novel progress report


This year, I vowed, I would finish my novel. A complete first draft. No goals of perfection but a goal of an entire story trajectory, a goal of getting about 100,000 words down on the page. Words that hopefully string together to tell a good story and produce characters that sing to the reader.

So–how’s it going? How’s that novel coming along? The novel I’ve been writing for years, on and off? (A writer’s favorite question, I know).

It was awful, flipping through the pages again. Not so good, I first thought, wincing at much of the narrative and prose. So much of my novel was written in first person, before I realized that I just couldn’t continue forward in the first person. So I’d started over in third. The third person narrative is better, but still very stilted in places–so stilted that it makes me grind my teeth. All in all, that makes for a gorgeous mess of over a hundred pages of narrative, in both first and third person.

I started beating myself down before building myself up.

But the reality is–the clarity is refreshing. Over a year break from the novel has helped me get some distance from the narrative, given me an objective eye. In the last year, I had a stroke, faced a death in the family, and experienced the ongoing fall-out from those two closely spaced, life-changing events. How would all that inform my writing, I wondered. And now, I feel a depth that I did not have before. At a cost, of course, but still!

In the wake of my decision to devote myself to the novel, I downloaded Scrivener–why not? Time to tackle the novel again with a new piece of software, one that supports novel writing. Tonight, I worked on a new outline with Scrivener, titling the different chapters.

I also, despite my allergies to the workshop format, signed up for an online novel writing workshop–if only to just get me going with deadlines, beholden to someone else’s schedule.  It’s helpful!

I’ve decided to shuck the rules a bit–instead of writing the novel in order (something I’ve done to date), I’ve decided to write the ending. After all, John Irving in his AWP keynote speech, revealed that he does just that: he writes the ending of every single one of his novels before he writes the beginning. In fact, he said that his endings inform the very beginning of his works. So again, why not? It was liberating getting the ending of my novel down on the page.

Still, it’s up and down. I feel lost at certain points (Irving says he always knows where he’s going in the novel–doesn’t he EVER feel a teensy weensy bit lost while writing his narrative? He says he does feel uncertain about characters, but never the plot). I’m not good at being lost. But that’s the landscape of writing the novel.

I have to keep telling myself that I can do this, that this story needs to be told, that I just have to keep going with it. Milestones, milestones, milestones.



Filed under The Novel, Writing

9 responses to “novel progress report

  1. Irving sounds pretty annoying; although I’m sure there were more inspiring parts of the talk.

  2. on the contrary, lucette! Irving’s talk was AWESOME (mostly focused on plot, a favorite craft element of mine). But then again, I’m a big Irving fan.

  3. I think writing the end point is a fantastic idea. It can always change later, and in the meantime as you write it really helps define the shape of the story to know where you hope to end up. (I admit to doing this a lot too, though not always… maybe I should try it with my current project.)

    I found the Irving notes you shared very inspiring and very helpful, as you know.

    I’m glad to hear you’re still working on your novel… even though you might feel a little lost at times it still sounds really promising!

  4. You know, I’ve never done that – written the end of a novel. I’ve never GOTTEN to the end of ANY of my novels. What a concept! I heard John Irving too, but it never occurred to me to actually try that method myself.


  5. nova and Susan: I would never have thought to do it, and in fact, all the advice I ever got was to NOT write the end until I actually GOT to it (chronologically). But I’m glad I did. It is sort of liberating.

  6. What an interesting idea, writing the ending first. I don’t see how it could possibly hurt! With my first novel, I could picture the ending — I mean, the place where the ending would happen. And I do think it was good to have in mind a destination, or maybe just to know that there WAS a destination. Are you liking Srivener? I’ll be interested to hear how it goes. And good luck with the rest of this novel.

  7. I think Irving’s advice is great, especially coming from a plot genius as he is. Good luck with your progress, Jade, we are on this journey together: my novel is also a part re-write from another time. I have looked at Scrivener and have decided against it for now, but I would love to hear how you do with it.

  8. bloglily: It’s intriguing to do it–really refreshing. It’s like wearing white shoes in December! 😛 You never know.

    And in reality, as I write this ending, I’m discovering things about my characters…and questions that I need to address in the middle (where I’m stuck) are beginning to arise. It’s great. It’s going to be a really rough ending and it will change again, but it is an incredible informative act.

    As for Scrivener–I really do like it! I think it’s perfect for a novel format.

    charlotteotter: good luck with your novel too!

  9. Maybe I can get a Scrivener tutorial from you someday. I got the 30 day trial and it just sat there. I couldn’t quite figure it out in a way that made sense for me. I was fascinated by the concept, though.

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