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.

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 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 185 – The end is near

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

Words: 950

I’m writing the ending of my book. It’s the final chapter and although I am not completely sure how I will end it, I’m close. I should be done in the next few days and because of this, I’m experiencing a broad range of emotions. Mostly, it feels amazing to be this close to the end. But I also feel a little sad that the story – my story that I have been weaving for many months – is coming to an end.

I know it isn’t really ending, since I have a long road of revising and re-writing ahead of me. The story will even change and morph into something different than it is now. So of course, it isn’t over. There may even be a continuation in a series for me to write.

But I still feel a sort of loss I don’t quite understand right now. And that’s okay. I suppose I will understand it more when I’m truly finished with the book. Because then, I will have told the story. It will will be memorialized in print for me and hopefully others to read and enjoy anytime they want. That is, after all, the point in writing it.

Day 155 – The closure that comes with ending a chapter

Day one hundred fifty-five of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Words: 900

I had planned to write at least 1,000 words tonight, but I reached the end of Chapter 17 at just over 900. There’s no better place to end a writing session than at the end of a chapter. I love those last moments of reflection about the state of a character or characters, foreshadowing of what is to come, and closure of what led up to that point. I finish a chapter feeling satisfied and eager to start the next one. And that is exactly how I hope the reader will feel in that same moment before turning the page.

What the reader won’t experience is the closure from finishing a part of the book that allows the writer to put it behind her for a period of time. I enjoy thinking about the story as I write it, but I also enjoy letting go of each scene, each chapter after it’s done. I have more writing to do, so to be able to set past chapters aside – to shelve them for a while to let them steep before I get into the reading, re-writing and editing process – is in many ways a relief. I have written seventeen chapters totaling 139,182 words. I still have more to go, but right about now this kind of closure feels pretty damn good.

Day 80 – Leaving the crappy writing for later

Day eighty of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Words: 1,200

I have no idea why but tonight I was wide awake and on a roll. I didn’t work quickly, but I did get a nice amount of writing done. This was just the opposite of what I experienced yesterday when I kept falling asleep while writing. Exhaustion really takes a toll on my ability to think and write something meaningful. And my productivity, too.

I have a feeling the 500 words I wrote last night are total garbage. The idea behind the scene I started is good (I think), but the rest of the writing and content is crap (I think). That’s one of the problems with falling asleep at the wheel. I don’t remember most of what I wrote. The temptation to go back to read and fix it tonight was strong. But I’m not going to do it. I’m leaving it for later.

Those 500 words of potentially crappy writing are there to stay until I finish the first draft and go back later to edit them or cut them out entirely. Most writers know the beginning of the Stephen King quote, “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings…” Because of this quote, I know how important it is to not spend time now editing and re-working the crappy writing. Because if I can’t turn it into something brilliant, I’ll have to kill it. And writing that I spent tons of precious, agonizing time and effort editing and re-writing is more of a darling little dear to me than writing completed in one shot while nodding off to sleep that I barely even remember. Those are darlings I can kill without remorse.

And this is another example of why I, with great effort, try to follow the rule to write now, edit later.