Immediately after work this afternoon, I finished the first draft of my novella, “Strays.” As other writers (or artists) probably know, there is nothing quite like the feeling of finishing something. Robert Heinlein’s second rule of writing fiction is to “Finish what you start” and it is still the most difficult rule for me to follow. But it does feel good when I finish something, and in particular, something as big and troublesome as this novella.
The first draft came in at 20,727 words. I believe it is the longest piece of “short fiction” I have ever written, although I’m not 100 percent certain of this. For people who think in terms of pages instead of words, the story comes to somewhere between 80-100 manuscript pages.
When I write a draft, I use a numbering system similar to software revisions at the end of my file name. So my first attempt at the first draft of “Strays” was titled:
Strays – 1.0
When I run into problems, and in particular in the first draft, when I find the story moving in the wrong direction, or using the wrong point of view character, I generally start over. I’ll create a new document and increment my “revision” number by one. So my second attempt at the first draft of “Strays” would be titled:
Strays – 1.1
Over time, the number of the draft becomes an indicator of how difficult a story is for me. The lower the number the easier it goes. For short fiction, I rarely go about 1.2 or 1.3 in the first draft. The version of the story that I finished today was titled as follows:
Strays – 1.13
That’s not a typo. This was my 13th attempt at getting the story right. I’d guess that the preview 12 attempts added up to at least 20,000 words worth of writing, and quite likely more. So that I wrote a total of 40 – 50,000 words to get a complete first draft of 20,000 words.
But I am also pleased with my discipline in this case. Often, when I come up against a thorny application development problem, I sit down at the computer and tell myself that I’m not getting up until I have it solved. This works surprisingly well, and I tried it with 1.13. I told myself that this was it. If I couldn’t make it work in this draft, I was giving up on the story. I made it work.
I started draft 1.13 on August 7, 2014 and I finished it today, September 3, 2014.
What else can I say about the story
All I will say is that this is a contemporary baseball alternate history story. With a twist.
I plan on setting the story aside for a while. I don’t generally do this with short fiction. Usually, I start right up on the second draft, but this is a longer piece and I need some distance from it.
Tomorrow, I plan to start on a new short science fiction story that I want to have finished in time for a meeting with an editor I have in just over a month from now.
But, boy oh boy, it feels good to have finished “Strays.” And I do look forward to working on the second draft.