Monday, September 20, 2010

Do It Right the First Time?

Sorry I haven’t blogged much over the past little bit, but I’ve been consumed by an extensive home improvement project. More accurately, I should refer to it as a home revision project, fixing a problem in our home’s roof that wouldn’t be a problem if the original builders had simply done things right the first time. What ultimately cost me more than a week’s worth of back-breaking, long days of hard work under a scorching sun, could have been eliminated if our home builders had not sacrificed quality to save them time and effort up front.

This experience has made me draw some parallels to how different writers write. In doing this, I’m not suggesting that others’ writing styles are bad or wrong, but it sheds some light on why I write the way I do. In my associations with other authors and while attending numerous writing conferences, I’ve heard many writers express that when they write they treat their first drafts as, well, as first drafts. They’re more concerned about getting they’re story down on paper, then worrying in the first draft about some of the different nuances that makes a story great. For example, they might wait until subsequent drafts to smooth out the dialogue, make the setting more captivating, fix plot inconsistencies, clean up grammar and punctuation, and other such details. There are a lot of good reasons for writing this way. One, it allows you to take advantage of streams of inspiration as they come. It can keep your internal editor at bay so you don’t let your own self-criticism hold you back. For some people this is simply a more productive way of writing for them. And for others the process of going through several later wholesale drafts and rewrites simply works best for them. But not for me.

For me, I prefer to get my first draft as close to final as possible. This doesn’t mean I don’t do revisions. In fact, I do a lot of revisions, perhaps more revisions than those who go through several drafts. Whenever I sit down to write, before I write anything new, I go back over the last few pages and chapters tightening them, revising them, and making them as perfect as I can get them at that point. One of the reasons I do this is that when you do a full-manuscript edit and revision, a lot of problems (big and small) can easily go unnoticed just due to the sheer magnitude of the effort required. But by breaking down the edit and revision process into smaller segments that can be repeated several times, I’m more likely to catch my mistakes and see potential problems that are easier to fix now than they would be if waited until later.

Also, I'd much rather discover a plot problem in chapter 5 of the first draft while I’m still working on chapter 5, then to discover it after I’ve written 30 more chapters that are based on that flawed plot premise. For me, I’d rather do it right the first time.

Don’t get me wrong, I still do several full-manuscript revisions and edits, but when I do I’m able to focus more on improving and enhancing elements of the overall story rather than a fixing a multitude of minor mistakes that I easily could have fixed early on, as well as significant problems that require a major story overhaul.

The other thing that this method of writing allows me to do, is that by constantly going back to my most recently written pages and chapters, I’m ensuring that the voice and tone of the story remains consistent throughout the story. It keeps in my mind on little character or plot nuances that can sometimes be forgotten when you rush through a manuscript.

Even though this works best for me, it might not work well for other writers. In fact, I’m the only writer I know that works this way. But the key to all of this is that while you’ll receive all sorts of different advice from different authors, not all advice is created equal. When an author tells you that his or her way of doing things is the best or only way of doing things right, it’s good to listen and try to understand why they feel that way, but ultimately you have to decide what works for you.

What works best for you? What's your writing process in terms of edits and revisions? Why?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Admit Writing Mistakes

Yesterday, in my work-in-progress YA I finally finished a chapter that I've been working on for the past few weeks. There is so much I love about this chapter, the girl hero in the book finally meets the cute guy she's been wanting to meet, things don't go well in the meeting, they fight, she struggles with external and internal conflicts of how to deal with the guy, elements of mystery and suspense grow, etc. Anyway, it took a lot of work to get everything just right with it and I'm really pleased with the results except for one thing. A major premise of the chapter simply isn't believable. Oh, the tension, mystery and suspense I could have created if that premise worked, but it just doesn't. I have to take the chapter a different direction and rewrite it.

While I was writing the chapter, I kept telling myself I can make this work, I can make this work, even though in the back of my mind I knew readers wouldn't buy into what I was trying to get them to believe.

As writers, sometimes it's really hard to admit that something we really like in our writing isn't going to work. We might be able to fool ourselves, but you can't always fool your readers. The reality is that you have to be objective with your writing and admit when there are problems that need to be fixed. But too often we're easily blinded to these problems and we just don't see them. That's where a good critique group can be a big help.

What are some things you do to get past author blindness and identify problems in your writing?