First Draft Confession

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Oh, the joys of the first draft bubble. You all know what I mean, right? When you’re surfing the wave of excitement and giddiness as page after page flows out of you in record time. All the while you’re patting yourself on the back, your carefree surfer voice assuring yourself with one or more of the following: Holy crap, this is ah-ma-zing. You’re so witty — how did you come up with that? This is the best thing you’ve ever written. 

My personal favorite, however, comes from the little voice wearing an Eeyore onesie with the hood and ears proudly pulled up over her head that keeps screaming, Keep going! Don’t stop now! Edit later! 

But alas, the last voice — the one that wears round-rimmed glasses and a sweater vest even in the summer, whilst using a pipe and exhaling perfect rings of smoke into the air — it always brings me back down to earth and the simple reality that I do need to pause and work on the beginning.

Because the first fifty pages have to be ah-ma-zing for real, though. When it comes to agents and editors, guess what’s the first part of your story they read? If you guessed the beginning, give yourself a high five. The first part of your novel really does make or break your chances of representation and publication. And like the annoying third voice pointed out to me when I zeroed in on page 50 of my WIP, it’s time to print those suckers out and change/add/remove parts to make my beginning the best it can possibly be.

Here’s my confession: I really, really tried to convince myself to keep going and edit later, like the Eeyore onesie voice suggested. I know a lot of writers keep on surfing wave after wave until they get to the dry sand, a first full draft in hand. But unfortunately, this isn’t the way I write, and like the sweater vest voice, I’m too pale to stay out in the sun that long — I need to take breaks now and again to keep myself burn-free.

Every writer’s process is different. For now, though I’m a little disappointed in myself, I’m going to do what I’ve gotta do — go to Staples and waste money on fun new highlighters and pens to mark up my draft  have my pages printed out to make the beginning much, much better.

So, high five to the writers who can finish a first draft in its entirety before looking back. And a salute and hug to those, like me, who can’t. We’re all pretty awesome, don’t you think?

 

Weasels & Sweat Pants

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Last weekend, I had a mini-reunion with my fellow writing weasels, Jess and Rach. It was so fun to catch up with both of them, as we hadn’t seen each other since Jess got married last year! On Friday, we were able to meet up with our favorite professor, Hillary, for lunch close to Hollins University. As always, it was awesome catching up with Hillary and getting a fresh round of advice and encouragement from her as we move forward in our writing endeavors.

After lunch, we walked to campus and found the perfect spot in the library to do what we do best: we each took turns workshopping our projects that we’ve each been able to read and critique. Before we knew it, a couple hours had passed, and we each had a few pages of notes and suggestions to implement the next time we revise. I’ve started editing, thanks to their awesome feedback, this week. I can’t even begin to describe how much their comments have helped me with my WIP. I was stuck on a couple pesky details before the three of us met, but now, my head is clear and I’ve decided where it needs to go.

And even though they really helped me make a few decisions about the plot, it’s not all squared away quite yet.

One of the things I mentioned to them that I know I’ve blogged about before is how difficult it is to nail the beginning chapters of a novel. The beginning is extremely important for obvious reasons: not only does it set the tone for the rest of the manuscript, it can also make or break whether an agent or editor chooses to keep reading. To put it simply: your beginning better rock a reader’s socks off.

But no pressure, right?

This got me thinking about first dates. When you first meet someone you like, you really try to impress. You want your hair to look its absolute best. You want your make-up to be flawless. You want your outfit to be flattering. Basically, you want to come off as the perfect woman. Maybe even at the beginning, you laugh at jokes you wouldn’t normally find funny. You pretend to be interested when your date tells you all about his work’s softball team, even though you couldn’t care less about going to a game. As in the words of the character of Amy from Gone Girl, you pretend to be the “cool girl.”

For me, that’s how I try to mold the beginning of a manuscript. I want it to be irresistible.

But then, a few months (read: chapters) in, that’s when the metaphorical sweat pants can come out and the make-up wiped right off its face. Not that I don’t want the rest of the story to be as impressive. But my goal is for the reader to want to get comfortable with the protagonist and her whole bag of ridiculous issues – to know enough about her flaws at that point that make her human, and want to hang out with her anyway. To see that she doesn’t have to be the “cool girl” to still be pretty amazing.

So right now, I’m still plugging away at the “cool girl” part of the story, laying the foundation for the shit storm coming her way.

It’s going to be hard, sad, and at times, horrible for my protagonist. But it’s also going to be really fun to get to the heart of the real her.

Sweat pants, and all.

The Survival Guide to Editing

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Writing a first draft of a novel is what I would deem the honeymoon period. Everything is great, wonderful, and spectacular, not to mention you are positive you are writing the next great American novel. Or at least one of the next great American novels. (Or at least a novel.)

But once the dust settles and the newness wears off and you have to actually reread and then revise the extraordinary piece of literature you created… well, let’s just say you might not feel so strongly about it anymore. Which leads me to the point of this blog entry: every writer needs her own personalized survival guide to editing to keep her sanity (and optimism) intact.

If you don’t have your own just yet, feel free to borrow from mine.

1. First, above all else, a writer needs motivators, aka, a cheering section. You know, the kind of person that constantly asks, “Did you edit today?” and stays on you. The kind of person that reminds you if getting published is going to happen for you, then you have to work at it and never stop! I saw a meme the other day that changed the old saying, “Good things come to those who wait,” to a much more appropriate, “Good things come to those who work hard.” To be a successful writer, if you can’t give it your all, there’s no point in trying. Thankfully, I have two motivators in my corner, cheering me on daily – my mom and my husband. I’m more grateful for their constant support and encouragement than I could probably ever express.

2. I get by with a little help from my friends. To be more accurate, my writing weasels, Jess & Rach. When you’re a writer, it pays to be friends with other writers who will read your work and give you honest feedback. Both of these fabulous ladies do this for me, and thank God, because having not one, but two extra pairs of eyes reading over my stories helps me tremendously. You see, they’re able to pick up on issues that, a lot of times, I don’t even notice are there. In other words, they’re awesome, which means my stories become more awesome by proximity.

3. Every girl needs her accessories. Pretty sure that’s a random quote from a Katherine Heigl movie, but let’s move on. For me, the accessories I need to edit are pictured below:

I know what you’re thinking. This girl needs a few more pens. I know, right? Anyway, besides my collection of colorful writing utensils (and believe it or not, I use different colors to distinguish categories of revision), also pictured is a copy of my manuscript (I cannot edit well just staring at my computer screen), “Hold that thought” stickies (which are also color-coded), a colorful pencil case, and a fun Vera Bradley notebook gifted by Jess, which I use to record what revisions I make when and what needs to be done next.

Wow, I’m a nerd.

4. Treat yo’ self. I find that rewarding myself with sweets or wine (or both!) at the end of a successful day of revising really helps motivate me. Today’s treat: cinnamon rolls.*

But anyway, there you have it – my survival guide to the dreaded task of editing a manuscript. If you’re about to embark on your own editing adventure, make up your own. It may seem like colorful pens and stickies won’t make it any less daunting, but I assure you, they will! (And if not, you can always skip to #4 and try again tomorrow.)

*Cinnamon rolls aren’t pictured because I ate them.

Quickly.

 

“Love What You Sow.”

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Last week, I talked to my grandmother on the phone. She recently had her second shoulder replacement surgery and I called to see how she was doing. After we talked about that, she then proceeded to dive into other topics, and one in particular really struck a chord with me. I can’t remember exactly how we got on the topic, but she started talking about sewing. More specifically, she told me how when you sew something, you have to love it. Unfortunately, I can’t exactly relate, because I don’t know how to sew (or cross-stitch or anything else of the sort). But then she said the same thing should go for my writing – that everything I write – every story, every character, every setting, hell every word – I have to love it. Because if I don’t love it, what’s the point? Which in turn got me thinking about everything I don’t love about my current manuscript: the ending mostly, but other aspects as well, even the nit-picky things that shouldn’t bother me but still do.

But oddly enough, I started realizing after I talked to her that one of the reasons I constantly insult my manuscript to myself while editing is because I do love it. And I really do – so very much.

It isn’t perfect by any means. And like I said, it needs work. And honestly, no matter how long I spend editing it, I know I won’t ever be 100% satisfied with it. But that doesn’t change the love I have for it and the potential I truly believe it has.

Before I started this entry, I googled the definition of the word “sow.” The first that came up was, “to plant seed by scattering it on or in the earth.” Replace the word “seed” with “stories,” and you have one of my biggest goals.

The take-away from my conversation with my grandmother was to love what I “sow” – every single part of it, even the shoddy ending, because I can fix it. I know I can.

And so can you. So love what you sow – or sew or write or whatever else it is you do with your time. Because life is way too short not to.

Setting a Deadline (& Sticking to It)

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“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
― Douglas AdamsThe Salmon of Doubt

The beauty of grad school (well, one of them, anyway) is deadlines. And at Hollins, especially during summer term which only lasted six weeks, there was no time to procrastinate. Or, in my case, worry and stress over what I did crank out – is it good enough? Is it long enough? Should I start over? OMG, this is terrible! What was I thinking? This doesn’t even make sense!

My fellow weasels get what I’m saying here. Basically, during school, we’d write something, turn it in, and hold our breath. That’s all there was time to do.

And I really, really miss that aspect of school – having a strict deadline that was unbendable – that couldn’t just “whoosh” by like Douglas Adams said. Now that I’ve graduated, the deadlines that are set for me are set by myself. And I admit a lot of them have whooshed by and sheesh, were they easy to bend before said whooshing.

But I’ve recently set a new deadline on the horizon that I’m going to try my hardest to meet. In my last entry, I talked about revising my manuscript. Well, I got it printed at FedEx and I have no excuses now not to work on it. So, I’m posting this deadline on the interwebs so that I’m held more accountable: I will finish this draft by April 15th.

Notice I didn’t say “I plan to” or “I hope to” – I said I will. And even though this isn’t like with school and I do have time to worry about whether or not it’s good enough, I’m very lucky to still have in my possession another beauty of grad school that I didn’t have to leave behind at Hollins: fantastic friends/weasels who will both compliment my work and tell me the truth about what needs to be fixed. (Jess & Rach, I’m lookin’ at you!)

So, cheers to ALL deadlines – the ones made for us and the ones we set for ourselves. May we catch up to them before they whoosh past us.

And luckily, I don’t have to be in shape to meet this one. My exercise goals, on the other hand… they’ve been whooshing past with their tongues out, laughing their butts off at me for years.

Revising: a Writer’s Never-ending Story

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A few days ago, on Facebook I stumbled upon a quote posted to a fellow writer’s timeline: “How a novel finishes, is there’s a moment when you know it has problems, and you don’t know how to fix them. That’s when you’re done.” – Lorrie Moore

Recently, my friend & fellow writer, Rachel, did me a humongous favor and read my entire manuscript. I asked her specifically to read the ending, as I’m having trouble figuring out how it should end exactly; I know how it currently ends isn’t working. But, being the fabulous friend she is, she read the entire thing instead. Once she finished, she emailed me some global feedback from start to finish, but mainly for the last half (which I knew needed the most attention anyway). As soon as I read her email, I grabbed a notebook and jotted down what all she recommended, while feelings of excitement swam through me. Why, you ask? Why would I be excited to give this manuscript – which has already been completely overhauled twice now (the latter time, I basically scrapped most of the previous draft. Ouch, I know, but it had to be done) – yet another go? That’s a question my past self would’ve definitely scratched her head over – the past self that thought she had finished this bad boy in the summer of 2012 and was convinced there was absolutely NO MORE EDITING needed. But, my present self knows better.

You see, it’s taken me a long time to realize this, but at least as far as my writing is concerned, there’s ALWAYS room for improvement. Sure, it can be frustrating when I want to move on to something new. But if I don’t edit and revise until I’m blue in the face my previous manuscript, all the past time and effort I’ve put into it would’ve been for nothing. And I love my characters too damn much to leave them hanging.

So, back to the quote. I know I’m not there yet, because as Rachel helped me realize, there are problems with my story that need fixing – and, thanks to her, I have a much better idea on how to fix them. That doesn’t mean I’ll fix every single problem, of course. But I’m confident I can now eliminate those that have solutions.

And that, my friends, is why I’m excited to tackle yet another editing session – because every problem I fix makes my story that much stronger.

A New Skill I’ve Learned: Juggling

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3d Penguin jugglesAnd no, unfortunately I don’t mean that kind of juggling. (But how cool would that be?)

I’m actually referring to juggling when it comes to writing. Not only am I juggling two different novel ideas (one, I’m editing and the other I’ve only written a few chapters on that I’ve set aside for now), but lately I’m learning more and more about how to juggle revision ideas. Focusing in on the manuscript I’m trying to polish/edit/change, I’ve slowly become accustomed to figuring out what parts of my last draft are usable and what needs to be redone from scratch. For example, the beginning (save for a quick scene at school), has been overhauled completely. I think I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, too.

But now that I’m close to 50 pages in, I’m tapping the brakes and shifting my writing brain into reverse so to speak, to try my best to weave in sections and scenes from my last draft. This is where the juggling gets more tricky.

There was an author that came to speak at Hollins one summer while I was still in school that said once she finishes a first draft of any manuscript, she locks it away in a drawer, doesn’t look at it again, and starts completely over. This, to me, always sounded insane. I mean, seriously? You spent all that time writing these characters, creating their story, wrapping up the conflict, etc., and now you’re not going to use any of it?

But now that I’m in a somewhat similar boat, I’m starting to see the point a little more. Don’t get me wrong, any of my last draft I can still use, I plan to – although I also plan to edit each section reused, too, so maybe that cancels each other out. But to me, what I couldn’t wrap my brain around until now is how I felt the author simply wasted the time she spent crafting a first draft. Those countless hours, days, weeks, months – BOOM – gone.

Last year around this time, I was finishing my first round of edits for the manuscript I’m re-doing now. I was confident then that it didn’t need that much work anymore, which I think is the white lie we as writers have to always tell ourselves: This novel is amaze-balls. Seriously, bravo. Expect only teeny tiny minor edits from here on out!

Because think about it: if we didn’t tell ourselves this lie – if we actually realized the editing process has really just begun and we’ve only taken the first step – wouldn’t that be so much more daunting?

So, even though it does sadden me that a huge chunk of my last draft won’t make the cut into my new one – including all of the beginning, a good deal of the middle, and probably not even the same ending – I’ve made peace with it. I know my novel is only going to get better than it was with each juggle session of revising and writing I change. So all that time I spent last year writing and revising this manuscript wasn’t for nothing at all; it was just the beginning of what lies ahead with these characters.

Who, in my humble opinion, are still pretty damn amaze-balls.

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