"Writing is rewriting... If you fall in love with the vision you want of your work and not your words, the rewriting will become easier." - Nora DeLoach
I love that quote. The first draft is about getting the story down that you want to tell. The words might not be the right ones. The scenes might not be the right ones. The characters may be flat and dull. But it's okay. Write because you have a story to tell and fall in love with that story. Later, you will revise to take care of all those things.
Just get the story down - and let yourself fall in love with it.
I've been writing 1,000 words a day on my WIP. Sometimes I go back and tinker with earlier chapters, and I know some writers don't let themselves do that because they'll do that forever. But for ME, that tinkering often helps me get back into the story - back into the world that can be hard to reenter at times.
That's the thing about first drafts. We have to figure out what works for each of us. I've learned what works for me. I now know I can do 1,000 words a day pretty easily in an hour or two, if I open the document, read some of the previous day's work, tinker if necessary, and start writing.
I also know that the reentry is easiest if I leave off in the middle of a scene, in a place where I can pick right up and keep going. Sometimes I leave myself notes to remind myself what I want to happen. But I now know it's so much easier to get writing when I've left off in the middle of something rather than the beginning of a new chapter. Blank pages are HARD, so I try to avoid them as much as possible when writing a first draft.
Figure out what works for you. Write to get the story down. Remember, it's YOUR story in the first draft. Don't worry about anyone else. Write for yourself. Fall in love with it.
There's plenty of time later to do the work to make other people fall in love with it.
Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions. ~Author Unknown
Let's say you write a novel. You spend months, maybe even years, writing page after page after page. For the most part, it's fun. You love spending time with your characters. Once in a while, you wonder whether you can do it, whether you can really finish the thing, and some days you have to bribe yourself to simply open the document. But you keep telling yourself to just get the story down. Just write, even if it's bad and doesn't make sense, just keep writing.
So you do. Day after day after day, you write. And then one day, something wonderful happens. You finish that novel! HOORAY!
After that, you let it rest, like you're supposed to. You spend time away from it so you can come back with fresh eyes and do what needs to be done - rip it to shreds (ha).
When you've done everything you know how to do, you then seek feedback from other writers. Because you know it's hard to see the forest for the trees. They help you identify plot holes, flat characters, unrealistic dialogue, pacing problems - the list goes on and on.
There is a lot of work to be done. Suddenly, you have doubts. Big doubts. Will this story ever be good enough? Can you make it good enough?
When I wrote my first novel, a middle-grade, years ago, I revised it and then took it to a conference for feedback. I got mixed reviews on the first pages - some liked it, some didn't. One editor did ask me to send her the manuscript, which I did. She ended up rejecting it, as did a few agents I queried.
I didn't exhaust my list of agents with that book. It only took a few rejections for me to know it was time to stick it away and try writing something else. How did I come to that conclusion? I think it was a combination of things, but I remember hearing editors and authors speak at the conference, and something resonated with me. Your story has to be one others will be *excited* to read. Your premise has to make someone sit up and say - oh, that sounds GOOD! And then, when they are excited, you have to be able to deliver in a big way.
I think these are the questions you should ask yourself as you evaluate whether to keep going with a manuscript:
1) Is your premise unique?
4) Are your characters memorable? Do they have qualities about them that will make a reader remember them long after they've turned the last page? They can't just be characters we meet everyday in life. They need to be special somehow. A little bit extraordinary.
If we look at Isabel in the middle-grade novel, It's Raining Cupcakes, at first glance, she may seem like just an ordinary girl. She doesn't always get along with her mom, like many girls. She is sometimes a little bit envious of her best friend, like many girls. She rides her bike, she collects turtles, she likes to bake. All ordinary things. But she has a dream. A *big* dream. And through the book, she chases that dream, and what makes it so hard is one of the biggest obstacles of Isabel getting her dream is her very own mother. I know lots of people don't like Isabel's mom. They don't like how Isabel takes on more than a 12-year-old girl should have to take on in regards to her mother. But you see, THAT IS THE POINT. That's what makes Isabel memorable - she keeps going in spite of her mother. And that's what makes the reader route for Isabel all the more.
5) And finally, is this a story you can see people getting excited about, and passing around to other people after they've read it? WHY will they be excited? If there is one element of the story you say - yes, this is exciting stuff, you need to make sure THAT element is the major element of the plot. Move things around so that exciting thing is pulling the reader through the story.
If you go through these questions and you feel deflated after reading them, not energized, then it may be time to put the current manuscript away and start working on something new. If you choose to do this, please understand, it's okay! It doesn't make you a failure! I know I wouldn't have four published novels and three more on the way if I hadn't been brave enough to shelve projects that just weren't cutting it and start in on something new.
Writers write. They keep moving forward. Sometimes that will be in making a manuscript the best it will be. And other times, that will be starting fresh with a new manuscript and saying, "I can do better. I will do better this time."
Noah Lukeman, literary agent and author of The First Five Pages, says at the end of the book, "The ultimate message of this book, though, is not that you should strive for publication, but that you should become devoted to the craft of writing, for its own sake."
If you think of it that way, there really is no right or wrong in relation to the work-in-progress. Get quiet, listen to your gut, and do that. Our instincts usually aren't wrong.
"When I have a terrible need of - shall I say the word - religion. Then I go out and paint the stars." ~Vincent Van Gogh
On a message board over the weekend, someone posted about how worrying about reviews and what people think paralyzes her to the point that she finds it hard to write.
I get that it's hard to have people judging your art. It is really, really hard. But each of us has to figure out a way to continue to create once our work is out there. Yes, there may be times, before a book's release or immediately after, that we simply can't. I get that. The "noise," either in our head or around the internet, can be very distracting at times.
I think it comes back to the discussion I had about success recently though. We need to learn to find success IN the creating. I gave this analogy on the message board, and I thought I'd share it here.
If I made jewelry, I might make a bracelet, sell it, then someone would buy it and wear it. Maybe no one ever comments on that bracelet. When she wears another one, tons of people comment on it. But I'm back in my house, making more jewelry, because I don't follow my jewelry around to see how well received it is, so I never know if anyone comments or not. And I don't know that people like the other bracelet she wears a lot more than the one I made. If you asked me if I'm happy about the bracelet, I'd probably say, of course, because it found a wonderful home and I got paid for doing what I love.
I love Vincent Van Gogh's quote because what it says to me is that creating art for him was a deeply spiritual thing. It brought him closer to God. Without getting too "religious" on you, I feel the same way. I wrote two books last year that literally felt like a gift from God as I wrote. I look back at the writing of those books with such joy and fond memories. Now, not every book is like that. I don't know why. But when it is, I take the gift and am thankful for it. And maybe the books that are harder to write are meant to teach me things. In any event, our job is to write the best book we can. And then to revise that book as best we can, again and again and again, as many times as we need to, with or without an editorial letter.
After that, our job is done. It's time to look for a new story to create. As Sara Zarr said so well HERE, we have to learn to separate our identity as a writer from our popularity as a writer, because they are NOT the same thing.
It's not easy, I know. We want people to love our work. But in order to keep working, to keep painting more stars or designing more bracelets or writing more stories, we have to wish it well out in the world and let it go. And go back to our calling - the art of creating a story where none existed before. Which never ceases to amaze me that we DO that!
Be amazed. Be excited about what you do! Because isn't it just SO amazing and exciting? I think it is!
"Happiness is a warm puppy." ~ Charles Schultz
It's the little things in life, isn't it? When I think of my grandma, I think of this extremely happy person because everyday, she looked for and celebrated the little things. She told my husband, soon after we were married, that it's the little things that bring joy in a marriage. A walk together, an ice cream cone together, a laugh together.
On their hunting trips, she had a special spot where she'd go to watch the sun set, in awe, time and time again, by the colors that would fill the sky.
Sometimes in life, we get all bogged down in waiting for the big things. Or we get discouraged because the big things we want don't happen. We tell ourselves, if only THIS would happen, life would be so much better.
I went to a one-year-old's birthday party over the weekend. There is something almost magical about the way a one-year-old takes joy in every thing he touches. And while I spent time with him, he put me under his spell, and the worries I'd had earlier in the day faded away.
And as I left, I vowed to worry less. To stop wondering and waiting for what comes next, and instead, enjoy the moment for what it is. Easier said than done some days, yes?
After Ingrid Betancourt was released from her captivity (she was kidnapped while campaigning for the Columbian presidency and spent six-and-half years in the jungle), one of the things she took the greatest joy in was going to the supermarket and buying whatever fruit she wanted. A little thing that most of us probably take for granted.
A sweet, Honeycrisp apple. A colorful sunset. The smile of a child. A warm puppy.
All a reminder to me that happiness is here, all around me, every day. Success that I wish for some days won't bring me happiness. It might bring other things that would be nice, but it won't bring me happiness. That is mostly what I wanted to tell myself today.
"E.L. Doctorow said once said that '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.' You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard." — Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)
When I began writing novels years ago, it was daunting. Every page felt so big and with every one I wondered, how can I possibly fill up 200+ of them and string along a story that makes sense? I was constantly thinking and WORRYING about the WHOLE BOOK.
Somehow, I managed to finish that novel. But that was really just me seeing a story through beginning to end. It wasn't a particularly interesting story, and if you asked me what the plot was, I'm sure I couldn't tell you.
Now, I understand the importance of plot. Weaving plots and subplots together is important, and takes time figuring out how to do it well. I still feel like I have a lot to learn with this.
But how I write a novel is different now. I take it scene by scene. With each scene, I ask, what do I want to accomplish in this scene - character development, plot development, or a little of both? I don't think about the rest of the book, I just try and write that scene to the best of my ability. I go along, scene by scene, until pretty soon, there is a part of a book there. And eventually, a whole book.
Isn't it true that usually when we remember a book we loved or a movie, there is a certain scene or two that sticks out in our head? We don't recall chapters or pages or how far into the movie we were. We say - I loved that scene...
Last week, I wrote a bunch of words trying to find my way into a story. Finally, Friday, I found it. Since then, I've written three scenes. I'm excited about writing more this week, each time, just focusing on the scene in front of me.
I'm curious - does E.L. Doctorow's quote resonate with you and your writing like it does with mine?
"Failure is success if we learn from it." ~ Malcolm S. Forbes
I did a Skype visit with some teen writers yesterday at Boise Public Library. One of the things I told them is that the first draft should be your playground. Writing a book is hard work. You have to figure out what will make you go back to the story again and again, and for me, it's thinking of that first draft as a place to play and have fun. Hard work can be fun? With the right attitude and with the RIGHT STORY, yes, I think it can be.
Did you catch that? It's not just about the right attitude. It's also about the right story.
Last week I started a new book. This weekend, I spent hours reading books for research, because I had to set the story in a different place and a very different time period. The more I read and the more I thought about this story, the less excited I became. Not a good sign. But more than that, I thought - do I *care* about this story? Do I want to spend hours and weeks and months telling THIS story?
And when the answer was no, I knew I needed to go back to my idea journal and find something else to write about.
I woke up in the middle of the night last night, and my mind instantly went there. My heart sunk as I thought about it. Because the truth is, I felt a bit like a failure. I started something and didn't see it through. Isn't that failing?
So mostly I'm writing this to tell myself - no, it's not. False starts happen all the time with writers, don't they? (Please tell me they happen to you!) It doesn't mean I failed. It means I learned that this particular story wasn't THE ONE for me. Fortunately, I figured it out fairly early.
I don't know what the next story will be. I probably won't talk about it when I figure it out. Sometimes I think the more I say about it, the more difficult it is to write it, for some weird reason. Keeping it close is often what's best for me. I hope I figure out what it is soon, though. Because I love the playground!!
It was a beautiful day in Portland yesterday, so we headed to the Japanese Garden to get our fill of peace, calm and tranquility after a busy back-to-school week.
The photo above is from a plaque we found in the gift store. So often as writers, we are wishing things. Wishing to finish the book, wishing to find an agent, wishing to sell the book, wishing for big sales... always hoping and wishing.
Of course wishes and dreams are wonderful things. But not if they pull us down into a place that makes us unhappy. This week, I want to stop and enjoy the view from where I am on my journey.
There may be other places I want to go, but where I am right now is a good place. A satisfying place. A happy place.
I want to remember that all I have all I really need. And there is so much here to be thankful for.
photo courtesy of morguefile.com
“There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstance permit. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.” ~ Author unknown
I've been thinking about how we start a book and often, it seems so daunting, thinking about how we'll ever get to the end. And sometimes, for newer authors, they ask, how do you do it? How do you keep going when your head is so full of doubt and there are spots where it's really hard?
Well, that's when the commitment comes in. Are you committed to finishing it? Then finish it. No matter what - sit down, write, and get the thing done.
I write because I love it. Because I love seeing things play out on the page and having the magical moments appear - things that make me go - oooh, where did that come from? But I also write because I am now committed to my career as an author. And sometimes, there are moments that aren't fun, times when I don't want to write, but I have to. That is commitment. Doing it when I want to, and also doing it when I don't.
I think commitment is one of the most important things to have as an author. What do you think? Agree or disagree?
photo courtesy of morguefile.com
I've been doing this writing thing for awhile now. With each book I write, I think, wow, I've learned so much, come so far, and yet, I still have SO much more to learn too!
Last night, after a long writing session where I hammered out 4,000 words over the course of 4-5 hours, and ultimately finished the lean first draft on my latest WIP (yay!), I realized one thing that I think is important.
I've learned to trust my gut. If I'm excited about a story and I feel good about it, it MEANS something. It means I'll be able to finish it. It means that most likely, other people will like it as well. If I don't feel good about a story, if I dread sitting down to write, that's not a good sign. That's not to say that there aren't times writing is difficult. There are MANY times writing is difficult. But when you are excited by the whole, it makes you want to dig in and do the work necessary to get to the end.
I don't paint, although I wish I had that kind of artistic ability, but I wonder if as an artist puts the brush to the canvas, if he isn't going a lot of times by instinct. Yes, it's about skill and what the artist has learned over the years, but I'm guessing, in the end, a lot of it comes down to gut instinct. To do what FEELS right.
I think it's the same with writing. We take what we've learned, what we know, and apply that, but the best books are the ones where we turn inside and listen there too.
We use instincts throughout the creation of a book in a number of ways. When we get feedback from other writers, for example, we usually will take the comments that feel right and we leave the rest. Again, it's listening and trusting ourselves to know the story we want to write and trusting ourselves to know what's best for it.
I think when we're new writers, this is hard. We don't know what to trust and what not to trust. We want to finish a book - that's the main goal I think. And along the way, it's all clunky and scary and we sort of ignore any feelings we have about it because, well, what do we know, we've never done this before, or only done it a couple of times, or whatever.
So last night, it sort of felt like this monumental thing because I think I've finally learned to trust my judgement. To know when to move forward, and to know when to pull back and wait and think or whatever, based on what I'm feeling about the story I'm writing. And perhaps most of all, to know that if I love a story, most likely, other people will too.
What about you? How do instincts come to in to play with your writing?
Ansel Adams is a fan of that quote. For he understands that if he were to wait for everything in the shot to be perfect, he would never take the shot. And wouldn't that be a shame?
In the book ART AND FEAR by David Bayles and Ted Orland, it says: "To demand perfection is to deny your ordinary (and universal) humanity, as though you would be better off without it. Yet this humanity is the ultimate source of your work; your perfectionism denies you the very thing you need to get your work done. Getting on with your work requires a recognition that perfection itself is (paradoxically) a flawed concept." I think every author struggles with the issue of perfectionism in one way or another.
For me, it's more of a big picture thing - I'm not as good of a writer as I wish I was, and sometimes that keeps me from opening the document. Like - what's the point? Why even try? So I have to get over that thing and open the document and get lost in the story, and then, I'm fine. Sure, the inner critic can be annoying some days, but I'm not paralyzed because each sentence isn't perfect. But I know some writers struggle with it more at that level.
With each of my published books, there was point where the thoughts and worries of my brain disappeared and all that was left was the story of my heart that I just had to share.
I remember when I wrote I HEART YOU, YOU HAUNT ME I was so excited about the story I was telling. The way I was telling it was new and different for me, though, which was really scary! I didn't know if I was doing it right or if it was any good or any of that. But eventually, it just didn't matter anymore. The story - of love and loss, of healing and hope - it mattered. And in my heart, I knew that, and that's what kept me going.
There is no such thing as perfect.
But we all know there IS such thing as a good story. A story from the heart.
I can do that.
YOU can do that.