Write drunk; edit sober

My writing partner got a freelance gig writing listicles for a momblog. I think she’ll be great before too long. That she’s writing at all is a bit of a surprise to me, but I’m happy to see that mommyhood hasn’t driven it entirely out of her.

This helps me out because it means the resumption of our meetings. We used to meet weekly but I think this year, the year of her becoming a mom, we met twice or maybe three times. If you’ve ever been in a workshop-style writing class, you know there’s pressure to produce, and having a good writing partner with whom you meet regularly works similarly.

The thing I’ve been working on for a million years is back in hibernation. I will get back to it but I need to learn a few things first, such as plot development. This was the focus of my NaNoWriMo project last month, and it turns out I might have a decent idea, one that could be a real novel.

So it’s what I’m working on right now. I’m sparing my writing partner the entire manuscript as it came out of my fingers in November, and sending her instead selected edits of the work in its presumed order. Once we get through the skeleton together, from crown to tarsals, if I still feel this way, I’ll go in and put some flesh on the bones.

I have to say I’m encouraged by the work so far. It doesn’t suck. My main character needs better definition — I made decisions about him on the fly, and of course they weren’t always consistent. He’s a lousy student in the first semester of his senior year but pretty diligent in the second. That’s pretty much how I was in my senior year but I didn’t take time to develop it well — had to keep my story moving!

What surprised me is how a certain theme emerged as I wrote, a theme about how people make up after major fallings-out. I didn’t plan it, but the main character falls out with three important sub-characters: his best platonic girl friend, his father, and a girl he sorta dates.

It’s the kind of thing I’ve been striving for in my other long projects, a book not about the major story arc but about some truth. The first Harry Potter book, for instance, is a book about a boy who discovers he’s a wizard with a mortal enemy. But one could say it’s really a book about alienation and redemption, or about the power of friendship.

That “what it’s really about” has been evasive in my other work, and I can’t figure out why. I’ve been trying to get there with every stalled novel (and there have been many). This one kind of happened organically — I didn’t even realize it was emerging until I got to the point in November where I knew I had to tie up loose ends. That end needed tying, and so did that one, and hey look, they kind of go with this other thing that happened early in the story.

Because here’s the thing. I don’t hug books, but I know book-lovers who do. They don’t hug them all; they hug the special ones. When eventually someone I don’t know reads my book, I want it to be a book the book-huggers hug. Those Wayside School books by Louis Sachar are excellent, and super super popular. But dammit, I want to write Holes.

I’ve been audacious enough to say I want to write a Newbery winner. I do. And it’s a stupid thing to say, of course. But I say it to remind myself that publication isn’t the goal. That book-hug is the goal.

I asked my writing partner to be straight after she read the first few chapters. Is this the beginning of a book someone might read? Does it read like someone who knows how to write? A stupid question — I know I can write. I just, I just know my own voice so well now that I can’t tell if it sounds like a writer or if it just sounds like me. Maybe that’s actually what a writer should feel like, utterly unimpressed with his own voice.

Anyway she said yes. If I wasn’t so vulnerable in the moment I would have said, “Yeah, but what do you know? You’re just a momblogger.” Instead I just took it, and I’m hanging on to it for 2020.

This week I’m going to prepare the next set of chapters for her to look at. We meet in the second week of the new year. I did a fast skim, and yikes. It’s not nearly as good as the stuff she’s already seen. The middle two weeks of the month were a struggle as I tried to figure out what the heck I was telling, and if I decide to flesh this story out they are going to be the biggest challenge, I think.

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