Skypunch — thoughts on the first draft

Skypunch, a novel I’ve been working on since 2012, has finally reached its 1.0 first draft state. At 67,512 words, it’s the longest work I’ve ever made. It’s also the messiest first draft I’ve made, too.

I’ve written two other novels. No Chinook, whose first draft I finished in the fall of 2006(!) was a small and intimate story, and there wasn’t a huge amount of change between its first draft and its final version, which was published in 2008. A Record Year for Rainfall, which today still exists in a sort of beta” form, since I never got it professionally edited, is also still pretty close to its first draft. But Skypunch, I have a feeling, will change a lot between now and when it’s finished.

In fact, it’s already changed a ton during the four years I’ve been writing it. Skypunch began its life as two separate projects. In 2013, I launched an app in the iOS Newstand store called Lattice. It contained new chapters every month of a story I was calling The Moonbow Easy,” which was about a girl who got kidnapped and broke free, discovered a conspiracy, and found new hope in a group of people looking to bring the truth to the people. I wrote six chapters before the app developers told me they were going out of business and my app was going to disappear.

In the fall of 2013, feeling a little dejected, I tried my hand at National Novel Writing Month. It’s always been a good place to begin, since it demands a lot of writing in a very short amount of time, and writing 50,000 words in 30 days is a tremendous way to get everything down. I wrote a story called Corona Gale,” about a woman who stopped a madman from changing time inside an ocean storm. In the course of finishing Nanowrimo, I had half of a pretty decent action thriller.

So, I had about a third of Moonbow Easy” and half of Corona Gale,” but what was I going to do? With Moonbow,” I felt uninspired, feeling the story existed because of an app project I wanted to work on, and was not sure if it would work on its own. With Gale,” I had an action story. Did I really want my next book to be a James Bond-style caper? I kind of didn’t.

In early 2014, I took a hard look at both stories and realized there were parallels where I could thread them together. Thematically, both main characters were going through tumultuous adventures, and I realized that each character had complimentary strengths and weaknesses. I thought about having each woman help the other. It was a fantastic feeling, knowing I had the bones almost all laid out to make one solid novel. I gave it a new title: Skypunch. All I had to do was make sense of it.

Making sense of it took nearly two years.

This is the wrong way to write a novel. With my first two books, I made an outline, and I wrote it. Some things changed, but in general what existed in my head eventually existed on the page. With Skypunch, I threw 30,000 words away and wrote 40,000 new ones. It was a massive effort to make it make sense, to put two universes together and keep everything from falling apart.

So, for one thing, I could not have done it without Scrivener. That thing is a lifesafer, and I’m treating its new iOS app as a reward for getting through this. It will be invaluable for editing. I don’t know how anyone writes with anything else.

For two, I would not recommend this approach. In general, you really do want to know what you’re writing, why, and stick with it. It’s way harder to fix major things later. Get the bones right away, then flesh things out. Because of this, there are definitely places where it feels like two books stitched together. The tone isn’t right everywhere. In one scene, a character has a mom, and in the next, she doesn’t. I’ll fix all these things. But these are version 2 things.

Like my other two books, Skypunch has silly characters. It has a lot of jokes, and a little bit of disbelief. It has just a hint of magic. And it’s also really sad, because I think I write sad books. I write books about people who have been kicked to the curb. I have my characters do awful things to one another, because they’re afraid of it happening to them. My characters have sex, break up, punch one another, break their cars, avoid their loved ones, and sometimes put it all back together. All that’s here. I hope you love it. And I hope you get to read it soon.

August 14, 2016