Posted by on May 28, 2010 in Writing | 24 comments

Slow blogging month, but I think you’ll agree my excuse is valid: Yesterday I finished the first draft of a book (its working title is Black Cat Arkansas, and I blogged about it here and here).

If you include my 20-year-old doorstop novel, Black Cat marks my fifth first draft – and I’ve yet to fully sort my thoughts on them. Rookies and non-writers believe the first draft is the end (ha!). At the other end of the continuum, many writers view the first draft as little more than a frame on which to hang the true novel, which will emerge over time. I fall somewhere in the middle; I’ll appropriate Churchill’s phrase and say that when I type END (if you type THE END, you’re using twice as many words as you need), I’ve reached the end of the beginning.

Truth be told, finishing a first draft also brings the nagging, grainy knowledge that the book will never be as good as your initial conception of it. The confrontations aren’t as powerful, the action scenes not as breathtaking, the observations of the human animal not as fresh as you knew they would be seven months ago when you created a new Word document. (Yeah, this one took seven months, including a three-week break during which I revised another novel for my outstanding editor at Thomas Dunne Books. Not bad!)

Dealing with the vague disappointment of a first draft separates the men from the boys, the pros from the workshop wannabees. The wannabees, in my experience, stall out, lurch to another project, and eventually leave nasty anonymous comments at literary agents’ blogs. The pros roll up their sleeves, print out the effing mess, and get busy with revisions.

I start revising Tuesday.

Guess! Win! Wear!
On to the promised contest. It’s simple: guess the wordcount of the first draft of Black Cat Arkansas. Nearest guess wins a stylish Flatout Motorsports T-shirt. We have many sizes, colors and sleeve lengths.

A few hints to get you started:

  • It’s between 85,000 and 105,000.
  • In typical Word format (12-point Times New Roman, double-spaced), page count is between 325 and 375.

And a few rules set up by the crack legal beagles at Dewey, Fleecem & Howe:

  • Enter by leaving a comment on this blog post. This is the only way you may enter.
  • I’ll accept entries until noon Eastern on Wednesday, June 2.
  • The winning guess can be under or over; this ain’t “The Price Is Right.”
  • I’ve tweeted the wordcount in a direct message to my agent, the peerless Janet Reid. Accompanied by Geraldo Rivera, Janet will unveil the number during a live TV broadcast from Al Capone’s basement. (Well, she might. Negotiations are ongoing.)

Good luck!

Update: High noon has come and gone. Tenterhooks, bated breath, etc. etc. The mob surrounding my house threatens to turn ugly.

Oops. That mob turns out to be the landscapers. My bad.

Anyway, we have a winnah! Actually, we have two. The actual wordcount was 98,385, which means Marcy Campbell, who guessed 98,256, missed by only 129! Marcy, drop me an email or a Twitter DM; we’ll talk color, shipping, and so forth.

Also, my pal Julie Weathers clocked in with a guess of 98,580. Damn close! Julie, you get a shirt too; I’ll DM you.

Thanks for playing, everybody. This was fun; I believe we’ll do it again after a revision or two.