The First Draft

Yesterday, Monday, July 29, 2019, is a day to remember.

It’s the day I completed the first draft of my first novel. Elements of this story have been in my head for a very long time. I began writing a version of it years ago, but the time wasn’t right; nor, as it turns out, did I have the necessary experiences, motivation, or state of mind to get it out onto the page. Things are different now, thank goodness.

I began formally outlining the plot and characters for this one in March, so this first draft has been almost five-months in the making. That’s quite a bit longer than my “30-Day Novel” resource book said it would take, but hey, done is done, right?

The draft stats on this one are as follows:

  • TITLE: (Redacted – You’ll Find Out Soon!)
  • GENRE: Young Adult, LGBTQ+
  • PAGES: 292
  • WORD COUNT: 83,021
  • CHAPTERS: 28

When I announced on Twitter that I had finished my draft, some of the responses I received asked for my advice/thoughts on the process, particularly about devising a plot. I don’t feel exactly qualified to answer those questions, considering this is only my second book, and first novel. That said, “devising a plot” is what had me stuck for a long time, too. When you sit in front of your notebook or computer screen with nothing but a vague idea of the story and a desire to write, things get intimidating and frustrating very quickly. “How do the words come?

All I can say about this is that I found a process that worked for me, but it might not work for everyone. That process went something like this:

  1. Allow general ideas for the story to develop in my head, writing them down as they come.
  2. Allow the main characters & their motivations to develop in my head, writing them down as they come.
  3. When a sufficient number of plot points (3 or 4) and a sufficient number of characters (2? 3?) come knocking on my brain, start an outline that begins to marry them together.

I also created a writing space for myself, a place I went regularly, at generally the same time, every day. This helped flipped the switch in my brain from “life mode” to “writing mode.” I don’t think this is insignificant. After that, it came down to writing consistently every day for months, in order to get those characters to develop toward, through, and beyond those plot points.

For example, in this 28-chapter draft, I began with 5 characters in mind (3 protagonists and 2 secondary characters). Other minor characters plus the antagonist developed only later. None of the characters remained exactly as I originally envisioned (even names changed.) But I just kept writing. I also had only the first 3 chapters, the final chapter, and 2 late chapters (somewhere around the two-thirds mark) in my head before beginning. The rest had to develop as the story and characters developed. They often led me as much as I wrote them, or so it seems now.

But now comes the hard part. I know I’ll need to go back and re-read the entire draft. I know I’ll be doing extensive revisions. Like writing the draft, revision ideas started to hit me as I went along, and I wrote those down so as not to forget them later. What started out as 3 items that would need reconsideration eventually turned into an entire, journal-page-length list of things I’ll need to do. Characters to flesh out. Plot points to change and plot lines to strengthen. Settings to pare down or edit out. Voices to clarify/articulate better. The list goes on.

I begin to understand what writers say when they claim that “writing it is the easy part.” If you keep at it, the story eventually comes, and you can get it down. But now the hard work of revision, of “killing my darlings,” and of tying-up loose-ends, begins. Eventually, I’ll need to find beta readers to send me feedback as well. I’ll need to process that feedback and revise again. And then, maybe, I’ll be ready to query agents and hope I can convince someone to believe in this book as much as I do. That someone would need to then convince a publisher to take a chance on it.

There’s a long road ahead, but I celebrate the fact that I got the story onto the page. Months of work has resulted in a draft manuscript, and that’s nothing to scoff at, even with a mountain of work ahead of me. For now, I’m going to read some poetry, write some poetry, and let the novel sit and settle for a bit before returning to it with a revisionist’s eye (and pen.)


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Two Reviews and Writing Camp

Here’s a little update on my writing life.

Currently, I’m working on a YA novel, queer-forward. It explores the relationship between three diverse friends, with the setting playing a pretty significant role in the plot as well. The story is set in the late 1990s and is book-ended with a prologue/epilogue set in the present. I’ve written 14 chapters out of a planned 30, so the draft is about half-finished and sits somewhere around 160-pages right now. If I continue at the word count I’ve been averaging per chapter, the draft will end up to be around 400-pages when it’s finished; but then of course the editing and revision phases begin, and I’ll likely end up “killing my darlings.” I’m not looking forward to that, but even in first pass-through edits of my completed chapters, I find that I’m editing things down a bit. Probably for the best.

I should be able to complete the full draft before the end of the summer. Then I’ll go through a full revision or two before looking for beta readers (I have one good friend taking an early look as I write, but no writing group right now, unfortunately). After I get through those, if the work is still standing and the piece can be revised again successfully based on reader feedback, I’ll start querying agents. I have no idea what that process is like, so I’ve been trying not to think about it. It’s the most intimidating part of the process to me, even more so than the writing itself (crazy, I know!).

On the plus side, I’ve really been enjoying telling this story. Some chapters have come out like a breeze, often because I had ample plans for them ahead of time. Other chapters have been a real struggle to get through, or to get started. I’ve found, though, that if I can avoid being intimidated by that blank page at the start of each chapter, and just GET STARTED, I do end up somewhere. It just takes a good punch to the wall, sometimes. The most helpful thing for my progress and motivation is to think about how much I wish I had had this book as a teenager or college student. I believe it says a lot of what I’ve been dying to say, and what I would have killed to know/hear when I was younger.

I’ve been reading a lot of poetry this month, too, and that’s keeping the creative juices flowing while allowing me to be free within my own imagination. I’m specifically avoiding any books within the genre I’m writing right now, but I’ll get back to those when I’m in revisions. July is also Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve been updating my progress on the website. My original goal for the month was 30,000 words, but it looks like I’ll be able to hit the “general” goal of 50,000 instead! Is anyone else participating?

Current word count: 42,275.


The other item of note is that my first book, From A Whisper to A Riot, is still doing well and being well-received by readers. It’s academic non-fiction, specifically queer literary history and analysis, so the market for it is very tight, and I published it independently, which narrowed the reach even further. That said, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by its reception out there in the reader-sphere. Here are two truly excellent and thoughtful reviews I would like to share:

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The Oligarchs

The Oligarchs

Shall we peck each other
Until we’re skin and bone:
Skinned alive?

Then what,
When the man still feeds
On our marrow and our blood?

Can our plasma be replaced
When the vampire whites
And aristocrats have stolen

What was ours,
What was left of ours?
When we are inside-out?

If we wear our hearts
On our sleeves, then surely
We were asking for it.

-Adam W. Burgess, June 16, 2019

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Manuscript Madness

Where have I been, you wonder? (Or maybe you didn’t?)

Well, in addition to a new semester beginning, which always keeps me busy, I’ve been making some big decisions about my academic manuscript and, consequently, doing some hard work on it.

I’m pleased to write that the manuscript is essentially ready for publication. I’ve finished it, revised it, sent it to early readers, and revised again. This is the culmination of four years’ work, and I have decided to move ahead with self-publishing it. Why? Well, there are a few reasons.

First, academic publishing is brutal and, for my particular situation, not entirely necessary. I have been publishing other small pieces and feel satisfied with that avenue for creative work. This book, though, is the blood, sweat, and tears of years of graduate study and, ultimately, a dissertation and defense. I did send proposals and chapters to a few different academic publications, and while some of the responses I received were reasonable, even helpful, they helped me see that, what I really want to do is get this out into the public as I have envisioned it. I do not want to break the book into smaller articles. I do not want to market it for a particular course. I do not need wrestle with a University and its gate-keeping readers.

This book is mine, and I want it to be available for others, as is. (As it now is, I should say. It has been revised extensively from its original drafts. Many, many drafts.) I believe I see something in it that some publishers are missing, which is that it is more than just a literary analysis and more than just a cultural history. It is both. The components go together. The varied chapters work together. And I hope that any reader who decides to give a try will, in the end, see how all of it developed together, too.

So, I’m pleased to be in this position. I have print copies coming available for beta readers. I just hope I can find a few folks willing to give it a read and make me aware of any glaring issues I’ve missed.


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