To commemorate my first Free Promotion this weekend, I thought I would share some of the history behind Rottweiler. Herein, I’ll discuss the story and its origins, the process of writing the first draft, and the far more difficult process of editing the finished novel and preparing it for publication. I will also discuss how I’ve actually applied the advice I posted on March 8 and March 12 and how these lessons were pivotal in the development of Rottweiler.
Over the past two days, I’ve discussed the plotline of the novel, the key moments of inspiration behind it, and the issue of pre-planning and its impact on my “writing process”. Today, I will conclude with the completion of the first draft and the extensive revision and editing process that followed.
Just Get It Written…
In the spring of 2010, I had 50-60% of the first draft complete. Rugby season is nowhere near as all-consuming or as exhausting as football season, but it’s still a time when a lot of life has to go on hold. Unfortunately, when real life grows more demanding and something has to give, it’s often writing that has to do the giving.
By the time we got eliminated from the state playoffs that year, my wife was five months pregnant. I was already looking ahead to the start of another football season in August, a month after which life would change forever.
I had wanted to be an author since my freshman year of high school, and over the years I found a myriad of ways to keep it from happening. But with parenthood on the horizon, I knew that I couldn’t afford to keep getting in my own way. I simply refused to let my daughter be born into a world where her father had not achieved his dreams. What kind of example would I be for her if I did?
That left me with eight weeks after the school year ended to focus on Rottweiler. That June and July I dedicated myself to one simple task: Finishing the damn book.
That is, when I wasn’t pre-occupied with football camps, summer conditioning, yard work, home improvements, putting together a nursery, baby-proofing, and generally trying to be a decent husband.
Somehow, it got done.
By late July, I had a finished draft. And I had a tall glass of Red Breast to celebrate.
But, as any writer knows, finishing your draft isn’t the end. It’s only the beginning.
The real work comes next.
And it never seems to end.
…Worry About the Rest of It During Revision…
…Fix It in Post…
I had a lot to fix.
One of my original goals with Rottweiler was to write a story the same way I would tell a story in conversation. This necessitated a first-person point-of-view. And it resulted in a relatively casual and colloquial tone. Jon (the narrator) had a propensity for asides and tangents, a tendency to illustrate his points with literary and cinematic allusions, and a penchant for random pop-cultural references. Over the course of several chapters, this voice went from feeling natural to showing off. Eventually it degenerated into the ultimate failure of creative expression: It started to feel like work. But I stuck with it. If nothing else, Jon’s voice was going to be consistent, dammit!
As the summer of 2010 wore on, I faced an increasingly pressing time crunch, and I was forced to work at an increasingly frantic pace. The latter third of the novel suffered for it. Jon’s tangents became increasingly obtuse and started to ramble excessively. Far worse, I fell victim to that most damning of Intro to Creative Writing sins: I was steadily doing more “telling” and almost now real “showing”. The last four chapters of my first draft developed as a series of interminable info-dumps and meaningless asides. But they got written, and that’s all that mattered to me at the time.
…And Be Prepared to Kill Your Baby
When it comes to the first round of editing – and there will be many – the best advice I have to offer is this: Distance yourself. Take a step back. Let it rest on the cutting board for a few days – even a few months, if necessary – before you start slicing into it. Who can keep carving when all they see is blood?
I tried to edit Rottweiler right away that summer and simply couldn’t do it. My brain was fried. And I was still too close. I was too enamored with the fact that I had a “finished” manuscript, one that I thought had genuine potential to see publication. I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that I still needed to make major changes.
It took two years of false starts, reboots, and rereads before I was finally finished. It also took the patience to endure the predictable setbacks of three football and two rugby seasons as well as the unforeseen roadblock of a two-month illness. When it was all said and done, I’d hacked my baby down to its skeleton, trimmed and rendered the fat, and put the scraps back together into a far slimmer, sleeker, and more appetizing package.
The most important decision I made along the way was also the most difficult. Jon’s voice had to change. His hard-on for all things pop-culture had to go limp. I tore out his throat, did extensive surgery on his vocal cords, and restored him as a much more concise and biting story-teller. And it wasn’t easy. What I once thought was the defining characteristic of the novel had to be all but eradicated from it. To give you an idea of how out of control Jon’s rants had grown, the second draft of Rottweiler was over 40,000 words shorter than the first.
Yes. 40,000 words. Forty.
And all of that without losing a thing.
Of course, the editing process is not just about what you revise and remove. It’s also about what you need to go back and add.
My wife was the first one to point out that I had a novel about an abused man who we never actually see getting abused. We see him bullied and picked on, yes. We even see him tormented and pushed around by his girlfriend-come-wife. But we never actually witness the worst of it. The resulting rewrite of chapter 7 was some of the most troubling material to compose: The soft shoulder of an empty stretch of highway on an impossibly dark and oppressive summer night; the cold, dark eyes of a truly heartless young woman revealed for what she is in the hellish red glare of a car’s taillights; the absolute impotence of a young man so conditioned to endure that he can’t even defend himself; and the inevitable aftermath as Jon tries to reconcile what just happened to him. And that he has to hide it from his mother. To me, it’s some of the best and most harrowing writing in the novel.
And Rottweiler simply doesn’t work without it.
It’s Always too Soon to Quit
In total, it’s been a journey of three-and-a-half years, untold hours at the keyboard, and at least four complete re-reads during the writing, editing, and revision process. The frustrations and the heartache along the way probably outweigh the joy that came with the act of creation. But – much like my wife has only the cloudiest memories of the real pain of childbirth – all I can clearly remember is how much fun I had telling the story.
It’s easy to give up. So easy. Too easy. Worse, when we do give up, we usually rationalize it by telling ourselves we’re just setting it aside or putting it on hold. Some of the most dangerous words we can say as writers are for a while. Because once we’ve convinced ourselves we’re just putting it on the back burner for a little while, it’s far easier to find excuses to keep putting it off than reasons to get back on it.
Believe me. I know from experience.
Thanks for reading.
Click here to find out how to purchase a copy of ROTTWEILER.