I haven’t been blogging for a while – I’ve been up to my ears in a seemingly endless cycle of revisions for a couple of projects. A bit of a different approach given the darkness, the bleak, bone-chillingly frigid temperatures of the Saskatchewan winter is when I’m usually found knee-deep working on a new project. Every writer out there has a best time to write – a period of the day or possibly even of the year when the creative juices are flowing like crazy. Aside from working on new stuff and/or revisions, I’m part of a small Saskatoon-based writer’s group. I hosted a couple of day-long workshops last year and each month we get together for a meetup to look at what we’ve produced and to chart a course for the next month or so.
There’s a common theme in our meetups and it generally spins around a cycle of writing, self-editing while you write, gnashing one’s teeth because you believe the story sucks and of course, the inability to focus on getting the project done. I know … I’ve been there. I get it. But seeing as how I’m the guy in the group with five published works, everyone sort of looks to me to give them a special insight into their projects. I remind them that I am in fact:
a) Not terribly bright
b) Not the best writer in Saskatoon
c) Fortunate to have the help of a brilliant literary agent and all the resources that come with being an agented author
d) Not an editor
Emphasis on the “not an editor” part. See, I try to remind everyone that interpreting a person’s completed project is a subjective process. One editor might think the story is weak, the characters, one dimensional, the plot? Predictable. Writer’s groups are great for moral support and shared insights into each person’s interpretation of what you’re producing, but the true litmus test is to throw that project out the universe and to see what the universe as to say about it. In short, querying agents or submitting to publishers. In order to do that, you have to get the damned project completed, rewritten, revised, scoured, rinsed and repeated if necessary. What I’ve found in meeting numerous unpublished authors is they can’t get past the “I should change this” stage while they are writing. This inevitably leads to the writer getting bogged down in an endless cycle of self-editing while they’re on that evil, vile creature known as the first draft.
If this sounds like you, take a chill pill. That first draft isn’t going to get first drafted when you’re endlessly changing the story while you’re trying to write the darned thing. For me, I like to think of that first draft as a nice shiny new poured concrete foundation for a house that’s about to be built. You can’t have a completed house without a solid foundation and you can’t mix the concrete if you’re constantly tinkering with the ingredients of your ready-mix. You just have to clear your head, write that draft, get it done and then print it off and read it. Send it to your beta-readers if you’ve got some unbiased non-family members available. Consider their thoughts and notes in the margins and then write the second draft. Again, rinse and repeat.
See where I’m going with this? Stage one is the first draft. Most of the writers I meet in my group tend to get stuck playing with their ready-mix concrete, trying like hell to get the right blend and then second or even third guessing their cement mix to the point that the foundation for their house ain’t never gonna get poured.
Think less. Write More. Get it done. Just … write the damned first draft and then look at the lay of the land. There’s a secondary benefit to getting that first draft done, too. It’s called “HOLY MOTHER OF GOD … I WROTE A COMPLETE DRAFT OF A NOVEL!!! LOOK AT ME GO!”
That’s a pretty cool feeling. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s an accomplishment, feather in your cap, rite of passage, insert euphemism here. It’s validation that you actually had the chops to complete something along the lines of 60-100K words. It means that you’re deadly, brutally serious about this business of getting published.
So think about my little pearls of wisdom here. Very simply, the book ain’t gonna write itself – particularly if you’re second-guessing every fifth paragraph. Set a daily word count target and write, write, write the damned draft.
Then pour your foundation and get ready for the next step as you build the book version of your dream house.