Now that I'm neck-deep in the world of books -- a fairly successful (but stumble-filled) self-publishing experience behind me and the launch of my novel, 600 Hours of Edward, with a mainstream publisher just days away -- I'm a bit awed to think back to where I was on the brink of November 2008.
My friend Jim Thomsen had pitched the idea of trying National Novel Writing Month together, to see if either or both of us could finally break through and write the novels we had always talked about writing. I spent a couple of days before the event conceiving a story and writing a very loose outline of where I wanted it to go. In hindsight, I trace my success in finishing to that outline, crude as it was. I've been a journalist for more than 20 years, and thus most of my writing had never ventured far beyond 1,500 words. The idea of setting down 80,000 or so seemed preposterous. The outline, which I'd never attempted before, served as my trail of breadcrumbs through the woods.
I knew I would be writing quickly, and so I came up with a character (Edward Stanton) stricken with Asperger syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder, whose heavily regimented life revolved around a few key touchstones (his love of the old color episodes of the ’60s cop show Dragnet and his compulsion to record weather data and daily waking times and to write nightly letters of complaint that never get sent). Those habits, which would show up chapter after chapter, gave me a framework, and I built a story arc in the spaces in between.
On Nov. 1, 2008, I started writing. On Nov. 24 -- 79,000 words later -- I finished. I can revisit my stats page at the NaNoWriMo site now and see just how maniacal I was. On Day One, I set down nearly 6,000 words. I then took a couple of days off. I doubled my total on Day 4 and then rested again. After that, I settled into a rhythm of 3,000-plus words a day. On Day 22, I wrote more than 9,000, shooting from 63,000 to 72,000 and bringing the end within view.
When I returned to the manuscript a couple of weeks after finishing, I didn't hate it. So I spent December and into January editing and recasting. Because Edward, my protagonist, is such an exacting fellow and so beholden to patterns, I took a hammer to every florid phrase and recast it in his flat, matter-of-fact voice. I winced at the loss of some nice turns of phrase, but in sum, the story improved.
Still, I wasn't quite sure if it was any good. I decided, then, to simply publish it myself through CreateSpace (the low cost of entry and the access to Amazon were big selling points). I figured that I had written a novel, that if nothing else my circle of friends might enjoy it, and that I would dip a toe into publishing.
That decision -- so naive, so dumb and so simple-minded -- changed the way I came to view my prospects as an author and as an independent publisher. More on that in the next installment.
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