One of the hardest things for me when I was first writing and had got to the end of the first draft of the first novel (give or take a few reworks and tweaks here and there that I called editing) — and after the celebratory bottle or two (and so you should) was knowing what to do next. No Man’s Land.
A writer’s life seems to me to be a road of highs and lows and not many in-betweens. Well who wants the in-between or the lows, right? You want your book to be the best, to move people, to excite people, to make people laugh, cry — so what do you do with that first draft?
I always put it away for a bit while it seeps in (the waking in the middle of the night phase when you know something doesn’t work or better the epiphanies to make it better) and then when I do go back to it I often stare in horror at what was glaringly bad that I thought was good! And in places might think it really works. The more I write and understand process the more discerning I am in the first stages so there will be less of the glaringly bad — but it is process. It’s the writers who think they are ready to submit at this stage that need to stand back from it. And when I was a rookie (or should I say more of a rookie than I am now) I was guilty of this. I sent those drafts off — I learned the hard way. Or perhaps actually it’s exactly what I needed. We need rejection. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, it’s how we learn. And yes it hurts, of course it should. All good medicine tastes bad, don’t they say?
Now it might be you were better clued up than me and did several drafts before it was sent out, but there still comes this odd place where tumbleweed blows and the sounds of old Westerns whistle through the mind, when you stop and think –what next? It’s also common at the end of that first draft to think it’s great or it’s good enough, it’s your our own writing, we have to believe in it or who else will? So what then? What do you do when you think it all works and you feel happy with it. Are you there yet?
Sorry to say it but probably not. Especially for new writers, I think the more you write the more you do get a sense of how close you are to arriving.
So this is where distance helps for a bit (write some short stories maybe) but you do at some point if you’re a newbie have to have someone get up close and personal to your writing to learn how.
With my own work now, having critiqued so many manuscripts in so many different stages of readiness or ability, I try to use the same approach with my edits. The second one is usually the BIG one, when you tackle structural flaws, wipe out whole characters, change major plot points, work on character motivation etc. And it’s vital which is why either the writer sends it to someone like me to look at what might help it or they tackle it themselves first. Either way it probably will need several more drafts.
I think I can see it in my own work in that my submission-ready draft is after many drafts but I still need the third eye and that’s why I am also in a crit group and send it off for critiques — or have done in the past anyway.
Don’t be disillusioned, it is process and you need to recognise that. If you find yourself in No Man’s Land looking at that tumbleweed, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters? (Sorry!) No me or someone like me? I hope so.
Or write something else and come back to it, if the glaringly bad still doesn’t bite you in the butt then either you are as brilliant as your mother always said you were (well of course you are!) or you need someone to look at it with more detachment — again this is process. And if you deny process and opt to go for the jugular, submit — well that will work at showing you if it’s ready and you might still then have it critted anyway — or and I say this with warning — you say to hell with it and publish that not ready draft. Flashing neon: DO NOT.
Do yourself a favour, unless you do have the experience and publishing success to support it and have gone through this learning process, don’t think I have to have it now or my world will implode! We seem to live in a world where we all want everything now and no one waits anymore. Hell I even teach my dog to wait in the pecking order for food (me last of course after the two cats and her) — but really. There isn’t the hurry you think there is. Make it as good as it can be before you sent it out there. And if you don’t know if it is — have it critiqued by someone you trust.
I am at that last stage with I Am Wolf and I won’t send it in its entirety until I can feel really excited about it — and even then if it is picked up that I might be there now script will probably go through numerous more edits with the agent and the publisher. Maybe we’re never really there but I know I have to be excited or who else will be? (I am getting excited!) and then when they are not quite as excited as me we work on it some more.
For the client who once sent me something so raw I could see the blood, and said I want an editor to make this work as I hate editing — remember editing is process. It’s most of the process and so enjoy it. I see the creation ideas phase is when my fingers really tremble with excitement and I am buzzing. But I also find the process of turning that into something that really works exhilarating in a different way.
Keep going. Don’t give up. Make your goal not instant publication and get it out there now — but make this as good as it can be. Don’t let your reader want to put it down.
There endeth today’s lesson while I dive back into those final stages with this novel.
Are we there yet?
The whisper that should come back is: Yes. Nearly?