Note to Self #22: Writing the Pesky First Draft

Once again, as is the case every single time I write a new book, I need a reminder that the first draft is going to stink so dreadfully that I should consider buying a military grade oxygen mask in order to breathe properly. How do I keep pushing forward? By asking myself one simple question: How can I fail when all I have to do is reach The End? That’s right, the words can be atrocious, the plot holey, the dialogue stilted, but can I actually finish the story?

And, if you need more motivation, consider this: Once you do finish, every single time you revise that puppy, you’re going to feel better and better until you might just burst with enthusiasm because you love writing that much!       

Shove those negative feelings aside, kick your frustration to the curb, and embrace the fact that your writing skills are nearly absent in that first iteration. They’ll slowly return as the story unfolds; as your shy confidence tiptoes by and as you realize somewhere along the revisions that you’ve done this before, and you’ll do it again. And if this is your first book, just know that somehow, it will all come together.

Don’t berate yourself for being a pantser. All that means is that once you’ve spit the story out, you just need to go back, a few times (maybe a whole lot more than a few), to patch up the holes and erase the excess clues and characters. It’ll make your story stronger. And if you’re a plotter, so what if you get a little bored along the way? No worries. An unexpected twist or turn may pop up.

And if none of the above work to lift you out of the first draft doldrums, go back and read a portion of your manuscript that you worked particularly hard on. When I do that, I can’t help but think, who wrote this? It’s actually not too bad.

 

Endings: Fiction vs. Real Life

Here we are at the end of the year, with me, cleaning up the draft of my next novel, MURDEROUS MEANS, #6 in the Southern California Mysteries. I know who did it (or do I?). A few questions I always ask about endings:

– Has the main character evolved? Between you and me, I ask myself the same question at the end of the year. Have I improved in character? Have I learned new things in my quest toward progressing as a human? What could I do better? Guess who gets these same questions: Corrie Locke, my heroine. 

– Does Corrie solve the problem/mystery/murder? If you’ve read my books, you’ll note that happy endings are a must for me. My characters go through trials and hurdles, but if they hang in there, things are bound to change. In real life, we know that change can play little and big roles. It’s our reactions to these changes that make all the difference. For instance, in my real life, I recently made a concentrated effort to change my usual reaction to a situation. To react in a more positive manner, holding on to calmness and understanding. It made a huge impact on my well-being. In MURDEROUS MEANS, a change takes place in Corrie’s life that impacts her mode of investigating, and her well-being. Did she cause the change or was it an accident?

– Do all characters play an important role? In fiction, characters need to move the story forward. In real life, people should do the same, whether it’s in the grocery store line or a friend. They can’t just show up now and then, disappear, and return at a whim. They need to bring something to the table or the page, in a positive manner in real life, but in fiction, sometimes we need those not so pleasant people to move the story forward, even if it means in a negative way.

As we begin a new year, may we take whatever action needed in real and in our fiction writing life, and work “not with tense… striving, but with ease and joy.”* I have to remind myself, as does Corrie, not to love the goal more than the doing in order to keep myself happy. How about you?

 

*Sraddha Mata

Nanowrimo in Progress

I’ve never officially participated in Nanowrimo, until now. Nearly two weeks and I’m chugging along to complete a first draft of a novel. Think I’ve got it in me to do that? Yes! After all, it’s just a draft, aka, “the sloppy copy” as school kids say. 

I’m working hard on pushing on until the very end. How does one do this despite hiccups, whooping cough and sleeping sickness, not to mention hunger pangs? All of which come in to play to divert attention from the monumental task of completing that first attempt. Ways to fight back:

1. Remind yourself that discouragement and doubt have no place in a writer’s life. Do you know how many people carry around ideas for years and never do anything with them?     

2. Don’t stop writing. The goal isn’t all that hard: you just need something complete enough, in the correct word count, to play around with. Who doesn’t like to take time to play?

3. Keep the word “revision” front and center. That’s the fuel you need to reach the goal. Revision is a writer’s dear friend. And it’s not a one-time event. The more you revise, the more you’ll learn and become a better writer. As Neil Simon once said, “In baseball you only get three swings and you’re out. In rewriting, you get almost as many swings as you want and you know, sooner or later, you’ll hit the ball.” 

4. Remember, you don’t have to love that first draft. You don’t have to hate it either. You can combine the two, knowing all the while you’ve got what it takes to make it shine. Stand and stretch, eat a fun snack, go out in nature. Every little step will help you become a better writer.

5. Take a little time off after you finish your draft to race past the love/hate relationship. You can even write something else. All of which will help you return with a fresh outlook and energized to go. You can do this!