Second Draft Void

First drafts are tough. Everyone knows that. You have to slog through it, and you don’t want to. You want to stop, or go back, or just take a month or ten to recoup your energy. But all the bloggers and vloggers and authors and experts agree that you just keep going, fix it later.

Then you hit The End.

“Celebrate,” they say. “But not too hard, haha, because here comes the edits…”

“Awesome!” you say. “So how do I do this?”

Then they mumble at you about passive voice and showing not telling. “But don’t line edit,” they say, waving a finger. “Fix the story first.”

“But my story is nonsensical,” you say. “The characters are unlikeable and I’m not sure if my psychological thriller should really be a historical comedy of errors for the young adult market.”

And they shrug. “You’ve just got to work it out. Come back when you have.”

And that’s when you realise that the first draft marathon was not really a marathon, but a jolly pie eating contest, and now you’re plummeting through a Wonderland void talking to yourself like Alice, and they’re all like the white rabbit, who can’t even stop to give you the time…

Because there is relatively little concrete advice out there about second drafts, especially after the deluge of inspirational, motivational information accompanying the first.

I suspect the difficulty with a second draft is that every writer, and every novel will have such wildly varying issues.

Some will be small: “Ooops, I forgot to kill my protagonist’s monkey in the second chapter, better add an extra scene…”

Some will be large: “Ooops, my whole novel is boring, the only characters I like are the ones with no purpose and I need to re-work or maybe cut the entire back-story that was my original premise and reason for writing the book in the first place.”

There are no set right or wrong ways to go about it, and even when I’m inspired to get on with it and turn my terrible story into something solid, it feels so overwhelming that I wonder if I should shelve it for a year or two. I could swot up on the craft, develop my voice and generally procrastinate learning how to overhaul a catastrophic, unplanned first draft. (Damn my need to write before I start to outline.)

But… I  feel need to get this bastard done with so I can write about druids, Vikings or dystopian prostitute warfare from a higher literary start-point. As you do.

So here’s some helpful/motivational advice I have managed to find on the net regarding second drafts:

A decent summary of the basic steps to follow;

Joanna Penn’s vlog on a first edit;

Chuck Wendig on making words not shitty.

Tomorrow I will have another crack at working out what to do with the mad tangle of words waiting to snare me back in. Honest…

Meanwhile, any tips or ideas are much appreciated!


Be a Peep NOT a Pain–How to Use Twitter Effectively

Phew! Only just getting used to # not being numbers! Good explanation here, though now terrified all my unedited retweets are clogging up the twittersphere. Not understanding technology is mega-aging!

Kristen Lamb's Blog

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Last time we took a satirical look at Twitter with 8 Ways to Make People on Twitter Want to STAB US IN THE FACE.  Here’s the deal, we are in sort of a New Gold Rush with this Digital Age publishing paradigm. That means “experts” are everywhere. But, just because someone claims to be an expert doesn’t mean their advice is worth more than the Vista Print cards their title is printed on.

This means it is incumbent on US to do our homework. Hey, yes, I am an expert, but to stay at the top of my game? I love learning new things.

Yet, here’s the deal. If someone is charging you to teach you how to blog, yet their blog has NO comments or single digit comments or they aren’t following their own advice (blogging when they feel like it)? Probably not the best expert to hand cash…

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…And Then There Were Words: The First Readthrough.

After the elation and subsequent slump upon finishing my first draft, I realised I was exhausted, and took a break over the festive period.

A few days turned into a week, which turned into two. The baby decided that hot on the heels of teething was a great time to get ill, so it wasn’t exactly a rejuvenating break, but I stopped putting pressure on myself to write. Administering antibiotics into a headstrong, wiley and very wriggly baby 4 times a day for 10 days was enough pressure for anyone. Besides, the whole thing is terrible. Maybe I should just give up this daft idea of being able to write and focus on things in the real world instead of trying to dance on the clouds.

But then I started to itch. No, I wasn’t that festive! Itch to write, and, dare I say it, read my own writing (along with mild terror, knowing how utterly full of drivel this draft is!). All I needed was an afternoon. Ok, an evening. An uninterrupted hour? Come on, kids, GO TO BED!!! Please?! 


They didn’t, so I stole half an hour and locked myself in the bathroom instead of sorting the laundry. Rebel!

Do you know what? It wasn’t all that bad.

Actually, it was terrible. But the worst bits were the ones I’d added trying to be clever or that shouldn’t have been added in the first place, so I already knew that. The writing sucked, but the story is good, if badly told. And the badlies flaws aren’t going to take as much smoothing as it felt before I read them.

It’s given me hope. That skim through the first 10(?) pages was enough to jerk my brain back into processing and I realised a major issue with my protagonists and first page, which was all the more impressive because I started off reading the alternative thread that doesn’t even touch them until much further in.

Last week I stole another hour. I found some bits that, with a bit of re-writing I actually rather like. Could it be I’m starting to feel positive about this whole enterprise?

Yes, I think there is a glimmer of positivity creeping back into it all. All I need is a large amount of time to do a total rejig, adding about 50k words and cutting about 20k, whilst adding a bit of soul wrenching honesty and factual accuracy. And working out if it is indeed possible to have any metaphors for the M5 motorway that are the slightest bit pretty!

Any tips or tricks on finding the time to re-read/edit would be much appreciated. Sadly wriggly babies and lots of loose pieces of paper are not a good combination! 😦

Want to Be a “Success”? Learn to Be an Outlaster

Want to Be a “Success”? Learn to Be an Outlaster.

We all know it. But the reality is that when the going gets tough, the tough bugger off to mourn the loss of their favourite posing pouch, or compare biceps in front of the mirror. It’s the nerdy weedlings that cling desperately to the handlebars of hope whilst the treadmill whirs beneath their stumbling legs, kicking and flailing to desperately reach the pen and paper balanced tantalisingly next to the stop button.

Sorry, got a bit carried away with the old gym metaphor there…

The point is that Ms Lamb is spot on. In moments of the doldrums I took great comfort in her “Odds of Success” post (linked in the above article, but again for ease of access). Yes the likelihood of success is low, but for those who work hard, persevere and laugh in the face of overwhelming despair (I like to think this is the sort of maniacal laugh that Jack Nicholson so excels at), it is attainable.

I find myself in a quandary here, though. Historically I have been known to jump ship when I’ve had enough. Workplace, career path, location…my alternative “gaming with babies” blog got blown to insignificance when real life intervened.

But I secretly suspect that most of those are because I’ve been doing the wrong things, following advice from other people’s perceptions of my priorities and skills, instead of my own instincts.

Because I’m not afraid of hard work, or sticking things out for the long haul. The things I care about I can throw everything into (sometimes to breaking point), and it will be interesting to see if I am one of the ones who makes way for new dreamers, or if I go Memento crazy on reality (could just be the sleep deprivation).

At least I’ve steeled myself to peek at my past pages. They are truly terrible, but the rewriting is less daunting than I expected (dare I say…exciting??!!) and I’ve rewritten the first scene from a new, more interesting character’s perspective.

Even if the lure of the next two stories isn’t enough to keep me at it, hopefully I’ll at least manage to pound this manuscript into submission…

And in the meantime I’ll have these web pages highlighted on my favourites’ screen for when the going really does get tough and I end up face-planting the cross-trainer like a walrus on speed…

via Want to Be a “Success”? Learn to Be an Outlaster.

On Finishing My (First) First Draft

Two days ago I did my usual run through of scenes to write that propelled me when I finished a section and ran out of story. But this time it appeared I really had run out of story. The characters had done everything they needed to.

“Ooooh!!!” I thought

“The end.” I wrote. Hmmmm, lets add a capital…

“The End.”

Grinning to myself I admired my handiwork whilst trying not to wake the chronically teething, sleep deprived baby who was napping on me at the time. After a celebratory tweet, I emailed myself the work to add to my draft and decided to take rest of the day off.

Whilst the aforementioned baby put something of a dampener on my celebratory efforts that evening, I still felt pretty elated.

So, knowing how much of a mess this draft is after pantsing most of the way through, breaking up the narrative into two strands (purely to prevent my head exploding at about 20k words) and having a load of info-dumps that dump the same info in about 3 different ways, I decided to cash in on the momentum and begin edits/rewriting straight away, at least until I had a cohesive, chronological story.

Last night I wrote each scene on post-it notes, initially to organise the merging of the two threads and evaluate the usefulness of each scene. I did one thread and ran out of post-its (the toddler may have a stash in her cooker but I lack the energy to check). No biggie, there’s always tomorrow.

I was still buzzing.

Until tomorrow came.

Now I’m struggling.

I could claim forgetting to buy more post-it’s as the issue, but it’s just an excuse.

The sleep deprivation is really kicking in (it’s been 3 months of solid teething, colds growth spurts and more teething), but I’ve pushed through that barrier to write the last 40k words, so that’s not really the issue.

The draining, exhausting, demoralising issue is…the enormity of the work ahead of me.

Now I’ve not been under any illusions that I’ve been writing good stuff. It’s not a pernicious pin prick to an overinflated ego. The story is there (somewhere) and the characters are good (well, horrible, mostly, but they are real. Wait, you’re locking me where?!…) and since a couple of early critiques hammered in how important it is not to get too enamoured with your own work and over-edit the first chapter to perfection. I’ve followed the advice and allowed the language to slide appallingly, she wrote, appalled at her writing, in the interest of getting to the end of the damn thing.

I should also ‘fess up to laziness, as I know there are scenes that I skimmed over to get through the dialogue or into the action. One section did indeed start:

“blahblahblah, %$@# happens, they’re all locked up.”

for a few days before I forced myself to go back and rewrite it after the niggles got too much, but there are more parts like that.

This is probably why I ended up short of my 60k target, but that didn’t bother me because I knew I had to do big edits anyway, and I just wanted the story to run its natural course, but that was then.

Now I’ve actually got to look my characters in the eye and work out how to tell the damn story.

And this is where I’m getting reacquainted with my old 30k hump nemesis, “the fear”, as novelist Andy Killeen puts it.

Because what if I can’t tell that story?

And if I do…

What if no one wants to hear it?

It’s tempting to take some time off from it all like many writers recommend but then I’m scared I’ll lose momentum and be so overwhelmed that I won’t be able to work out where the hell it’s all going.

The point is moot, as the next few days are dedicated to Christmas and all its colourful paraphernalia (our nearly-three year old is finally old enough to really appreciate it and has been getting excited since September!). Hopefully a bit of Christmas cheer will re-energise me, or I’ll find some inspiration on the wonderful writing blogs that abound the internet.

Either way, here’s hoping for a Silent Night and Peace on Earth. Once the midnight Calpol kicks in!