Finished the first draft of my fourth novel: Study Machines

Okay, right, so you’re reading this on Monday, but I am writing it at 3:30 AM on Saturday morning. I woke up at 7 AM yesterday and wrote for approximately 540 minutes (from 8 AM to 9:30 AM; most of the time between 2:30 PM to 6 PM; and then from 9 PM to 2 AM). During that time, I produced 14,500 words (my highest-ever single-day wordcount). And that 14,500 words was the last sixth of 93,000 word contemporary (i.e. not sci-fi or fantasy) YA novel that is tentatively entitled Study Machines.

I started the novel on December 18th (though it’d been percolating in the back of my brain since August) and wrote it over the course of 31 days (I took off December 23rd to revise my short story “A House, Drifting Sideways” for GigaNotaSaurus). During those 31 days, I wrote for a total of 4,596 minutes (76.6 hours). That’s approximately 148 minutes per day.

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This is obviously just a first draft, but I feel pretty good about it. If you’ve been paying attention, you might remember that I spent the fall blogging about my efforts to revise another novel (my third: Boom). Well, in late November, I abandoned that novel. I was trying to revise it, and I just couldn’t get over the idea that it was terrible. I mean, the structure was nice and some of the situations were interesting, but it had no personality. The writing was dry as hell.

It was hard to abandon it. After all, that was half a year of thought and effort gone down the drain. But it also felt very freeing. Because I wasn’t committed to it, the revision was really dragging out. It looked like it was going to take forever to get out there. My second novel (which is the only one I’ve ever submitted) only took 7 months to go from the first word to its first submission to an agent.

Inevitably, I always spend my next novel trying to correct whatever problem I had with the one before. This one has a lot of personality. I am glad. Voice is one thing that’s hard to add to a piece later on.

On this one, I was going to go slow on this one and do a little research (I checked out so many books from the library). But whenever I abandon a novel or novel attempt (which has happened three times now), I start to get super antsy and think to myself: “Oh my god! I’ve become someone who just fumbles around and never finishes anything!” and I find myself compelled to start something new immediately. So around December 18th, I felt this incredibly strong compulsion to stop faffing around and do something NOW.

Even after I started writing, I planned to go slow. I allocated myself almost 90 days (from mid-December to mid-March) to complete it. Obviously, that did not happen.

My problem is that I just don’t write slow. No matter what, I’m generally putting out around 1,000 words an hour. For short stories, I do a lot of rewriting: often 5 or 6 complete drafts, so it’s like I’m only writing 200 words an hour. But with novels, I haven’t yet quite figured out how to do the rewriting. I usually just start with the first word and write word after word (sometimes doing a very minor amount of backtracking) until I reach the end. Maybe, now that I know what happens, I should do a complete redraft of the novel. But…you know…I tried that with Boom and it was just deadly boring. I don’t know.

I’m not really happy with my line-level writing, and I think it would generally be improved if I went a little slower, but what can you do? In the bottom of my mind, I just don’t feel like there’s any point in writing good lines when it’s possible that all this stuff is going to be mooted by later revisions to the story. The problem, of course, is that good detail-filled lines generate new possibilities through their denseness. I did try to slow down and explore things a bit, but at some point my fingers just flew out of control and I could no longer exercise restraint.

I have a lot of fears about this novel. When I was on the plane home from India*, I wrote a list of 25 things about it that I thought might be bad. Then I tried to write a list of things that I thought were good, and I only came up with 21 things (though some of them were kind of a stretch). That’s a deficit of 4 badnesses! My intuitions about the deficiencies in my writing tend to be pretty accurate. For instance, when my summary blog post about Boom, I wrote that I felt like the writing might be bad. And it was.

But…I really do like this one. Some of its flaws will be fixed in revision and some will be unfixable. But, you know, it has its good points too. And novels don’t need to be perfect; they just need to be interesting.

Also, writing it was a hell of a lot of fun. When I write short stories, I usually approach them from a very cold and mechanical place: some idea that I want to work out. And that’s what I do with novels too, but novels…they somehow get away from you. Despite everything, the characters take on a sort of life. That’s a really enjoyable feeling.

*Yes, I wrote the bulk of this novel (approximately 74,700 words of it, while I was in or on the way to South Asia).

12 thoughts on “Finished the first draft of my fourth novel: Study Machines

  1. Ben Godby

    Cool. Congratulations on another manuscript complete. 🙂

    I like when you say, “novels…they somehow get away from you.” I sometimes have ideas for a concept, a thing, a character, and try to imagine a short story about it, and then realize that I could only ever write it in a novel, because it would have to “get away” a little to be fill itself out, to reach its potential. On the other hand, I’ve also had novels get away from me and have me chase after them, screaming at the little bastards to get in line and shape up…

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Yes, that definitely happens. With short stories, it’s actually pretty easy to know: “Oh, this won’t fit.” Like if a short story idea entails more than eight scenes or eight characters, then it’s obviously going to be too complex (given my writing style) to fit inside eight thousand words

  2. sunscald

    Congrats on passing the finish line, and best of luck on revision and submission (which sounds terribly funny, as if in revision we are also submitting to whatever the novel wants to do or be…which is maybe a little bit true?). Anyway, congrats!

  3. Amy Sundberg

    I have also found that voice is one of the very hardest things to add in. If the voice isn’t working, particularly if there is a lack of it, I usually have to throw it all away and rewrite.

      1. Amy Sundberg

        I am almost done revising my query letter. Seemed worth it to take the extra time to make it strong. But hopefully sometime in February I’ll begin sending it out!

  4. Becca

    Yeah, this is why I find it way easier to get invested in novels both from a reader’s and a writer’s perspective. If I like a character, I want seventy thousand words to get to know them! Five thousand just is not enough.

  5. debs

    It really does sound like you were on fire, Rahul. I’m guessing all that energy transferred itself into the manuscript. You’ve inspired me to look up one of my abandoned novels and have another bash at it. Speed less than optimal so far. But I may make up for it in relentlessness.

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Thanks! There really was an element of crazy inspiration around it. While I was writing it, I mostly had no doubts about where I was going and what I was doing (although I did have that blind and unreasoning fear that one gets whenever one is crazily inspired).

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