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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.

Editing Weekend

As some of you might know, I recently applied for Pitch Wars, a contest where you pitch your novel to agented authors and editors, and they pick one entry to read and critique. I submitted a pitch for my “New Adult” novel about three college roommates who learn about each other and themselves. My novel wasn’t chosen, but I received some really helpful feedback from one of the mentors I queried – Miss Dahlia Adler. I may not know exactly how to fix my query letter, but I know what to fix, and that is a huge help!

Between November 26 and December 3, I was reading through my novel and making some changes. Since then, I haven’t really done anything as far as writing is concerned. I have enjoyed the break, but now it is time to get some work done. I am going to start by editing the second novel I wrote for NaNo: For Real This Time. I haven’t really given Maggie much attention since I finished the first draft, but I think that it’s her turn. I printed out the draft and have it in a binder. From what I remember about the novel, it actually was a decent first draft – I just hope I still feel that way after I start reading. I hate wasting paper, but I find editing so much easier on paper.

This weekend, my boyfriend and his parents are going out of town, and I am staying at their house to take care of their dogs. I have decided to use this time to get a jump start on my editing. I’m going to try to do my first read through this weekend. I have pens and highlighters and sticky notes and a notebook. My goal is to go through and make notes on parts that need fixing. I am also going to look at the novel scene by scene to see which parts should stay and which parts need to be added. My goal is to have all the changes marked down on this draft before I type it into the computer. I think I often get bogged down with how much I have to do, and I end up getting confused and quitting. I’m now going to take this step by step. This method worked well with Tilt Your Head and Smile (or at least it did before I stopped editing to work on Camp NaNo and never started back up again), and I’m hoping it will work this time, as well.

If there’s one thing Pitch Wars has taught me, it’s that writing one draft isn’t enough. If you want to be a writer, you have to keep going. You have to fix the first drafts. It’s important to write a lot, yes, but you’ll never get anywhere if you don’t edit. I went to school to be an editor. This should not be the part of the process that stumps me. I currently have seven completed drafts and four incomplete drafts. I’m much closer to where I should be now than I was last year (at least I have finished drafts now), but I’m still not where I should be.

My goal for the rest of this month is to get a decent draft 2 of For Real This Time. I already have a decent draft of Let Go. It’s time I start taking this seriously. I’ve learned a lot this year, and I’ve accomplished a lot, but I still have a lot to do and learn. And I’m looking forward to waking up early tomorrow, waving goodbye to my boyfriend, and then diving straight into editing.

So much to do, so little time

Whenever I actually sit down to focus something writing-related, I’m reminded of how little time I have left before the summer is over and I have to start work and school. I have just over two weeks before training starts and five weeks before school starts. I’m trying to get ahead of my 52 books challenge, since I probably won’t have time to read much for fun during the fall, and I want to write the first draft of Keep Going (and find a new title for it), and I want to start editing Tilt Your Head and Smile and Degeneration.

I’ve decided to see how much of Tilt I can edit before Camp NaNo starts again. I decided to print draft 2. I’ve made some notes on the copy I have saved on my Nook, but it’s not the same. I like making edits on a hard copy. I have the notebooks I’ve already designated for this novel, the fine-tip Sharpie pens that my boyfriend got me for Christmas, and the sticky notes that my boyfriend’s mother got me for my birthday. I also have my soundtrack for this novel and my Script Frenzy mug full of tea. I should be all set to edit now.

Most of the editing articles I’ve seen advise against making line edits until you have the overall plot down, but I can’t work like that. I can’t see a mistake and then not fix it. I’m making notes as I go so that I can keep track of all the scenes and characters and whether or not they work in the novel. I’m also making notes of things that I need to add. I already know that I need to include more interactions between April and those close to her, so I’m trying to find places to insert those scenes. I’ve never had to make big edits like this before, so I’m a bit worried. In the past, I’ve just thrown the entire draft out and rewritten it. I don’t really want to have to keep doing that, though. From what I remember about this draft, I’m fairly happy with the overall structure of it.

I’m also happy with the outline I have for Keep Going. I’m planning on 33 chapters, including a prologue and epilogue, although I doubt I’ll refer to them as such in the novel. I’m a bit uncertain about the end, as the events of March 2009 are told pretty much exclusively from the points of view of Chloe and Samantha, but there’s not really much I can think to do about it at this point. I’ll just go with the outline I have and worry about it later. Either I’ll think of something to add involving Natalie as I’m writing, or I’ll try to fix it when I’m editing.

That’s proving to be one of the difficult parts about writing a novel with three main characters: I have to keep up with what all of them are doing and come up with complete storylines for each. Chloe and Samantha are easy to figure out, as they’re really the main main characters, but I’m having issues with Natalie. She’s important, as Chloe and Samantha wouldn’t really interact all that much without her, but I’m not really sure what to do with her towards the end of the novel. I didn’t have this much trouble when I was writing Learning to Lie, as those three main characters were all doing pretty much the same thing, at least for the most part. They had their own motivations and back stories, of course, but they were all on a quest to find the truth, so it was easy to find things for them to say.

Of course, I also wasn’t as concerned with keeping the number of chapters for each character even. I knew that Kali and Loki were my main characters and that Melina was a main supporting character. I suppose there’s not really a reason I can’t treat Natalie the same way. Besides, their numbers of chapters are fairly close. Samantha has 13 chapters, Chloe has 11, and Natalie has 9. It’s not like the other two each have 12 and she has 5 or something like that. I suppose I could just stop counting chapters and just have each chapter be a month and then have the scenes switch points of view.

I need to stop worrying about a novel I haven’t even written yet and start working the novel that actually needs to be edited. I can’t just keep writing first drafts – or even second drafts, for that matter – that don’t go anywhere. Getting the first draft on paper if, of course, important, but that only matters if I actually do something with the draft after I write it. I wrote the first draft in two weeks and the second draft in four. Hopefully I can at least get the first round of edits done in two weeks.