Two days ago, I finished writing the first draft of a medieval novel that I started almost ten years ago. What’s really ironic is that most of the writing occurred in the last six months.
After a decade of missing endless self-inflicted deadlines, boring family and friends, and having the main character whisper in my ear and bug me relentlessly to finish her book, I started making public goals. Beginning in fall 2014,
- it became my academic personal goal at work to have it finished by June 30.
- it became my Write For the Money monthly goal at my local romance writers’ chapter.
- it became my Write A Book goal for the same writing group.
- it became my Finish the Damn Book goal for the Capital City Writers Association group, of which I became a member this past winter.
- it became my oh-my-god-what-have-I-done goal once I told an agent in January who was disappointed to hear it wasn’t already finished, and who asked, “So, by the time I read your query and get back to you, it’ll be finished?” and where I said, “Yes.” As of this date, I haven’t heard back from her. Typically, we writers prefer quicker responses, but in this case, I was fine with the slow response time.
And then it happened. I was so close to THE END, I had to get there.
These past two weeks, I’ve been on vacation and I thought, perfect! There’s no reason whatsoever why I can’t get these last 20 pages or so written.
The first week, I added a couple thousand words, thanks to the bi-weekly write-ins I attend. I was encouraged, too, by fellow chapter members who are on our monthly NaNoWrMo online loop. Their confidence propelled me forward.
I was frustrated going into the second week of my vacation not having done more, but I felt good in all the various tasks, projects, and catching up with friends and relatives I don’t get to see during the semesters much. I was caught up on those tasks.
As the days of the second week crept by, I knew I was setting myself up for disappoint if something didn’t change.
Wednesday night at the write-in, I added another 1000 words, but it wasn’t enough.
Thursday, from 12-2 p.m., I wrote almost 3,000 words, adding 11 pages of manuscript. I still had a long way to go to the end, considering the monthly chapter meeting was Saturday, and I knew there was no way that I wanted to get even early so that I could finish. The good news was, I had bits and pieces of scenes already written but they needed bridges between them. That chore, I figured, would require at least another 10 pages if not 15 or 20.
Each night, I was recording my progress to these various groups. Two friends in particular were holding my feet to the fire. Maris Soule expected it to be done by Friday, when I was going to visit her. Alyssa Alexander, especially, was cheering me on, telling me I could do it.
Friday, I spent part of the day with Maris, celebrating her birthday with lunch and a river cruise, coming home tired and a little sunburned but knowing I had to finish the book.
Home at 3 p.m., I began. By 7 p.m., I was exhausted. I had added a lot, but when I looked at what was still needed, I thought, I can’t. I’m not going to meet my goal. I need to stop. I’m tired. I’m just going to have to say, nope, I didn’t make my goal at the chapter meeting.
And then, in my mind’s eye, I saw Maris and Alyssa’s faces hearing that news and feeling my own disappoint in saying those words.
The little voice within, the one I’ve learned to listen and trust, started chirping at me: You can do this. Gut it out. Just do it!
And gut it out I did. Already exhausted, I stayed in that chair, typing faster and faster, fully engaged in a stream-of-conscious writing, digging deep into the soul of this character from whom the words were pouring.
I ignored whether I was using the right tense, whether the sentence has clarity, and if I was using the most correct word. In a few places where I struggled, I simply put XXX and added a few reminder words, followed by another XXX. These XXXs are easy for me to later find and go back and fix the problem, which often is more plot or consistency related. There are probably 50 such problems throughout the manuscript already, but I’ve learned not to edit when laying down that first draft. Often finishing the draft resolves many of those issues, so they become easy fixes later.
I kept moving forward.
I gutted it out.
And then it happened. I reached THE END. Ecstasy!
I looked at the clock: 9:30 p.m. I was starving, having forgotten to eat. I printed the pages, three-whole punched them, and placed them into the sacred notebook that holds these draft pages, which I carry around with me everywhere, and from which I edit.
Gutting it out is what I did when writing my last two romances, one of which the first draft took me only eight days to write after completing a full outline. Gutting it out is what I did when making life changes and leaving unhappy marriages and moving into the unknown futures. Gutting it out is what I did while working on my dissertation when my sister died and my mother began having more health issues that required my involvement. Gutting it out is what I did when needing to finish my dissertation so I could graduate on time.
Gutting it out. It’s a goal completer. At least it’s my goal completer and the best way for me to finish amazing goals.
Yes, gutting it out is a sacrifice of energy, time, and even relationships, but these goals are MY goals. No one else’s.
I derive great strength in knowing I’ve gutted my way through the pain and came out the other side triumph. Successful. And loving what I do.
Gutting it out is not easily seen, but it is thoroughly experienced by those who do what needs to be done, what needs to be completed, so that it can become part of the past as another stair step that lifts us into our futures.