Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Long, Long Exhale

At 84,719 words, I have called a halt: I am finished with my Greenland novel.

Any writers reading this are probably snorting back laughter. Well, no, it isn't finished. It will take me probably half a year of editing and rewriting, resting and attacking again, before I can consider the book finished. And of course my inner philosophy major is asking whether a creative work can ever really be finished when the potential for different character arcs and repaired comma splices will always exist.

But I have written the last paragraph. I have wrapped up all the ends. It's over.

I don't actually remember when I first had the idea for this book. It might even have been before I moved back to Maryland in 2005. But I wrote the first 25,000 words or so in 2007. That was four years ago. The amount of time I've actually spent putting words on the page probably amounts to less than six months all told (a great deal less, probably), but I'm greatly accustomed to thinking of this book as an albatross - as something I don't know how to finish, and which has sat unfinished for so long that I despair of it. But now it's done. It's really done. I can't wrap my mind around it.

It looks at this time like I won't have anything to do with my day, so I'm trying to figure out what I should do. There's a story that I wrote enough days ago (and with enough Greenland words between then and now) that it might be ripe for revision. There's laundry, and e-mails, and administrative junk that I could do. Or I could go back to what I wrote in Greenland for the last week or so, while it's still malleable, and reshape it. I think I have to come at the big stuff fresh - did I really need all sixteen of those subplots in the last forty pages? - but the little stuff, the way things are worded and the Luquenora words I need to invent, I could get on that.

Conversely, I'm also tempted to do absolutely nothing relating to words (...after I'm finished writing this post) at all today. Maybe watch TV instead. I've put down about 20,000 words in the last week, not counting the blog or my non-creative endeavors. I could, maybe, take a break. Step awaaaay from the laptop.

But that's not really me. I'm not a compulsive writer, certainly, but I couldn't even wait until lunchtime to open up this window and plunk down my thoughts about the insane amount of writing I did yesterday.

I think I'll take the middle way, and just read. I'm in the middle of a terrific book by Joan Aiken. And if I happen to doze off, so much the better; I'm going to a midnight show tonight of...uh...a Bergman film (certainly not this, I don't know what you're talking about), and I would like to not be insanely tired tomorrow.

Champagne and expensive cheeseburgers on Friday. To celebrate. When I finally believe that I'm finished, I'll be so relieved that I won't even want to start my next book.

Yay me! 


Dan said...

I'm a little confused. Not being a writer myself, perhaps you can shed some light on my inexperience.... You completed your novel--grats!-- but you seem to be so obsessed with word count, that I can't really understand your exultation. Don't writers really concern themselves with completing character arcs, plot lines, or actually insuring their original vision is realized? I'm brought back to the saying, "quality over quantity." and yet your posts seem to be concerned with word count over content. If I did indeed write for a living I imagine I'd be more concerned with getting my vision across rather than a total numbers of words. a monkey can type words, but a real writer addresses the human condition . I may be wrong here, but if I were writing, I would concern myself more with assuring I'd truly captured character than how many words I could type day. But I suppose that's why everyone and their mother truly believes they have the great American novel in them, when in reality, tney're just hacks crapping out a copious series of words that they believe the general masses will worship rather than actually taking their craft seriously.

Katharine Coldiron said...

Wow, Dan.

The nominal answer to your question is that I've been struggling throughout my entire writing life with writing enough words for any given piece. The piece of my work I'm happiest with in terms of craft is only 45,000 words, which means that it's too short for any agent or publisher to look at it as a first novel (and too long to be anything else). Knowing that I've written a really fine and totally unsellable novel is pretty painful.

Managing to create a novel-sized novel out of my ideas has been extremely difficult, so I'm proud of myself that I managed to do so on this turn of the carousel. That's why I've kept pointing it out - to show myself that I really can write enough. I've known for a long time that I can write well enough.

Your point, however cruelly barbed, is a good one - craft, quality, is the key. 300,000 words of Dean Koontz doesn't compare to 4,000 words of Cynthia Ozick. But even Ozick likely has to adhere to certain publishing conventions in order to have her work read, and that's been a tough row for me to hoe, much tougher than ensuring what I have to say is worthwhile.

In addition, if I were to write at length about the struggles I've had with my content (and oh, it's tempting), I'd be leaving myself open to unsavory people stealing my ideas. And you, kind soul that you are, wouldn't want that for me, would you?

Dan said...

Wow. Never knew agents based their judgments on word count. Sounds like a tough business. Enough to scare me away from it. Keep up the good fight.