# of pages written: 4 (so far, but I’m going to keep working)
# of times I’ve checked email/facebook: 3
# of days left to write 1st draft: 146
First of all, if you review the rules I made for myself (under “The Rules”), you’ll see that I only have to post once every 48 hours. So I’m not cheating by lumping two days together. But I’ll try not to do it very often. This week has been a little crazy with the writers’ conference and the fact that every 16-year-old kid on Cape Cod now wants me to tutor him for the SAT’s. Oh, speaking of writers’ conferences, check me out.
Now onto my post for today…
As a teacher, I always start out the school year the same way: excited, with high hopes that this year everything will run smoothly. I set up grand organization schemes and draft a seemingly infallible discipline plan. (“This year, I’m not letting students go to the bathroom. Ever!”) I imagine that my classroom will be a utopia of respect and learning, and, for the first few weeks, I stay at school until 7pm every night, organizing and planning and trying to make everything perfect.
But of course, nothing is perfect, and around week three, I realize that I’m killing myself trying to make it so. The colored pencils are already a mess, and that great plan for keeping my files organized isn’t working. In third period some kid said a cuss word under his breath, and I just let it slide, so now he’s testing me to see what else he can get away with. I’m too tired to stay at school until seven, so I don’t have time to post all my notes onto google docs like I had planned. I realize that the school year is going to be just as chaotic and messy as it always is, and I feel frustrated.
This is exactly what happens to me when I try to write a novel. Although I’ve completed two YA novels (both of them were terrible and shall never see the light of day), I’ve also started about fifty different novels that I abandoned fifty or a hundred pages in. I always start a novel with great gusto, imagining that this time everything is going to go smoothly. But, after a hundred pages, I realize that the characters aren’t shaping up and I’m confused about the plot and some of my descriptions are really cliché and basically I hate the whole thing. I get frustrated and think, “I need to just start over,” and that’s what I do. I come up with some new concept and write a hundred pages before giving up on it, too.
It’s a very bad routine, and I’m doing it again. I’m 80 pages into the novel that I’ve been working on, and already I’m frustrated, and I think, “I should try something else.” Ironically, this is exactly what my teacher warned us about today in my writing class. He equated writing to doing renovation on your house. It’s going to go through a really ugly, messy stage and take a long time and be really annoying. It won’t look anything like the way you imagined until the very end, so you can’t expect perfection at the beginning. You have to just keep going despite the frustration. He then abandoned the renovation metaphor and referred to the first draft as the “vomit draft.”
I guess the thing about teaching was that I was forced to continue, despite the vomit. About three-weeks in, I’d realize my lessons were never going to be perfect and my files were going to be messy and sometimes my students were going to cuss in class, but I didn’t have the option of starting over. I couldn’t swap out my students for a whole new batch (although, believe me, I fantasized about that sometimes.) I had to just keep on going with what I had and do the best I could. There were good days and bad days, and by the end of the each year, I was so exhausted I could cry, but some of the kids learned, and I suppose that’s what matters.
The problem with writing, especially right now when I don’t have any deadlines or restrictions except those I’ve imposed on myself, is that there’s the temptation to start over. There’s the temptation to say, “this is hard and frustrating and imperfect, and I think it would be better/easier/more fun if I started over and did something else.”
I hesitate to admit it, but today I worked on a new project. I know. It’s going against everyone’s advice, including my own. I’m like a middle aged man who’s dumping his wife and getting some new girlfriend half his age. But, I didn’t just throw out my old novel. What I’ve decided to do is that I’m going to allow myself to work on this new idea (which, of course, I’m currently very excited about), but I’m also going to force myself to continue writing on the old vomit draft, even if it’s just one or two pages a day. That way, when I get to page 80 with the newbie and decide that I hate it, I’ll have made some snail-like progress on the old one, and maybe I’ll be ready to give it a more fair chance.
That’s what I’m doing. Feel free to admonish me.
P.S. I finished reading How I Became a Famous Novelist, and I recommend it to all! Hilarious. Now I’m re-reading Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior, which I also recommend, but only if you like disturbing stories that are expertly written.