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Taking the Win

I just finished the first draft of my new short novel, Scream Bloodless Murder, and, as always, it was a big, big thrill to write the words “the end.” I know it’s not the end, not even remotely the end, but rather the beginning of all the endless fiddling, fussing and fixing. But I don’t care about that right now. Right now, all I can think is, I’m done! I finished a first draft! Yay me!

And when you finish your next first draft, yay you, too.

This raises a point I’ve touched on before in a different context, and that point is this: Take the win. Celebrate when you finish a draft. Celebrate hard. Really feel that good feeling and that sense of satisfaction. Cherish and enjoy it. Because that’s where a writer’s reward lies – it lies there infrequently enough, we know – and like the sign says, “Always take cookies when cookies are passed.”

Of course, you don’t really have to wait for the end of the first draft, or any draft, to take the win. Any good day of writing is a cause for celebration. Viewed through a certain filter, any bad day is, too, because, hey, at least you get to practice your craft. On this project, believe me, I’ve had plenty of days of “practicing my craft” (suffering, I mean), and I know there will be plenty more ahead of me before I’ll be ready to kill this beast and fling it to the public. But I’m happy now. Oh, boy, am I happy right now.

Here’s one reason I’m happy. What a discovery I made on the final page! From out of nowhere I discovered and delivered an emotional turn between characters that I never saw coming, yet totally buy. On the last page! It seems like a gift from above, the one page that makes all the other pages really make sense.

A band called NRBQ once did a cover of The Bonanza Theme where they played the whole thing a half-tone flat until the final musical phrase, when they stepped up and ended magnificently in key. That’s what this feels like. The whole book has been looking for a certain truth and now, here, at last, on the very last page, there it is. Again, yay me. That’s a specific win I can take, on top of the general win I’m reveling in now.

Now, before we all get too moist and oozy over this, let’s remember that Scream Bloodless Murder is only a short novel, a slender 25,000 words, where the consensus minimum length for a “real” novel is 70 or 75k. But I’ve been told that there’s an emerging market for shorter fiction among ebook readers who, as expected, have had their attention spans shattered by their own devices. I know I have. I try to read on my iPhone, but as long as it offers me games, email, internet, video, movies and chat, reading is going to be hard pressed to compete for my time. I’m not surprised that other readers felt the same way. They want what I want: something I can get into and out of quickly, and then move on to other things. And that’s the argument for short novels in the ebook market.

Will that argument hold water?

Well, we’ll find out, because ol’ John “throw it out the window and see if it lands” Vorhaus will certainly package this short novel and add it to his product line. But that’s for later. Right now I’m just reveling in relief. The heavy lifting is done. The face of the wave is erased. You will remember that in my vocabulary, the face of the wave is where the words end and the blank page begins. I hate that place like a cat hates baths. Short novel or long one, non-fiction, screenplay or limerick, I’m always glad to see that place go away. First drafts to me are a necessary evil, but the rewriting and editing, that’s the fun part. I can’t wait to get into it.

But I will wait. At least I’ll wait a day. I’m devoting the rest of today to taking the win. I’m just going to sit over here feeling terrific about myself. Have you had that feeling about yourself lately? Have you had the chance to take the win? If not, here’s a couple of strategies you might try, to get you quickly and easily to where you can.

One thing you can do if your novel is getting you down (too much face of the wave, perhaps) is to take a break and try a short story. Tighten your focus all the way down to crafting a beginning, middle and end in, say, five pages. Don’t care if your story’s any good, just get to “the end” so you can feel good about yourself for doing that. It’ll reenergize you for the big project, you betcha.

If a short story is yet too long, then just write a vignette of this particular type:  describe a moment of explosive change. Moments of explosive change are wonderful. They have no past, no future, only the concentrated drama of a single, tense episode. Here’s an example of what I mean: A bank robber is hiding in a dumpster with a bag of stolen cash in one hand and a gun in the other. With cops all around, will he give up the money or come out shooting? By exploring such frozen moments, we get to work on our writing chops in a very small, very risk-free way. Having completed such an exploration, we get to take the win almost immediately, and certainly that’s not nothing.

Have at it. Get the win. Get it and cherish it. It’s what being a writer is all about.

About John Vorhaus [1]

John Vorhaus has written seven novels, including Lucy in the Sky, The California Roll, The Albuquerque Turkey and The Texas Twist, plus the Killer Poker series and (with Annie Duke) Decide to Play Great Poker. His books on writing include The Comic Toolbox, How to Write Good and Creativity Rules!

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