Day 211 – Write compelling characters or suffer the consequences

Day two hundred eleven of my 365 Day Writing Project.

I have been keen to work on the characters in my book. I’m making notes to more fully develop the characters and to not let them get watered down and lost in the plot. After reading the first draft, I realized that although the characters are compelling in my mind and I know them in and out, I wasn’t conveying enough about them to the reader. As I wrote, I imagined their involvement in the story, why they would have certain reactions to events and how they would interact with other characters based on their personalities and past histories. I see now that I wasn’t getting enough of that information on the page. Important aspects of my characters weren’t adequately coming through my writing.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that I am able to recognize these flaws in my first draft. I know I have work to do. I want my characters to be as compelling as they deserve to be. To allow anything less would cheat the story and most definitely, the reader. Because if your characters aren’t compelling, your book won’t be either.

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Day 210 – Progress is slow and ugly

Day two hundred ten of my 365 Day Writing Project.

I’m working on the first draft rewrite but I’m finding progress to be slow. I don’t suppose I should expect anything more than that. It’s a work in progress. And typically, I’m not able to work on it during the day. My writing time is at night, usually after the kids are in bed. Which happens to be when I am most tired. It isn’t easy, but little by little I’ll get there. I know I will.

But for now, it’s ugly. Slow and ugly. They say the first draft is always total crap. Now that I’m nitpicking through it, I see that I am no exception to the rule. I just hope my writing – and my book – evolve into something much better than they are at the moment.

“Writing is like sausage making in my view; you’ll all be happier in the end if you just eat the final product without knowing what’s gone into it.” – George R.R. Martin

Day 208 – Plot changes in the rewrite

Day two hundred eight of my 365 Day Writing Project.

It happened to me again. I was in the shower this morning when I had an idea about the plot. An idea that will result in several significant changes to the story, actually. I haven’t totally vetted the details but I have taken a lot of notes, and I plan to break it all down into an outline over the next day or two. I think the changes could make the story stronger. They will also require me to develop certain character interactions differently. I don’t know how I feel about all of this yet, but I should once I have the outline figured out. And then there will be a lot to look forward to writing.

This is not the first time a big idea has come to me in the shower. I’ll have to remember this the next time I’m stuck. Maybe if I just hop in the shower it will get my creativity flowing. Whatever works, right?

Day 206 – First draft, first chapter rewrite

Day two hundred six of my 365 Day Writing Project.

I’m in Chapter One of my first draft, revising and rewriting. And it’s going slow. I wrote an entirely new first paragraph – the opening paragraph of the book – which was a bold change. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if it works. I read it over and over, tweaking it here and there, trying to decide. The best I could do was to just leave it alone. I could pass hours on that one paragraph which would be a monumental waste of time. I know I’ll probably end up changing it again later.

I can see how revising and rewriting is going to be a tough process for me. Although I love to do it, I tend to get obsessive about getting things just right. But I can’t let myself do this. I have to keep moving forward and working in stages so I don’t get stuck. The way to do that, I think, is to continue to remind myself that the second draft won’t be the last. There will be more time to get it right. For now, the goal is to simply make it better.

Day 205 – What I learned from my last chapter

Day two hundred five of my 365 Day Writing Project.

As I read the first draft of my book, I took notes on plot inconsistencies, story lines that need more development and character issues. I found myself doubting parts of the story and even the whole book as being too cliche, too bland, too unrelatable. I started to panic that maybe I couldn’t fix it. Maybe all the rewriting and revising in the world wouldn’t be able to turn this book into what I have been envisioning for so long.

Then I got to the last chapter, and everything came together. All I need to know to rewrite this book into something great, I learned in the last chapter. First, my writing in the last chapter is far superior in quality to anything I had written in the twenty chapters before it. That is promising. Secondly, I effectively closed the loop on the conflicts and dilemmas of the protagonist, evolving her into the person the reader wants her to be. That I managed to pull that off is also promising. Most importantly, what I – as the reader – wanted to experience in the last chapter told me what I – as the writer – need to develop and focus on in the earlier chapters.

I feverishly took notes on these realizations and have begun the rewrite. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but at least I know where I’m headed. The last chapter is my beacon in the fog.

Day 200 – The two hundreds

Day two hundred of my 365 Day Writing Project.

I can hardly believe that I’ve made it to the two hundreds. Another milestone, another day working on my book. I’m on Chapter Seventeen now, continuing my read-through of the first draft. I don’t have much to report other than what I already have.

It is still an eye-opening experience: reading my writing as the reader not the writer, noting problems and errors in the plot, tripping on poor wording and dialogue, and appreciating some very good parts where I seemed to get it all right. It has been a ride, but I’m looking forward to finishing the read-through so I can get started on the next stage. It will be fun to roll up my sleeves and get to work. Just a few more chapters to go. I’m ready.

Day 198 – There is hope after a first draft

Day one hundred ninety-eight of my 365 Day Writing Project.

I haven’t posted here in a few days, but I have been continuing to read my first draft. I’m about to start Chapter Fifteen. Moving right along. It is an interesting process; a roller coaster of emotions tossing me back and forth in a bi-polar mindset I don’t yet know how to reconcile. Sometimes I cringe at the writing or part of a scene in the story. Other times, I am pleased. Now that I’m two-thirds of the way through the draft, I am relieved (yes, relieved!) to say the latter instance is more prevalent than the former.

Which leads me to conclude that despite the large amount of work my first draft needs, there is hope I can turn it into something good. Maybe even great.

Day 193 – First draft errors and regrets

Day one hundred ninety-three of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Reading through a first draft is eye-opening. This is my first time doing so at this level and I must say, it isn’t for the weak. Or at least, it isn’t easy for the obsessive revisers/editors like me.

I stopped in the middle of Chapter 6 tonight. I stopped mid-chapter partly because I am tired and it’s late, but also because I needed a break from reading – and then having to leave untouched – an endless slew of factual errors, plot disconnects, grammar faux pas and non-descriptive, sub-par writing. I made notes about many of these issues as I went along so I can come back to them later, but that sure as hell didn’t make me feel better about them.

What does make me feel better is the promise of revising and rewriting. And, quotes like these which I am including here to return to again (and again) when the frustration returns:

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” – Scott Adams

“There is no great writing, only great rewriting.” – Justice Brandeis

“It is perfectly okay to write garbage – as long as you edit brilliantly.” – C. J. Cherryh

“Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it…” – Michael Crichton

“I have never thought of myself as a good writer. Anyone who wants reassurance of that should read one of my first drafts. But I’m one of the world’s great rewriters.” – James A. Michener

Day 191 – Enjoying the read

Day one hundred ninety-one of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Well, that was fun. I read the rest of Chapter 1 and all of Chapter 2 tonight, and I really enjoyed the read. I wanted to get into Chapter 3 too, but decided to save it for tomorrow since it is so late.

I have to remind myself that the purpose of the first read-through is nothing more than that: a read-through. No revising. No re-writing. Just reading. I’m not going to lie. It isn’t easy. But it is necessary and should be worthwhile for when I get into it a second time.

As I was reading, there were plenty of moments when I wanted to make revisions. Even cringe-worthy ones when I couldn’t believe I used an adverb here, or used redundant language there. I had to work hard to scrape up some restraint during those moments. But after a while I got lost in the story and just read.

That’s a good sign.

Day 190 – First-read of the manuscript

Day one hundred ninety of my 365 Day Writing Project.

I began moving forward into new territory tonight: the first read-through. I finished the first draft of my manuscript last night and wasted no time to continue working on it. While it may be crazy to jump right into reading the draft the next day, I decided it was the right way to go for me. After all, I’m not going to read it in one sitting.

The general tip out there is that it is a good idea to let some time pass between finishing the first draft and reading it. Nat Russo gives great advice about the subject in his article Revising Your First Draft: The First Read-Through. He suggests putting your first draft on a shelf for at least a few weeks. Despite his solid recommendation, I decided to get right into it. I made that decision because I wrote the first chapter over six months ago and now I barely remember it. Which is just how it should be.

When you pick it up again, you need to feel as if the words are somewhat strange and alien…like you’re rediscovering something you had almost forgotten. You’ll recognize the work, vaguely, as something you wrote. But you will have achieved some degree of objectivity and distance. You’re in “the zone” now. – Nat Russo, Revising Your First Draft: The First Read-Through

I’m in the zone now. My first impression after reading a portion tonight is that I have a long, long way to go before anybody else is going to read it. Boy, it needs work! But it was good for me to see how much my writing has changed between then and now. Marked improvement. So while there will be a lot of revising and re-writing ahead of me, already seeing improvement from where I started gives me hope.