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?

 

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“Every Baby is Different.”

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this saying (or how many times I’ve found myself uttering these words since my daughter was born). And it’s very true – every baby is different.

The same, I’ve come to find, can be said about manuscripts as well. Recently, one of my Facebook friends posted that she participated in a NaNoWriMo challenge and had passed her goal of writing 60,000 words in a month’s time. My first thought was, WOW, that’s amazing! My second was, Oh, Dear God. I’ve been working on the same manuscript, in some form or another, for two years. But then I had to remind myself that completing a first draft, while it’s an awesome accomplishment in and of itself, isn’t the end of the road trip. It’s actually just the beginning. Sort of like after you haven’t been in the car that long and you can’t hold your pee in any longer. You have to stop somewhere, and then hop right back on the road again. To me, that’s the same with finishing a first draft and then working on your second. (And then third…and then fourth…let’s just say this is a cross-country road trip.)  And just like with driving, each of us moves at our own speed. Some will make it to their destination faster, and that’s a-okay.

Some babies crawl first, walk first, talk first, you name it. But guess what? In the end, all babies will catch up with each other.

I believe the same goes for us writers out there. We all have the same goal in mind. We can ALL do this! But even if you cross the finish line and complete your editing rounds last, you still made it. In sum, keep on truckin’. Full steam ahead. Keep on keepin’ on.

And any other corny saying to encourage you to stay on course.

But if you need to take a pit stop every now and then, be my guest. Speaking of which…

 

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.

 

How Good Books are Like Tasty Buffets

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I know I’m pretty late to the party, but I just finished reading Divergent by Veronica Roth and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it! In fact, I blew through the almost 500 page book in just a handful of days. It really grabbed my attention from the beginning and didn’t loosen its grip until the end. I can’t remember the last book I read that I just couldn’t put down. It’s been quite a while since that happened!
Yesterday, my hubby and I took Arya to our local Indian restaurant for their yummy buffet lunch. While we were stuffing our faces and stomachs with way too much food, it occurred to me that tearing through a gripping novel is a lot like chowing down at a buffet: even when you think you’ve made it to a proper stopping point, you can’t stop. Even though you know you should, it’s as if you lose all your will power. That’s what always happens at India Garden, and that’s exactly what happened while I was reading Divergent.
In one of my classes in grad school, our professor said she’d rather write novels that are considered good writing that aren’t necessarily super popular or best sellers. While I completely understand what she means, I don’t think I can agree 100% with her. Though I strive with my own writing to make it as good as I possibly can, I still want my manuscripts to one day be the kind of novels readers treat like a delicious lunch buffet they can’t stop devouring. A girl can dream, right?
That being said, I don’t expect to ever sell as many copies as Veronica Roth has sold of her Divergent trilogy. A reported 10 million copies of it have been sold! That’s a LOT of hungry readers…

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.

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.

My (Writing) Threesome Role: Sandwich Maker

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A few days ago, a coworker lent me the latest copy of “Cosmo” to peruse while it was slow. I can’t even remember the last time I read this magazine. Probably not since freshman year of college.

After scanning the cover interview with Miley Cyrus, I flipped to another article that caught my eye in the table of contents: one concerning threesomes. I believe the title was something to the extent of, “So you’re considering a threesome…” and the picture was of three bare feet curled together at the end of a bed. At this point, I was already laughing. So when I read the article further – it offered five “real” experiences to help one decide whether to give a threesome a whirl – I started laughing even more. I only had time to read one of the experiences. In this particular confession, one girl and her roommate fool around for her roommate’s boyfriend to watch, the roommate leaves the room because she’s uncomfortable, so then the girl has sex with her roommate’s boyfriend.

I laughed even harder because the whole thing reminded me of the “Friends” episode where it shows what would’ve happened if Ross stayed married to Carol, Rachel had married Barry, etc. During the ep, Ross brags to Joey about having a threesome with Carol and another woman. At first, he’s all excited to share the story, but towards the end he reveals he was sort of the odd man out, creepily watching on as Carol got it on with Susan. He was so left out, he had enough time to go make himself a sandwich. Once he describes what he put on the sandwich, Joey commends him and says that sounds really good, and Ross says something like, “You know, it really was!”

To me, neither of these stories sounds like an actual “threesome.” And who knows, the roommate from the Cosmo confession probably had some time to kill while her boyfriend banged her roommate and may have made her own sandwich (or some other sort of yummy snack). Which leads me to the title of this randomly wacky blog entry: my writing threesome role as sandwich maker.

Lately I’ve lost a bit of my writing mojo. And for once, it’s not because I have nothing to write about. It’s because I have two different stories competing for primary attention in my head.  While I’ve only written one chapter (that I plan on scrapping and rewriting) for one of these stories, I’ve written a few more for the other. However, both have made pretty convincing arguments why they should have the spotlight right now. So in a way, I’m involved in my own sort of threesome – a writing threesome, if you will. But I know I can’t give them both equal attention (as I’m sure happens in most threesomes!) so I need to just pick one and shelf the other. But since I can’t decide which right now, I’m going to do the most reasonable thing to pass the time: make myself a metaphorical sandwich.

Actually…I think I’ll go make a real one. 😉

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