Draft, Read, Revise, Edit, Repeat

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I’ve just finished the first draft of my second novel and I’m fairly pleased with the result. Now it’s off to the beta readers, then more revision, then off to my critique partners, then more revision–and repeat.

I came across this Irving quote this morning as I was putting together a handout for the parents of my young writers club members and it sang to me on more than one level. Just like a novel, life is one great, unfinished manuscript, one that we spend a lot of time trying to perfect and never quite achieve. Unlike an actual manuscript, however, we can’t so easily erase our “shitty first drafts“.

But…we can revise. We can improve. We can choose better, stronger, kinder words, and show our feelings through action instead of dialogue. We can change our actions if they don’t ring true for our character. (Or for the character we wish to be.) We can cut out those characters who don’t bring value to our story, or worse, turn it into horror or tragedy. Likewise, we can give those quirky or unassuming characters a more prominent place in our plot. Maybe we can’t delete that first draft, but we can certainly go on to write a new one.

Life is full of plot points that go nowhere, subplots that take over our main theme, heroes and villains and spunky sidekicks that jump off the page–sometimes unexpectedly. Through it all, we keep on writing our story–living one moment after another, revising when necessary.

Happy Revising!

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“Embrace the Suck”: Writing through the doubt

Moira-frustrated-computerI’ve often been told (and it’s advice I’ve passed on, myself) that if you are still long enough, you will hear God (or the Universe, or Fate, etc. etc.) speaking to you. I do believe that. Patience and calm will net you wisdom that you just cannot gleam from frenetic worrying and anxiety.

But there are also times when the Universe (or God, or Fate, etc. etc.) just ups and smacks you on the nose.

Take this morning for instance: I expressed to my husband how frustrated I was that I couldn’t translate the story in my head into coherent words on the paper for my current WIP. I was also second-guessing my finished novel, the one that I already submitted to two writing contests. I was feeling discouraged, to say the least.

And then this quote of the day popped up at the top of my Gmail inbox:

“My dear friend, clear your mind of cant.”― Samuel Johnson

To be perfectly clear, Johnson was not speaking of “can’t”; he was addressing the hypocritical way in which some people speak. (Politicians often cant about family values and fiscal responsibility, but then pass bills that promote neither.)

But as I read it in my head, I changed “cant” to “can’t”, because that advice also works. The more I stress over what I can’t do, the more true that becomes. If I tell myself I can’t do something, then I won’t be able to do it. I need to clear my mind of that awful word, “can’t”. Yes, I can develop a complex personality for my character. Yes, I can create a more vivid setting. Yes, I can figure out how to plug that plot hole.

I think as writers, we all have those moments of doubt, when we believe we can’t produce something worthy of public consumption. We just have to push through it, or to put it in military parlance, “Embrace the Suck”. If making the decision to chase my dream of becoming a published author has taught me anything, it’s taught me that this field is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for those who can’t be honest with themselves, who can’t handle the hard work, who can’t see past that first ugly draft. So just clear your minds of “can’t”, my dear friends, because:

“you can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”Stephen King

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Is the novel half-finished or half-unfinished?

Participant-2014-Web-BannerI decided to participate in NaNoWriMo once again. Novel one has been written and I already had the outline for the second one in the series. So why not?

Why not, indeed.

Here we are halfway through November and I am on par with my wordcount. The optimistic writer in me cheers. “Yay! Halfway there!” The pessimistic writer in me moans. “Ugh. So much more to do.” Especially when you’re knee-deep in your plot and realize there’s a glaring hole you have to figure out how to plug.

But there is a beauty in NaNoWriMo, and it’s in the freedom that this challenge gives you. The freedom to suck. The freedom to stick a piece of cheap scotch tape over that plot hole and keep moving on. The freedom to just get words down on the paper. You can make sense of them later. Yes, Pessimistic Writer, there is still so much more to do. But take a cue from Optimistic Writer and embrace the fact that you are one word farther than you were yesterday. That’s how books are written. One word after another.

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