Friday, July 29, 2011

The Value of Deadlines

I finished the fifth draft of Delux about two weeks ago. Draft 4 was about 150k words, and Draft 5 came in just over 107k words. Publishers want an author's first novel to be 100k words because that's how their economics work – or worked in the days of paper-based products.

Most of the big cuts came from starting scenes later and ending them sooner. In Draft 5 I divided the chapters into sections for the first time. That made it easy to delete transitions. It also showed me what I was writing for myself (how the characters got from Point A to Point B, for instance) and what I was writing for the reader (how the characters changed).

I could've spent another month trimming down to 100k words. But I had a deadline. My editor is available next week to read Draft 5. Given turnaround times to print the book and mail it, I had a cutoff date to upload a file to the Lulu.com. That's good.

Why?

I took more time off between the fourth and fifth drafts than I have between other drafts, and it gave me the distance I needed to make large cuts. Somehow my words weren't so precious after time away or, if they were precious, they were expendable in the name of clarity and brevity. Time away from the work, it turned out, was as important as time with the work. Re-reading the Draft 4 after a few months away, the larger philosophical questions changed. Delux isn't as much about beauty and belief as I'd thought. It's more about insight. As I wrapped up Draft 5, I knew it was time to spend some time away, get some feedback, let the words rest for a few months, give my unconscious mind space.

The deadline was good. It forced my hand, so to speak, to wrap up my current thoughts. I can't wait to get back to Draft 6, but now I know to take some time.