First Draft Confession

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Oh, the joys of the first draft bubble. You all know what I mean, right? When you’re surfing the wave of excitement and giddiness as page after page flows out of you in record time. All the while you’re patting yourself on the back, your carefree surfer voice assuring yourself with one or more of the following: Holy crap, this is ah-ma-zing. You’re so witty — how did you come up with that? This is the best thing you’ve ever written. 

My personal favorite, however, comes from the little voice wearing an Eeyore onesie with the hood and ears proudly pulled up over her head that keeps screaming, Keep going! Don’t stop now! Edit later! 

But alas, the last voice — the one that wears round-rimmed glasses and a sweater vest even in the summer, whilst using a pipe and exhaling perfect rings of smoke into the air — it always brings me back down to earth and the simple reality that I do need to pause and work on the beginning.

Because the first fifty pages have to be ah-ma-zing for real, though. When it comes to agents and editors, guess what’s the first part of your story they read? If you guessed the beginning, give yourself a high five. The first part of your novel really does make or break your chances of representation and publication. And like the annoying third voice pointed out to me when I zeroed in on page 50 of my WIP, it’s time to print those suckers out and change/add/remove parts to make my beginning the best it can possibly be.

Here’s my confession: I really, really tried to convince myself to keep going and edit later, like the Eeyore onesie voice suggested. I know a lot of writers keep on surfing wave after wave until they get to the dry sand, a first full draft in hand. But unfortunately, this isn’t the way I write, and like the sweater vest voice, I’m too pale to stay out in the sun that long — I need to take breaks now and again to keep myself burn-free.

Every writer’s process is different. For now, though I’m a little disappointed in myself, I’m going to do what I’ve gotta do — go to Staples and waste money on fun new highlighters and pens to mark up my draft  have my pages printed out to make the beginning much, much better.

So, high five to the writers who can finish a first draft in its entirety before looking back. And a salute and hug to those, like me, who can’t. We’re all pretty awesome, don’t you think?


Nocturnal Characters

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve suffered from writer’s block. I once read a pretty accurate definition of the dreaded affliction: when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you. In the novel I’m reading, Pretty Is, one of the characters is a writer herself. She’s working on a sequel manuscript, and she narrates how her main character keeps doing the same repetitive things over and over, but he isn’t actually doing anything that advances her plot at all. And she sums it up pretty well by saying he won’t talk to her — and therefore she doesn’t want to force the story.

Well, right now, I’m suffering from the opposite. My characters won’t shut up. I’m sure you’re thinking, big deal! Why are you complaining? That’s a good thing! And I will concede that it isn’t the worst thing by a long shot. But what it means instead is that I write a few chapters, revise them, send them to my writing buddies, and THEN the characters all start talking at once in my head, pointing out important characteristics of themselves I either need to change or left out completely and can I go back and fix them already? What’s worse is the time they typically choose to speak up: when I’m about to go to sleep at night OR when I wake up in the night and to have to get up and pee. Yep. Those are what my characters consider the optimal times to inform me where their stories need to go. They must be nocturnal.

It’s frustrating, and not to mention exhausting.

But I’m done complaining now, I promise.

Because even though I’m sleep-deprived from listening to these chatterboxes in the middle of the night that practically talk over each other (you’d think my characters would have more manners, right?), that doesn’t mean I’m not also eager to do as they say. Because after all, this affliction might be a bit annoying. But if I don’t keep them happy, they might stop talking at all.

And thanks but no thanks, writer’s block. You are NOT welcome here. BTW, anyone want to get me this button?


Weasels & Sweat Pants

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Last weekend, I had a mini-reunion with my fellow writing weasels, Jess and Rach. It was so fun to catch up with both of them, as we hadn’t seen each other since Jess got married last year! On Friday, we were able to meet up with our favorite professor, Hillary, for lunch close to Hollins University. As always, it was awesome catching up with Hillary and getting a fresh round of advice and encouragement from her as we move forward in our writing endeavors.

After lunch, we walked to campus and found the perfect spot in the library to do what we do best: we each took turns workshopping our projects that we’ve each been able to read and critique. Before we knew it, a couple hours had passed, and we each had a few pages of notes and suggestions to implement the next time we revise. I’ve started editing, thanks to their awesome feedback, this week. I can’t even begin to describe how much their comments have helped me with my WIP. I was stuck on a couple pesky details before the three of us met, but now, my head is clear and I’ve decided where it needs to go.

And even though they really helped me make a few decisions about the plot, it’s not all squared away quite yet.

One of the things I mentioned to them that I know I’ve blogged about before is how difficult it is to nail the beginning chapters of a novel. The beginning is extremely important for obvious reasons: not only does it set the tone for the rest of the manuscript, it can also make or break whether an agent or editor chooses to keep reading. To put it simply: your beginning better rock a reader’s socks off.

But no pressure, right?

This got me thinking about first dates. When you first meet someone you like, you really try to impress. You want your hair to look its absolute best. You want your make-up to be flawless. You want your outfit to be flattering. Basically, you want to come off as the perfect woman. Maybe even at the beginning, you laugh at jokes you wouldn’t normally find funny. You pretend to be interested when your date tells you all about his work’s softball team, even though you couldn’t care less about going to a game. As in the words of the character of Amy from Gone Girl, you pretend to be the “cool girl.”

For me, that’s how I try to mold the beginning of a manuscript. I want it to be irresistible.

But then, a few months (read: chapters) in, that’s when the metaphorical sweat pants can come out and the make-up wiped right off its face. Not that I don’t want the rest of the story to be as impressive. But my goal is for the reader to want to get comfortable with the protagonist and her whole bag of ridiculous issues – to know enough about her flaws at that point that make her human, and want to hang out with her anyway. To see that she doesn’t have to be the “cool girl” to still be pretty amazing.

So right now, I’m still plugging away at the “cool girl” part of the story, laying the foundation for the shit storm coming her way.

It’s going to be hard, sad, and at times, horrible for my protagonist. But it’s also going to be really fun to get to the heart of the real her.

Sweat pants, and all.

Allergies & Writing: the Good, the Bad, and the Sniffly

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Ahh, spring. Sunny weather. Maxi dresses. Flowers blooming. Pollen covering every single surface. Allergies never-ending. I hate to complain, since I was more than ready for winter to end and warm weather to arrive, but wouldn’t it be awesome if that didn’t include constantly sneezing, a runny nose, and sporadic headaches? But when it comes to the changing seasons, just like with most things in life, you’ve gotta take the good with the bad! That’s what I keep telling myself anyway.

As I’ve blogged about before, I’m currently working on a sequel manuscript, which is coming along nicely for the most part. But unfortunately, when I find time to brain storm for this story, a couple new ideas for stories have recently bloomed in my mind and, just like my seasonal allergies, refuse to go away. When it comes to writing, I can’t multi-task. I have to focus all my creative energy on one piece at a time, or else I’d go crazy. I know this about myself. But yet, I can’t help but let my mind wander around with these new ideas, jotting down random snippets of scenes that play in my mind. On one hand, it’s exciting and honestly refreshing to think about new story ideas. But on the other, it’s frustrating, because I know if I don’t work on this sequel and set it aside, it’ll be a thousand times harder to revisit it later.

For now, I’m taking my daily allergy medicine, trying to hold my sniffles at bay as much as possible. And as much as I’d like to dive in to a fresh story — because, let’s face it, the most exciting part of working on a WIP (at least for me) is the very beginning — I’m trying to keep those ideas at bay, too. And I don’t mean actually writing the first chapters, because my writing OCD forces me to go back and edit WAYYYY too much. I’m talking about the pre-writing stage, when my brain tries (and usually succeeds) in convincing me that this new idea is the BEST idea I’ve EVER had. (Yeah, I know, it’s a tad on the cocky side.) As soon as I write, though, my opinion shifts dramatically. But that before stage when the story is primarily only in my head is amazing. For me, it’s the equivalent of running through a field of freshly bloomed flowers, in a long and extremely comfortable maxi dress, WITHOUT an allergy attack. Sounds pretty fantastic, huh?

*reads back through blog entry* Wow. I basically just laid out the argument side to start a new story, didn’t I? Err, just pretend I did the opposite, okay? Great, thanks.