Work in Progress

About the work I’ve started that I’ll probably never finish.

I started writing a novel when I was thirteen. It was an adventure/love story, based roughly on an image I’d had in a dream. I wrote it in a series of five college-ruled notebooks, single-spaced, in the crude printed handwriting of a teenager. I actually finished it, although I can’t remember how long it took. When it was finished, it was about five hundred pages long.

It sat in a locked drawer for years. When my family moved, I took it with me. By that time, I’d started another novel, this one about a successful business woman who was targeted for murder by a rival businessman. I was in my late teens when I started it and it was far more mature than the first book. It covered pages in two thick college-ruled notebooks. I never finished it.

In 1984, I bought my first computer, an Apple IIc. One of the first things I did with it was to type the work I’d done on the second novel into the word processor that came with the computer: AppleWorks. The pages filled several 5-1/4″ disks. You know — the old “floppy” kind. I added pages to the work as time went on. I also dug out that first novel and began rewriting it, now with the knowledge of a 23-year-old.

Time went on. In 1989, I bought my first Macintosh. I wasted no time coming up with a method that would transfer all those bytes of fiction from the old computer’s floppy disks to the hard disk on my new computer. It required a special serial cable and a telecommunications program. I basically downloaded the information from one computer to the other. The limited formatting I’d been able to apply in AppleWorks was lost, but at least I didn’t have to retype hundreds of pages of text.

The first novel nagged at me. I worked on it regularly, changing the story but never finishing it. Instead, I started a second book with some of the same characters two years later. Then went back and started a book with some of the same characters a year before the first book. They became named Book 2, Book 3, and Book 1. One of the characters that was supposed to die at the end of Book 3 managed to survive. (He was too good a guy to lose.) He came back in Book 4. And I even have some ideas about Book 5, although I haven’t actually started it yet.

I’ve also written short stories about some of the characters. The stories were written as a means of clearing my head about prior events in a character’s life. You see, all of my major characters had lives before I started writing about them. It’s important to know about those lives to accurately write about each character’s actions and motivations.

What does all this mean? At this point, I have the modern version of an unfinished book I started writing nearly 30 years ago, as well as hundreds of pages of fiction about the same characters. I carry the files around with me on my laptop and keep a backup copy on my desktop computer’s hard disk, as well as in a Backup folder on my .Mac account.

When I’m on the road and want something to read, I open up one of the book files. I enjoy the story very much. Sometimes I read what I’ve written and am proud of my work. Other times, I read passages that I know need to be fixed up. Some of the passages are especially awful; I’m not too vain to admit it. Sometimes I add new scenes. Other times I make minor corrections to existing text. I’ve put hundreds — if not thousands — of hours into this work. But it isn’t done.

At this point, I don’t think it’ll ever be done. It’s a personal work, something I think I write just for myself. It would be great to see it in print, but at the same time, I wonder what people would think of me after they’ve read it. Some parts are very violent, not unlike some of the action/adventure movies that Hollywood keeps churning out. I find it entertaining, an escape from reality. My escape.

I’ve got other novels in progress as well. A bunch of years ago, I started writing a mystery that I got about 5 chapters into before I stalled. Last year, I started another mystery with some of the same characters. These pieces, if I ever finish them, will be marketable and I’ll do everything I can to see them in print.

So when I complain about writers block, as I did in a previous blog entry, it’s my inability to work on these pieces of fiction that’s the problem. Sure, I can write computer how-to books when an editor is waiting for them. The big motivation there is the milestone advance payments that are dangled like a carrot in front of my face. No computer books, no money. No money, no life. Pretty simple. I can also write blog entries because they’re easy and they help clear my mind of the things that clutter it. But fiction? Adding to a work in progress is like squeezing water from a stone.

Anyone else out there in the same situation? I’d be interested in hearing what you do to overcome this problem.

What do you think?