Done with the Draft: 5 Stages of Feelings

I woke up this morning having dreamt about my novel. Not about writing it, or publishing it, or anything like that. I dreamed about the story. The characters were in a new scene playing out in my head as I slept.

Such scenes have been my waking dream for the past seven months. Those dreams manifested into pages, pages which I finished on Monday, and set aside so I could approach the draft with fresh eyes before sending it to my editor. For the next few weeks, Please Give is done.

Heh.

While I’ve shifted my focus to other things — books I’ve neglected, reading pieces for workshops, and working on a new short story, to name a few — it’s been difficult to keep Please Give in the eaves. I haven’t opened the draft, but I do have a document of notes I jot down, to be added when I lift my personal embargo for working on it.

This morning, the document stayed open much longer than a notes document should. I stopped myself when I realized I was writing a stream of dialogue while riding the escalator to the metro. I was doing what I’d been doing for the past several months — writing the book because my thoughts were crowded with how it should read. I put my notes away, and read a book instead. The second draft can wait. It’ll be there when I get back.

I knew it would be a shift to go back to a routine that didn’t include working on the novel. While not equivalent to grief, I found myself thinking of the experience in terms of the famous five stages. I see the time between a first full draft and the second draft as such:

The Five Stages of Post-Novel Draft Feels

Excitement — woo hoo, it’s done!

Anxiety — is it done?

Bargaining — I’ll write notes, but I won’t open the draft

Despair — it’ll never be done! I’ll never stop writing it!

Acceptance — it will be done. I’ll keep writing other things. It’ll be there when I get back.

These stages are fluid and can be felt at any given moment, returned to or jumped past depending on mood. I’ll sometimes run the gamut in the course of an hour. All are natural feelings to have when finishing any big project, especially one as personal as writing a story.

It’s important, though, to do one’s best to not stay fixed in the middle three. It’s hard, but it can be done. Write something new. Read something new. Do something new. If for no other reason, doing new things gives you new things to write about.

Upcoming Project: “Please Give”

I’d been writing short stories for several months when a small idea popped up in my head. It wasn’t an idea so much as it was a title.

I work for a nonprofit, and for every aspect that’s rewarding, there are others that are stressful, aggravating, and mind-boggling. One of my coworkers and I had a running joke that we’d start our own nonprofit, but for people who worked at them. We called it Recovering Nonprofit Workers, shortened to RNW (pronounced “Renew”); and it would work tirelessly to save nonprofit workers from the crazier aspects of the nonprofit office life.

The joke ran its course, but earlier last summer, I found myself reflecting on it as an idea for a story. I created a folder called RNW, as a reminder to consider it. I considered it while I wrote other pieces, but had a hard time coming up with the story.

To have a story, one must have characters; and I finally got one. Her name is Beth. Working in service is her dream — a dream she’s happy to see take root in a full-time job, albeit in an office that tests her patience. She has a lot of trouble opening up to people — myself included. As such, she and her story simply flickered in and out of my mind as I worked on other things.

However, she kept showing up — and so did another character. He wavered in and out of the flashes of the story I’d have in my mind. He was obviously important, but I wasn’t sure why. Finally, in September, as I took a walk around the National Mall and daydreamed about my stories, Beth told me: “I’m sleeping with him.”

I didn’t believe her at first, because it seemed so out there, given what I knew about him. But, she assured me it was true. I believed her. And, I went home and wrote both their first date and the first time he opened up to her about something in his past.

That was in September. It is March. I’ve created 30 characters (including major and periphery), devised each major plot point, and written over 120,000 words (it will be edited). It’s gone through many changes, and will go through many more. All of them, though, follow the same premise: what is it like to be someone who works in service, yet can’t open up and allow others to help her? That premise is currently under the title of Please Give. It’s the first novel I’ve ever come close to completing, and I’m excited to see how it — both the story, and the process of writing it — ends.

I’ll share more of the plot, thoughts on writing I’ve developed during the process, and perhaps some passages over the next several weeks. I am very excited for this project, as I like the characters and really enjoy their interactions. It’s taken up a lot of my thoughts since that fateful walk in September, and I look forward to sharing some of those thoughts with you — once, like Beth, I am ready to do so.

Upcoming Project: All the Pieces Coming Together

Stories usually come to me in lines. I’ll think of a title, or a one-sentence plot point, and it will nest in my head while various creative birds build upon it with characters, plot points, and quotes. One short story began with a single line that popped in my head over two years ago:

“It’s the perfect place to hide the bodies. The trouble is, there aren’t any bodies to hide.”

I have a macabre sense of humor, and it made me laugh to think of the conundrum of a killer finding a perfect place to hide someone, a place so perfect that no one was around to hide. I pictured him in his cabin, all alone and not a soul to steal in sight, wasting his days hunting animals and wondering how the hell he was going to live his desired life of murderous splendor when there was no one around to kill.

In May of 2016, I decided to help him try to find the answer. I started writing his story, under a really bad working title: “Killing Time.” It came from an even worse line: “The only thing to kill out here is time.” I’ve nixed both from my most recent draft, a draft that is now with an editor and awaiting its latest incarnation.

The story follows a nameless, wannabe serial killer who has found the perfect place to hide a body, and his subsequent quest to add a body to that equation. It is dark and humorous, though as the story progresses, it becomes more of one than the other. This was a story that, like many I’ve written, came to me only as I wrote it. I wrote it in order, with only the basic beginning, middle, and end in mind; and it was exciting to be surprised with the turns it took in between. I hope that readers have the same experience. As I wrote, I also noticed a recurring theme of control, and how setting everything up perfectly doesn’t always yield the intended result. Around the middle of the story, this theme came together, as did my title: All the Pieces Coming Together.

I will be sharing the story in full as part of The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, which I first spoke of last week, and plan to publish over the next few months. As with The Crow’s Gift, I look forward to sharing this story with you down the road.

A Quiet Place to Read

The National Mall is a wonderful place to read. I remember starting Harry Potter for the first time on one of its benches, and finishing Of Mice and Men on another. It is also one of the most popular destinations in D.C., which sometimes interferes with its more peaceful elements. I wrote the essay below when I was feeling a bit sour about all the distractions keeping me from my book of choice (I believe it was Between the World and Me, which was excellent). My outlook on finding peaceful reading spots is typically more optimistic, though I maintain that Heaven will be filled with both books and places to read them.

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A Quiet Place to Read

The other day I walked to the National Mall to read while I waited for my husband to meet me downtown. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, with cooler weather than we’d had in weeks. I found a bench under some scant shade, and could only hear the wind.

As I read, I heard some noises you’d expect in a busy park. Cars here and there. People walking by and taking pictures in front of the Capitol.

My flow was interrupted by machinery. I looked over and saw construction underway on one of the mall’s many lawns. It ceased. I continued to read.

The sounds of cars came ever closer. I looked up, and saw a pick-up truck driving on the mall itself.

Don’t cars have enough space as it is that they don’t have to take up ours? No matter. It drove away, onto the road where it belonged.

I heard a small hissing. I looked at the ground, and saw a squirrel walking expectantly towards me. I shooed it away, and it slowly kept creeping back, until I shooed it away a few times and it finally saw that my book was not food. I silently cursed those who’d fed that squirrel and thus sculpted its natural instincts into something altogether unnatural.

The squirrel returned to a tree, and I returned to my former tree. Suddenly a pop song blared through the air. I looked up and could not find the exact source, though I guessed it had something to do with the stage a few blocks away with giant white letters saying HOPE. Ironic, given that it was dashing away any hope I had of a quiet afternoon of reading.

It was just as well, for around that time, my husband texted me to let me know he was coming downtown. As I put my book away, I decided that, if Heaven exists, it is a library; for only in death will we ever find a quiet place to read.

~September 15, 2016