(photo credit to Writer 93)
A few days ago, I got one of those “memory announcements” of past posts on Facebook. I got quite a chuckle when I saw one from 2013, with me proclaiming, “I DID it! (about 30 times) 🙂 This was the memory post:
“I finished the first draft of The Purified today. The post was dated in August of 2013, which also meant I had started it the year before, in 2012. Please keep in mind that I did not publish The Purified until February 2017, although I finished it 2016. Still, five years spent on one book?”
So why did that manuscript take so long? I needed to know more than anyone because I am nearing completion of the first draft of The Deceived.
As I explained in one of my first blog posts, Writing your First Mystery (or any Novel), I never used an outline in the first draft of The Purified. That was my biggest mistake, one from which I learned. My second mistake was going straight to work on the second draft of the manuscript without reading the first draft in its entirety.
Another big mistake—and one that caused me headaches through eight revisions of the book. Ay yi yi!
Looking back, as I worked on the second draft, about halfway through I began to see that the ending, as it stood with the current storyline, would leave many loose threads hanging. All books must make sense but in mysteries, it is essential that every character, storyline (and each character has her or his own storyline) must hold together as a cohesive thread that is wound into the tapestry of your final draft. The one in which the characters and all their storylines, the plot itself, the sublet (if applicable) all come together.
At this point, I saw major flaws that made me certain the book would not hold as it was. As they say, ‘that dog don’t hunt.’ The flaws were too many to overcome but still, I didn’t realize it. I didn’t learn my lesson–and worse, I didn’t ask the many writers I know for help with how they tackled it. Although it surprises many people, I am quite shy, especially when it comes to my creative work. So, like banging my head against a concrete wall, I used the same failed process with the second draft as I did with the first. When I did finally read that second draft, I saw it had failed again. The dangling loose ends–not as many for sure–were too evident. The damn dog still wouldn’t hunt.
I tried quick fixes—changing chapters or making small changes in the plot that helped my limping storyline but nothing I tried made it run. So it was back to the drawing table, After my third revision, I knew in my heart I must start again (fourth revision!) and ended up throwing out months of work–more than half of the manuscript.
That was when I got the brilliant idea (/sarcasm) to ask other writers how they went about process of writing their novels. It takes me awhile, but I usually come to the right answer. This did the trick. Those writers I know are successful for a reason. I learned a lot from them. These are some of the tips they told me.
- Always use an outline and make it as rich as detail as you go. When your book awakens you at 4:00 a.m., jot down the notes that come to you and then add those notes to your outline in a different color. I don’t know about anyone else but when I am in the midst of writing a book, it is always in the background of my mind. I can be reading, watching a baseball game, or having dinner with my husband and I will come up with pertinent ‘Aha!’ moments.
- Another writer suggested that I print out my book and read it before even attempting the second draft. This is a great idea because a book reads much different from a printed page than it does from a computer screen.
- Rather than editing as you are reading the draft, make a second outline that is different from the first. This outline should use each chapter as a different head and list all the problems, issues, and ideas that would help fill it out—the tools that will make it come to life.
- Do not attempt to rewrite or edit your draft until you have read the entire thing without editing the book. The notes and comments will help you.
- Before you begin your second draft, go back to your first outline and cross out everything you have already accomplished. Then throw out the things that are no longer needed or relevant to your story and then add the things that you may have missed from that rich, detailed first draft to the second outline.
- When you have done this, then go back to the book. You are now knowledgeable about how your reads and flows, and the things that are preventing your manuscript from being the best it can.
Only now do I see the usefulness of those tips. The first draft of The Deceived took me far less time than the first draft of The Purified, of which I am nearly finished. This time, I will read the book as I would if I were a beta reader on another writer’s unpublished draft, with as much objectivity as I muster. Only when I have gleaned out as much information as I can as to how to make the book the best it can be, will I start the second draft.
And when I am ready for the third revision (if I need one—and I’m guessing I probably will need at least one or two more—or at least a professional edit—another new thing for me), then I will repeat that process.
The one thing I am not going to do is engage in the insanity that I did with my first book, (remember, the very definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results).
With The Deceived’s second draft, that damn dog will hunt.
I’ve learned from all my mistakes. And like most of the mistakes I have made in my rollercoaster of a life, I rarely make the same one again (but count on me to make new ones!). 🙂
My final tip for any new writer is that I have never seen a first draft that was perfect. Don’t give up hope. The first draft is harder than other process of writing a manuscript, at least in my opinion—because it is so much easier to fix something that is broken rather than to attempt to rebuild it again from scratch.
Most of all, remember that the journey is a big part of your book’s destination. Look at it with fondness, hope, and recognize the hard work you put into it.