Saturday, September 10, 2011

the Project That Must Not Be Named

Jess' note: this post was started a couple of weeks ago, because I was working on a project for my husband's birthday, and couldn't talk to him about it, and not talking to my husband about what I was doing was making me crazy. So I blogged about it, keeping a log of what I was working on. But I couldn't publish the post, because my husband reads my blog.
So, I'm publishing it now, two weeks delayed

I am writing this because not talking about what I'm doing is driving me nuts.
I'm writing my husband a novel for his birthday. Or at least, I am writing my husband a novella for his birthday.
I'm always making things for people with my hands, but it struck me recently: I'm a writer. Instead of a handmade silk-and-alpaca scarf, why not give a novel? The receiver's very own novel, a novel no one has ever read before?
I've only done something like this once before, when I gave my friend Deanna a story for her birthday, a piece of X-Men fan fiction (hey, we were in high school). Deanna, being awesome, took the story and illustrated it, and my gift became this cool, two-person piece of art.
This time is sort of similar, but not because I expect my husband to illustrate the book. It's because he helped to plot it.
When the kids were younger, we used to take long walks every night, with the kids up on our backs or down in a stroller (or both), and one of the things we enjoyed doing on those walks was plotting our own sci-fi story: something swashbuckling and fun, using all of our favorite story-ish things: Sir Percy-ish disguises, Vorkosigan-ish intrigue, and Liaden-ish high romance. It was fun to take those walks and build our impossible story in words.
So when I give my husband a stack of paper with a title page that says, "Julian and Kiana", he'll know exactly what it is. And he'll be very, very surprised.
But is it possible? I had a little less than two weeks when I decided to do it. Less now.
Over the years, I've kept a file with notes on the plot, and even written a scene here or there, when inspiration struck. To be added in when I finally wrote the real thing, "some day". On the weekend, I pulled those all together and put them in order, stringing them in between bullet points that summarized what I knew of the plot.
That gave me about 10,000 words. Only 40,000 to go!
Day 1: I am insane. I wrote 4000 words today, which I almost can't believe, but I feel like my brain has parted company with my head and I don't know where it's gone to. This reminds me of staying up late on Christmas Eve trying to finish the stitching on Bess' stocking before her first Christmas morning. Or of the time I tried to speed-read Don Quixote before class (note to the wise: don't speed-read Cervantes). Or of the end of a very long hike, when putting one foot in front of the other isn't any fun anymore, and hasn't been fun for hours now, but has to be done if you want to get to water before dark.
I skimmed back through my work, and it's not bad, but I found many places where I'd left out a simple word or used the same word twice or other such errors of exhaustion.
I'm glad I already have those 10,000 words of scenes written in a more relaxed mood, because they'll probably be the streams of deeper feeling that carry all these action scenes along.
Day 2: 2700 words today. Which puts me 1300 behind. When I talk to Adam, I have to search around for things to say, because the first thing on the tip of my tongue is always the story. I'm swimming in story and not talking about it feels like lying. I think when this is over, he'll not only be surprised about his gift, he'll be enlightened about why I've been so out of it for a week and a half.
Is it still a good present if he has to spend a week and a half with a wife who's not all there?
Day 3: I want it on record that I'm giving up my exercise time in order to write this book. That right there tells me that 4000 words/day is not sustainable in my normal life. I don't mind it for a couple of weeks though. (And I'm beginning to think that 2000-3000 words/day might be more sustainable than I'd imagined.)
Later on Day 3: "I won't be seeing you again, because I'll be killing myself once we reach the honeymoon suite." "Won't that be nice? She kissed me! cackle, cackle." Seeeeriously, here folks.
Later yet on Day 3: Today my brains came back, and I rewarded them by taking a handmixer to them, blending them, and snorting them out my nostrils. This is insane. No one was meant to imagine this hard and this fast. EXTREME IMAGINING. DON'T FORGET YOUR HELMET. DON'T BE SURPRISED IF YOUR BRAIN FEELS LIKE IT JUST DID THE DEATH-VALLEY-TO-MT.-MCKINLEY RUN.
3000 words in. Can I make it to 4000 before I call it quits for the night?
Later yet: 4,300 total. Awesome.
Day 4: I hit a point in the story today where a lot of my prewritten scenes come in. You would think this would be good for my word count, but it isn't, because going through those scenes and tweaking them so that the details fit the story-as-written-so-far is taking a lot of time. At about 2000 words right now.
Day 5: I am reminded of what Stephanie Pearl McPhee said about knitting: I do magic: I take two sticks and some yarn in my hands and wave them around and, poof! fabric!Only I wave them around for a really long time.
It's like that: I wave my fingers around in the vicinity of my computer and POOF! a STORY appears!
Only I wave my fingers around for a reeeeeeeeally long time.
Day Whatever-the-heck-we're-on-now: Well, we traveled up to central California. Did I mention that I was insane enough to try this during a two-week period that includes a five-day trip? Also, that includes my two oldest children's first day of school?
Actually, this nutty project is keeping me from worrying about my children's first day of school. So that's good, I think.
I've discovered that my laptop has enough battery to let me write all the way from Lodi, down the 99, to the 5, and to the place where you first catch a glimpse of the Grapevine winding its way over the mountains and down into the Los Angeles basin.
Day We're-Almost-Done: Well, it's my husband's birthday and the first day of school for the kids, and I'm almost done. Happily, Adam's party is tomorrow night, which gives me one more day to bring this story to its close.
I'm finding that I can write a lot faster than I gave myself credit for before. This isn't good, because it means from now on I'm not going to be able to coddle myself. The whole illusion I had of Artist-as-Fragile-Flower is completely gone. Turns out that not only can I work, I can be a workhorse. I can actually sit down, seemingly idea-less and without inspiration and keep writing anyway. And the writing that comes out isn't crap, it's pretty much just as good as the stuff I write when I feel inspired.
So, there's that.
Day HURRAH: It's done, it's done, it's done! And I love it!
Very violent book. It's not a sit-and-take-tea like the romances I've written.
But even as I write that, I realize that the last romance I wrote also involved soldiers, beatings, and violent death.
I think I might not be the writer I thought I was.
(Note: I told this to my mom, and her response is, "Maybe you've found something to do with your anger." Ha!)
On the other hand, as I was writing it, I noticed that the words I used over and over again were "grinned", "laughed", and "smiled". (Better than "grimaced", "sneered", and "snickers", Twilight.)
I found myself using those words over and over and over because, well, the hero and heroine were falling in love. And falling in love is, in my experience, full of laughing and smiling and grinning and then laughing and smiling some more, because here is this person, and he constantly delights you, and you're so happy, and it's just good.
And that, of course, was the impetus behind this whole project. I love you, Adam!
Later yet: He loves it. :D I gave it to Adam and he knew exactly what it was. And he got the biggest grin on his face. And he's sitting next to me now and reading it and laughing at all the right parts. Yay!

Wow, this was the hardest thing I've done in a long time. But it was worth it. So, so worth it.
Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

p.s. Here's my log of my word counts from the project. It says I started out with 13,000 words already written, but the truth is that once I cut out the stuff I couldn't use, as well as the plot prompts from my outline, I only started with 8000 words already written.

8/29: went from 13,000 to about 17,000 (4000 total)
8/30: went from 17,000 to about 19,700 (2,700 total) – should be at 21,000
8/31: went from 19,700 to 24,000 (4,300 total) – should be at 25,000
9/1: went from 24,000 to 26,500 (2,500 words total – but lots of prompts cut, which means I actually wrote a lot more that that) - should be at 29,000
9/2: - went from 26,500 to 27,000 (500 words total – but lots more prompts and whole scenes cut, so I don’t know how much I actually wrote) – should be at 33,000
9/3: - went from 27,000 to 27,500 (500 words total) should be at 37,000
9/4: - went from 27,500 to 28,200 (700 words total) - should be at 44,000
9/5: - went from 28,200 to 29,200 (1000 words total) - should be at 48,000
9/6: - went from 29,200 to 31,100 (1900 words total) should be at 52,000
9/7: - went from 31,100 to 34,400 (3300 words total) should be at 56,000
9/8: -went from 34,400 to 36,600 (2400 words total – but erased lots of prompts)
9/9: - went from 36,600 to 38,700 (2100 words total – but, again, erased lots of prompts)


Anonymous said...

That is sooo cool!

Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) said...

You, my friend, are seriously awesome. I am so impressed. Do I get to read the story, or is it just for Adam?

Anonymous said...

I loved this! What a wonderful and fun birthday surprise for Adam. (And it was fun for all the rest of us who aren't Adam and who don't get to sit down with the finished product to read how it was created - what a lot of work!)

Jessica Snell said...

Thanks, Emily and Ingrid! You're both welcome to read it, if you like.

MomCO3 said...

This is SO GREAT-- awesome, but awesomer than NaNoWriMo because it was just for Adam. Thanks for sharing your journal of the experience, even if I didn't breathe for the last two days I was so nervous it wouldn't get done.
I'm fresh back from my writing conference, where I met people who write (including edits and copyedits) 3 books a year...; which are published. I can't wait to see you there, too.
P.S. I'm on page 73 of you-know-what and would be so much further if I didn't have my own 1000 words a day to do. Loving it.

Rachel :) said...

Knew you could do it! :)

Jessica Snell said...

Annie, thank you! I'm glad the log of my craziness was fun to read. :D

Are you going to blog about your writing conference experience? I'd love to read about it. 3 books a year . . . it does seem like so much of writing is just work ethic. It's encouraging just to know that it's possible.

And I'm so glad you're loving you-know-what! And that you're keeping up on your 1000 words/day because then there'll be something soon for me to read too!

Jessica Snell said...

Thanks, Rachel!