Adam Reger | Pittsburgh Writer, Editor, and Teacher

Pittsburgh writer, editor, ghostwriter, and teacher.

Month: May, 2011

First Draft: Done

Well, friends, this morning I finished the last remaining scene of the novel I’ve been working on since some time in January. (I don’t know offhand how long this took, but based on this blog post I’d guess I started around mid-January, and was definitely at work outlining the novel by then. Four to four-and-a-half months is pretty good, in my experience.)

I’m very lucky to be leaving, later today, for a long period of travel: Germany, then Italy, then Las Vegas. Lucky to be going at all, of course, but in particular I’m lucky to have a natural break come up, to not even have the option of peeking at this draft for almost two weeks. Further, I won’t be able to do more than some intermittent, notebook-in-coffee-shop(-or-beer-hall, as the case may be) writing during this time; in the past I’ve hamstrung myself a bit by starting other stuff during my “cooling off” period just after finishing a draft, and coming back to these messy drafts a little less interested and enthusiastic.

In terms of interest and enthusiasm, I’m still excited about the novel’s potential. It’s way too long (it’s somewhere around 115,000 words, which comes out to something like 400–450 pages), and a lot of the scenes will need to be made more scene-like. It’s full of places where I wrote notes in brackets like “[what is friend’s name?]” or “[confirm this later].” Sometimes I thought I had a great handle on the characters, they surprised me, and at others I felt I’d completely lost the thread.

But that’s the nature of writing a novel. Even if you hate Ernest Hemingway’s work, if you’re a writer you should appreciate his two semi-famous quotes (i.e., famous among writers and writing students) on first drafts: “The first draft of anything is shit”; and “The important thing about a first draft is finishing the damn thing.”

Apologies for the noodling, barely-veiled-triumphalist feel to this blog post (especially as it’s likely to be the last one for a while). One further note, towards making this post interesting and useful to anyone else, is that (as mentioned here, at the outset of the novel) I used Randy Ingermanson’s “Snowflake Method” of novel outlining, and it was really pretty helpful. The chronic problems of aimlessness and compulsory-feeling workdays didn’t disappear, but they were contained within each scene: I could make a character stare out a window, thinking, for a few paragraphs, but I knew that eventually he had to start walking again and proceed to point B. That was a big help in limiting the number of scenes that are themselves completely gratuitous and static (though given the length of this draft, I’m sure there are some of those, too). I had my reservations towards the Snowflake Method going in, but I found the questions it raised useful, and I expect a lot of the materials I generated—character sketches, brief and less-brief distillations of the novel’s overall trajectory—will be useful to refer back to, and probably amend, as I begin the long process of revision.

Marathon Looms

No looking back, no backing out now: the Pittsburgh Marathon is in six days, and I am in the chute. I’m looking forward to it, and ready, though I could be readier.

It’s been a weirdly anticlimactic last three weeks of training. I did my 18-mile run, and on the following Thursday’s 10-miler started to have lots of pain in my right knee. I finished that run and then began resting my knee, diagnosing myself with runner’s knee, a common enough overuse injury. I did a long run the next weekend of 8 miles, stopping when I felt twingeing in the knee, and that following Thursday I did 7 out of the prescribed 10 miles. Where I really lagged behind was in doing 12, the following Sunday, instead of the prescribed 20.

Since then I’ve actually gotten mostly back on track. The downside is that by the time my knee felt better, I was into the tapering part of my training schedule. In other words, I skipped the really long training run, and my 18-miler, now almost a month ago, will go on record as my longest training run. It would be worse if I hadn’t run marathons before, but I feel less than fully prepared. I’m not sure what else I could have done in this situation, though.

On the positive side, though, my legs feel strong and ready to run, and I’m looking forward to the race in a way I really didn’t in the lead-up to the Philly Marathon, which when it rolled around found me with tired, aching legs. I’m hoping that fresh legs outweigh the lack of doing a super-long training run. I’ve done some good cross-training this time around, and feel really good about setting a new personal best, ideally by dropping another ten or more minutes off my Philly time (4:01 or 4:02; I don’t remember it except to note that I would’ve broken four hours if it weren’t for the “.2” part of “26.2”).

On the angry post-rejection e-mail

I’ve never done it. Roxane Gay, editor of PANK, makes me glad I’ve resisted. Great piece that helps to put things in perspective. I’m simultaneously surprised to hear so many writers do this, and also not at all surprised. I recently strongly considered writing back to a journal, “Are you sure?” But that came more from a spirit of joking and wanting to see what, if anything, the editor would say, than from anger. Tucked within the piece is a lot of great, necessary advice for writers on how to deal with rejection. At one point, Gay cites her own rejection rate in Duotrope as being up around 78%. She makes her own point about it, but my first reaction was something like jealousy: surely mine is somewhere in the nineties. Point being, you’re succeeding as a writer if only eight out of ten submissions are rejected. As Gay notes, that’s just the nature of the game. The sooner you acclimate yourself to that, and make rejection the expected outcome of submitting, the better off you will be.

Update: Probably could have seen this coming, but the comments section under the above-referenced blog post has turned into something of a shit show, as they say. The person whose angry post-rejection e-mail to Roxane inspired the post has stepped forward in comments—though not really, as he’s writing under the name “Donny”—to reiterate his points. Which as you might guess, are pretty insipid. Read it if you like car wrecks and that sort of thing. I haven’t seen the comparison show up yet in the comments section, but the whole thing reminds me of this authorial flip-out, which I pontificated on here.