National Novel Writing Month 2002! (Part 3: Polishing)

Emotional anguish on a daily basis, just for you.

This journal is done. Finally.

Monday, 09/02/2004: 105,953 words – Housekeeping

Let’s recap: In November 2002, I wrote a novel. In March-April 2003, I edited it and then sent it to friends and family for comments. Due to various mishaps (including writing a second novel in November 2003), I wasn’t able to take in account all those comments to re-write and polish the manuscript until right now, February 2004.

And that’s a good thing, really. In the meantime, I’ve had a few ideas, decided that some material had to go and put enough distance between myself and the manuscript to be an even harsher self-editor.

So the process begins anew. Today, before doing anything drastic, I look another look at my assembled files and documentation about the whole project, culled some duplicate material and renamed everything in a tiny common format. Interesting exercise: Since 1999, I’ve got three versions of a script and two drafts of a novel. Now, on to a third draft…

Rockland, ON – 09/02/2004 22:52 EST

Tuesday, 10/02/2004: 105,953 words – Read before you leap.

I have a pretty good idea of where I want to go with this polish; there won’t be radical changes in plot, but a few scenes are to be deleted, a few added, the ending will be slightly altered and most of the work will consist in polishing the prose.

But I still took the day to re-read sections of the novel, trying to jot down impressions, problems and good lines. My first overwhelming impulsion was to think about calling everyone who had to suffer through the book and apologizing for the poor quality of the prose. The plot is fine; it’s the writing that kills the story.

So that’s a starting point.

Rockland, ON – 10/02/2004 23:13 EST

Wednesday, 11/02/2004: 105,953 words – Research

Research can be very specific or generic. The specific stuff (say, the exact date of some historical event) can be solved in seconds by Google queries. The generic stuff (like, oh, the "Austin State of Mind") has to be solved first, and then informs the rest of the writing as it happens.

So I read up on Austin today. Good stuff. It’s actually the city I imagined from the needs of the story. "Ottawa South" indeed.

Rockland, ON – 11/02/2004 20:10 EST

Thursday, 12/02/2004: 98,972 words – The First Cut is Often the Unkindest

Last September, I realized something very unpleasant: Nearly forty-five pages of the novel’s first fifty pages had to be cut. Those "historical flashbacks" were distracting, not very useful and sapped the energy of the novel before it even began. So they had to go.

Today, they went. Sorry to all who commented on it, bully to all who stopped reading the novel during those chapters and special sorry to my sister Karine, who had to line-edit all of this stuff before I decided to cut it.

But don’t worry about the word count: It’ll be back over 100,000 in a jiffy.

Rockland, ON – 12/02/2004 21:15 EST

Saturday, 17/04/2004: 99,778 words – Back in the Saddle

Wow; two months just went by. What happened?

Pick an excuse, any excuse: I’ve been busy, sick, lazy… but while all of that is true, the real answer runs a bit deeper.

Performance anxiety.

This time, I’m not writing for myself, to see if it could be done or if I could beat the Nanowrimo clock. I’m not writing for friends and family, to give them a somewhat-readable manuscript for their own personal enjoyment. I’m writing for a very specific reader at a very specific publishing house, who will decide whether this is worth publishing or not. Hence the nervousness and the procrastination on top of everything else.

It has been a good delay, mind you: I finally locked down a few important replacement scenes and re-thought the entire opening chapter, ditching excitement for plausibility.

Not much overall work today; simply rewrote page one. But I’m back in the game and you know what? Performance anxiety notwithstanding, it feels really good.

Rockland, ON – 17/04/2004 17:34 EST

Sunday, 20/06/2004: 99,913 words – I return. But for how long?

Yup. I’m back. Two pages re-written. Now let’s see if I can keep it up.

Rockland, ON – 20/06/2004 21:53 EST

Monday, 21/06/2004: 99,848 words – Wow! Two days in a row.

Still stuck doing first-pass writing on page 13. Life is not good.

Rockland, ON – 21/06/2004 22:01 EST

Tuesday, 22/06/2004: 100,049 words – Can we call it a quagmire yet?

Still re-writing prologue. Page 15.

Rockland, ON – 22/06/2004 22:04 EST

Tuesday, 23/06/2004: 100,257 words – A bit per day, every day.

Prologue. Still. Page 16. Fortunately, the new sequence of events is rejoining the original one.

Rockland, ON – 23/06/2004 21:58 EST

Wednesday, 24/06/2004: 100,299 words – One down.

Finally out of that first chapter. Was so happy I stopped writing right there.

Rockland, ON – 24/06/2004 21:21 EST

Sunday, 24/06/2004: 102,593 words – First-generation writing; done?

Whew: At the moment, it looks as if I’ve written most of the new material that needed to be inserted at the start of the novel to compensate for the cut scenes. Next up; true polishing. And that’s going to hurt.

Rockland, ON – 27/06/2004 20:33 EST

(Year-long pause)

Monday, 17/01/2005: 102,652 words – Back. I think. Maybe. We’ll see.

Wow. Where did the last year go? Hey, it’s not as if I’ve done nothing: In the above pause, I’ve managed to write a third novel, eighty reviews, three articles and pay off the mortgage. But all of this pales in comparision to the thought of sending off a manuscript to a publisher. So I’m back, and I’m looking at taking advantage of the cold Canadian winter to spend the next few weeks fiddling with the novel. Goodness knows there’s a lot of stuff to fix.

Rockland, ON – 17/01/2005 21:22 EST

Wednesday, 19/01/2005: 102,868 words – Setting the plodding pace of polishing

Another ten little pages of first-pass polishing. Goodness gracious it’s awful.

Rockland, ON – 19/01/2005 21:24 EST

Tuesday, 25/01/2005: 104,290 words – Onward, upward, suckward

Still struggling with the rewritten prologue. Attempts to cut bits and pieces aren’t working very well.

Rockland, ON – 25/01/2005 22:04 EST

(Year-and-a-bit-long pause)

Monday, 01/05/2006: 105,003 words – A surprise finish!

Admit it: You thought I’d given up, didn’t you? Well, I don’t blame you: At times, even I doubted. But I just spent the last four weekends hiding shamefully from this journal’s gaze, finally polishing and fixing the manuscript.

Oh, it’s certainly not perfect. If a good novel is like a beautiful human being, mine is a shambling hulk of a Frankenstein monster: Parts of better stories, patched together with rough thread and a bolt of misplaced energy. The only way you ca
n think it’s an actual human is if you squint real hard, because right now it stumbles forward without grace, grunts a lot and is ugly beyond belief. A slightly more honest appraisal is that it’s a piece of juvenilia that has served its purpose.

But as I watch the laser printer spout the 430-odd pages of the final monstrosity, let me tell you something encouraging: My exasperation at carrying this albatross around has finally exceeded the last remnants of my self esteem: It’s time for this thing to go away to a steely-eyed editor who will judge it for what it is. It’s time for me to kick the story out of the nest and see if it flies. Mostly, it’s also time for me to go on and work on something else. It’s one thing to write and write, but at some point you’ve got to submit.

So off it goes in the mail.

And with this, ladies and gentlemen, I’m done with this novel.

For now, anyway.

Rockland, ON – 01/05/2006 23:59

A special epilogue

Saturday, 2007-01-06: "Non-Publishable"

Well, the hammer fell down.

I received news from the publisher, and the news are not good: Despite somewhat positive comments about the novel’s plot, structure, ideas and awareness of genre protocols, the reading committee felt that the actual writing of the novel wasn’t up to the publisher’s standards: Wooden prose, constant anglicisms, tortured syntax and a lack of style make the manuscript unpalatable to demanding readers. Verdict: "Non-Publishable". Ouch.

Still, I’m taking it relatively well.

  • For one thing, their evaluation is harsh but fair: it even confirms my own impressions about the relative strengths and weaknesses of my work. (May I remind you of a quote from above? The plot is fine; it’s the writing that kills the story.)
  • For another, I knew that the odds were stacked against me from the start: Thinking about selling a first manuscript is pure fantasy, even for non-delusional neophytes. (It’s part of being a beginner: even what you think is good just isn’t good. You can try to sneak something under the table a hope you’re not caught, but they alway sknow better.)
  • Finally, I’m feeling motivated to do even better on my next manuscript: Now that they’ve thrown me a bone on which to gnaw (as in: "Focus your energies on that"), I just want to go out there and improve my stuff.

On the other hand, this rejection pretty much marks the end of the road for this particular novel. Given how I agree that the writing could use a lot of work, I’m not going to send it around to other publishers until it gets heavily re-written, but rather than re-work a five-year-old story, why not re-work the later, better ones?

Hey, it’s a set back but not a defeat. In the grand scheme of things, this rejection is probably a blessing, keeping me from making a fool of myself in front of a paying audience. If you’ve poked around the rest of the site, you already know that I’ve got four other manuscripts, and that I think they’re getting better and better each year. Onward!

Rockland, ON – 2007-01-06 22:00


Last Updated:
January 2007

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