Greetings from Italy, where I’m neck deep in the second draft of my novel; after two weeks I’m finally making decent progress, and still managing to find time to walk the streets, hit the café’s and be all writer-ly. I bought a nice tailor made suit, and the locals have already given me the nickname “il produttore irritato” which means something I don’t have time to look up.
Okay I’m not “literally in Italy,” which sounds like the title of a bad RomCom (now my title for a bad RomCom – steal it at your peril. Seriously, my lawyer could use the work). I’m there in spirit, but believe me if I had the means I’d be there in a heartbeat, walking the streets of Florence, visiting the Uffizi and Santa Croce and Santa Fiore, the Ponte Vecchio – but more likely holed up in some apartment or hotel room, scribbling furiously. It’s a challenge, writing about a place you’ve never been, but given this place I’ve never been is really the place five hundred years ago, that place no longer exists. So the result is me, at my desk here in New York, wading through a 600 page manuscript, and chipping my way through that work in the hopes of coming out the other end with something remarkable. What it’s involved has been a lot of fresh starts and total rewrites, but some cutting and pasting, and for some nice passages, only basic grammatical corrections. I punch in at 8 and punch out at 5, unless I hit “the wall” before that, when I realize I’ve been sitting and starring at the same page for the past ten minutes, unable to proceed any further.
I’ve been keeping up a decent pace; I’m getting through about 10-15 pages a day, which works out to roughly 3500 words a day – and of that 3500, maybe 1000 represents “new” writing. I’m still in the first quarter of the novel – i.e. the part that was written over three years before, and I’m cautiously optimistic (meaning I really hope) the most radical rewrites will be with the oldest material. I managed to push through the final 40,000 words over the first two months of 2010, so hopefully I’ll move faster the further I get into it. Still, at roughly a thousand words a day, that’s still 5000 a week, which is pretty good if I must say. Of course, it also reminds me of how difficult getting to those words a day can be, and also makes me curse the fact I don’t get paid by the word. I’ve given myself to my birthday to get the thing into shape, so we’ll see how I do.
[The process has also proven a weird thing about my business and my work; whenever I’m hitting my stride on a personal project, a work-related one comes barging in. Case in point: a TV series I’m Exec Producer and writer of just got a shot of adrenaline at AFM, so I’ll be pulling double duty on it and the novel over the next month or so. This is not a complaint.]
Some days I hit the ground running. Other days I don’t. Sometimes the words come easy. Sometimes they have to be dragged out kicking and screaming. Occasionally I want to slink back under the covers and get another few hours of sleep, cut out on work and watch movies or play video games, or read, or do anything other than my work. But, for the most part, I manage to get down to it and be pretty prolific. On a good day of screenwriting I can knock out a solid six pages. With prose, I aim for 1000 to 2000 words a day. When writing a comic book, I aim for five pages of the actual book a day to give me a first draft (albeit a rough first) in a week. All of the above don’t take rewrites into account, as it’s the rewrites that take the most work and time. Add in the occasional magazine piece, and I’m pretty much at my desk, keeping as normal business hours as any of you (the difference being you’re probably being paid for your time, where I am working towards the possibility of being paid someday). It’s a grind, to be sure, but something that happened not too long ago really threw into perspective how much things have changed and I have changed over the last two decades.
So there I was, sorting through some old boxes – the type that have travelled with me from place to place but rarely, if ever opened, when what do I unearth but several folders containing pretty much everything I wrote – creative writing, essays, plays, scripts, et al – in High School? I guess the first thing I’d like to say about them is they’re brilliant; a true time capsule moment where a budding writer found his voice and pointed to the success and acclaim to come. I could say that but for the fact it would be total and utter bullshit. It’s not great. It’s stuff written by a High School student because he had to, not because he wanted to. It’s quite the experience to sit there as a 30-something and read the words and thoughts of my 15 year old self. I find I agree with the grades my teachers assigned to many of these assignments, and I will go on record in saying that they were overall good grades – I think the lowest may have been a 75%, though it wouldn’t have been beyond me to throw out ones that got a worse grade, and those moments and words are now forever lost to time.
But what really gave me pause in re-reading these unearthed treasures made me realize that these are the only copies of these works in existence, and made me wonder how many hours, days and even weeks were occupied in the writing of them. It also makes me realize that I’m a much more sentimental person than I’ll cop to. I’m notorious for chucking out things that I wish I’d hung onto years down the road and have probably thrown out more things than I can remember. The fact they’ve been wiped from my memory is something that weighs heavily on my mind.
Some of these essays are typed – written on either a manual typewriter, or by utilizing the awesome processing power of the Apple 2C home computer, and printed out on a dot matrix printer. The copies I have are the only copies out there, which tells me I should really scan the documents in the off chance the originals get destroyed because when my papers are donated to some university decades from now (ego is a necessary component of writing after all), future generations will want to dissect and digest every word I ever put to paper, real or virtual.
It makes me think about all the things I threw away and can never have back. I think of old class photos, Valentines and Birthday cards, Christmas pageant programs – all those disposable things we never think we’re going to want to look at again, only to be happily surprised when you discover some stuffed between the pages of an old photo album. For an example, in 1989-1990 I was a member of the Brockville Operatic Society and “performed” in their productions of Lil’ Abner and Damn Yankees, and during my archaeological search through banker’s boxes, I unearthed a bunch of programs, a review, and photos of the show that made the local paper. And the only reason those are still here is because the 17 year old I was shoved them into a pile of papers that managed to travel with me over the ensuing 20 years worth of cities and countries and apartments.
The genesis of my Mixtape project was a direct result of that uncanny bit of foresight. The combination of unearthing my old collection of music cassettes and boom box, piles of old Rolling Stone and Spin magazines, and old yearbooks, and mementos from 90s era life were a definite inspiration for it.
Re-read the third paragraph again; in the final weeks of drafting my novel, I was drafting 1500-2000 words a day. The average length of a major High School essay, worth 30-40% of your final mark in some cases, was 1500-2000 words. Now, that amount of words is a typical morning for me. Hell, peruse several of the posts on this website and you’ll find they’re well into that essay length range. And as we reach the end of this installment in the ongoing life of this author, I note with pride that I’ve already crossed the 1500 word mark. My High School self would be proud of me.
NOTE: I’ll be appearing as a guest at the Science Fiction Association of Bergen County this Saturday (http://www.sfabc.org/), to talk about screenwriting, and to screen Stonehenge Apocalypse. If you’re local and interested, don’t be a stranger.