In Part Two, I talked about my seemingly haphazard writing process. While I admit that this is how I generally operate, that is only in the beginning. When it comes to the actual task of writing, I take the job very seriously. It may take some time for me to sit down in front of the computer and begin the process, but I know – especially when it comes to my novels – that I am writing as professionally as possible.
During the initial phases, it’s okay to be a little loose with your grammar, spelling, syntax, etc. But once you get past the rough/first draft phase, it’s time to hunker down and do the needed work to produce a professional product.
Let’s talk about the drafting process.
Don’t Try and Dodge the (First) Draft!
Rough drafts and first drafts are always pretty rough reads. But that’s a good thing. Why? Because you are now able to visually read your story on the page and see exactly what works, what doesn’t, where to add, where to cut, and where things actually work the first time.
You can’t edit what hasn’t been written, and this is now your chance to read through the draft and note where things need to be changed, added, etc.
With Midnight House, this was my tactic. The first draft was short, the character arcs didn’t finish, the current opening didn’t exist, and there were missing elements that I knew had to be added ASAP.
And all of this takes time. And it should take time. It’s all part of the process.
I also tend to write multiple drafts of chapters/scenes and then merge the strongest elements of these versions together. This, of course, can cause continuity issues if things aren’t fixed during the revision process. If Character A drives a Ford Mustang at the beginning of the story, you want to make sure they don’t suddenly drive a Dodge Charger later on because you wrote them driving a different car in a previous draft.
The urge will be strong to stop reading and start rewriting as you go, but be strong and keep reading and making notes about what you want to fix. That way, you have a clear picture of the entire story as it’s currently assembled.
Once you’ve done this, you can take that trusty editing sledgehammer, demolish the pieces of your draft that don’t work, and rebuild them with stronger, more effective structures.
If at First You Don’t Succeed…
Writing a novel, a play, a screenplay, or a poem takes time. It takes patience. You won’t nail it 100% after your first rewrite, second, or even sixth. With your story now fleshed out and in a tangible, malleable space, your creative brain is firing on all cylinders 24/7, fixing plot holes, revising dialogue, enhancing description, and making you a better writer.
Once I’m into a story, I keep it top of mind. I work through the narrative in my head, figuring out issues and potential story problems. Figuring out new twists and ideas to enhance the suspense, the excitement, and the humor. I have actually been on a walk at work and realized a significant plot hole existed and rushed back inside to email myself a potential fix to the problem.
Make sure that when you begin a new draft, you date the draft in the filename to know that you’re working on the most current version. I didn’t do this on The Field, and trying to track down the most recent version was a headache. Don’t be like me. Do something like The Field_DraftThree_02062018. Then, each day you revise, you Save As… and change the date.
Take Your Time, and Take Some Time
As you complete each draft, give yourself some breathing room away from your story. Don’t worry; your brain won’t let you forget about it. This gives you some distance and objectivity regarding your story and will help make more challenging decisions easier to address when editing. Sometimes, it can be hard to let go of a favorite line of dialogue or a chapter you love, even if it’s not working in a newer draft.
Giving yourself a week or two between rewrites can help refresh your mind and allow your brain to identify story issues in the previous draft subconsciously. Again, I’ve had this happen where I’m taking a break between drafts and realize that a chapter falls flat and needs to be cut.
Keep notes on any changes, cuts, or additions you want to make, but don’t go back to start a new draft until you feel you have to dive back in.
The Writer Wears Many Hats
Once you are secure in what you have written and have a strong story containing all you want the reader to experience, it’s time to think like an editor. Yes, you want to pass your manuscript off to someone you trust to edit and give feedback, but you should be the first person who takes the initial pass as the manuscript’s editor.
You know what you want to say. You know what story you want to tell. The tone. The themes. The characters and their characterizations. Who better to go through and ensure that all of those things are 100% how they are intended to be?
You are that person.
This is a systematic process. Take it one sentence at a time. Set small daily goals at first. Read through and ask yourself:
- Does everything in this paragraph make sense?
- Does it serve a purpose in the story?
- Does it deliver information about the character or plot?
- Is it descriptive enough? Does each chapter move the story forward?
- Are there moments where things lag? Why? What’s the problem? How can it be fixed? Can that section be cut to tighten things up?
Remember, you are an Editor now, not a Writer. Your role here is to ensure things are as clear for the reader as you want them to be. If you feel new content needs to be added, note it and keep going.
I would like to note that cutting stuff is fine during this stage. Adding new stuff should wait until after this editing process is complete. That way, you know if what you think you need to add is redundant or even necessary as you progress through the story.
Midnight House has many characters involved in many activities, so this was a great process to use multiple times to focus on each character. This ensured that their arcs were solid, their interactions with other characters and story arcs worked, and continuity in their characterizations and dialogue (especially if parts of merged drafts were used) was consistent.
You’ve done it! Your hard work has paid off, and you now have a solid manuscript with a great story and characters. Congratulations!
Now it’s time to give your story to a new set of trusted eyes and get their feedback, notes, and editing suggestions.
In Part Four, we’ll talk about getting feedback from your editor and feedback partner, how to incorporate notes, finalizing your manuscript, and getting it ready to publish. See you next week!