As I'm writing this blog, I'm also closing in on the final chapters of the first draft of my very first full-length (sci-fi) novel. I find that I am full of mixed emotions at the prospect of typing the words "The End" after pecking out somewhere in the neighborhood of 60,000 words. Clearly, there's the obvious excitement over the accomplishment itself. Taking a group of characters from a starting point and watching them work, fight, negotiate and otherwise find their way through this adventure until they reach their final objective is not an easy task and the excitement and pride I'm feeling over nearly reaching that endpoint is really quite something.
Of course that pride and excitement is tempered by the very real fact that it IS just a first draft, which by default means, that at its best it's only average and at its worst...well, you know. So, when the words "The End" finally roll off of my fingertips onto the page, it really only means that the rewrite has just begun. But since that will be a completely separate process, and a rather long, arduous, and tedious one at that, I will take at least a day or two to bask in the glow of the first accomplishment before tackling the second.
More than the pride of finishing my first full-length novel, however, I'm feeling more accomplished on a personal level than ever before. Not just at the prospect of completing something long and difficult, although that is certainly part of it, but from all that I've learned during the process. For example, I've always been a "rewrite as you go" kind of writer - write a sentence, paragraph or maybe even a whole chapter and then, before going any further, go back and rewrite, and then rewrite again until I'm totally satisfied with that piece. This style has never been productive for me and has invariably led to having a stellar opening sentence, paragraph or chapter, but very little, if anything beyond it. I've either gotten bored with the characters or story, lost any momentum I might have had, or simply couldn't figure out where to take the whole thing next - so this stellar beginning usually winds up in the bottom drawer of my desk, where it's destined to sit for all eternity.
This time has been different, however. With much encouragement from my wife (she is and has been my truest inspiration), I have been able to resist this temptation in my current novel. Difficult though it has been to not go back and rework earlier portions, I haven't, but have instead, moved ever forward, saving the look-backs until the entire first draft is finished. What I have found has been nothing short of fantastic. Essentially, I have some weak and inconsistent first chapters, as is to be expected, but, and here's the fun part, I also have much stronger work through the middle that is turning into something really special as we head into the the home stretch. By the time the first draft is complete, and I know my characters more thoroughly and I know what they're going to do and how they're going to react, I will be able to go back to the beginning, well-armed with everything I need to properly fix the aforementioned deficiencies and build a final draft that will be strong, consistent and (hopefully) engaging for the reader.
Another thing I've learned is that working alone, in a proverbial vacuum, is not a good thing, at least not for me. I started a writer's group at my workplace a couple of years ago hoping to to find the motivation and camaraderie from fellow writers that I felt I desperately needed. I have not been disappointed. My writing peers have been phenomenally helpful (as I hope I have been for them). We review each other's works and offer critiques and encouragement, but most of all, we do our best to inspire one another. We all work at the same, exceptionally fast-paced company, each doing different, but extremely busy jobs and when we show up for meetings with pages in hand, it shows that yes, in the midst of life's chaos, there is still time to write - if indeed that is what you really desire to do.
The final and most important lesson I've learned is that, in the words of prolific fantasy author Terry Brooks, "Sometimes the Magic Works." When I first began writing this story, I KNEW EXACTLY how it would go. I knew the characters (most of them anyway) and what they were going to do. That in and of itself made me more than a little nervous, because I honestly didn't believe there would be enough material to support a full-length novel. As I began to write, however, the characters reached out to me - not always in the nicest of ways - and essentially took over the telling of the story, essentially relegating me to the role of stenographer. I soon found that I had been wrong, I didn't know the whole story. While I perhaps had the essence of the story in my head, there was so much more I didn't know, and couldn't know until I started writing it. Even now, with just a few chapters to go, new things are being revealed to me that I would have never dreamed of before I began, including a nobody character - a henchman, who had been nothing more than a means to an end, with only a line or two - who has suddenly become much more important to the entire story arch. As I finished the last chapter and that character gave me a menacing smile right before he flew away in his spaceship, chauffeuring one of my main characters, I literally thought to myself: "Whoa! What just happened?" Which was followed immediately by: "Hot damn, this is fun!"