November 30th came and went without much fanfare. My younger son met his 10,000 word goal for National Novel Writing Month’s Young Writer’s Program on the 29th, so we’d hoorayed and back-patted a day earlier. It was the 30th when he actually finished his story, which turned out to be 11,007 words. We cheered that accomplishment, too, but meeting his word and being declared a winner on the site was the joy of the 29th.
What to do next? Create Space, a self-publishing company owned by Amazon, offers each winner (any writer than meets their goal is a winner, although the bar is set firmly at 50,000 words for adults) five free paperback copies of his or her book. This offered an additional goal: to create a (somewhat) polished piece. It also demanded additional work, and I admit some stomach clenching on my part at the thought of walking this child through the editing process.
I’ve often read that a manuscript of great length should be set aside for a month before editing. This allows the writer some distance from the work, increasing the chance of looking at it objectively. My son was determined that these copies of his book would be his holiday gifts for his parents and grandparents and refused to afford himself thirty days. We’d have to work fast. After a few days away from the piece, he turned it over to me for a first read and marking up. I took up my red pen and set to work, a process that took far longer than the 15 minutes he felt was reasonable. Specifically, it took me three days, not because I’m that slow of a reader but because there are only so many red marks I can make on one person’s work in one day. Especially if that person is my ten-year old son.
So after three days of inking it up, I returned the draft to him. He looked over the more bloody pages and began to argue. This is where the thirty days of space away from the book would have helped. With the story so fresh from his mind and heart, it’s hard for him to see that much could be improved upon, aside from punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Today, day two of editing, he softened at points. Generally, my comments regarded clarity. He has a complicated story, full of back story the reader needs to understand the present and complex relationships between characters. Over these two days, I’ve repeated the same phrases: I need to know more to understand what this character is thinking or how he/she is acting. Don’t make your reader work so hard to understand what’s going on.
In truth, it’s a great story, especially from a chid who’s written only one short story before and very few works longer than a few paragraphs. It has fairly well-formed characters, with some growing in character throughout the story, a definite plot line with subplots along the way, and a conclusion that leads the reader to understand that the battle is over… but only for now. He has a series planned, and would rather be starting the next word than polishing this first installment. This work is heavily weighted with dialogue, and many of my comments concern the fleshing out of scenes with more description. He’s a highly verbal kid, trusting words beyond what he sees or touches. The dialogue is much like his own speech: formal and somewhat pedantic. He’s working on that, adding some contractions and cutting a bit of the formality. He’s worked hard to explain why the characters think what they do, a challenge for a child who has trouble understanding the minds of the people around him. I keep reminding him that, at least in this case, he gets to make up what others are thinking.
One exciting finding upon reading this first draft was how his writing developed as he went along. Initially, the first two chapters or so were all dialogue. By the end of the book, he included plenty of descriptive paragraphs, which make for an easier, more enjoyable read. Better yet, he noticed he was improving. Also, while for the first week, he needed reminders to write each day, by mid-month, he was sitting down on his own each day, keeping track of his word count (a bit obsessively) and logging his progress onto the NaNoWriMo YWP site. Generally, he found he wrote best first thing in the morning, although he enjoyed two writing stints at Barnes and Noble with our less-than-reliable laptop. Nothing like writing in a bookstore with a snack nearby.
Will he do it again? He’s positive. He’s also certain he’ll write before then. This self-imposed project shaped his sense of self as writer. A year ago, getting him to write or type anything was painful for all. Today, he composes with confidence and ease. And while for this project, he wants to do the editing to prepare it for those five bound copies, he’s just as free to write a draft and leave it there. This is his creative process, and I’ll enter only when invited. Thank you, NaNoWriMo, for serving as the catalyst for this transformation. Thank you, from both of us.
My younger son plans to release his novel on his blog, Bertram’s Blog, in the next several weeks, after editing is done.