Finding a process that works for me
Julie wrote a wonderful post the other day about the importance of being happy with what you’ve accomplished instead of always comparing yourself to other people. This is a great piece of advice, especially when you’re starting to doubt your ability as a writer.
I go through moments when I’m happy with my writing process and all that I’ve accomplished, and there are times when I’m not. For a while last year, I thought I was happy because I found a process that worked for me – write a first draft really fast, then throw it out and write a second draft really fast, and then edit that second draft. It wasn’t the process I wanted to have work for me, but it was what seemed to be working.
And then I started following more blogs and people on Twitter. I started realizing that it was time to get serious about writing if I ever wanted to actually get something published. I read articles on editing and saw what other people did. I read about people who took their first draft and fixed it and turned it into a good draft. And I thought, Hey, I can write like that, too! And I decided to try to change my writing process.
To be fair, part of this desire came from one of the novels I finished this past NaNo – LET GO. This is the novel that I started for NaNo 2008. I got about 10k in before I quit. I started it again in 2010 and got only a couple of thousand words in that time. Then I started it again for Camp NaNo 2012, and this time I liked what I was writing. I wrote the last 15-20k for 50k weekend during NaNo, and I ended up with a completed draft that I was actually quite happy with. I spent the end of November/beginning of December getting it ready for Pitch Wars, and I submitted it. I didn’t get chosen, but I learned a lot about writing and queries, and I found a whole slew of interesting people to follow on Twitter.
While all of that was wonderful, there was one thing that came about from all that that wasn’t so great – I got the idea that I could write a first draft that was good. I thought that since LET GO was decent the first time I wrote it, I must have outgrown my old process of write a draft and then throw it out and rewrite it completely. It’s like I forgot about the first two drafts that I started and threw out.
That’s why I was happy when I sat down to edit FOR REAL THIS TIME. I thought that it was a great first draft that just required a normal amount of editing, not a complete rewrite. So when I finally read over it and made a bunch of notes and realized that I did need to mostly start over, I was devastated. I felt like I was a failure, like I was regressing as a writer.
But you know what? I’m over that. I’m sitting here with 8 chapters and 20,000 words written for draft 2 of FOR REAL, and I’m really liking what I have so far. I’m not saying it’s the most amazing thing ever written, of course. I know it’s going to have to undergo one more round of edits before I try to show it to anyone. But you know what? I’m happy with it.
I’ve found a system that works for me. I write a first draft as fast as I can (in this case – 2 weeks). Then I leave it alone for about a month. Then I go through and edit it. I make a line edits and substantive edits. I know every single article written on this topic says not to do this, but you know what? I can’t help it. I went to college to be a copy editor. I was called a grammar Nazi in high school. I can’t read a novel with a pen in my hand and not fix errors when I see them.
When I finish this round of edits, I go about fixing the manuscript. In this case, that meant throwing out most of the book and rewriting it. Now, I will admit that I’ve kept more of this first draft than I thought I would. Some chapters were completely rewritten. Some were moved but kept mostly as they were. Others were added. I’m doing whatever that chapter calls for. The important thing, though, is that I’ve learned to stop doubting my process.
Would it be nice to be able to edit a draft and not have to rewrite almost all of it? Sure. But that doesn’t mean that I’m a failure if I end up rewriting all of this. That’s just what works best for me. That’s what I did in college with my creative writing classes. I would write a really fast draft of a story the night before it was due, and then I would throw that out and write a new draft, and I always ended up loving that second draft.
I need to stop doubting myself. I need to stop comparing myself to other people. I need to do what works for me and stop worrying that it’s not what other people do.
I set a goal for myself this month to finish the second draft of FOR REAL THIS TIME. My goal was to write one chapter a day every day of the month, starting Jan. 11, which was the day after I finished the outline for it. I ended up missing one day, but I also combined two chapters, so I’m still on track to finish on time. I’m not doing this as fast as I wrote the first draft, but it’s working for me – and that’s what matters.