When I was 15, I was enrolled at an open-space public school. The founding philosophy had been “go at your own pace,” but this had already been amended to “go at your own pace, but there is a minimum speed limit.” Some classes were taught traditionally, but others were taught via LAPs (learning activity packets). Do 12 LAPs, get a full credit for English, for example. Most of my peers did no work until May. I front-loaded the work, at least my first year, and got so far ahead in English that it became almost statistically impossible for me to get behind.
I liked that feeling. Then, as an adult, I went to work in journalism where the only reward for doing one’s work quickly was — more work. So I learned to work to deadline, fill the hours of the day.
On my own now, I would love to finish my novels early. And, in fact, I often do. But I use the extra time for subsequent drafts, so the book that goes to New York is as polished as possible. Still, I can’t help noticing that I write more and more as the year progresses. Now, part of the reason is that I’m working on subsequent drafts, and it’s easier to revise 3,000 words than write 1,000 new ones. But there’s also a momentum that builds toward the end and I enter a manic phase. Pity the person who asks me, as Dave “Starred PW” White did the other day, how my work is going. I will tell you. I will tell you at great length. Or pity the college roommate who just got a scary-long e-mail from me. This is despite the fact that I am hunkered down with a goal of getting 15,000 words done this week, a combination of old and new. This may be because I’m hunkered down, etc. eetc. I won’t be finished if I meet that goal, but this book will have a shot at another comprehensive draft before Labor Day. And this was unthinkable just a week ago, before I went through my annual ritual of trying to find the book’s “visual manisfestation.” (This year, it’s a storyboard, but it’s not always. One year, the book looked like a game of Chutes and Ladders, while another one was two color-coded linear columns, with little asterisks denoting hints toward a secret that was not part of the central story.)
It’s Day 2, and I’ve clocked 5,800 words. (Three chapters.) Not too shabby. Do I dare keep a public tally here? It’s moot at this point. If I succeed, I’ll note it here. If I don’t, my silence will be eloquent.