Finalizing the Final Draft

IMG_0412The final draft of my first (as yet to be published) novel is done. Or is it? If you are a future debut novelist, you know how vague the term “final draft” can be when it applies to your own work. Or at least, to mine.

Learning the Craft of the Draft

I hope not to embarrass myself by saying I’ve been writing this mermaid novel for at least four years. [Being Mermaid: From Out of the Sea]  The journey has included taking workshops, seminars, a webinar or two, having conversations with writers and reading or scanning lots and lots of books, blogs and magazines.

In spite of all the information, my early writing felt like a crazy, all-over-the-place groping for meaning and the only way I could go in order to A) learn the fiction writing process and B) get the novel done.

Was it the right thing to do?

Between Draft and Manuscript

Sara Megibow, an agent with KT Literary, spoke at a conference session entitled “Biggest Mistakes” that writers make when pitching or querying a work. In my paraphrasing, one of her reasons for not being interested is the work’s incompleteness. She said, “You’re at draft only. Your manuscript isn’t ready.”

The year was 2013 and I was preparing to pitch my completed manuscript, or was I?

The Early Draft

“A Four-Step Plan for Revision” by Raymond Obstfeld In The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing (Writer’s Digest Books. 2002) elaborates on draft distinctions:

“Early drafts lay down the basic story and characters while the final drafts fine-tune what’s already there.”

As I was writing this post, an article on my favorite blogger’s site, Jane Friedman, popped up. “How to Finish Your Book in Three Drafts” is great material and great timing by Stuart Horwitz who calls “the first draft the ‘messy draft,’ which is all about getting it [the story] down .”

I was definitely messy as I wrote, rewrote, ditched, scratched out a section of, scratched out a lot of sections of, returned old material to and started all over again.

The Final Draft

When the beta readers had done their work, I revised again and again.

At last, my final draft was done, the one Stuart Horwitz calls the “polished draft,” which [had been] all about making the story “good.”

I was ready to query and pitch my manuscript.

When the Story Goes Nowhere

My mermaid novel received mild interest.

One queried agent asked for the whole book after reading the first fifty pages before it was rejected. Another agent was excited about my pitch but later turned down the novel. An editor said it wouldn’t get past “acquisitions.”

I knew I was getting close but also felt something may still be lacking. Perhaps, as Sara Megibow had told a large audience of writers that year, the error may be in my thinking the novel was a manuscript when it remained a draft.

Final Draft as Plural

I was back at the books, blogs, workshops, etc., to seek an end to my story. To stamp FINAL on the final draft.

Raymond Obstfeld said, “Although the phrase ‘final draft’ suggests the last time you’ll revise, that really isn’t the case. Final draft really refers to the final process of revising.”

Seek Professional Help

A professional editor is currently reviewing my mermaid novel as the journey continues.

Afterward, I will be back at it again. This time will be the final, final draft.

Thank goodness, I really believe in my mermaid novel and will do all I can to learn how to tell her story most effectively.

 

“Edit your manuscript until your fingers bleed and you have memorized every last word. Then, when you are certain you are on the verge of insanity, edit one more time!”  ~C.K. Webb

 

 

 

 

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Where Will She Sit on the Shelf?

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I’ve sat in on enough writing sessions facilitated by writers, agents, editors and other workers in the publishing industry to know that if my book doesn’t conform to market standards, good luck on getting it published.

Today’s post is on meeting that challenge and moving forward.

Maybe a Story Really Does Tell Itself

My original intention when I began telling my mermaid story was for it to be a romance. A beautiful fishlike young woman washes ashore where a beautiful young man discovers her and along the way love arrives.

The story didn’t unfold as I’d planned.

My mermaid remains a young female but her story focuses on her journey toward the realization of who she is and where she belongs in the ocean world.

A young man is a part of her narrative, along with issues of ocean pollution and extinction and motherhood and love.

Genre Dilemma

My novel is complete. But what kind of novel is it?

Paranormal?

Romance?

Contemporary?

Women’s Fiction?

Adult Mainstream?

All of the above?

None of the above?

I can’t imagine anything worse than a story being refused because the marketing department has no idea how to advertise it and the bookstores have no idea where to shelve it.

What do I do?

Change the story?

Keep the story?

Forget the story?

Advice from Experts

I expressed my dilemma with book editor, Rebecca Heyman. Her response was a recommendation to read three novels. One is Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

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Erin Morgenstern’s story doesn’t fit a standard type; it’s fantasy, romance, maybe even steampunk.

No spoilers here: In Night Circus, two old competitive peers, artists in magic and illusion, pit their apprentices against each other for an eventual showdown.

The story itself is magic. It enchanted me with its vivid details, compelling storytelling and mystical tone.

The structure of the story is also as unique as the tale itself.

Have readers found this strange, unusual novel in their bookstores, real or digitalized?

They certainly have.

Forging Ahead

My focus now isn’t on whether or not there’s a specific shelf for my mermaid novel but on how compelling and memorable my story is for the audience who will read it one day.

 

A Convention of Rejuvenation

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Writing Panel “Don’t Ever Let Me Catch You Doing This” featuring Dayton horror writers, Brady Allen and Tim Waggoner.

I notice the excitement generated by a writing convention and how valuable it is to reigniting my own drive to keep writing and learning the publishing business.

I recently attended Context 25, one of my favorite conventions because its focus is on writers and readers of science fiction and fantasy. Many of its offerings are free with registration: one-hour panels on everything from “Children Characters in Fantasy and Horror” to “Nanotechnology.” Other sessions are more intensive and longer and cost extra. Two of the three of my choice were “World-Building” and “Revising Your Manuscript.”

I love being a student and taking notes; listening to interviews with guest of honor writers in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Editing; asking questions of the experts. I write it all down in a journal used exclusively for anything relating to writing, whether the source is a convention, workshop, online or in magazines.

My top task is connecting with other writers and those involved in publishing. Small talk isn’t my forte. How do I sidle up to strangers and just chat? Here, the Con Suite is a good beginning. It offers free food, snacks, sweets, and nonalcoholic beverages. Usually, some of the seasoned writers, singers (called filkers), boasters, thinkers, talkers come to sit around the tables and share stories. After a few minutes, I feel like I fit in.

Chatting gets easier as the weekend passes. Seeing similar faces at various activities builds camaraderie. Shared experiences lead to writing discussions.

A mere weekend is exhausting, but only physically, and mostly due to less sleep. What is accomplished is my rejuvenation of spirit. It is only with perseverance that a new writer can make inroads into professional publication. This age of e-books and self-published books is shaking up the traditional book publishing process. I can get lost in that surge of change. But if I stick with it, I will find my way.

Writing conventions like Context in Worthington, Ohio, buoy my spirit and energy level. I return home to the rather solitary life of a writer, eager to write something new and focused to submit something already written.

 

Cursive is Queen: Power of Pen, Pencil and Paper

I notice I write with a pencil and paper when I really need to connect to my words and my story.

It’s old school. Maybe. William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen and thousands of authors penned their stories, literally.

How many would have chosen the computer if it were available? Plenty. I am using a keyboard over 90% of the time. But when I am stuck. When the image of a fictional scene is in my head but the words to carry my vision to the page are jumbled, stuck or blurry, I leave the screen, pull out paper (usually a yellow legal pad) and pencil and write by hand, in cursive.

I feel tightly connected to my writing when I do it manually.

The writing isn’t perfect. Lines are crossed out. Words are squeezed between spaces. Arrows go this way and that. And sometimes there are doodles in the margins; if I leave any margins.

When the page or pages goes beyond see-able because of the editorial rewriting, I get anxious. I flip on the computer screen and clack away at my keyboard once more, happy I have the technology to polish a work with ease and speed.

But I wonder about the writers who did it all by hand. I wonder how they got it right in a draft or two. How powerful was their connection to their words, their visions, their souls and to the pen in their hands and the paper under their palms.

One of my favorite movie scenes is the beginning of Shakespeare In Love. William Shakespeare is in a garret trying to write. He’s lost his muse, which is the conflict of the story. But his fingers draw my attention. The ones holding his quills are black, stained by the ink. His nails are gray. They look like those of a car mechanic’s. What toil. What labor. What concentration.

What a symbol for the writing process.

 

 

 

On Grandma’s Kitchen Table

I notice my grandparents’ 1930s red-topped kitchen table. The top of it is somewhat organized with a copier, laptop, lamp, pencils and notebooks as it lives its second life as my desk in my writing room.

Stephen King describes his writing space where he penned his first books Carrie and Salem’s Lot in his Memoir on the Craft: On Writing. It wasn’t pretty–an old kid’s desk sort of thing squashed in an area next to the washer and dryer of a double-wide trailer.

Today, his desk is a lot bigger and more fitting a professional writer, but his point on writing surfaces isn’t on the furniture; it’s on the writing.

King says, “The space can be humble…, it really needs only one thing: a door which you are willing to shut.”

But it’s so easy to slip into focusing on the organization of a writing space and procrastinate on the writing.

I’ve imagined my DESK. It’s wide-topped, cherry wood, drawers down one side, narrow drawer just under the topside, maybe a shelving attachment for laptop and printer. Or not. Maybe it’s the old-fashioned, just mahogany and drawers type like the guys on the TV show Mad Men use in their offices.

Oh, the glorious tales I could create if I had one of those.

In reality, my grandparents’ table has a small, segmented drawer in the front made for silverware. It’s where my grandmother stored her butcher knives. It has two hinged leaves on either side to extend the surface space as desired. Thick stainless steel legs with rotting rubber tips hold it up.

My grandmother was the best cook and kindest soul. I’d see her every Sunday along with fifteen or more other relatives. We’d eat oven-baked, breaded chicken and chicken soup. In the evening, before we’d all head home, we’d make ice cream sodas. All homemade. All delicious. All eaten at the red kitchen table.

To date, I’ve written this blog, several short stories, two biographies, a fantasy novel and more using her table.

My desk isn’t going anywhere. It’s energy is too good.