Saturday, October 8, 2011

Getting Near the End

I went away to a lovely little house on the Russian River last week so I could get some writing done, and ended up with forty-eight pages and 13,000 words, which means I'm about seventy pages from the end.

For the most part, the next seventy pages will be some of the easiest writing of the entire draft. I've got very few notes from my draft two read-through, which means I'm just typing, adding in some layering, some deeper understandings of the characters and the imagery of the novel that have developed during the writing of the third draft. With the exception of one sequence of scenes (which I've mapped out so thoroughly at this point), I won't be writing large chunks of new text. Although, I've said that before and found myself writing LOTS of new text in this draft. In a strange way, draft three is the same as the previous draft, and in some ways, it's radically different.

On Facebook, I'm inundating my friends with updates about how many pages I've written, and my frustrations with interruptions (I returned to a remodel in one of our neighbor's houses) and just fitting my life in when my mind is perpetually elsewhere. At this point, Altar is officially the longest thing I've ever written and the longest I've ever spent writing something. One of my friends asked me what I'm going to do after it's done, and I jokingly said, "Go to Disneyland." To which she replied, "That's not a bad idea." I know. I feel it starting already. Though there will be editing to do when (fingers crossed) the novel gets taken by an agent and bought by an editor, it will not occupy me in the same way the writing does. I will not live with my characters in the way I do now. For one thing, I will have moved on to the next project by the time that comes about, for another, I won't have to be living so deeply in the story.

So what does it feel like right now? Fluid. Very fluid. I feel a lightness, an ease not only in my mind, but in my body. I am smiling a lot these days. For the most part, small annoyances (like rude drivers) don't stick with me. I get cranky when I can't get to the words (like earlier this week - re-entry was rough with a long list of things that had piled up while I was away. I still haven't worked my way through all of it), I get cranky with my family when they ask to borrow my time for things that were completely avoidable (aka: when the kids call because they've forgotten something at home that they need for school ASAP), and I get cranky when the hammering starts up in the remodel and interrupts my flow of words.

I am posting word totals to Facebook because that is truly what is going on in my life right now. Words. On the page. The story flowing forward in such a beautiful and profound way it's almost like it's not even me writing it at times. It seems to come through me rather than from me. And that is when writing is at its best. There is a tension building as I write ever closer to the final words, as I write towards some of my favorite scenes in the entire book, as I envision myself staring at the computer screen and hearing the printer churn out page after page of the completed manuscript.

I think what surprises me most is how easy it has been to follow this story to this conclusive moment. Over the years, I've heard of writers who spend decades on a single novel and wondered how they could do that, how they could maintain the focus, how they could not drive themselves mad with all the other ideas they weren't getting to. The answer turns out to be that it's surprisingly simple when the idea, the characters, the way the story develops continues to surprise you, to delight you, to reward your attention by getting better and deeper. It hasn't been easy. I have put this story down many times. It started as a 25-page short story in 1999. It grew into a novella a couple of years later. Three years ago, it turned into a full-fledged novel, and here I am, at last, reaching out for the end.

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