Let’s face it, there are few easy things about writing. You have to write the thing. Then edit the thing. Then edit some more. Then get the courage to share the thing. Then edit more and more…and after a while, the thing is “done!”
Then there’s the whole to-publish-or-not-to-publish decision, contests submissions, query letters, magazine submissions…
No, let’s not dwell on the publishing bits right now. Today, I want to make you want to love writing again! Writing a book takes TIME and PATIENCE. Even if we have these things it doesn’t make the process easier. Let’s take a step back. I want to list at least one fun thing about a few parts of the writing process. So, if you’re stuck on draft 1 or draft 258, maybe this will help you see it in a new light.
- FIRST DRAFT: Ok, we all know the struggle–the ominous blank page—but you know what? That page isn’t holding you back! You can literally put ANYTHING on that page. You can explore character development, setting, experiment with plot twists, anything you want. The first draft is there for your ideas, your spur-of-the-moment thoughts, and you can test the waters. Your first draft is all you, and it’s okay to ignore grammar and write a few terrible chapters. Get your ideas out of your head and let your conscious and subconscious flow onto the page with no restrictions. Once it’s done, you can brag that you finished it, and toy with your friends and family who are FORBIDDEN to read it. Bask in the glow of your finished product for a while, then begin editing once it’s had time to sit on the back-burner.
- SECOND/THIRD DRAFT: Now you’ve got this glorious WIP (work in progress) written, but it’s a mess. Ugh, now you have to sort through it…or…now you can improve it! You wrote it. The bones are in place, the ideas are there, and now you get to sort out the puzzle. I love editing since I don’t have to come up with a beginning, middle, and end. Sure, some of it is out of order, but it’s all more-or-less there. You get to read your ideas again, remember how fun it was to come up with them, and then weed out the bits that were less inspiring and build off the good stuff. Now your WIP feels like it’s going somewhere. Huzzah! But, you’ve done most of what you can do on your own, and it’s time to get new eyes.
- GETTING BETA READERS/CRITIQUE PARTNERS: This takes a lot of courage. Your precious baby WIP is ready to start walking and be out on its own. It seems scary, but that’s one of the reasons why you wrote it, right? We all write for ourselves, but most of us also want people to read it eventually! This is a stepping stone to getting the WIP into the world. Remember, the people you ask to critique your WIP know that it needs a little help before it can truly be on its own, but also they can encourage you and find places that are working. It’s a great way to find out what people want more of and what they want less of. You can return to your book with fresh eyes and make it an even better version of itself. How cool is that?
- POST-CRITIQUE DRAFTS: Now you’ve gotten all these opinions and you’re second guessing everything you’ve done in your WIP. However, these opinions are just that, opinions. You will get suggestions that may not feel like the right way to take your WIP and that’s fine. The beauty of this industry is that it’s all subjective. There isn’t one right answer. Yes, you should take suggestions from others, but if you get conflicting opinions about a chapter/scene/character, go with the perspective that makes the most sense to you. It’s still your work! You get to decide how to improve your awesome WIP. Also, if you get a number of people telling you the same thing, that’s the easiest edit in the world! If a number of people agree that XYZ should actually be YZX, then boom, your WIP is instantly better! Good critique partners want to help you, and once you see it through their eyes, hopefully you will agree and feel even more confident about your WIP.
The rest of the writing and editing process follows a similar pattern of fixing and getting more opinions. I often look for more and more eyes on my book and edit along the way. I can’t count which draft I’m on for most of my books. If you’re stuck on a WIP, try to let some things go if you can. If it’s a first draft, write down crap ideas and fix it later. (I call it productive procrastination: you’re still writing, even if you know it will be deleted.) If you’re stuck on an old draft, put it away for a while and start something new. We all need a break from our own tedious thoughts. It’s okay to put something in a drawer and move on for a while. When you come back to it fresh, you will either find those errors you couldn’t see before, or you can realize it’s actually in good shape.
Try to find the joy in the process, even if it feels like too much sometimes. Remember: all writers feel the same way you do. None of us find this easy, we’ve all been rejected, and we’ve all been given brutally honest feedback from trusted critique partners. Write on, write on, and keep the joy close.