you forget exactly, but that each one is different and has different challenges and problems and ultimately solutions to those challenges and problems. On the one hand this can be a little frustrating, to feel like an amateur every time out (which at this point I still am), but on the other it's also what makes the whole thing interesting, and I'm always a believer that if it's boring to write, it's boring to read.

Probably the biggest lesson I learned this time around was to let go. Instead of obsessively editing as I went along, I stayed in writing mode and didn't allow myself to scroll back and start picking things apart. I also didn't sit with my fingers hovering over the keyboard for thirty minutes waiting for the perfect word, as I often have, but rather just drove forward and kept moving, kept moving. This does explain why the book needs so much work now, but on the other hand it was a far, far more productive way of working. My first book, A Chemical Fire, was around 51,000 words and took me a few years to complete, while this one passed the 80,000 mark and took just one. I believe the next will continue the trend, though no matter what I'll forever be a fan of brevity; of quality versus quantity, of saying what needs to be said in the shortest form it remains effective.

A funny thing happened the day after I finished the first draft of this book. A good amount of it was written on my breaks at work- I get an hour for lunch, which most days I take alone in a basement break room. While this SOUNDS lonely, I actually love it. I generally finish eating in about ten minutes and then spend the rest of the time writing down what I spent the first half of the day thinking about, unless by poor timing someone else happens to come down for their break at the same time and decides to spend it, as most of them do, bitching about the job. This has given me quality time to work and sends me home most days with at least a head-start. When I get home I type up what I have knowing that if nothing else I've written at least this much today, and most times once I'm done transcribing I go further and continue to write.

I've been at my job for around a year and a half and have been writing this book for about a year of that, so (barring interruptions) writing The Scapegoatist is what I know of lunch. The day after I finished the first draft I was walking down the stairs and I had a realization: while there's still work to be done on it, I need to give myself time to gain some distance, to edit from an impartial view. Also I need to give Natalia time to read it (she's always first), and even when I do start editing it's all done on a computer screen, so will all be done at home. So my realization as I went down into the basement was this- I'm free. While I love writing, novels can be tedious work. Not every moment can be ecstatic and enervating, sometimes you just have to head-down-shoulders-forward trudge forth and hack away at the work of it. The only way this is possible is to do it whether you feel like it or not. Period. If you wait for inspiration you're lucky to write one book in your lifetime. And very often, inspiration comes because you're already in motion.

"I'm free," I thought. I can spend this hour any way I want. I can sleep on the couch, read a magazine, maybe try to punch the old television set into getting reception, watch something. It doesn't have to be writing. I have another book lined up that I want to write next, but I need to edit this one first so I shouldn't start it. I'm free.

I finished my lunch, then tried to decide what to do with my next fifty minutes. After I'd been sitting there for a while, silently staring off, I took out a pen and a notebook and I started writing. I'm thinking about writing a book that doesn't end. What that would mean. Maybe periodic volumes of an ever-changing thing. Something that would occasionally rear its head. It's a thought.