The Sixth Milestone

Yesterday I reached the thirty-page mark in my new novel, and this feels like a milestone. Though that’s just roughly 10,000 of the 130,000 words (or thereabouts) of the eventual finished product, it’s enough to establish momentum for the story and instill confidence that I’ve got something I can pull off over the long run.

This isn’t the first milestone in a historical novel. The first is deciding to write one. This is really most applicable the first time, for most authors I know always view themselves as between books if they aren’t writing at the moment. The second is setting aside all other ideas except one. The third is feeling I’ve got a story in my head, not just a lot of material about a place and time. That was the toughest one for me this time. The fourth is conquering the blank page, even if all I have is a few hundred words. The fifth is getting over doubts and despair about the next step. And then, I have my first really good spell of writing and I am on my way.

So I’ve reached and passed that sixth milestone: I have a chunk of text behind me. From here, the next huge milestone is finishing the first draft, but along the way there will be many other smaller ones. Every scene, every section of a chapter, every chapter, provides a sense of accomplishment, a place to take a moment of rest.

But by the same token, every upcoming scene, section, and chapter looms huge and daunting in front of me. The single thing that most keeps me going into what is still unwritten is the desire to know what happens next. Though I always have intentions for the plot, the characters can surprise me, and I never work out the details until they flow onto the monitor.

I promised myself I wouldn’t start writing until 2010, even if I got up at dawn on New Year’s Day to put my fingers to the keys. I didn’t keep that promise, though I did pretty well to take a break from writing for almost the entire fall semester. What I learned from that is that I am happiest when I am storytelling. I am happiest when I have words to play with. I guess I feel a little like a child might feel confronted with a room full of toys and storybooks. You want me to wait to go in? You have got to be kidding!

So the sixth milestone this time also included for me the realization that I’d rather write than do just about anything else with my discretionary time. Even if it makes me cranky and gives me an aching back and stiff neck after a long day, the places I’ve been in my own head, and the joy I get from reading something that flows both in words and meaning, is incomparable to other ways I might realistically have spent those hours.

So here I am, happily immersed in a new project, ignoring the fact that by the time it’s done I will once again be vowing that I will take a really LONG break next time. Working at my usual pace, I predict the novel will be finished to a polish by the end of 2010. But that’s plenty of time to settle on my next great idea for a novel. WIll I want to tear into that great playroom again? Does “dibs on the building blocks!” answer that question?