Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Anatomy of the 72-hr Novel, Part Two

...wherein we discuss the dangers of the 72-hr writing marathon: the top 10 list. Bear in mind: this is just my own personal experience, and timing was everything.

10. I do more stupid stuff than usual, and that's saying something! I can't recall all the dumb things I did, but one stands out in my mind. I wobbled into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, and I started talking to someone. During the conversation, I put the grounds in the coffee press, poured in the water from the kettle, waited the requisite amount of time, pressed the plunger all the way down and poured the coffee. I offered it to my new friend, so she could have a sample before I downed the rest of it. "Smells good," she said, "except it's cold." Hadn't even remembered to turn the kettle on first. Good thing I let her drink it first!

9. Flashbacks. Writing that book was such an intense emotional experience that it became very, very real to me. I would be walking across a street, and I would suddenly be surprised that there was a street there. I'd lapse into silence for long stretches, staring off into the distance, even in the middle of a conversation. Music would trigger flashbacks. Snippets of conversation would trigger flashbacks. I had been there, in that world, and at the end of the 72-hrs, I had culture-shock in my own world.

8. Jumping the gun. When you're still glowing about the whole process - and the product - you may be inclined to believe it's the best thing you've ever written. (For the record, it still remains the best first draft of anything I've ever written). I jumped the gun once because I'd sent off the second draft to Verna before letting my first readers attack it - and now that I'm working on draft 4, I've had to ask her to recycle the manuscript I'd mailed her. And - speaking of jumping the gun: a follow up to a previous post! You remember the publishing house that remembered my name? They asked for more material! It's only been three weeks! And same thing again - they have draft 1.2, and I'm still finishing 1.4 - so I have to send them the first few pages again.

7. And why, pray tell, have I worked on so many drafts? Sequel-itis! Sheer momentum thrust me into sequel (8 days, and there's the sequel, such as it is). But because I know now where the trilology is going (yep...trilogy...November is my next vacation.) But stuff you do in later books means you have to go back to earlier books to add in vital clues or change the way people look or act or whatever. And from sequelitis, you get...

6. Edit-itis. It's when you just can't stop picking at the manuscript(s), and it occupies your every waking thought! You just can't let it go. You send off your mansucript to multiple first readers, fretting about every comment, kicking yourself for the little errors you've made - and this is the final stage of...

5. The fall from grace. Shortly after I came back from the marathon, my very good friend and role model Mady Virgona bought me a copy of Ian McEwan's Amsterdam. It had a very grounding influence. It's about two main characters who think far too much of themselves, including a "great" composer who, in his attempt to create an original melody, spends every waking moment indulging in and obsessing over his work - *spoiler alert* and his "masterpiece" ends up being a great big piece of crap. Amsterdam, plus some much needed feedback from my first readers, made my euphoria go away, leaving me very much adrift. It was not the inspired work of awesomeness I'd thought it was. The book became just another manuscript to work on - another unpaid job. I was starting to see the flaws, and I was losing the manic joy that had propelled me through the first two books.

4. Disruption of one's normal routine. That's a soft way of saying I was reluctant to socialize, and I kept forgetting to brush my teeth, shower and/or wash the dishes. At that point, I had to put everything aside - I had to make the thought of writing or editing unappetizing, in order to dislodge myself from my seat and do something else.

3. Exhaustion. Simply put, by the time I got back to Toronto, I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. That's what you get for writing 55,000 words in 72 hours - especially when you get so wrapped up in the story itself. I was sick for 10 days afterwards, and I had to take time off work to get body and brain together again. I needed to detox.

2. The Blues. Not depression in the clinical sense - it didn't last that long. But it was bad. I would cry at inappropriate times, I couldn't get myself moving, I didn't want to do anything at all (washing dishes, showering, brushing teeth...). But at the same time, there had already been precipitating events at work before my trip to Toronto, during my trip to Toronto - and a killing blow when I returned from Huntsville. It had been just little things, but sometimes, that's all it takes. I started question why I was in that day job at all - I was terrible at it, everyone else was better at it than me, no one appreciated me - blah blah blah. Why should I be working at a job that suddenly revolted me, when I could be doing something I was actually good at - namely writing? Fortunately, I have an awesome boss (Ian Cruickshank) who talked me back from the ledge so well that when I "fell from grace", at least I still had my day job, and I remembered I actually liked it. And it was a bittersweet return, when I was well again. In order for me to return, everything had to change, and I had to set a deadline for myself to get out of the role I'm in.

1. Withdrawl. Would I do it all over again? Yes - absolutely, no question. But from now on, I'm always going to be trying to beat an extreme record, and it will only get harder and harder every time. Anything short of euphoria will be a let down.

But at the same time: I know what to expect now. I'm prepared now. And gosh darn it, now I have an incredible record to beat, and i'm determined to do it.

And best of all, I get to see all those crazy people again! Friendship, camraderie, jokes, laughter, and hope. I was not alone. There were others out there with me, and it was for a good cause. What more could I ask for?

And I know that when I go in there next, the book that comes out with me is not going to be perfect - but darn it...that's not the point.

The 72-hr novel is not a novel at all.

It's a story in itself.

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