I finally finished my first manuscript of a fantasy novel I’ve been working for almost a year. I learned many lessons the last time I worked with a manuscript, one is that finishing the first manuscript is only a small step in achieving a readable book. Numerous rounds of editing and revision come after this, and they can become endless. They are not the nicest part of writing a book, at least not for me.
Last time I learned that before going into heavy editing, it is better to have a manuscript that you like, one where you feel satisfied with the story, the plot makes sense, you like the characters and they are likable. I learned that you have to be happy with what you wrote. You will need people who read your work, people who will criticize the plot, the characters and tell you how does the story feel. You will probably get lots of suggestions and you might need to rewrite chapters a couple of times more. Last time I understood there was no need to get into heavy editing if you were still working on the story development.
But for the first round of people who will read your work, you have to have a manuscript that is readable. This is the reason I felt I needed one round of revision for plot consistency, character check, setting description, and at least decent writing – a writing that will still be workable and can , of course, be improved.
I’m not going for restructuring sentences, changing verbs, or more in depth editing, but it is still taking time. A lot of it. Somehow my first manuscript has managed to end with around 110 000 words or around 410 pages, and even though I’m doing a “quick revision” it still takes time. I still have a full time job and other activities, but I’m trying to find at least one hour a day to work on this. In an hour I usually deal with 5 or 8 pages, which means it is taking a lot of time. I told a friend I would be giving her the book for her critique around February, but it is already March and I haven’t reached the middle of the book with this “quick editing.”
However, the writing process works this way, there is no easy path. Each day I’m a couple of pages done. A couple of pages more than yesterday, one paragraph more than before. I feel like doing tiny steps, but at least the steps are being given. And If I’m a couple of paragraphs done each day, then I guess it will come a time when I will finish the manuscript. One paragraph at a time. After all, writing is about the process itself.
When I started working on my first book, I had the following plan:
I would finish the draft in four of five months at most
I would make a thorough review of the first manuscript and in one single edition round I would correct everything that is wrong.
My beta readers will read it in a couple of weeks and I would rejoice in his/her wonderful comments
I would find a great Literary agent in a blink of an eye
I would have the book published in that same year
I would live from my writing and would travel the world.
I was naïve. REALLY naive.
This is the second year I’m investing in my first book. I’m still editing it. So far I’ve come to understand the following:
Doing the first draft is by far the easiest and quickest part of the process
When I finished the first draft, I was so thrilled. I felt I have conquered the world and I could be called a writer. I was so proud of myself. I thought that finally I was making something good with my life, that I was looking towards the future, towards my goals, you get the point…The truth is that writing the first draft is the easiest part. You can even achieve it in one month (If you want to test the efficiency of NaNoWriMo). But rest assured the first draft will not be readable yet. Chances are it will still have lots of plot holes and huge amounts of rewrite to be done.
2. Planning one round of revision is not realistic at all
There will be many rounds of revision. It’s hard to rewrite scenes, plot holes, and work on character development while editing your grammar and punctuation at the same time. You’ll probably need another round, and perhaps a third one, etc. Additionally, after your beta readers come to you with feedback, chances are you’ll probably need to change and rewrite many sections of your book which will lead you to another round of sentence structure/grammar review, etc., again.
3. Leaving your first manuscript to rest for a couple of weeks and even a month is not a bad idea
I knew about this tip way before I finished my first manuscript. Nonetheless, I was in such a hurry of having everything done that as soon as I finished my first manuscript, I started to edit it on the very next day. I didn’t leave it to rest and breath. My head didn’t have time to clear enough to target my manuscript with a fresh point of view. The result was several pointless rounds of revision until I decided to finally give myself a break and leave the manuscript for a month. During this time, I wrote other short stories, I read more, etc. When I finally returned to my old good manuscript, my mind was fresh and I could detect more issues than in all those previous three rounds. I identified huge gaps where I could improve. If only I’ve done that before my first round of revision… I would’ve probably faced my manuscript with much better criteria from the first edition round.
4. Your beta readers won’t give you feedback in a couple of weeks
I had three good beta readers, but it took time to receive their feedback. You have to take into account that not all of them are available to read your manuscript as soon as you deliver it. Unless you’re paying for a beta reading service, most of these people will be doing you a favor. You’ll probably need to wait until they have time. Not all of them can read books in a couple of days; they might need more time. Not all of them have only your book to read; they might need to put it in their queue of “still to read books”.
5. Good Beta Readers will say the truth and cause many changes in your book
Let’s face it. This is your first book ever. You can’t expect to nail a best seller that soon. You’ll need a lot of time,experience, and good listening skills. You need to pay attention to your beta reader’s feedback. And I’m talking about good beta readers, not your mom, your husband, etc., but people who will be able to judge the manuscript and say what is in their minds without any fear of hurting your feelings. You have to acknowledge that as the author of your book, you know how the plot works, you know how characters look in your mind, but sometimes you fail to translate this knowledge into the written world. Chances are you’ll still need to change and rewrite after your beta reader’s feedback.
6. Character development is not achieved at once
If this is your first book, then you’ll probably struggle with nailing “character development”. Even if you outline characters before you start the book, they’ll probably develop and change as your plot changes. Their behaviors will change depending on how the direction of your books goes or how scenes are improved. Providing a three-dimensional character is harder than you think. It wasn’t until many revisions and feedback that I had enough tools to develop my characters as they should.
7. Developing your voice doesn’t come so fast
It doesn’t matter how many books about writing you read and how many writing courses you attend. Developing your voice only comes with practice. Sometimes, you want to obey all writing rules and make your sentences’ structure perfect, but then you find yourself with a boring flat manuscript. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to know the rules. To break the rules, you need to know them first. But you can’t expect to find your writing voice in the first round of writing. Perhaps you won’t even find it in your first book.
8. Don’t hire any editing service until you’ve received plenty feedback
I made the mistake of hiring an editing service (which was very good) before I got all the feedback. My third beta reader was able to send me his feedback after my manuscript was already edited by a professional editor. This feedback was very helpful and had lots of good advice plot-wise, which meant I had to do significant changes and rewrite many scenes and even chapters. The result, the professionally edited text was gone. It would’ve been certainly helpful to hire this service after all revisions and feedback.
9. Consider your first book may not be publishable
In my plans above, I clearly talk about getting a literary agent, publishing it, and having enough earnings to live from my writing. The reality is different. And the truth is your first book could not be published yet or could not be published at all. You need to accept this fact from the beginning. It’s a learning curve. My mind already has tons of topics to write other books; they even sound more interesting than the manuscript I’m working with right now. Perhaps book two or three will be published. Perhaps my first book will be revisited in a couple of years and later published. At this point, I only care about improving my writing.
10. This is only your first experience
Writing a first book is about gaining experience. It doesn’t matter how perfect your book idea is, how charming your characters are, or how beautifully you construct prose, the process is still tricky with the first book. You still need to learn how to handle feedback, how to detect plot holes, how to find your voice, how to make useful rounds of edition, etc. If you take this point of view, I guarantee you’ll find the experience more rewarding than the publishing result. You’ll be more excited about your next projects and you won’t suffer so much if the path of delivering your first book looks too hard. Best of all, you’ll encounter the true meaning of being a writer.
Last post When old habits are hard to abandon… I’m looking at you procrastination was eye opening. For some reason, I always believed that being “multi-tasker” was engraved in my system. I even felt proud of it. I could face many tasks at work or while writing without any problems. I even used as one of my qualities (whenever I needed to talk about myself, my strengths,etc… case point: CVs). This happened until many days ago, when for some miracle, I landed on the Coursera course: Learning how to learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects. If you ever have time to check this free online course (which you could also pay if you want a certification), then do it. The course suggestion came to my email inbox the same day I wrote about my procrastination/multi-tasker post. And surprise, surprise: It turns out being multi-tasker is not as good I as thought it was. In fact, it’s not good at all.
I’m not going to go into specifics in the course. Besides, I still have a couple of lessons that I still need to go through in this course. But so far, it’s been one of the best courses I’ve taken through this platform. Going straight to the point: multi-tasking only burns you out, it stresses you, it makes you slower, it lowers the quality of your work, and tires you faster. But it can be changed. And since I’ve started this new plan to reprogram my brain from its default multi-tasking mode or even close to some sort of attention deficit disorder, my capacity to focus and concentrate has grown exponentially. My writing tasks are back on track again and with good perspectives!
There are tons of courses, methodologies, articles online about this topic. Many great sources of information. If you’re looking to get rid of procrastination, improve the quality of time you spent on your important tasks (writing, I’m looking at you), then I suggest you get rid of any multi-tasking habits. I’m looking forward to polishing these skills, and maybe in some weeks time, to be able to say I finally left procrastination in the past.
Procrastination has been affecting my life since I can remember. Fortunately, these last couple of years, I’ve been suffering less of it or else I would’ve never achieved a novel’s first draft (it should be treated as an illness!). But I haven’t gone over it yet. I might now put a daily effort on my writer goals, but it’s not enough yet.
The one to blame, the Internet.
I could use the computer and disconnect, but I depend heavily on thesaurus.com I could get a physical copy, but certainly working with the website allows me to easily navigate from word to word’s synonyms and definitions in a matter of seconds, without losing the inspiration or the sentence idea that troubles my mind at that point. I’ve tried using printed copies of dictionaries and thesaurus, but they’re not meant to be used on every single minute. And yes, I still use it a lot. Especially, since English is not my first language, many times I just want to make sure I got the correct definition and that the synonym I’m choosing to use is accurate.
So if thesaurus.com wasn’t such a good tool and as dependent on internet connectivity as it is, I would probably disconnect from Wi-Fi. But if this website helps my writing, what is the real problem?
My mind is used to multi-tasking. As a result, thoughts, ideas, and hyperactivity flood my brain almost 24/7 (If mental hyperactivity could be translated into physical hyperactivity… I would be the best athlete in the world… but that’s another topic). My mind doesn’t really switch off until I go to bed. And sometimes, I find trouble sleeping trying to unplug my mind from its endless ideas, worries, etc. So while writing, it’s normal for me to get distracted by other websites; afraid (maybe an excuse word) that I will forget later what I wanted to buy in Ebay, that I will miss what’s going on Facebook, and that there are still tips, blogs, and websites I should be looking at for my next trip (in 2 weeks – Tripadvisor, I’m looking at you!), I open the browser and proceed to search, look, and verify other issues while in the middle of writing.
The result: guilt invading me at around 10:00 pm when my eyes are starting to feel the burden of the day and I have to choose between:
Giving up and going to bed
Continue the writing until almost midnight or until my eyes are hyper red. The direct consequence: I cannot invest any more reading time in bed if I want to give my eyes a proper resting (after all, I spend the whole day in front of the computer)
Maybe I’m too anxious for vacations these days, and I cannot move forward without taking out of my mind all the issues that should be arranged or known before traveling. Maybe after my holidays, my mind will be clear enough to continue working. But who am I kidding? There will always be a next trip, a next activity, or a next excuse. If I’m going to take the writing career for good, then I’d better eliminate the word Procrastination from my vocabulary. Any advice?
I haven’t read Isabel Allende in a while. It’s my favorite Spanish speaking author. I remembered how I used to devour her books when I was a teenager. Her stories were so profound, her characters so alive. I haven’t read all of her books, and this reminds I might not be a proper author fan/follower. But I’ve always been into exploring new authors.
Since she’s a Spanish speaking author, I read her books in their original language: Spanish. No translations. However, in my effort to improve my writing in English, I haven’t read books in Spanish for a while, probably for the last three years. It’s been hard to remain truthful to this objective. I could easily get Spanish translations from John Grisham, Stephen King, and other famous ones in the bookstores of my city, but my encounters with horrible translations have pushed me to insist in improving my English when possible. Now, I usually shop for books online or buy them whenever I travel. The effort has paid off. I used to read books in English with dictionaries searches every two minutes. Now, I don’t need need them anymore.
Anyway, I was excited to read Allende again. The book I picked up was one of her latest ones: “El Amante Japonés” or “The Japanese Lover.” I really enjoyed the book but it was a writing/learning experience more than anything. Unfortunately, I no longer remember enough to testify for other Allende’s books. But in this book, I found a couple of writing style observations along the way that made me question the writing rules I’ve been learning lately. My reading perspective has changed significantly over these two years of reading books about writing, listening to webinars about writing, attending to writing online courses and even going to a writing conference in English. I would have never imagined these writing rules I’ve been following at heart could be non-existent in the authors I loved the most. It was an utter surprise.
But what exactly were these rules I found non existent in “The Japanese Lover”? In fiction, I’ve been taught to write scenes from a single point of view. If you want to use other character’s points of view, then it’s better to do it in another scene or even in another chapter. In “The Japanese Lover”, Isabel Allende mixes multiple points of view from one paragraph to the other. One paragraph you are inside one of the main character’s head and the next one you are in another, in a blink of an eye. At the beginning, I found this quite off-putting. I was mad that one of my favorite authors was writing like that. I began to question, Was it always like that in her previous books? (I still need to check this out of curiosity) Was this something it didn’t bother to me before? Was it because I didn’t know of these rules many years ago? But I learned a lesson quick. The rule about not mixing points of view exists because we don’t want to confuse readers. But we must never misjudge readers’ reading capabilities. After a couple of lines, it was easy to realize which character were being described. And after the first chapters I didn’t find this annoying anymore. Sometimes as writers, we struggle too much in trying to ensure our readers won’t get confused. We write with such detail (succumbing to exaggerated description and slow flow) to ensure readers follow the plot line easily that we sometimes forget our readers are perfectly able to grab implicit details without the need of us describing them word by word.
After overcoming my own self blocking rule in the fist chapters of “The Japanese lover” and forgetting about any other writing rules, I began to submerge into the story. I found out that Isable Allende is still one of my favorite authors. It didn’t matter she changed POVs every second; I read her book hugely entertained and finished it in a couple of days. Of course, the book is not perfect, there are other issues that bothered me at some level, such as the excess of themes in one single book and the highly dramatic backgrounds in each character – too much to be believable at some point. But the book had alive characters. That is something you cannot always achieve by following the rules.
As a result and as part of my writing improvement process. I’ve learned that bending the rules is not always bad. I still prefer to keep one POV for each scene, but now I feel myself free to break some rules and allow my writing to become alive.