Thursday, June 9, 2016

Swept away: 107,000 words, 31 days.

This May, I wrote a novel in a month. A NaNoWriMo, if you will, only this particular novel wasn't 50,000 words. It was 107,000.

Okay, wait, let's back up. In April, I was obsessing over first drafts. I had just finished the first draft of All Heart, my horse book sequel to Stay the Distance, and had squirreled it away to let it marinate before attempting to figure out its flaws, because that's the way of things. I never want to be too close to a first draft when I start on the second draft. There has to be some time apart. It's for the best, really. Otherwise I'll lose all sense of self and fall into a pit of impossible rewrites.

So, separation. But what to do in the meantime?

Just a little Northwest Arkansas to spice up this post.
I had already told my editor that I was going to work on what I was calling the Arkansas Novel (Uninspired WIP title? Yes.) this year. My editor and I are both Arkansans. Not born and bred there, but definitely grew up there for years and years. We're drives on dirt roads, dunks in swimming holes, hope-you-don't-get-snakebit Arkansans. Naturally, her response was write it now. The thing is I had already tried writing this book. I'd tried five years ago and failed miserably, not sure where it was going and not sure I could even write what I wanted to write. So I let it sit on my hard drive, languishing in a state of unfinished disrepair.

It couldn't go on that way. But it couldn't stay the way I'd previously envisioned, either. So I pulled up Blacksnake, the Arkansas Novel's prequel (available in How to Trick the Devil) and glared at it for a while. Then I opened up a new Word document and proceeded to go nuts.

Okay, not nuts exactly. But I did get really into it. I took my main characters and I started to stretch back their history--something my editor calls writing the fictitious reality. My main characters' stories, their parents' stories, their parents' parents' stories...I went back to the 1600s. (Like I said, really, really into it.)

Most of the time when you plot a book, you look into its future. You're plotting out where a book is going, not so much looking into its depths and trying to see its past. That said, by looking into that murky background, I found the story I wanted to write. I found characters I didn't know I was going to even write about, who would be major players in the story I wanted to push out. Once I got them on the page, their history written down and how they connected to the rest of the world I'd just created, I stopped and turned my attention forward, opening up a new Word document to lay out the backbone for three books--just plot points stringing to plot points from beginning to end across the trilogy. From there, it was fleshing out those plot points into chapters until everything was in place and I could start writing.

So--to the figures. 107,000 words, 31 days. I started the draft on April 11, and I finished it on May 12. I kept a log of how much I wrote every day. I set daily goals in Scrivener, which showed me how fast I was writing with its little gradient-hued progress bar. I was diligent. And I wrote. 1,400 words on May 5th constituted a slow day. 8,000 words on May 9th was...a little frightening. What happened on that day? Did I consist only of story and a flurry of keyboard strokes? How did I even accomplish this?

And the answer, I think, is I enjoyed what I was doing. I sat down and I didn't spend half my time agonizing over every detail, every bit of dialogue. I got out of the story's way. There was only the story in my head that said sit down and write me. Shockingly enough, I decided to obey it instead of fight it tooth and nail to the end. There was no forcing it to do anything. The story went down on the page, and where it deviated from the outline, I re-outlined. I added chapters. I just held on as it rushed onto the page--for thirty-one days. When I wrote the ending on that last day I just sat there and stared at the behemoth that seemed to magically have appeared on my computer's hard drive as my editor yelled at me over Google Chat, "Did you finish it? DID YOU?"

I told her I did--in all caps because EXCITED--and I sent it her way. Then I sat there, thinking about everything else that needed to be done, because there's always that second draft to get through. And maybe a third, fourth, fifth--the work never really seems done. It's the most anticlimactic of feelings, finishing a first draft. But still, I was excited. I am excited. I want to rip into this draft, make it better, get this sucker so polished it is shiny with editing, and then write the second book, and the third. I am swept away, and maybe that's been the secret all along.

Mara Dabrishus is an author and librarian at a small college in Northeast Ohio. Horse racing is her first great love, but for the past several years she's ridden dressage, learning how to spiral in, half halt, and perform the perfect figure eight. Her second novel (gasp!), Finding Daylight, was released in January 2016. For more information, please visit

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