Sep 12, 2012

How to Write a Novel Part 5: Rest and Revisions


Now that you’ve got a first draft done…. Walk away.

This is the part a lot of people hate, but I cannot stress this enough:


Wait a month (or at least a week if you’re really that impatient) before you look at the ms again.
The book needs time to rest; your mind needs time to rest. If you jump back into the book now, you’ll end up reading what you think you wrote, not what you did. Give your mind a break from the book. Forget the story, so when you read it again you can come at it with a red pen afresh.

I distract myself at this point by going back to the beginning and starting something new… I guess you could say I write books like you would sing a round.

But seriously…. step away from the book, give it time to settle and then, return to it with a fresh mind ready to slice it to bits.

Self Editing
At this point, you’ve got a draft that is ridiculously befitting its title of “sloppy copy.”
Personally, I think I’m awful at self-editing. Mostly because myself edits tend to result in me adding upwards of 10k words. Sometimes this is good… sometimes… it means I have to do a second self edit and end up doing quite a bit of cutting again.

Self editing is a time to: discover plot holes, fill them in with your red pen backhoe; realize you forgot about a character after chapter three, decide whether to ditch him or work him into the rest of the book; find out that you really love the words “granted,” “egalitarian,” or “cavort,” and cut down the 345 times you’ve used them to about 10; and so many other things.

My editing arsenal includes a host of different colored pens and highlighters, post-it tags, paper-clips and a lighter (for those really bad pages – believe me, it is helpful)

Here’s what edits tend to look like for me…


Betas & Crit Partners
Betas are the people you let read your book, trusting that they’re willing to tell you when something’s wrong with it. If you hand someone a book and their only offer in return is “I really liked it.” There are sites online where you can find anonymous critiques, and through the blog-o-verse you can find a plethora of talented authors who are willing to help you. But one thing is certain you HAVE to have someone else look at your work.

I’m lucky enough to have a mother who will read one of my books, say “I really liked it,” and then hand me back a manuscript with 5k change notes… if you think I’m kidding, this is the track changes from Novel #5:
And sometimes... I get revision notes that look like this:

It was around Halloween
 I’m also lucky enough to have a crit partner (all the way across the country) who reads my stuff and points out things I was too caught up in the story to notice – or points out places where a detail needs to be added.

Basically what I’m saying is: Find people to help you, love them, because even if what they say isn’t what you want to hear, it’s what you need to hear.

This step might take a few repetitions.

And ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS remember: If someone doesn’t understand a part of your novel… it’s not because they’re dumb, or they “obviously didn’t read it well enough,” it’s because you haven’t done your job well enough yet.

Sep 5, 2012

How To Write A Novel Part 4: Drafting

I know that seems like a silly thing to say, but let’s face it. All the planning and scheming in the combine multiverses won’t get you any closer to a complete draft unless you put your butt to the chair and your pen to the paper (or fingers to the keyboard). If you want to write a novel you have to actually write it. And yes, I realize this might sound silly to some of you, but it’s the truth. So, get to it. Write something. Do it now. I’ll wait for you to come back.

Write Some More
Already have something down? Or are you back from that little jaunt? Honestly, it doesn’t matter. You need to write and you need to do it consistently. Don’t get me wrong. If this is your opus, and if it takes 10 years, that’s great… but it’s no way to turn being an author into a career (just saying). So, sit down. Write. Find the time: in the wee hours of the morning, on your lunch break, after you’ve put the kids to bed. But write. Do it every day. I don’t care if you get in 100-words, 1,000-words, or over 10,000-words. You have to keep going, or you’ll never get there.

In that way, writing is like running, whether you’re a sprinter, or a long distance runner, you still have to put sole to pavement to reach the finish line.

Write Crap
I was explaining to a friend the other day that in the first draft I honestly go for quantity over quality… because you can’t edit a blank page.  Write, your first draft isn’t going to be amazing. In all likelihood it’s going to be utter drivel, but that’s why we have drafts 2… and 3… and often times 11.
Get the story out of your head. This is birth, people. It’s not a pretty thing. It’s messy and it’s painful, but the reward is amazing.

Have Brilliant Moments
There will be those moments when you write something that just tickles you pink. Hold on to that. Highlight it in your word doc.
And then move on.

Write More Crap
Don’t get mired in the pitfalls of brilliant moments. Don’t try to duplicate that stroke of genius in every sentence thereafter. It will bog you down and you’ll get nowhere. (Where you going? Nowhere.) Cherish what you had for that fleeting moment and then dig back in and get to it.

Starting a novel isn’t enough. You have to write consistently and you have to buckle down through the things that are tough to write. There will be scenes that will make you smile… there will be scenes that threaten to rip your heart from your chest. Three may not be any crying in baseball, but there certainly is in writing.
Buckle down, and write until your story is finished.