Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Favorite Part

by Michelle Gagnongirl on bike

It's done.

Four months of writing, four weeks of editing, 100,000 words total  (after approximately 10,000 words were trimmed). Three working titles (and roughly a hundred others considered and discarded), three major characters whose names changed from one draft to the next, and two alternate endings.

And finally last night, just a few hours past my deadline, I sent the completed manuscript off to my editor. Mind you, there are a few things left to do (for example, I have to go through the copy- and line-edited drafts in a few weeks). But by and large, the nitty-gritty work of writing THE GATEKEEPER is complete.

This is, hands down, my favorite part of the writing process. I dread staring at the blank page, and getting mired in what Louise Ure calls the "saggy middle," when it feels like you're never going to actually finish the darn book. And even after the rough draft is finished and polished into something that's largely presentable, there's still self-doubt to wrestle with. After hitting "send" I invariably spend weeks on pins and needles waiting for my editor to respond, convinced I'll receive an email deploring the story and the writing, insisting that I scrap it and start over (this hasn't happened yet, but you never know).

But today, ah today- the first day after handing it in, when the editor has given the all-clear and the residual stress of meeting the deadline has dissipated and I find myself facing an entire afternoon with nothing to do (well, nothing besides writing this post, cleaning my house, and paying bills, that is). This is when it finally sinks in. I've finished my fifth book (for those of you keeping track at home, yes, I did say five: it will only be my third in print, since two others never made the cut). Ahead of me lies months of marketing and everything that entails (designing bookmarks, calling/emailing bookstores, self-flagellation, etc etc etc).

Today I can just sit back and enjoy the fact that for the first time in six months, I don't have a book hanging over my head. To clarify: yes, I know I'm extraordinarily lucky to  have a contract and deadlines- and I'm eternally grateful for that, every day I feel like I've won the lottery. Still, that does mean I have to produce a book on a regular basis. And as I can attest from my journalism days, even if you love the assignment, having to write it in a specific time frame makes it an obligation. Some days it's fun, others it's work: every stage of the process has its benefits and drawbacks. But for nearly six months, I've tended to little else, as the stacks of paper and other detritus scattered around my house can attest.

It's comparable to the first day of summer vacation. You know September is just around the corner, but for the moment, you can just get on your bike and go anywhere. Down the line there will be plenty of other homework assignments (new deadlines), grades (reviews, both good and bad), and field trips (tour stops). But today, you're free. And you know what? I think my house is going to stay dirty and the bills will be unpaid for just one more day. It's too rainy for a bicycle ride, but it feels like the perfect day for a matinee, and I haven't been to see a film in forever. So today's discussion question is: what should I see?



  1. Congratulations! Enjoy your movie, your laundry, all the catch-up work. Be proud! That is no small thing you went and did.

  2. Clare, congrats on finishing THE GATEKEEPER. Enjoy your first week of FFD—freedom from deadline. After finishing each book, I go through a writer’s version of postpartum depression and aimlessly walk around the house with no focus or direction in mind. Oh, wait, that’s what I do everyday. BTW, I couldn’t write 100k words in 4 months if my life depended on it. :-)

  3. Beliebe me, Joe, it was starting to feel like my life depended on it. Tightest deadline I've ever had, and I'm still not sure how I made it. And thanks, Ann- it'll be nice to be have a little balance back in my life.

  4. Great going, and congratulations Michelle! There are so many great films out there right now, have fun!

  5. Outstanding Michelle.

    Say, perhaps someone here can enlighten some of us newbies of the technical aspects of what it means to have a writing contract.

    I recently signed with a new agent who said she expects to get a multi-book contract at auction. I was awed by the idea of being able to guarantee the sale of five books (three already written, and two in outline). But then started thinking about what you guys and gals here mention regarding schedules and rewrites and deadlines and...

    I started to stress, and we haven't even made the sale yet.

    So, from you the relatively successful, can some of you enlighten me, and all of us, on what to expect when a publisher locks you in to a contract?

  6. Congratulations Michelle - and wow- you pulled off a very tight deadline! Since I can't remember when I last actually made it to the movie theater I have no suggestions - though I have watched Tinkerbell about 50 times on DVD with my boys - perhaps that's an option:)!

  7. Basil- congrats, that's such great news! It really varies. If you have three books completed, there's even a chance the publisher might want to release them back to back (ie: Oct/Nov/Dec) which can be a great way to quickly build a fan base and also to consolidate your marketing efforts in a tight time frame. Or they might want to release them every six months. This was such a tight deadline because contract negotiations were lengthier than usual (although they always take longer than you'd think) and in order to have a 2009 release I needed to meet a Jan 1 deadline for the initial draft. Hence, the four month window. Usually I have longer, but I have to say, this really focused me. I might try to do it again with the next one.
    And Clare, OMG Tinkerbell. Just mentioning it sent that final song on an endless loop through my head.

  8. Well first, congratulations on sending the book in. Can't wait to read it. Well I hope by the time this post is seen, you would have already enjoyed a great movie.

  9. Congratulations on finishing the book and I look forward to reading it. We say Iron Man recently and it actually was very very good. I just couldn't imagine Robert Downey Jr as a superhero and he blew me away. If you are into kiddie movies, I thoroughly enjoyed Wall-E. Enjoy your time off. IT is much deserved.

  10. I hope you saw "The Wrestler" -- my favorite movie of the season. I'm having an Oscar party on Sunday and will be rooting for Mickey Rourke!

    BTW, this comes from one who doesn't do sports, doesn't like sports, and doesn't believe anyone should get paid for calling sports a career. Go figure.

    And, congratulations, Michelle!