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 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.

Day 189 – 1st draft complete!

Day one hundred eighty-nine of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Words for Days 188 and 189: 1,700

I did it! I finished the first draft. Twenty-one chapters over a little more than six months, and it’s done. Things got a bit wobbly the last couple of days as I tried to finish it. It was more difficult to bring the story to an end than I had anticipated. Fortunately, I think it turned out well.

Now that the first draft is done, I’m excited to start reading, revising and re-writing. I do not have a solid sense of the best way to proceed with this stage, so I plan to do a lot of reading up on the subject over the next couple of weeks. And while I have been keeping track of my word count and general progress over the last six months of this Project, now I am faced with no way to quantify my ongoing work. But I don’t think that matters anymore. It’s all part of the process of writing. I will continue to blog about my daily work on writing my first novel, whether I’m reading, writing or revising it.

Day 187 – Getting the groove back

Day one hundred-eighty seven of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Words for Days 186 and 187: 500

It has been tough to get into a groove writing the last chapter of my book. The fast-paced adventure is over. The characters are returning to where they came from. The story is…well, it’s still going, but it is definitely making me re-think my plans for the ending.

The good news is, I can sleep on it. And that is exactly what I plan to do. If I have learned anything about writing fiction, it’s that the story can change very quickly no matter what plans the writer may have. So I’ll leave it where it is tonight and come back to it tomorrow. Chances are, the groove will come back too.

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” – E.L. Doctorow

Day 184 – The plot continues

Day one hundred eighty-four of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Words: 600

I’m in wrap-it-up mode in the final chapter of my book. As much as I have a need at this point to provide closure and a sense of satisfaction to the reader, I am finding that the plot continues to keep things interesting. It’s not over by any means.

Something pivotal just occurred when my characters are supposed to be winding down. I did not expect it, but I guess that means the end of the adventure has left me – and hopefully the reader – wanting more.

I love how much I learn about the creative writing process from these little surprises.

Day 183 – Gratification oozes in anticipation of the book’s ending

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

Words: 2,000

I wrote an almost even 2,000 words tonight as I closed the loop on the story. The thrilling adventure through which my protagonist has been hurtling officially came to an end. So did Chapter Twenty. And now, I should only have one more chapter to write. That’s it. After that, my first draft will be done.

A sense of pure gratification is oozing from my core. I can’t believe I’m almost done.

Until I start re-writing and revising, of course.

Day 182 – Six month milestone!

Day one hundred eighty-two of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Words for Days 180, 181 and 182: 1,900

Well, folks. Good news. I have reached the halfway point of my 365 Day Writing Project. Consider my mind blown. This is my biggest milestone yet, and I’m mystified…elated…inspired…satisfied…proud. When I started this Project last July, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do it. Write every day. Blog often. Finish writing a book. All with the goal to eventually publish my first book.

With full-time jobs as a lawyer and mom to three young kids, I knew it was going to be a huge challenge. So far, I have been doing it. I have made time to write and have been writing every day. I have been blogging often. I’m about to finish the first draft of my manuscript. I am working toward my goals one step at a time. But the purpose of this Project goes far beyond writing every day. It is about forming a strong foundation of habits and practices to become a successful writer. It is about the daily practice of self-discipline, commitment and consistent, hard work. Having accomplished this much in six months’ time, I have zero doubt that I will do everything I set out to do.

Over the last six months I have made some meaningful contacts here in the WordPress community and beyond, and I am grateful for all of them. Many of you have given me words of encouragement and support, and have welcomed me into a kind of communal knowledge base that is invaluable. You are all helping me become a better writer. I can’t thank you enough.

I will continue for another six months, and more. I hope you stick around with me. I may be halfway through the Project, but really, this is just the beginning.