The first draft of Rhubarb is in the can. It’s 100,243 words long and took 53 days, starting from November 1.
So where to I go from here?
First, I do a quick read-through. I copy edit what I’m capable of catching, but mostly I make sure it says what I meant it to say. Then I pass it on to my (to quote NYT technology columnist David Pogue) “AMAAAAAZING” wife Julie. She will copy edit the crap out of it, and make notes. Then the fun starts. Second, I revise. Depending on Julie’s comments and my own feelings after a few days away from the document, the revisions might be huge, minor, or both. Third, more editing and revising. Fourth, some editing. Fifth, some revising…you get the idea. At some point in the process, Julie wants to read it out loud to the kids. (It’s rated PG, maybe PG-13 for violence involving aliens, and mild language.)
So what have I learned from this book and this NaNoWriMo experience?
1) Have a plan. I’d had the general story in my head for a while, but I took a couple of weeks in October to outline the plot, figure out arcs and pacing, flesh out the characters, and work out the technical details. It doesn’t matter that the book ended up bearing only a passing resemblance to the outline. That thinking, that starting place, was indispensible.
2) Have strategies. As I veered wildly from the outline, I often found myself in un-navigated plot waters. I used to bang my head on my keyboard, cry angst, and release the dogs of woe. Now I take the advice of my copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide: Don’t Panic. I plop down somewhere comfortable with my notebooks, note cards, Excel spreadsheet, and a hot beverage. I might take a long bath or shower (again taking the advice of Douglas Adams). I’ve taken naps, draw maps or schematics, written academic style papers, whatever it takes to get over the speed bump. But I’ve had to learn these strategies through much torment. It’s good to have a whole arsenal of tools at the ready.
3) Know when to write. I’ve tried not to be a rigid writer. I eschew rituals and spaces set exactly so. Since I do a lot of my writing out of my office, I have to be flexible. But I’ve come to the realization that I work best in the afternoons and evenings. Writing before noon feels like slogging through cold, moldy oatmeal. Whereas if I shut my door at 7 p.m. and put on music, I will be startled at 10:47 by my poor wife, desperate to sleep after I’ve been rattling her floor with my sub-woofer for hours. Some evenings, Julie’s found me legitimately disoriented to find myself at home, and not baking rhubarb pie in a double-wide trailer home in rural Montana. This is called flow, and I’m convinced it’s why writing is so addictive.
4) Know when to have fun. I tend to be obsessed with the details, which I suppose is a decent quality for a sci-fi author, but it can often bog me down. Even if it doesn’t all make it onto the page, I want to know how the world works. Is there a plausible scientific explanation anything and everything? It’s easy for me to get lost in research, even for the most trivial things, such as the volume needed to produce vat-grown beef tissue on a space station, probabilities of genetic disease occurrence, whether there’s a Hooters in Bozeman, or even (for Rhubarb specifically) types of nuts and bolts. I took another bit from Douglas Adams to heart for this book. When Arthur Dent is asked about the Heart of Gold Infinite Improbability Drive, he says, “Don’t ask me how it works or I’ll start to whimper.” It’s a freeing philosophy.
And finally, I can’t wait for rhubarb season to try my hand at baking the best rhubarb pie in the universe. I hope my mother-in-law, the original baker of such things, doesn’t mind.