Tag Archives: first draft

Writing woes – the dreaded middle.

snoopy-writing

I have been diligently plugging away at the first draft of my new fantasy novel The Choices we make. I had started it as a NaNoWriMo 2014 project, but 50k words only took it to the middle of part 2, so I have been slowly adding words to it all December long. My goals is to finish it by January 15.

A week ago I have hit what I call the dreaded middle. It’s that state when you are already a long way away from the beginning of your story, where the idea was shiny and exciting and the characters spoke to you. But you are also equally away from the final resolution and those two wonderful words – THE END. You are in the middle, drudging through the mire of words with your final destination still miles away. That’s when I feel my motivation faltering.

When it happened for the first time while I was writing Of Broken Things, I panicked. I almost abandoned the story altogether. It felt like there was no point going on: my characters were flat and uninteresting, my story had plot holes so big you could fly a spaceship through, and I absolutely hated all the words I put on the page.

Good thing that I turned to the internet writing community before I tossed my unfinished draft out of the window. Because I discovered something both scary and reassuring. Yep, both at the same time.

Lack of Motivation
Lack of Motivation

I have discovered that everyone experiences something similar somewhere during their first draft. Not exactly at the same place in the draft as I am though. Some stress out about the beginning, while their story is not yet fully formed and the characters not yet defined. Others hit that mire closer to the end when the story is almost done and the thought of wrapping it up neatly because daunting.

It’s scary because it means that no matter how many books you write or how successful you are, there will still be days, weeks, or even months, when you will absolutely hate your draft. Even if it goes to become a best-seller, there would have been a period when you felt like putting words on the page was equivalent to shoveling crap. And then it will happen again with the first draft of the next book, and the next, and the next…

But it’s also reassuring because Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, of John Scalzi go through the same pains and doubts time after time. That means that the draft you feel like tearing into tiny scraps might not be as horrible as you think, that this feeling is probably inherent to the creative process. I don’t know about you, but discovering that even successful writers have those doubts motivates me to keep going.

I hit exactly the same roadblock in the middle of The Choices we make, but this time I knew it would happen, so I didn’t panic and I didn’t let it deter me from writing. So even when the fatigue sets in, when the motivation hits the lowest mark ever, and I can suddenly come up with a thousand things I can do instead of writing, I force myself to put my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. I put words on the page. Maybe 400, maybe 600, or 1000 on a good day. I don’t look back, I don’t re-read. I press on.

As a result, I’m one chapter away from finishing Part 2, and I’m glad to say that the fog is finally lifting! I left the dreaded middle behind. I can see the road to the finish line. I feel excited and motivated about my book again!

Finish what you start!
Finish what you start!

So here is a question for my fellow writers. Do you experience the same symptoms during your first draft? When does it occur? The beginning? The middle? Closer to the end? Or more than once during the creative process? I want to hear from you!

NaNoWriMo – lock your inner editor in the basement.

Participant-2014-Web-Banner

Well, NaNoWriMo 2014 has now officially started. How did everyone do during their first full weekend of furious writing? Did the words flow out of your head and into the blank page or computer screen? Did you write until you felt like your head was on fire, your brain had turned to mush, and your fingers were bleeding? Or perhaps you stared at that blank page and felt overwhelmed by all the whiteness?

No matter what you have achieved this weekend, I’m sure you have realized something very important. Something that all the seasoned writers know, but that comes as an unpleasant surprise for all of us who decide to put our stories on paper for the first time.  I am speaking about the huge difference between the story that exists in our head and the result that gets put on paper.

I remember the first time I came face to face with this dichotomy. I had this important scene to write, and in my mind it was witty, well-written, full of good dialogue and tension – in other words, absolutely perfect. What I vomited on the page was absolute and utter crap… I was heartbroken. I was horrified. I was ready to press the delete button on the whole sorry excuse for a novel and go back to my day job.

But I did no such thing, and do you know why? Because first drafts are supposed to be bad. They are supposed to be full of typos, and ramblings, purple prose, and bad dialogue. In other words, like Ernest Hemingway said:

Hemingway

Yes, you heard it. Even the great masters of the written word have to struggle through a horrible first draft before they create a masterpiece. The trick to accomplishing that is to accept that your first draft will suck. In other words, you need to bind, gag, and lock your inner editor in the basement for the whole month of November (and maybe December and January as well) until your first draft is done.

That means every time you hear that little voice in the back of your mind telling you that your description sucks, that your dialogue is weak, that your plot is boring… tune it out, crank the music up, put earplugs in your ears, or shout, “La-la-la, can’t hear you!!!!” And keep writing.

Powering through your doubts and writer’s block is the only way you will get a finished draft to show for your efforts. It doesn’t matter if your first 3-4 chapters are a polished work of art if your story isn’t finished. As Kristen Lamb says, the world rewards finishers, not perfectionists.

Inner Editor

And if your inner editor is having a mental breakdown and sobbing uncontrollably in a dark corner of that basement, you can always tell her that she will have free reign over your work once the editing process starts. She will be free to take a chainsaw to your first draft and dismantle it at her heart’s desire. If you hate the scene you just wrote, keep a notebook handy and jot down the chapter and page number and a few words about what doesn’t work for you. Once you are done with your draft, you can use those notes during the editing process.

But for now, shhh, don’t listen to her, just write. Put one word on the page after another, no matter how bad does words seem. You can always edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.

So go on, wrimos, write your novels!

The More you write, the better you get.

write

While I was looking for a novel to write during NaNoWriMo 2014, I did a little archeological foray into my older, unfinished stories. Not only did I find a project to work on, but I also learned something new about my writing.

I read a lot of writing blogs and I talk to a lot of writers on Twitter and Facebook. All of them say that the more you write, the better you get. Up until now, I was skeptical about that, because I wasn’t seeing progress in my own writing. Other people, notably my beta readers, have told me that they noticed an improvement, but I just couldn’t see it. Maybe because I was too close to my work to notice the difference: I usually let my first drafts rest for only a week or two before I dive into edits.

Well, I understand the truth of this saying now. Choices is a story I had last worked on back in 2012. I got stuck about 25k words into the story and abandoned it. Last Monday, I decided to read through what I already had to see if anything could be salvaged. Well, two hours later, I was forced to admit that I was better off just scrapping the whole thing and just starting from scratch.

Finish what you start!
Finish what you start!

But that reread wasn’t all negative. It made me realize how much I had grown as a writer since 2012 when I had tried (and failed) to first write that story.

Back in 2012, I had no idea what I was doing, or what writing a novel required. I had no idea about story structure, tension and plot or character development. Most importantly, I had only a very vague grasp on what my writing process was. The result was a barely reanimated corpse of a novel.

I had no outline. I had no idea where my plot was going or if I even had a plot at all. I had a backstory only on my two main protagonists; everyone else, even the antagonist, was just vague shadows in the background. No wonder I got stuck and abandoned that story!

I have learned since then that I can’t write without a detailed outline, a good backstory on most of my characters, and a lot of worldbuilding. Oh, and I absolutely need a clear idea of the ending. So that’s what I will be working on during October, and once I’m done, I have full confidence that I can write this story to the end without problem.

Editing woes

Reading through my failed first attempt, I also noticed just how many rookie mistakes I had made. In fact, I might keep that draft as a perfect illustration on how NOT to write a story. I started with a small prologue that didn’t bring anything to the story and would have been better situated at the end of Chapter 1 or cut out of the story altogether. Most of my worldbuilding and character backstory were huge info-dumps that almost managed to put me to sleep during my re-read. All the dialogues had some truly “creative” dialogue tags when a simple “he / she said” would have done just fine. And, most importantly, I told about my characters’ reactions instead of showing them.

Back when I wrote those words, I didn’t know any better, but now, one finished novel and several short stories later, the flaws of that draft stood out like a sore thumb.

For me, it was an eye-opening but also reassuring experience: I did become a better writer in the past two years, even if I hadn’t noticed it. And I did that by sticking with my stories, not being afraid to write crappy first drafts that I would later edit within an inch of their lives. And I was not afraid to start all over again with a brand new story each time the old one was done. I also read wildly about writing, editing, and publishing.

I think as writers, we need that sort of reassurance from time to time, especially if we are querying our first novel and getting only silence or rejections back. So my advice would be – do not lose hope. When you feel like giving up, open that dusty box where you banished all of your older failures and read through one of them. See how much you have grown since then and feel proud of what you have accomplished. Then put your pen to paper or your fingers on the keyboard and start working on a new story!

One day I might be confident enough in my skill that I might even unearth some of my unfinished stories from 2004-2005, though I rather dread the horrors that might be lurking between those pages.

hourglass_parchment_quill_cover

A Newbie’s reflections on editing

Editing my short story.
Toss and rewrite.

As far as editing is concerned, I am what the gamer world would call a total “noob”. I have only started seriously applying butt to chair since October 2013, and so far I have a finished first draft of a novel and two short stories to show for that. So I have minimal experience with editing my work (even smaller than my experience in actually writing it).

However, I started this blog not only to share my thoughts and opinions on books and shows I like, but also to track how I progress and evolve as a writer. So based on editing two short stories and finishing the re-read of my first draft, I have made several observations about my writing process.

So far, when I sat down to edit both of short stories, I ended up keeping about 10% of the original text and rewriting everything else. When I noticed that, at first I was depressed, because I felt bad for all that time I wasted writing the first draft only to toss most of it away. But then I started analyzing the differences between the draft and the end product, and the result was not as abysmal as I had thought. Yes, I had tossed 90% of what I had written, but the bones of the story remained the same – the plot stayed in those 10% that were left in its entirety. So I got the structure of the story right the first time around, but it’s the presentation that needed reworking.

Doesn’t that realization make you feel better instantly? I know it did for me. I didn’t waste that time writing the first draft. I put the skeleton of my story together instead. And those scenes that I tossed and rewrote? They served a purpose too. They showed me that first setting / event/ character reaction that came to my mind didn’t work. If I hadn’t put it down on paper and re-read it, I would never have noticed that. Guess what, that made me think of a different way of telling the story. And if the critiques I received on Critters are to be trusted, the story only became better because of that.

And now I am faced with the daunting task of taking the first draft of my novel (which about 95k works longer than my short stories) and trying to make a decent story out of it. I must admit that I am scared: if I have to toss and rewrite 90% of the original, that would be about 90k words. That can potentially take me A LONG time. But I have learned one thing from the short story editing exercise and the read through my draft – the plot is there, the characters are alive and their POVs are visible, so the “bones” of the novel are solid. Now I just need to make sure to flesh it out and dress it in Sunday’s best before I let it fly into the world.

Of Broken Things – first draft finished.

Last night, I crossed a very important milestone: I finished the first draft of the novel I had started in November 2013 for NaNoWriMo. For me, it is a huge accomplishment, because I have never actually finished anything before.

Sure, I have plenty of stories that I had started and abandoned after a couple chapters, when I got bogged down by plot inconsistencies, couldn’t see my characters clearly or had no clue where my story was going, or simply got bored and went off to write the next shiny new thing. But not this time. This time I stuck with it, through happy moments when words flew onto the page faster than I could write them down and moments when every single word seemed to cost an ounce of my own blood. I stuck with the story, with the characters and I brought it all to a satisfying conclusion.

The feeling is… exhilarating, electrifying and a bit scary. I have done it. I finished something. I proved to myself that I am a writer, that I can tell stories from beginning to the end. That’s the exhilarating part.

The scary part is that I am entering uncharted waters now. I have never finished a draft before, so I have no idea how to go about rewriting and editing it, and what steps to take to transform it into a book it deserves to be, a book that I wouldn’t be ashamed to send out into the world. It feels like standing at the entrance of a labyrinth with no map and knowing that you have to navigate through it to the other side. It’s kind of paralyzing.

So I need help and I need advice from everyone who has been in my shoes and had already tackled the editing hurdle. Where do I go now? How do I even begin?