Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On Writing: Back to the Whiteboard

Used to be, I’d hear authors talk about how this book took three years to write, this one took four, and I’d wonder what was wrong with them. How could they possibly be going that slowly? Even at a page-a-day pace, any hack can have 365 pages at year’s end.
     Then I wrote a book in earnest, and I’m beginning to understand.  Leaving Home, the manuscript that earned me an MFA and a raise at my day job, started with a short story in the spring of 2010 … and still isn’t finished.  

I’m not claiming I’ve been working on the thing for a solid three years.  In there somewhere I found time to write nineteen short stories and a novella, but I started writing Leaving Home in August 2010 and worked pretty steadily at it until May 2012. I rewrote, revised, expanded characters and arcs, threw away chapters … then took a break from it for a couple of months. I dug it out again in the fall of 2012 and, in November, started doing the agent hunt.
I recently got some feedback from a publishing professional that sent me back to the whiteboard for a chapter reorganization, a refiguring of plot and pacing, and a whole new series of challenges.  Last week I pulled the stitches out and put my hands back into the thing’s guts … a bypass here, a transplant there, a full-on ectomy (goodbye, murder subplot) in a few cases.  I hope to have it sewn back up by the end of May, and then I’ll pump a few thousand volts through it to see if I can get its heart started.
Will it open its eyes and smile gratefully, full function returned to all its vital parts, stronger, faster, and, leaner? Or will I have created a monster -- hateful, limping, ugly, and eager to rip off my face?
Keep those torches handy, just in case.

Here are my latest whiteboard musings.

Here is a word cloud of the section I am currently revising.


  1. Yes! I am so excited to see you are still working on your MFA manuscript. I abandoned mine at graduation, but I've recently decided to go back to work on it. Wow - it's such a mess! I can't believe I thought for a minute it was finished. Nowhere close. I love seeing your processes - white board and word cloud. Good luck and keep us posted on your progress.

    1. "Finished" is a word I've learned to use reluctantly. Thanks for the good wishes.

  2. Rob,
    I started on my manuscript over ten years ago. Of course, I let it sit for many years until I started the program. I'm happy to say it is done and about to be sent off one last time to my mentors. I'm crossing my fingers that once I graduate it will be complete because I'm sick of working on it. Good luck on your baby.

    1. Ten years ago I was writing about murder and mayhem. I'm glad I've switched to fiction. Thanks for the goodwill.