A Novel Little Progress Update

Time for an update about that book that I’m sure you’re all convinced is a myth by now. Yes, I speak of Oath. No, we’re not quite done yet, but progress is very good, and I have some numbers for you.

The manuscript, going into this phase, was about 78,000 words. Right now, after a few minor cuts, it’s ballparking coming in at just a bit over 70,000. Of that, about 39,000 of those words are buckled in, put to bed, and ready for the editor.

That means we’re well on track for me to finish revising by the end of the month, which is my goal.

(And if that’s all you’re here for—the numbers—feel free to carry on with your day. The rest of this post is reflection on the process.)

I had a few rough patches last week, while I was wrangling with a couple of challenging fixes. These were minor holes in the logic of the story that I’d known were there, and which I’d been…shall we say…creatively ignoring for a while. Then, all of a sudden, there was no more hiding from them. I finally had to put them to bed—and man, were they frustrating.

Still, the days of wailing and gnashing my teeth here on this blog (at least about this book) are over and done with. I got them settled, and I’m pleased enough with them to let them be, and to let the editor weigh in on them. If she sees a problem with them—well, I’ll deal with it. If she doesn’t, then I’m content to let you pass judgment on them when the book is published, dear reader.

Wrestling with this round has been a real eye-opener for me so far. I’ve been through a parade of emotions, and on any given day, it’s been everything from exultation to exhaustion to plain and simple disgust. That last one was pretty prevalent right as I was edging up on the midpoint of the manuscript. I hated it. Hated the story, hated the characters, hated that I’d ever had the hare-brained idea to write this damned thing.

Yeah, it was a stupid way to feel. But in the moment, it was a strong sensation. I asked some currently-writing-for-a-living friends of mine about it, though, and got some helpful perspective. “Are you about halfway in?” one of them asked, more or less. Apparently the halfway blues are A Thing, and folks can hit a kind of burnout there. I was assured they’d clear up with a bit of pushing past the midpoint, and that as momentum gathers on the back end of the story, those feelings recede as the yarn itself rushes to run itself out.

That’s turning out to be true. As near as I can figure it, the exhaustion on my part came from being as meticulous as possible in checking the setup in the opening quarter of the story. You know: laying out all the setting details, making sure there are clues hidden in plain sight that come into play later, ensuring that the characters are as give-a-shit-worthy as I can make them, winding up the tension like a spring for the break into the main action—and, after that break, making sure to keep the pressure on the plot to keep the action from slumping.

It sort of feels like sprinting up a mountain with a pack of wolves on your heels: hard and exhausting and not a time or place to go stumbling or stopping to catch your breath.

Now, probably if you’ve done this before, none of that is news. And you’d think that, since I’ve reworked this manuscript at least five times now, I’d have had more of a clue myself. But not really. So last week I wallowed a bit, and groused to some of my writing friends, and eventually managed to get on past it. And the promised pickup in my mood happened–bam—like magic.

(Or maybe more like psychology. Whichever.)

This week, things are careening toward the collapse of our heroes’ efforts as we approach the three-quarters mark. They’ve come through a bevy of harrowing experiences already, and it seems to them that they’re in the home stretch as they strive for their goal—but are they?

(Of course they’re not. We still have a bunch of pages left.)

This part of the story is also where the main subplot will really start to bear fruit if I’ve (at long last) done it right, so I suspect I may have to make some mild adjustments there as I go if I hit any snags. Still, I can feel the thing gathering momentum in the back of my head, and the last of my knots for this quarter of the story are unraveling themselves with a startling quickness.

Which is good—because as excited as I am that this run through the plot is actually working as advertised, I’m also tired. Very tired. I will be glad to put this story to bed, or at least to put it in the hands of my last batch of beta readers, so they can help me spot-check myself. I’ll be relieved beyond all imagining to hand it off to the editor.

It has been, and continues to be, a strange and tiring journey—but one I’m finally starting to enjoy and appreciate. And because 13-year-old-me is something of my spirit guide in all of this, standing over my shoulder exhorting me to finish and not let her down (though she’s less diplomatic than that most days), I feel obliged to acknowledge her here:

So—Kid-Me: Yes, dude, we are going to do this. I don’t think we’re gonna win a Hugo or anything, but we’re gonna do this. And then we’re gonna do it again. And again. And again.

Until maybe we do win.