I struggled a lot with my first project. I read many books on the writing process and even attended some courses on it. I tried to be as systematic as possible and write by the rules. I learned valuable lessons and this helped me get through the process and finish my manuscript. However, I didn’t like the end result.
For this new second project, I started a couple of months ago, I tried to let it go and just be a pantser instead of a plotter. However as nice as it sounds to be a pantser, I also knew from my first experience, that there needed to be some infrastructure in the plot. Endless inspiration doesn’t take you to a perfect plot. And there are characters, my weakest point. The very reason why I let my first project remain dormant for the time being is that I ended not liking my characters at all. They needed and still need more development if I ever go back to that first project.
In this second project, I had started writing as a pantser, letting the words and scenes come to my mind as I wrote, but then I reached a point (a couple of days ago) where I didn’t know where I was heading and if characters were being developed as I wanted. So I did something I avoided since I started writing. I stopped after more or less 35000 words and went back to the first page to review it slowly. I know the manuscript is not even in the middle and I have no clue yet where the story is heading yet, but I felt the need to go over what I have written so far to make sure the 35000 words made sense and that the characters didn’t suck. If you’ve gone through writing advice, classes, etc, you will hear that they don’t recommend this approach that much, that editing while still writing might not be the best. But I found out that it actually helps me. I’m in time to detect current plot failures and find opportunities for character development. Who knows, with this initial review, the plot might get a twist and a new rewrite. At this point, I wouldn’t mind the re-writing. I’m not that far in the story. Rewriting 35000 words doesn’t feel as bad as rewriting more than 100 000.
This approach seems to work so far. Maybe it’s already suggested somewhere or maybe some other writers do something similar. I feel that it might the “thing” that works for me. I believe the purpose of getting experience with the writing process is to find your own path and your own method. My objective is that my first manuscript feels good. It doesn’t matter if I need to do a heavy editing after it. I just want to be able to feel that I’m telling a good story.
I participated in my first NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago. It was an attempt to get my first manuscript out. At that point I didn’t have much experience in writing, I had a topic in mind but no plot or idea where my manuscript was going. I remember being delighted with the idea of writing two thousand words per day. I would be together with a whole community of writers, in the same position as me. I wouldn’t feel alone in the process. However, as I look back, I think that I was so worried about the daily goal, that I was giving more importance to its achievement than to the development of my manuscript story. I won NaNoWriMo that time (winning means writing 2000 words per day in all the month – an equivalent of 50 000 words of manuscript). But as I look back, I would have liked more time to develop this story. I sort of rushed the plot into a story that I found myself not liking very much later. Right now, this manuscript is in standby, it has room for improvement. Perhaps it would have been finished by now if I had given more thought to its plot at that time.
I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo the next years. I don’t regret the first time either. It pushed me more into writing. I’ve passed from having the dream of one day wanting to write a novel to having a draft of a manuscript in a short time, something I thought it would never happened in my life.
However, this year I’m participating. I have a new story in mind. But my approach this year is different. In this month, I want to give as much thought and work as possible to my new story but without the daily goal of 2000 words per day. My objective is to make of this month a key month for my new manuscript, and I also want to feel that I’m participating in something bigger, with a whole community in the process.
I’m focusing on writing with inspiration – I like this state of mind. The characters and story so far are nice and are exciting me. I’m no longer worried about having the story finished as soon as possible. I’m loving the process of discovering the story as I write. The process of discovering my own characters as the story continues. There is no goal per day. I write in the mornings before I start my job. I found out that this works for me. When I was doing the opposite, writing at the end of day, I was so tired and didn’t want to seat on the computer any longer in the evening. Now doing this in the early morning gives me a sense of replenishment and fullness that lets me start the day accomplishing one of my main goals in my life.
To be honest, I’d been stuck with my manuscript for months already. Recently, I wrote how I planned to practically start over from scratch. At the end, I decided to take a similar approach, go over it but not with editing eyes (I’ve edited those sentences so many times that I didn’t know if I was actually improving them or making them worse) but read it critically, plotwise, characterwise. I felt that my biggest weakness was character development, I felt them flat. That is why I choose a very good advice from my blog friend Glynis in “Productive or Busy” (who also took it from her friend Shari) about writing separately several character pages (not necessarily related to the plot but their life story in general) to get a feeling of the characters. I loved the idea and started doing this on my current manuscript.
As soon as I started just writing, I got those chills you have when inspiration hits you and you just start typing endlessly, feeling the flow of the words. I love this state. I know I don’t do my best writing from the grammatical/structure point of view, the writing is rather awful, but I get to release all the feelings and everything I feel should be put to paper.
After this cool experience, I had to go for a fanfiction story. I know being a geek has led me to write fanfiction stories before. This is a weird path for writing since fanfiction involves writing about characters that have already been created, but it is still writing and I had to do it. It felt so liberating that I thought that I was finally rediscovering my writing spirit again. The fan fiction story only awoke my inner writing muse. This was a one time short story and it is already finished, and I don’t plan to revisit the world of fanfiction for a while, however this process has stirred the desire that I’ve been having for some time to start a new story, for leaving my manuscript resting for a while, and just start telling this new story that has been doing circles in my head.
I realized that I might not be the first one. I’m pretty sure several writers have jumped to a different work and left others to rest for a while. So I’ve started writing a new manuscript for a week already. I’ve been doing it daily (which wasn’t happening with my other writing) and I feel excited about it, ideas are flowing to my mind and I feel happy. I still plan to revisit my previous manuscript’s character pages since that aside process was been going well, but I feel like this new writing has strengthened and invigorated my new writing spirit.
And you, has it ever happened to you that you started writing other projects without finishing others? Do you think it is a good idea?
Manoush Zomorodi talks about a developed app-experiment that challenges its users to be “Bored and Briliant”.
As writers, we suffer from time to time from “writer’s block”. We find ourselves “procrastinating” and using/losing time only to check emails, social media and so on. Suddenly we find ourselves out of “ideas” or far from of a clear mind to write. The following talk might give you a different perspective:
What do you think about this talk? Do you think you can find writing inspiration during your bored times?
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.