Yesterday was an exciting day. In fact, it was a pretty exciting weekend. Since I got fired from my job in January, I have committed to writing five pages of my novel a day, five days a week. This Saturday and Sunday, I wrote 30 pages, finishing up my first draft.
This novel, an acid western set in the California Gold Rush, was my senior work as a writing undergrad at The New School. My life got pretty insane for a while after school ended, and I was only working on it on occasion. When I got fired, I decided that my goal was to have at least a substantial chunk of it written by the time I went back to work.
The first thing I did was dust off all the books I had bought on the subject of the Gold Rush and the standard Western back when I was in school. Two notable history books I decided to bear down on were Roaring Camp: The Social World of the California Gold Rush and The Gold Rush Diary of Ramon Gil Navarro. The first was a more radical take on Westward expansion, replacing the standard narrative of the bewhiskered ’49er with meditations of gender and race in the time period. This was perfect for me, since an acid western typically has the reverse ideals of a standard western, and a radical history would help inform such ideals. The second book, the diary, was helpful in showing me the narrative of a man who had traveled up from Latin America, rather than from the East.
I was also reading fiction. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Desperadoes by Ron Hansen. The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje. . Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. These books were to get the feeling of the Western genre, even if the book I was writing did not fall completely into that genre. From them I learned to love the specificity of guns, to push violence until it became grotesquely beautiful.
After I began reading, I began more clearly envisioning the world in which my story was to be set. I drew up a rough map of California and hung it on my wall. On this map I drew the circle that was the path of one of my character’s journey. With this cardboard and Sharpie masterpeice up on my wall, I felt further inspired. I went to the store and got some multi-colored index cards. I used one color for characters, one for different themes I wanted to run through the novel, and one for scenes. After I had written out several scenes on the green cards, I cut some green cards up into smaller pieces, wrote a brief name for each scene on them. These smaller green pieces I sorted out chronologically, then began taping them up along the circular path on my map of California.
Then I wrote, using the map and the cards as a guide. I wrote for weeks. Yesterday, I finished my first draft.
It’s not done yet. It’s missing lots of things; the back story isn’t all there, I came up with a recurring theme towards the end that I want to go back and work all the way through, it’s only 50,000 words as of right now. But all the major plot points are there. My narrator has walked his whole journey. Now it’s my job to go back and fill in all the gaps.
But I have a first draft! This is a good beginning!