Thursday, 17 April 2014

Draft Two

Okay, so hopefully your first draft is finished, and you're quietly (or not so quietly) celebrating.

The good news?
Finishing the first draft is a massive milestone; an exercise in tenacity and sheer bloody-mindedness. Word after word joining chapter after chapter, until finally you have enough content to make a book.

For me, the first draft is the fun part, where the story-telling happens.  I'm not bound up with grammar or word-appropriateness or even too much plot. In the first draft I am feeling my way into the story.

The bad news?
The hard work is just about to start.

Beauty and Murder

So this is what I do.  At the end of the draft one - which takes anywhere between six weeks and five years, depending on number of words and time and circumstances and life just getting in the way - I put the manuscript aside.  Usually for about four to six weeks. For some reason this seems to coincide with other breaks, like school holidays or Christmas or something, so this has never been too much of a problem.

Once the six weeks is over, I re-read it in hard copy with a critical eye. I try not to get too bogged down in the words at this stage (although of course I do, a little), but for me, draft two is all about STRUCTURE. What goes where.

The point of Draft Two is to kill your darlings. Heighten the tension. Compress the narrative.  I find it a very hard process.

In Draft Two I shuffle scenes about. Sometimes I write in the margin - 'Compress.' 'Tighten.' 'This drags.' 'Do I need this scene?' If I think a scene should be somewhere else, I circle it, draw a big arrow to where it needs to go.

You can do this in other ways. Some people use post-it notes, drafting a short, cryptic summary on each, and putting them on a big wall. Some use index files, or software.

The point of any method is always to ensure that everything in your story has a purpose; that each scene drives the story onwards. Do whatever works for you. It's not like there's a right and a wrong here - it's the outcome that matters, not how you manage your process.

When I've ruthlessly worked through the manuscript, I start back on the computer. I make another file called 'Draft Two' and work through the marked-up edit points. I start a file called 'leftover' and anything I'm not sure about deleting I cut from Draft Two and paste into the leftover. Most of the time I won't need this pasted material, but it's like a security blanket, just in case. It's pretty hard to let my darlings go completely.

I find Draft Two the hardest stage. It's when I realise that my shining gem of a first draft is actually only a damaged pebble.

Although even a pebble has beauty; Draft Two is about exposing that beauty.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Awards Season: or Getting Drunk on Fiction

Writing is like Wine

This post is a digression from my 'How to Write a [Good] Novel Series, so if you're looking for writing tips, please just check my earlier posts, or wait for a week and then I'll be back to normal.

The Big One

I would just like to say: this week has been a big week for me. I'm currently negotiating a job offer and, after much patient waiting, I am finally allowed to crow about The Big One.

There are three major awards in New Zealand for my kind of writing. These are:

- The Sir Julius Vogel Awards for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing
- The Storylines Notable Book Awards
 and (the Big One) - the New Zealand Post Book Awards.

My first novel (indeed, my only novel, so far) has been shortlisted for all three, and last week, was awarded one.  A Necklace of Souls is now a Notable Book.

What does this mean, you ask? Surely, now you'll be rich, Ms RL Stedman? You'll be like JK Rowling, won't you - after all, she had two initials?

Ah, no. It doesn't work like that.

It means there's a sticker on my book.

Like a supermarket wine. You know how they have stickers on them, to say they've won gold or silver at a competition?  No doubt winning the competition meant a great deal to the winemaker who put their heart and soul into the wine's crafting. But to the purchaser, it means; this wine must be good because look - there's a sticker!

Which brings me to the Deep Part of the Blog: Why Do We Write?

I've had to think about this a lot recently. And if you're venturing on a writing journey, you should too.

As a writer, you should never assume that awards equal profit. Sure, they might help.  But is profit the reason for writing?

I write because I love telling stories. Other people write for posterity, to craft images that will outlast them. Some writers love playing with words, with metre and rhyme and seeing how prose looks on a page. Some have something burning to say. And others just want to make a living.

So before you get any further into your novel writing process, take some time and think, why do I want to do this?

Because once you're sure in your own mind about why you are writing, it helps deal with disappointments, like rejections or criticism or poor sales or reviews. And it helps you enjoy the process more.

Stickers on a book are nice, and so are good reviews and sales, but in the end it's what you think of your own work that matters.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.

More About the First Draft.

The first draft is the most important part of your writing. Why? Because without words on a page, there will be no story.

If you find the first draft hard work, it's worth thinking: Does the problem lie within?

Personality Barriers to Finishing the First Draft

  • Impatience.  If you are the sort of person who likes things to happen fast, you'll have to adjust your expectations. A novel appears slowly: word after word, page after page. Sure, you can read a book quickly. But writing one takes time.
  • Commitment. If you are serious about your writing, you will have to make space for it. Not just physical space, although that helps - but time. Turn off your phone, ditch your job, whatever. It won't happen if you don't let it. Words do not appear by magic.
  • Inadequacy. For me, this is the biggest block. Sometimes, writing a novel is like jumping off a cliff; feel the fear, but do it anyway

More Practical Tips.

  • Routines are a writer's friend. Get up early, write late, when your kid has a nap, when you get home from school. Doesn't matter. Important thing is - that you write.
  • Carry a notebook with you. That way, you can squeeze in writing at down times - when your son's late from his tennis lesson, or when you're at lunch. For short-burst writing, I find notebooks easier than electronics. Transcribing is quicker than creating, though, so once it's in your book, you only have to type it up. (Some people find an iPad works for this too, but I find the keyboard annoying.)
  • Have a word target. I've said this before, and believe me, it really helps.
  • Create a dedicated writing space. Because you know where everything is, a special writing place saves you time.
  • Don't ask for feedback too early - remember, first drafts are not polished gems.
  • Watch your back and your posture. Getting repetitive strain injury will slow you down. And give yourself regular breaks from your keyboard.
  • More is not necessarily better. I can only do about two hours on a first draft piece.  After that time, the creative part of my brain gets tired and sluggish. When that happens, it's time to walk away.
  • Most importantly: Back up your work. 

And tell yourself - "Well Done!"