Revising a first draft for the first time

Last November I wrote about being half way through writing a first draft of a novel. It did get finished (triumph!) and now I am half way through revising it.

revision of first draft pages
This edit has already taken as long as the entire drafting process (in calendar days – I should have tracked working hours and didn’t) and the single word I would use to describe this process is humbling.

The focus for the first draft was to get it down, just get an entire draft done. Revising (with a patiently waiting small group of ‘first response readers’ standing by tapping their feet) is about all the usual editorial stuff, but the big thing has been to address all the bits that got tagged with “fix this later” or summarised as “something great happens here so they get to blah”.

Those were fine stopgaps at the time and the right thing to do to keep the draft moving, my challenge now in this first mammoth rewrite is to find fresh creative juice to solve the problems I made and then walked away from. Coincidentally nearly all of them are where the story took another turn away from the outline.

Each step away from the outline made the final shape of the story and of the characters different to what I had planned. A better, more interesting, and authentically driven from the characters’ viewpoints story, but different enough that now I feel on my own and overwhelmed trying to patch it seamlessly into a readable experience.

I’m loving the process, by the way, in case that sounded like a moan.

I’m learning too (I can’t help but learn when the red pen tearing the draft apart is my own) which is delightful. This is my first time on a big job. Over the New Year break I took the opportunity to read and re-read a few tips from those who’ve been down this path before me, and they all agreed on one thing “stop procrastinating and get back to work”.

What is your number one tip for taming a first draft?

A review of “Write. Publish. Repeat.”

Writing is an art

This is a reprint of the review I orginally posted on Goodreads. You are welcome to follow me there if you like.

Write. Publish. Repeat. (The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success)Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This sharp and pacy book checks you out first to see if you’re the right reader. I love that, I know if I am or not and then I either self-select out (no hard feelings) or go on to gobble up the goodies.

There is no secret to the subject of this book, it is about publishing books and how, what you might not expect is how truthful and outcome driven it is.
There are hard truths to writing (especially for those of us with day jobs) and this is not a scammy work-around book dealing quick fixes. These guys expect you to create the wordcount. There are plenty of other great books out there on writing and style and punctuation and so on to help you with the content of your wordcount. This book is about what to do next inside a strategy aimed at sloughing off the day job eventually. If the readers think you’re worth it.

Yes, I said ‘wordcount’ not writing or prose or storytelling. There’s a pushy, brass-tacks tone to most of this book and no matter what you write you’ll find helpful information in here. Actually, you’ll find helpful info for each step of the strategy. I topped out on my first read at about Chapter 3 or 4. Once I catch up, I’ll be taking notes again for the next stages.
For me, my big ‘ah-ha’ out of this first read through was getting the very clear distinction that “Writing is an art. Publishing is a business.” and that not only was it ok to treat them differently, I needed to.
You might think that is obvious, but I’ve been tortured by it.
Then there was heaps more great gear on fans, how to use the 80/20 rule to focus and prioritise, and some pretty blunt “pointers” on what to stop wasting my time on.
Overall I found this book to be really helpful. Really, really helpful.

If you’re squeamish about language or precious about writing, this book is not for you, but as I mentioned, they’ll let you know that in the free sample. On the other hand, maybe just make the call to take it on the chin this time, after all, if you’re a newbie to self publishing and you hope to make a living writing then you need to hear what they have to say.

View all my reviews

To be inspired but not ensnared

50-year-tardis

Lots of us are fans. I bet you are, and I know I am.

There are loads of writers that I want to pay tribute to over time, people who’ve shaped my reading and so my mind and so my writing. Today though, and probably only ever today, I will honour a TV show because it is the 50th anniversary of Dr Who.

Dr Who was my second love and it has been a complicated relationship from the very beginning. He snuck in through the “cathode ray nipple” and began to challenge my world and bring excitement to a safe and happily mundane childhood.

I was little, very little, when the ABC (That’s the Australian BC, not the American) began showing Dr Who at weeknights before the news. Watching the news was my mum’s ritual and she would put the TV on while she prepared dinner so that she wouldn’t miss the start of it. Forever in my mind the two theme songs are entwined around feeling safe, hungry and a little bit hopeful that there might be pie for dessert. Mum was with us, adult things were being taken care of, and adventure was available in easily manageable 25 minute episodes.

It was the third Doctor (John Pertwee) that I first remember, and it took me a while to warm to him. I wasn’t sure where I stood with him and I didn’t always like how he spoke to other people. I thought he was a bit of prick actually, but when you’re little you’re not allowed to say that about adults, especially clever adults with power. You knew he had power because the Brigadier always did what The Doctor told him to do. Even when the Brigadier didn’t like it. So he was obviously as powerful as a mum, maybe more. Then something magical happened, and he was still the Doctor and in the TARDIS, but he was someone new. Hello to Tom Baker. BOOM. That was it. I was hooked.

I grew up with Tom Baker’s gorgeous goofy grin (he was The Doctor from 1974 until 1981) and when he left, I sobbed. I couldn’t not. A part of my life was over.

The Doctor changed again, he was still there, in the TARDIS, but now he was in cricket whites and as far as I knew he was Tristan from All Creatures Great and Small (another beloved show in our house, based on the James Herriot books).

I was torn. Who was this new man? I didn’t want to let go, I didn’t want him to change. Change had drawn me in and now it pushed me away. Complicated. I compared, I watched repeats. The same way you don’t tell the truth about the old man, you let it slide that the handsome new one is not to your taste.

I had entered the realm of fandom.

Don’t get me wrong, life went on. I could get my own books out of the library, I had my own radio, I even went to high school. In my own small ways I started to participate in a broader cultural life. When I started to write, it was as a fan. My first major foray into story was a fanfic piece based in the The Day of the Triffids world.

Writing is an odd thing to do. Writers use everything they’ve ever come across to make new things. Or at least new-enough. It is a maelstrom of influences and quotes and vibes and kaleidoscopes of blitzing colours and soundtracks and sweet adjectives in here, and as each word squeezes its way out through that mix, it gets a flavour and a tone and a little bit of something else and eventually, if you’re lucky, you have your own voice. And if you’re very unlucky, you’ve got somebody else’s voice. It happens.

Dr Who took a big long rest pause around about the same time I tried to grow up and be an adult. He was off-air from 1989* until the reboot in 2005. I spent those years being employed and largely not-writing, or trying to not-write because writing was stupid and pointless and who would read it anyway?  These were the ‘secret scribble’ years it is a terrible thing to live with, that relentless self loathing.

Self loathing leeches into everything else too, don’t you find? For me it was hard to be happy and joyful in the world when the eyes I used had a film of despair over them. Fiction was there to escape into, bountiful, amazing, expansive fiction. So many books, such amazing worlds and stories. I read everything, but I was addicted to Science Fiction, it was so satisfying and so safely otherwhere!

But where does being a fan lead the creative mind? It leads to the desire to share and to create. If you’re too attached too closely to a specific thing, it can lead to living and working only within that realm. Every time I tried to write (for years!) what came out was just wrong and contorted. It just never worked the way I wanted it to. I was a writer missing the ‘story’ gene.

Time to confess something.

I hated the new Dr Who. Hated it. I watched enough that I could disparage it. I watched the next season too (just to be sure it was rubbish). I was ensnared in being ten years old and hating whoever killed Tom Baker. I was ensnared in being despairing of ever finding my voice, I was ensnared in feeling betrayed by the promises of SciFi for a shiny future in which, if not TARDISes (yes, that is the plural) then surely at least spaceships were coming. They never came. I did not know I was lost.

Luckily, one day, after another of my invective-filled rants about how rubbish the new Dr Who was, a dear friend showed me how lost I was. He said “I like having a show I can watch with my eight year old nephew.” I’d like to think that at the time I had a graceful response to that, but I doubt that I did.

It is a show for children.

I watched it again, as a child would, for fun. I thought about letting it be an escape. I thought about what my nieces might be watching after school homework and before dinner. I remembered the fun things about being a fan of something but not so attached to that identity that it needs to be supported by an encyclopedic knowledge of production details. If it was just for fun, it was ok to miss episodes or to wink into the camera occasionally or for there to be zippers in the back of aliens. I started to have a really good time. I started to be inspired.

So I may not have been there for all 50 of your years Doctor, but the nearly 40 that I remember have been pretty important to me. You, in all your different faces and wonderful coats and delicious hats, you have helped me to find my self. You have helped my friends guide me back from a long darkness, and you have helped me find my own voice from inside the vortex.

Thank you Dr Who and Happy Anniversary.

(*I’m sorry to be rude, but I can’t count the 1996 Eighth Doctor. Sorry. You did the best you could. Let’s not play the blame game.)

Halftime is not halfway – Six writing lessons from Nanowrimo

Writing at Sandgate

It is November 15 which means I should be halfway through drafting a novel, and I am, so the world is a shiny, happy place for a few hours and I dance and I smile and my workmates edge away from the crazy lady.

I love NaNoWriMo for this annual push and sense of communal urgency to create a work of fiction as whole as possible inside the month. In some ways, the arbitrary restrictions of the Nano game have taught me a lot that I needed to learn about the discipline of writing. I’ve had a crack at Nano every year since 2006 and ‘won’ it only twice so far but I’ve got my best game on this year.

So what exactly has NaNoWriMo taught me about writing?

  1. Turn up and tune in. Sit. Write. Sitting in the chair is no good if the clock’s not ticking and the words aren’t coming.
  2. Deliver the words. Want to write a book? Produce a daily word count towards it. You set the rules, but measure yourself. Do whatever works for you. I like gold stars. There is a part of me that is still 8 years old and will do *anything* to get a gold star on a chart. I wish I’d known years ago that all it would take to relight my writing was about $3 worth of shiny stickers and a wall calendar!
  3. Have fun. If the writing is getting boring, you’re doing it wrong. Call a friend and bring in your plot ninjas or drop your characters into hot water.
  4. Say no. Say no throughout September, and October to things in November, especially if you hold down a day job. You’re going to need those weekends for your story. You’re going to wish you had some holiday time to take or a long commute. Daydream and note down ideas and keep saying no to everything else. Time is words.
  5. Kill your darlings. Yeah, I stole that one from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch* (via Faulkner). I’d heard it before but never really understood it until I re-read some of my rambling, no tension, and precious manuscripts and nodded right off to sleep. I’d put so much effort into making beautiful characters I didn’t want anything bad to happen to them. Oh dear. Total snooze fest.
  6. Finish. Is that obvious enough? I didn’t get that for a long time. I thought – ‘I’ll get back to that one next week’ and … nothing. So now it doesn’t matter how, or where the plot ends up, or what weird contortions I put those characters through, together we’re all getting to the finish.

That gets a first draft done. It is admittedly small draft, but a whole one. It is no where near half way through completely finishing a novel, but it is an incredibly satisfying milestone along that path and it feels great. So today I mark halftime in the word production schedule and celebrate being on track with a nice shiny gold star. I wish you all the very best in your writing goals too.

Have you played the Nano game? Please share your writing tips in the comments.

* The full quote.
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings”.