My kids were on spring break last week. I would like to say we went on vacation, but really it was a trip: four hours on a plane to my hometown near Seattle for a family visit. I have loads of relatives that still live there, and while we weren’t exactly sipping margaritas on a tropical beach, we did have a wonderful week combing the rocky shores of Puget Sound and seeing many people who we don’t get to see nearly often enough.
The rocky shores of Puget Sound are also where my WIP novel is set. In that sense it was like visiting somewhere I’ve been projecting on a screen in my brain for months. I’ll admit, that had been making me a little anxious. I hadn’t visited in a couple of years. On the outbound flight, I was working on a scene (or trying to, between repeated requests for toddler iPad assistance and demands for more Goldfish crackers) and I had this sudden fear that everything I’d written had been badly remembered and the sense of place would ring hollow throughout the whole story.
To my relief, stepping back into the Pacific Northwest was like slipping on an old favorite shoe. Comfortable and familiar. And standing on that dark pebbled shore, breathing in its briny, rotten-egg air, felt like I was getting an much-needed infusion. Even after two decades living elsewhere, Puget Sound still runs through my blood.
Seeing so many people I haven’t seen in a while also brought up the inevitable question: so what are you doing these days? And I would answer: writing a novel, I think?
Of course when someone says they’re writing a novel, the next question is: what it’s about?
I never know how much to share. And I can’t even point to a genre. Sometimes I’ll say it’s upmarket or literary fiction which usually prompts an impressed (or perhaps skeptical) raise of the eyebrows from the questioner, and then I have to explain that no, that doesn’t mean I think I’m the next Dickens, just that it’s a character-driven story that doesn’t fit into any category like romance, thriller, sci-fi, etc.
Usually, I then say something like: if I ever get this thing done, I’ll be happy to share more!
To that end, over the holidays last year I set out a goal of finishing a draft in 2019. Really finishing a real draft.
I started this story almost six years ago. It began as a one-page writing exercise in a creative writing class. From that one page came a character that I just couldn’t leave behind. I wrote part of a draft (about 20K words) and realized the narrator and POV were totally wrong. So I started over with a different set of narrators and a different POV. That draft, I “finished” in the sense that I had about 70K words but it was more a collection of scenes than a cohesive story. And again, one of my primary characters did not work.
So I read books on plotting and listened to podcasts about plotting and came up with an improved secondary character and then started over. A third shot.
Q1 status: 19,500 words. I don’t have a firm target but given that I’m just finishing the first “act” I’m planning for 80,000 – which also conveniently puts me on pace. And I am in much better shape with respect to knowing what the major plot points will be.
Over the summer, we do have a couple of actual vacations planned. I’m not sure how I’m going to fit writing around traveling with young children but I know I’m going to have to try if I want to stay on track.