I have just hit the 16,000 word mark. That’s 21% of my goal of 74,000 words. Depending on the physical dimensions of the novel, I have written approximately 45 pages out of 210 or so. Today, I satdown and wrote for about nine hours, taking a break for about an hour in the afternoon. All in all, I’ve gotten five chapters behind me.

My novel started as a screenplay. I imagine the screenplay as a sort of fast track prototype. It’s quick and dirty. It gets the job done, but not without imparting a sense of style, structure, and purpose. It essentially launches your story from mere thoughts into your head into a cohesive body of work. The trajectory is set by the first pieces, and the tone and topic matter are defined for the most part.

I use my screenplay as a sort of outline for the novel. But the way I work, I find that my characters often take a life of their own. Sometimes, they don’t fit into the neat little boxes I want them to. Sometimes, the characters just don’t have chemistry and the story takes a slightly different turn.When you are writing an entire chapter, an entire string of scenes, it can be easy to get tunnel vision and to get lost. After I was done with this last chapter (the fifth one), I decided that I needed to check on the overall progress. I had to see where my novel was going, to make sure that it was going where I needed it to go. I needed to hit those milestones set by my screenplay.I ended up making a mockup of my novel in PDF format (complete with an absolute ripoff of the Catcher in the Rye cover, the white one with serif text and rainbow stripes in the corner). This serves two purposes:
1) It reminds me to keep my eye on the prize. Seeing how my novel would look in the format of a real novel (instead of a very bland 12-point monospace font in a plain text file) motivates me to keep working towards the finish line. It is a very real and practically tangible reminder of what I am aspiring to achieve.
2) It makes my novel nice and portable, with all the chapters clearly marked and unified in a single file that can be read on all my platforms (iPhone, Kindle, PC, Mac).

Butmoreimportantly, why am I converting my incomplete manuscript into a PDF novel?

It’s because I need to re-read my novel from start to finish. To paraphrase Dr. Lecter (who was paraphrasing Marcus Aurelius), “Ask of each and every thing what is in and of itself.” That is, what is happening here? What is being said and revealed about the characters? What purpose does this scene or chapter serve? Does it move the audience towards the next plot point? Does it follow the structure you plotted? Where applicable, is everything consistent? It’s a very important exercise. With five chapters behind me, it’s vital to the health of the story that I stay on track.

Of course, don’t confuse this with editing. I believe that editing should be reserved for after the completion of the first draft. Otherwise, you’ll be second guessing and modifying every damned sentence, and you’ll get nowhere real fast. Don’t go over your manuscript with a fine toothed comb. Rather, just skim it for main ideas. In fact, I have a chart set up to check my progress. One column designates the chapter. The next column is the summary of the chapter, essentially nothing more than a list of actions. Last but not least, the last column is a description of all of the character points that have been established as well as all other important information gleaned from the actions.

So far, the fifth chapter is one of the longest. I’m not entirely sure if I have to work on the pacing as the first three chapters were rather short. But again, I need to fight the editing instinct to back to rework those chapters. It’s important to remain focused on moving forward with the novel rather than going back to rewrite every little bit of it. Laying down the foundation is critical to finishing a novel. You can’t create a statue without first having a massive piece of rock to chip away at.

With any luck, I should be done by the end of the year. I actually can’t wait to finish the first draft so that I can get around to refining it. As it is right now, the literary voice of it is quite rudimentary. I look forward to improving and picking apart my work.