First Draft: Complete

When I decided to buckle down and actually write a novel the idea was pretty overwhelming. I mean, sit down and produce something of at least 50,000 words? And who knows how many pages? Wow. Insane.

I've written quite a bit in my life, probably millions of words worth of things. I write for my second job, producing multiple pieces per week, but the longest thing I had ever before written was about 30 pages (my senior thesis at the University of Oregon - something about Japan-US relations, the details I can't remember now), and the longest piece of fiction I had written was something in the range of 15 pages, at most.

Armed with my idea, one I had marinated on for months, letting the details come together, and with the help of a couple writing classes, I sat down to write it. Obviously this was not an overnight endeavor.

One thing writing classes or experts will tell a young/fresh writer is to write every day. Set aside a chunk of time, a place to do it, and every day at that time for a specified length of time, you write. You don't let anything get in your way of that time, be it friends, family, life, or even writer's block. You just write. You don't worry about the quality, because the idea is to keep the words pouring onto the page.

To me, there is a time and place for that. While trying to write a novel is not the time nor the place. If I were to sit down every day after work, after hitting the gym, after doing whatever else I need to do, and write in my novel every single day for x amount of time regardless of how I felt, you know what I would have? A steaming pile of crap.

I need to be in the right frame of mind when I write. I can't have things I need to do. I can't feel hurried by an end time because I have do something else. People don't like to hear that (I have found) because (I believe) they don't think it's the right way to go about it, since that's not what all experts say you should do.

I would caution people to remember the number one rule of writing: do what works best for you. Setting up a specific time every day may work for you, but it doesn't for me.

I took a few things into account when deciding whether or not to write on a given day.

First, how tired am I? My day starts at 5:30am and usually ends close to midnight. Some days I will simply be more tired than others. On those days I didn't work on the novel, because I knew for a fact when I read through it again I'd have to do major rework (as I opposed to what I did write on days when I felt good, when there is only the strong possibility of major rework - slight difference). Why waste my time when I'll just have to completely re-do it later? Instead, I waited for the days when I felt I would produce good work, which ended up being 3-4 days a week (two of those days being Saturday and Sunday, when I could sleep in - big surprise). The days I did not work on the novel I still wrote - I caught up on the blog, Misaki's blog, emails, Facebook, Twitter - things that don't need nearly as much though and focus.

Second, do I have time to write an entire chapter? For this novel, for me, one chapter represented one complete thought or scene. Usually you are told to set word counts or time minimums. I like to spend some time thinking about the next chapter, planning how it will go and who will be involved, so when I sit down and write it the flow is there. My novel has each chapter being told from a different point of view from the previous, so the planning is completely different. There are six or seven points of view and just under 40 chapters, so this planning helped me keep each switch of scenes straight in my head. I hate stopping in the middle because I would lose my train of thought, lose the feel of the scene. Planning is key for me here. I mapped out all my chapters in the beginning so I knew who the POV would be and what the chapter would be trying to accomplish. I didn't detail it any deeper, because I wanted to allow for creativity without letting it get to off the rails. I also revised my spreadsheet about eight times while writing, deleting and adding prospective chapters, changing the goals. Creativity needs parameters if the goal is to get from point A to point Z, while hitting each point in between.

Third, does my list have at least three things? (You will get that joke if you watch 30 Rock.)

Fourth, what do I have to drink? All writers need to feel comfortable in the place they write. For me, I always need something to drink. It could be coffee, water, beer, wine, tea, anything - but I need something to drink. I have no idea why my throat seems to get parched typing, but it does. And hey, when said drink is beer/wine/bourbon/something like that, it really puts that little voice in your head that says "Are you sure that's what you want it to say?" to sleep. I think my voice is a lightweight. I'm sure not.

It took me about eight weeks to write the first draft. Every time I sat down and opened up the Word document with the manuscript in it I was amazed, watching the word and page count rise. Suddenly 50,000 words didn't seem too far away. Then it was in the rear view mirror.

All told it checked in at 37 chapters, six different points of view, 253 pages, and a tiny shade under 70,000 words. Wow.

To me, the best part of all of that is not only that I did it, but that I like what I did. I've seen many people talk about how they hated their first drafts, but I like mine. It's far from perfect, but I told the story how I wanted to be told, without getting too sidetracked and still with letting my characters develop and change the storyline due to their needs. I tried not to force anything.

And, perhaps most of all, I already know what I want to change. As I was writing I knew I wasn't paying as much attention to details of scenes and characters, the little things that help a reader recreate the picture in their own mind. I don't plan on being a writer who goes crazy with that, but I know I want to do more than I did. For the first draft I wanted to stay focused on the basic structure - I can add the paint on the second time through, and the furniture on the third. It's funny to me how I was conscious of this as I wrote the words, but I didn't want to slow down. I made mental notes and when I sit down with my red pen and a hard copy of the novel over the next couple weeks, I'll be adding those notes to the pages in preparation for the second draft.

I also know I need to write more as well. One character who I didn't intend to be a focal point of the novel became one, and because of that I felt about two-thirds of the way through I needed to add his point of view, his voice.Three or four chapters should do it, I think, so I'll be noting where best to insert those during the editing as well.

Another idea I had I'm not ready to tackle yet. I'm a big fan of how some authors - Jodi Piccoult is the best example I have off the top of my head - write their chapters from multiple points of view (like this book), but all in first-person. I like that and thought it would be fun to do this book that way, to get even closer to the characters, to know what they are really feeling in a given moment. That would, obviously, involve serious amounts of rewriting and I don't think it's necessary, at this point. I may change my mind in the future. Maybe for the second book.

So now it's time for the editing. Some people hate it, some love it - I'm cautiously excited for it, since I haven't read any of these things I've written since I saved them the first time. (That was one rule I made - finish it first. Read it through later. Don't get distracted with editing as you go.) Will the ending match the beginning? Probably not. Will the intros of the characters match what they became later? Probably not. Does it flow well and make sense? I hope so. I set out to write a page-turning thriller/mystery, did I keep the pages turning? I already know the answer here is not always, but I hope at least some.

One fun thing I want to do - that I can do because I set the book in Portland, Oregon - is I need to do some recon of the parts of the city I chose to use. I used settings familiar to me, but I need to read what I wrote and then go to that place, take some pictures, and make sure what I wrote matches a feasible reality. (Yes, perhaps this would have made sense to do beforehand, but it involves time and planning, and I wanted to write. Maybe this will become a lesson learned, or maybe it will work - that's all part of the fun!)

It all needs tweaking/re-writing/editing/cleaning/polishing/painting. Maybe I should get started. I haven't looked at it in two weeks...it's time to rein this puppy in and start ripping it apart.

Now where is my red pen...

Quick link to share: I read this post the other day from author John Rickards on his opinion of pricing for ebooks and I have to say, it was fantastic. Read it if you are into that kind of thing.


A Newport Sunset - In Pictures

During vacation a couple weeks back Wifey and spent a couple nights at the Hallmark Inn in Newport, Oregon, right on the beach (and dog friendly - Misaki approved!). The day we arrived the weather was nice, but by about 7pm the clouds had rolled in, so despite our oceanfront room there was no pretty sunset (my favorite part of staying the beach, other than eating a whole bunch of crap).

Then Day 2 it rained all day long...until about 6 (which meant reading most of Chelsea Cain's Heartsick, which was a fantastic book). Then the clouds started to break up off the coast and we actually received a pretty decent sunset. Here are a few pictures as the sun went down (it actually still sprinkled on land, but out over the water it was pretty nice.

Newport is a decent place to spend a couple days. It's pretty laid back and has some good places to eat, in addition to the Oregon Coast Aquarium and being the World Headquarters of Rogue Brewery.

We had a decent meal from Nana's Irish Pub, which wasn't too far from the hotel. The scotch eggs tasted good, but I barely found any sausage flavor at all. The chicken pot pie was very good. They also do food to go, which we did since we had Misaki, and the pot pie came in a piece of cookware ($5 deposit pending the return).

La Maison Cafe and Bakery does fantastic baked goods. Supposedly they do good cafe food too, but again, we had Misaki. Surprisingly hard to find food when the weather isn't nice and we can't eat outside with the dog. We had a decent chocolate muffin (really, a cupcake), and a fantastic chocolate peanut butter pie.

The area we stayed at is called Nye Beach, where there are plenty of hotels and shops. One shop was in the middle of construction but had a sign on it saying Indulge Sweets was coming soon, with a link to their website. After looking them up we found out their original store was 10 miles south in Seal Rock. Since the weather was crappy, we checked it out. Conclusion? Awesome. The chocolate peanut butter fudge had actual peanut butter in it (as opposed to just peanut butter fudge, which sounds like it would be better but never is), the dark chocolate sea salt caramels were excellent, and so was the dark chocolate covered house made marshmallows. Cannot recommend this place highly enough.

On the way home we drove up the coast to Tillamook instead of heading back through Corvallis to the Interstate. Just a few miles north of Newport we stopped in Depoe Bay and took some pictures, then picked up some caramel corn (this is a coast trip must - every single time) at Jordy's Karmelkorn Shop, which we both enjoyed.

Lunch was at the Pelican Pub and Brewery in Pacific City. It was nice outside and they had a patio, so despite the wind we sat and ate there because of the pup. Dogs aren't actually allowed on the patio and are supposed to stay in the sand next to it, but Misaki curled up under Wifey's chair to get out of the wind and no one seemed to mind (probably because it's not busy on a Thursday afternoon). Pelican does most of the normal pub foods and it being the coast had red snapper fish and chips. Between than and a pizza with a couple different meats we had plenty to eat (and bring home). Their Kiwanda Cream Ale is very good. Surprisingly clear for a cream, but with plenty of nuanced flavors. Nice to see they have it at the grocery stores at home, along with others, so I'll be checking those out. Pacific City also seems like it would be a nice place to spend a few days, so maybe our next trip to the coast will be there if we can find a dog-friendly place to stay.

Our final stop before home was at Cape Mears, where Misaki took in the sights with us.

I gotta say - we had never traveled with Misaki before on an overnight trip. We thought she'd be fine because she's a quiet, sweetheart of a Shiba, but you never know, right? As it turns out she was fantastic, minding all of her manners and being a good dog the entire time. We'll have to do it again in the summer where we can eat at more places outside, instead of having to bring food or find places that do takeout.


Portland's Rhododendron Garden

The Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden in Southeast Portland, not far from Reed College and just off the Eastmoreland Golf Course, was a common place for us to visit when I was growing up. Back then to us kids it was just "The Duck Pond," because that's where we would go to feed the ducks.

We'd stop by the Franz outlet store for a couple loaves of day-old bread (or week-old, I was never really clear on that...) and then go to this park to feed the flocks of ducks and mean geese. I'm sure it meant a decent chunk of time where the kids were entertained and Mom just had to keep an eye on whether or not we would fall in the lake, but we loved it. (By the way, as always, click on the picture for a larger version. Depending on your screen size and browser, you may be able to click it again to make it even larger.)

I remember there always being so many ducks, mostly mallards, with some big white geese bossing the ducks around and honking quite loudly. I remember having bread ripped from my hand by these geese and freaking me and my sister out, since they were bigger than us. I remember realizing years later it was called The Rhododendron Garden because there are literally hundreds of rhododendrons, and in late spring when they are all in bloom it's quite fantastic to see.

But then again, it's usually raining around here then, so we probably never went there when I was a kid and they were blooming.

My favorite childhood memory of this park has to do with a summer day. Maybe it was around the Fourth of July, maybe it was a family birthday party - not sure - but after a meal at grandma's house we loaded all the kids (me, my sister, my cousins) into cars and drove out to the garden with loads of bread. (This was years before we knew feeding ducks bread was a bad idea. Whoops. Sorry ducks from the past.)

I don't recall whose idea it was, but for some reason all of us kids thought it was a good idea to take off our shoes and socks, roll up our pants, and walk INTO the water in that top picture here. Now, generally, I don't think this is accepted practice and I would absolutely recommend parents don't let their kids do this for a variety of reasons, but we had a blast. I distinctly remember - I want to say I was eight or nine at the time - tripping on a rock and face planting in the water.

One of the many reasons to not do this is, as I mentioned, tons of ducks live here. The bottom of this pond is blanketed in a layer of sliminess which, really, should only be referred to as duck crap. And we slogged through, all around the pond, in bare feet.

It makes me nauseous just to think about it, but we had a blast. I'm pretty sure Mom did not have a blast getting us cleaned up to get back in the car; it was probably pretty nauseous for her too.

I remember the Garden being a raucous, kid-crazy place, but recent trips there have shown it has matured. It's a quiet, almost zen-like park now, filled with bird watchers, sketchers, photographers, and poets. Older couples - and young ones - stroll hand-in-hand, sitting silently to watch the water and the wildlife. Feeding the water fowl bread is frowned upon, but you can purchase acceptable bags of feed. And now you pay a fee to enter, $3 most days and most of the year, which I know wasn't around when I was little (no way we would have gone as often). Come to think of it, that's probably a big reason why it's quieter now.

And surprisingly the park is dog-friendly (on a short leash), so we have to go back and bring Misaki.

There are still plenty of animals and birds, along with flowers, so here's a sampling of what we saw on a late April trip to the park.

I think these are azaleas (rhododendrons weren't blooming yet). See the two colors? They were on the exact same branch.

New leaves on sword ferns, growing in the shade amongst the rhododendrons and under the pine trees.

And what do we have here? A nutria! It was still early morning, so this little guy was our foraging for some breakfast. He didn't seem to bothered by us, though still wary.

And then we saw another out, this one just out in a field. They are kind of cute, in a no-flat-tail beaver kind of way.

And here, of course, is a Canadian goose. I don't remember these from childhood, but there were quite a few Canadian goose couples there now. No little guys though.

Goose butts! Not really sure what they are doing when they do this. Getting food from below? Washing their heads? Gargling?

These two were just hanging out in the path. They watched us walk by, but weren't in a hurry to share the space.

Here is the mean gray goose I remember from my childhood (not to be confused with the much cooler Grey Goose). This guy was very cranky (maybe because he was alone?). In fact, he seemed so mean and old, maybe he WAS there when I was little.

See the bird here at the edge of the water? That's a blue heron. Wish I could have gotten a better picture, but this was on the opposite side of the lake and the best my camera could do. Time to upgrade.

This is a red-winged blackbird. They have a wonderful sound they make that I won't even attempt to put into words, but it's very melodic and distinctive. One of our favorite birds for sure.

These are red-winged blackbirds mating. At least, we think. The other bird was gray and they looked nothing alike, but per the link below the other red-winged blackbird picture could have been a female of the species. Or maybe it was a sparrow, we have no idea. Which brings up a good question: Do they know? Will they cross species? I need to know these things.

And this, my friends, is a double-crested cormorant. If any bird you ever come across reminds you of a dinosaur, it will be this one.

And we saw two! I had never seen ONE before.

This is your standard mallard duck. There are still plenty of these in the park, but I remember it being overrun by mallards when I was little. The shiny green/blue of their heads is still one of my favorite colors. (I also remember the disturbing-looking muscovy ducks, but haven't seen any of those around for a few years. They were cranky too - I always thought it had to do with their appearance.)

Duck butts! In tandem!

And here we have, in my mind, the most striking duck of all, the wood duck. I love the lines in his head, the long feathers over the back of his head, and the red eyes. Okay, perhaps they are kind of creepy too, but very, very pretty.

And here is another wood duck, posing just for us on land.

So there you go, a piece of my childhood. This is a great place to spend a couple hours wandering slowly on the grounds, taking time to enjoy nature. It's quiet, well maintained, and not very busy. We definitely need to go back and take the dog. Hopefully she doesn't try and eat a wood duck.


Misaki Meets Her Son

Every once awhile NW Shibas4Life has a meetup at their place as a fundraiser. For a fee Shibas (and their families) can come out and run in their two-acre, well-secured field. There was treats for Shibas and people, plus this time the Shibas who signed up received 10-minute massages from a certified pet massage therapist.

We thought it was a great idea, so we took Misaki to meet other Shibas (plus, her son from her last litter was also going!) and get her run on. The first thing she did was check out the perimeter of the field. On her own - she didn't need our help for that.

And then she did it at least three more times. Needless to say, by the end of the day both her and us were pretty tired.

Next door to their field was a home that had a chicken wandering around. Misaki wanted that chicken. Well, that and the tall, lush grass. That's the perfect meal for her.

We took her inside for her massage. She let the masseuse rub her all up with no problem, but I'm honestly not very convinced it's any different than a good deep tissue petting. Either way, Misaki just loves having people worship her.

We played a little fetch, which after a couple runs turned into "people throw the ball, Misaki runs to the spot, and then waits for the people to catch up." She loved being able to run so much. I feel bad - our yard is only a tiny fraction this size and she doesn't really run much.

We also met Jewel, who lives at Shibas4Life. She came from a backyard breeder who didn't treat her hind leg when it got wrapped in chicken wire, deeming her unworthy of care, and when she finally got out of there and received medical attention her leg had to be removed. She runs with all the other Shibas with no issues, even if she isn't quite as fast. Jewel is also tiny and low to the ground, and with her light spotting on her back really does look like a fox.

Misaki's son, Aizu, was already there when we arrived. They sniffed each other, but didn't really seem to make any kind of special connection. Me, I'm just glad she didn't growl at him. That would have been kind of rude.

This is the only picture we got with them in the same frame. Aizu is quite the runner and was all over the place. Both of them seemed to like their own space, though Aizu did wrestle a little bit with some other, younger Shibas.

Face shot of Aizu. Can you see the resemblance to Misaki?

Aizu has one of the double-curl Shiba tails that looks like it's a curled up bowl of soft serve ice cream. Apparently that came from his dad's side.

Here is a bonus picture of Aizu, tearing the stuffing out of a toy with great glee. Misaki was quite proud of him, because it's something she likes to do as well.

All in all a great afternoon. We'll absolutely be heading out again the next time NW Shibas4Life hosts an event.