Fixing the blank page

I finished writing the draft of my first book late last night, around 12:30 am.

I say “first book” not to be unbearably pretentious, but because I’m following the advice of folks like this guy, who suggest that you start writing your next, better book just as soon as you are done with your last book.

So, after a little much-deserved fist-pumping and balloon releasing and looking around for the confetti-filled pinata for me to whallop, I announced my minor achievement on Facebook and Twitter, then opened up a new file and wrote the first 300 words of my next, better book.

In about a week, I’ll open up the manuscript I just completed and start revising. In the meantime, I’m playing around with what happens when one of my favorite secondary characters from the first story gets his own turn in the spotlight.

It’s pretty fun to be just improvising plot and character again, after several months of rather doggedly pursuing the completion of this other storyline. The new story will eventually crystallize and become its own set, linear path, but for now it’s just play.

I don’t want to downplay the amount of relief and excitement I am feeling from having completed my first novel-length manuscript. Because it’s huge.

But it’s only a draft, and it is going to take some editing and revising to make it into what I might consider a “book.”

But, oh my stars and garters, it is so much easier to fix a bad page than to fix a blank page. And I have really been looking forward to having all 90,000 of my favorite words all together in one place, having finally squeezed every last one of them out of the toothpaste tube of my brain and into my computer, where I can properly bash them around together like little toy soldiers.

My friend Melissa — who has been rooting for me persistently to finish and listening compassionately to my draft chapters and thinking through my plot holes with me throughout the whole process — she says that what I am doing is taking my Barbie and Ken dolls and smacking them up against each other and making them say what I want them to say. Which is kind of true.

Except that I never had Barbie and Ken dolls. I had Snoopy dolls. But I did used to bash them up against each other and make them say silly things to each other, too.

But coming up with amusing little anecdotes and scenes and situations, I have found, is quite a different thing altogether from drawing a clear, bright thread of a story through an entire novel, and making it work, and making it something anybody actually cares about.

So that’s the next step. Grabbing that bright, red thread and making sure it’s properly woven through all the bits and pieces I’ve sewn together in that manuscript of mine.

But first, I get to spend a week just playing. With my secondary character who is now a hero in his own right, not just the first book’s hero’s younger brother. With a short story I’ve been fiddling with in the back of my mind. With the folks who love Downton Abbey, and the glory that is period drama actors on Twitter (Cousin Matthew, Mr. Bates, and Lord Grantham, to name a few).

In honor of this week of play, I have a few toys for you. I hope you enjoy them, and that you, too, experience the joy of finishing the massive, ambitious, incredible project you’ve got brewing on the stove.

Because this? This feels awesome.


Toys for you to play with:

Build Your Own Regency Hero Dress-up Doll

Regency Name Generator

More Names of the Nobility Than You Can Shake a Scepter At

My photo album of The Day I Finished My First Book-Length Manuscript:

Twitter Status: Done.

Twitter Response

Facebook Status: Done

Last day's writing perch

Fairfax

Inappropriate Thoughts

Cold writer

February is the swoonest month

January is almost halfway over! And while that’s certainly exciting from a pay-period point of view (here comes the 15th!), what’s infinitely more interesting to me about it is that it means we are just two weeks away from February.

Who cares about February, you ask? Dratted old month, with its school vacations and its societal pressure to conform to a hetero-normative, monogamous relationship model of love…

Well, yes, all of this is still true.

But I have always been fond of February. For one thing, it is blessedly short. It’s such a neat and tidy little span of four weeks, and I honestly wish all months could have such lovely pressed and folded edges. No sloppy oozing over into five Saturdays for February, oh no no! February knows its place and keeps to its station. Love that in a month.

I tire of January very quickly. It always seems like the watery gruel served after all the rich food of the holidays. Yes, of course we all overdid it in December, and nobody wants to eat and celebrate like that all year long, but January is so damned self-righteous about it all, with its New Year Resolutions, rampant dieting and fitness plans, ruthless taking down of decorations, and getting back to the daily work of living of it all.

But then February comes along, and all of a sudden we are allowed to like cheap chocolate and dinners out again. Such a relief.

And of course this year, February means that it’s almost time to go back to London, as Melissa and I head back to Blighty in early March for the superb-sounding Threads of Feeling exhibit, a night at the Old Vic, scones and tea in Bath, and at least one crafty/writery tweet-up at the V&A.

But before we race ahead to the first week in March, and all of its attendant delights, there’s February waiting to beguile us with her many charms.

One February-focused thing to look forward to is a little project put together by the altogether delightful Erin Blakemore of The Heroine’s Bookshelf called Heroine Love. Erin wrote the book on literary heroines, a splendid and life-enhancing tome called The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and if you haven’t purchased and read it yet, I suggest that you do so immediately.

I suggest this to you in the strongest possible terms.

This will prepare you all the better for the literary fun to come in February, when Erin hosts Heroine Love at her blog.  Erin and twelve other bloggers — including me! — will each be celebrating our love of literature’s greatest heroines through a series of love letters to the women who changed our reading lives. Starting February 1, a different blogger will post a paean to her favorite literary heroine on The Heroine’s Bookshelf. At the end of Heroine Love, we’ll draw winners for a truly swoony collection of related books, artwork, and trinkets.

Check out the sexy animated gif in the sidebar of this blog (look! over to the right!) to get a sneak peek into some of the heroines we’ll be profiling.

And yes, my post will be about that greatest of literary heroines (to my mind at least), Jane Eyre. Look for it in the first week of Heroine Love.

In the meantime, you’d better start getting ready for February by eating at least a little cheap chocolate. Just to keep your spirits up, you understand.