Sunday, June 19, 2016

Writing a Novel, Running a Marathon, and Advice from Dory

Having recently entered five novels into the 2016 William Faulkner - William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition in mid-May, I was determined to start a new novel in June and then run a third marathon in August.  Last year one of my novels was a finalist for their 2015 contest, one of four novels that have been finalist or short-list finalist for Faulkner-Wisdom Novel Competition.

After a marathon performance of rewriting those same four novels for this year’s contest, plus adding a fifth novel that I adapted from a screenplay, I was determined not to let up.  I’m not getting any younger.  I was equally determined two years ago to run my first marathon (for the same reason).  My wife told me I was crazy.  So I ran a second marathon last year to prove that I was crazy.

I admit rewriting five novels back to back is extremely crazy, but what to do?  I want to win and I want all five novels published and when it comes to fiction there’s always seems to be room for improve­ment.  But after all of that editing and rewriting (1,568 pages since I went through each novel twice, so it’s actually 3,136 pages that I also read out loud), and then to start in on a sixth novel so quickly?  That’s just plain insane. 

Okay, I did take two weeks off to write to some agents and to rewrite some short stories….But I was itching to start on that new novel.  Fortunately, I wasn’t starting cold, which can be daunting.  For two years I had been keeping notes and have about 200 notebook pages, plus a pile of loose notes that I’m now typing up and tossing into four sections:  Part I, Part II, Part III and Not Sure Where the Hell it Goes.  Hopefully, I’ll figure out that last section later…

Writing a novel, by the way, is like running a marathon.  First you have to show up at the starting line raring to go...after mentally and physically preparing yourself for the insanity.  Once you show up, you got a fifty-fifty chance of completing it so long as you follow Dory’s advice from Finding Nemo and also Finding Dory, “Keep on swimming.  Keep on swimming.”  Unlike a marathon which you can complete in several hours, you got to show up at the starting line of your novel in front of your computer day after day, week after week, month after month. 

That often means gluing your butt to the chair so you won’t get up every five minutes to look for a distrac­tion.  Besides you got plenty of distractions in front of you – the Internet, email, social media, not to mention all those other temptations a click or two away, like checking your likes or messages on your phone.

Once you complete that first draft, regardless of how bad or good you think it is, you have to do the same for the second draft, so “Keep on writing.  Keep on writing,” though mostly you’re rewriting….Writing a second draft often feels like running a second marathon right after you finished the first, regardless if you’re too tired, not in the mood or still suffering from cramps.  I waited a whole year to run my second marathon, so I know what that feels like.  By the way, no matter how many marathons you run, you still got to cover 26 miles and 385 yards or 42.195 kilometers or in other words,you got to "Keep on running.  Keep on running."  Being familiar with the landscape does help.  This also applies to writing that second draft.

Still, you got to keep showing up at the starting line as you plow your way through it, mile after mile, chapter after chapter.  The third draft feels like a half-marathon since you can reach the finish line a lot quicker assuming you put the hard work into the previous two drafts.  Slop­pi­ness and shortcuts will only slow you down in the long run.

Unfortunately you’ll probably need a fourth and a fifth draft (and a whole lot more races to run) to get the novel cleaned up and whipped into shape, so “Keep on re­writing.  Keep on rewriting.”   

Before you know it, you can see the finish line ahead of you.  Now you can start entering it into contests to see how it stacks up to the competition.  If you’re not making it to the semi-finals nor the finals, you got a lot more work ahead of you, so hold off before you submit it to agents let alone publishers.  Later, after you polish it up and after others have read or edited it, you can always self-publish it yourself if only to test the mar­ket and to prove to yourself and friends (and major publishers) that you have a novel that’s worth looking into. 

By then, you’ll no doubt have other ideas and plenty of notes for future novels that you’ll be eager to start on.  You know the mantra.  You suck it up and just like Dory, “Keep on swimming.  Keep on swim­ming” until you arrive.

Here's is the link to my third marathon (2016 Kuching Marathon)

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