You would think that with my third novel in print and a dozen more sitting in drafts on the shelves behind me that I would pretty much have this writing process thing nailed. How I wish it were true!
I wrote my first novel in Mrs. Fites’ classroom in 4th grade, about 50 years ago. It was a heroic fantasy in which the heroes were two princes and two princesses. Their four kingdoms came together at a common corner where the four young royals would meet, but none could cross the boundary into the other’s kingdom. I gave up on the novel about 20 pages into it, not because I didn’t know the story I wanted to tell, but because I couldn’t distinguish between “princes” and “princess” in my head or on paper. Add “princesses” to the mix and there were too many hissing, sibilant sounds to keep track of, so I had to leave______ blanks wherever any of the words was to appear. Perhaps I thought in the deepest recesses of my mind that if I put the paper away it would magically fill in the blanks on its own.
Spelling is less of a challenge to me today, but getting the right word can often be a real headache. I still find myself occasionally leaving a blank in my manuscript while waiting for my brain to catch up with my fingers and supply just the right word. You can’t wait; you have to keep writing.
Through my involvement in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I’ve met a lot of new writers, many of whom don’t finish their 50,000 words in the month of November for no other reason than they get stuck trying to make the first draft—or maybe even the first page—perfect. That may be one of the most valuable lessons that I learned in my early writings 50 years ago, driven home by my eight years’ participation in NaNoWriMo. Don’t obsess about getting it right—just get it written.
There is no such thing as a perfect first draft. It is much more important to finish your story than to stress out about being perfect. You may plan your story for months in advance, but don’t let research and planning interrupt your writing.
I have loved the stories surrounding Johannes Gutenberg for many years. When I started teaching desktop publishing back in the 80s, I integrated a bit of print history with the keystroke shortcuts. I studied Gutenberg, collected old books and reproductions, and ferreted out information and data using the technology of the day: poring through countless volumes in the public and university libraries. I began speaking to groups about the effect of Gutenberg’s invention as he was frequently called “Man of the Millennium.”Gradually the idea for a mystery thriller began to take shape. So I started compiling my notes. That process took the better part of a year as I filled in information about Gutenberg, drafted descriptions and interviews with my characters, and started compiling peripheral research on historic sites, events over the past 2000 years, and the various legends surrounding lost and hidden manuscripts from Alexandria to the Dead Sea Scrolls to the works of Aristotle and others.
I had just finished what would become my second printed novel (Steven George & The Dragon) when I decided it was time to start writing my new thriller. This time, I would take my time and get it right. Eight months and 45,000 words later, I hated the story that I had called “Gutenberg’s Other Book.” I sent it to the book doctor (Jason Black, http://plottopunctuation.com) and to my wife (also an excellent editor) and their feedback was consistent. I’d strayed too far from my intent. I was too kind to both my villains and my heroes. There was too much backstory. So I put it in a box, did another two months of research, and, on November 1, sat down to write from scratch. The entire 80,000-word novel was completed in just over three weeks. It went through more than a year of re-writes before it won a 2010PNWA Literary Competition award. I decided it was time to get serious.
The next step was to go through the manuscript and fill in the blanks. Now that I knew the story, where things were going, and who my characters were, the right words fell into place for everything except the title. “Gutenberg’s Other Book” no longer fit what the story had become. Nor did it speak of a contemporary thriller. Just before publication, it was renamed The Gutenberg Rubric.
I should mention that “Princes and Princesses” is not dead, though it is unlikely that it will ever be published. While my daughter was in elementary school, we had a bedtime storytelling ritual. Coming up with a new story every night was taxing. Then I remembered my 4th grade writing. I started to tell her the story, chapter by chapter, night after night. As I told it, I wrote it all down. It is in a box of treasures I’ve saved for her.
And it has no blanks.
The Gutenberg Rubric: http://www.gutenbergrubric.com
The Rubricant Blog: http://www.gutenbergrubric.com/blog
Author Central: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B004QVVE1S
Author Info:Nathan Everett
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