Popping the Clutch

I am now two and a half weeks and 20,000 words into a new suspense novel.  It’s getting fun.

Starting a new book is a bitch because I spend way too much time trying to decide if it’s the right idea to invest the time in, and then I procrastinate like a fiend while the idea gestates.  And then I worry about starting in the wrong place (guess what? doesn’t matter because you’re almost definitely going to cut whatever was the first opening anyway).  Then I spend a lot of time on Behindthename.com, and then I grab some books from the library that have a similar scent to get me on the trail.

I hate starting.

But once things are rolling along, it’s pretty sweet.  I have a lower stress level and a longer fuse for the daily detours we all encounter if I know I made my minimum word count in the morning.  I sleep better.  I’m probably a nicer guy to be married to.

For the past two and a half weeks I’ve set a daily minimum of 1k, and I’ve been getting about 1,200 a day, sometimes more.  I take Sunday off unless I didn’t get enough on Saturday.

One cool thing I’ve noticed is that it helps me if I only get four to six hundred words before 6:30 AM when I have to go to work.  Because then the story is fresh in my head, but I still have the pressure of knowing I need another 500 words to make the day’s quota.  It’s easier to start again when I find another hour somewhere, and when I do I’m likely to exceed the 500.

So for now, it’s going well.  I’m about 70 pages in, and the next few chapters will wrap up Act I with escalating tension, unresolved mysteries, and a moment of crisis that also frees up my main character to get himself into deeper trouble.  His name is Desmond for now.  That might change too.

Is it a good book?  This may sound strange, but at this stage, that’s none of my business.  I step up to the plate every morning and take my best swing.  But if I worried too much about writing the perfect sentence with the perfect words, I’d get stuck.  If I slowed down long enough to outline the plot, I’d get all analytical and lose confidence.  That kind of thinking can come later when I’m writing the next draft.  Right now I’m blissfully unconcerned.  Don’t give a fuck if it’s good.  My job is to write it down as fast as possible.  I’m aiming for finishing the first draft by September.  I’ll find out if it’s good when I read it.

Later, my job will be to fix it and make it sing.

Stephen King talks about “outrunning doubt.”  I like that.  I get it.  But for me, starting a long story doesn’t feel anything like a runner taking off at the gunshot.  More like pushing a car in neutral until it’s moving fast enough that I can jump in and try to turn the engine over before it gets away from me.  It helps to start in a place that has a bit of a downward incline.

If the engine starts, then maybe by the middle of the tale, it’s carrying me and I’m still steering, but I’m also along for the ride.

I like an intuitive approach to the first draft, and an increasingly analytical approach to each subsequent draft, and I pray for the wisdom to know when to stop.  First time through, I learn the story from the muse–and let me tell you, she is one sloppy bitch.  Second time through, I try to tell that story to you, keeping the good parts, and hopefully putting things in the right order for both coherence and compelling suspense.  That’s a delicate balance.

I’m still figuring this stuff out.


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