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First draft. How bad can it be?

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Every professional writer, every editor and every How-to book will tell you that the first draft of your story is garbage. That’s not the words they use but I’m trying to be G-rated here. Being the analytical sort, I’ve asked the question, “If it’s so bad, why do books ever get finished? If the first draft is always toilet water, why on Earth would the writer, editor, or publisher ever get beyond it and find a good story somewhere inside the garbage?” There are an awful lot of books and magazines out there with stories in them. Granted, not all of them are prize-winning quality. However, there are a ton that are much better than they are given credit for. So, somehow, the first draft makes it out of the cellar and onto the bookshelf.

My current project has been in the works for a long time. It’s been on again, off again with two short stories and numerous articles interspersed within the timeline. For the most part the internal editor has been kept at bay. I have gone back and re-read several sections to get back into the story line or to verify a detail or two. I have tried not to be judgmental of my writing or the story at this point. Then one evening last week, I sat down to write. I was feeling a little out of sorts and lacked focus bur I was determined to work through it and get a thousand words out before I turned on the idiot box (television). As I wrote, I kept saying to myself, “This is crap. This is crap. Oh, this is really crap!”

Finally, I hit my goal of a thousand words. I think I may have even finished the sentence before I closed the laptop. Maybe.

“Thank God! It’s all crap, but I got through it.” I set the laptop aside and proceeded to watch some mindless TV.

Two days later a friend asked me how the book was coming and the nightmare returned. “Oh, I’ve written some, but it’s all crap.”

She replied with the kicker, “Yeah, and…?”

“And, what?” I said.

She smiled and calmly replied, “You have always told me that the first draft is garbage, right?”

“Uh…yeah, I suppose so…but you don’t understand, this was really crap!”

She continued to smile but said nothing so I changed the subject.

That night I went back and looked at the “mess”. After reading over twice, it dawned on me that except for a minor change to the laws of physics and relocating my main character’s “dying” body, the scene actually works, for now. Not quite as bad as I had imagined. Hmm…

I thought of my friend and just shook my head.

So, there must be various levels to crap and as long as there is a desire to edit the work until it is no longer crap, there is hope. And eventually a story.

Note to self – Finish the book dummy and quit worrying about the quality. It’s going to be crap until you start editing it. Just write!

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2016 in Thoughts on Writing

 

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Writing Craft Help

I have a pretty extensive collection of books on the craft of writing. Not exhaustive by any stretch, but I have quite a few. At the recommendation of writer friends, I recently picked up two that I think are noteworthy.

The first one is a short (80 pages), but very useful book on editing, “Dunne with Editing, A Last Look at Your Manuscript” by Nann Dunne. Its focus is primarily on copy editing. The content is broken up into eighteen clear concise chapters that detail one part of the editing process. in addition, the author gives understandable examples showing before and after editing samples.

The book acts like an editing checklist. Chapters include the usual topics like spelling, passive voice and overused words. It also includes topics on participial clauses, dialogue punctuation, attribution tags, and the Burly Detective Syndrome. Am actual checklist is included in the appendices. As is a sampling of overused words and prepositions. the final appendices include short discussions on novel planning and structure as well as story arcs.

If you are looking for a ‘quick and dirty’ copy editing book to remind you of the little things and some big things to look at once you get past that first draft and before you pay for a professional to formally edit your MS, Then I would recommend adding this little gem to your craft library.

The second book is  “Nail Your Novel – Why writers abandon books and how you can draft, fix, and finish with confidence” by Roz Morris.

Image used with Permission

Image used with Permission

If you are a writer who has ever stumbled, fallen down, and/or quit working on a project, You MUST read this book. If you are just starting out and are looking for one book to HELP you get from idea to finished work. You SHOULD read this book before you put 60,000 words on the computer and find you don’t know where to go next.

Plans scare some writers. So, I will use the term method to describe what this book is about. The author lays out a method that takes the writer through a process of writing, rewriting, and polishing a story from start to finish. She begins by providing an index to resources for each topic that she will cover. That way if you are having trouble with scene structure, you can easily find it in the beginning of the book and go right to the section on Card Shuffling. In addition, she includes games, tricks, techniques and rescue remedies to help the writer walk through the method and finish their manuscript.

The author does a great job of summarizing each chapter and reminding the writer what they should be trying to get right during each stage of the novel-writing process and what the inner critic should or should not be doing. Her thumbnail tips throughout the chapters reinforce the method in simple language. The tools she recommends, including storyboard card shuffling and beat sheets, are tried and true and most important, they work.

Another positive is that this is not a three-inch thick tome that will take you a month to work through. At 175 pages, it is concise and just the sort of book you can keep close to your computer to quickly find what you need. If the book is not enough for you. Or, if you are like me and you have follow-up questions, the author’s blog site, ‘Nail Your Novel’ is full of additional advice and tips.

Both of these books now sit on the shelf closest to my writing desk, Both have numerous post-it flags attached at critical chapters. I’m not saying that these are the only books on writing craft you should own. What I am saying is my recommendation would be to add them to your collection. I know they will get lots of use.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on August 7, 2013 in Thoughts on Writing

 

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