Wednesday, 3 July 2013

IWSG #4 - On the perils of first-drafting




It's time for another IWSG post, hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh! Today's co-hosts are Nancy Thompson, Mark Koopmans, and Heather Gardner!

Today I'm going to talk about that moment that always hits around the 1/3 mark of a first draft, which I call the "arghwhatthehellamIdoing?" phase, or "Ican'ttellifthisbookisworkingsendhelpnow!", and involves a lot of flailing around and uncertainty and physically having to force myself to stay put in my desk chair and Just. Write.

I'm currently reaching that stage now with the first draft of Darkworld Book 4, and despite this being the eighth (!) first draft of a novel I've written (counting the three books I abandoned after the first draft stage), I still get stuck at the same point. Every single time. It's because when you start a draft, it's an adventure. You're caught up in the thrill of a new project, the sheer awesomeness of getting words on paper and creating a new world. But inevitably, like after a caffeine high, there comes the inevitable CRASH (as a diet coke addict, I can attest to this). Suddenly, the self-doubt demons are all whispering to you at once that the project is doomed to failure, that you're heading in the wrong direction.

This even happens when I outline the whole book (I generally try to have a rough outline with key plot points marked out so I know where I'm going). It's that "I'm actually trying to write a BOOK" moment, when it's not the beginning of a draft but actually, roughly, trying to take the shape of a full novel. But it's not ready yet. I tend to edit as I go along despite knowing I can't fix all the problems, which probably doesn't help. My feeble excuse is that I have OCD and can't leave well enough alone. I'm a perfectionist, and my first drafts tend to be the equivalent of third/fourth drafts. It's worth it in the end, but when I'm in the middle of it and caught up in all the tangled plotlines and confusing details, it feels like trying to navigate my way through a foggy quagmire. And my sense of direction is appalling! I think it's partly a confidence issue - the fear that all the projects I've finished were flukes and that I've suddenly lost the ability to write a novel.

And then this week I read this awesome blog post from Victoria Schwab which describes EXACTLY what I'm going through right now. So it's reassuring to see that it isn't just me, and even established authors have trouble with first drafts! Even when you have a publishing contract, even when you have an agent, the first draft of a new project always attempts to beat you down. But don't let it. Keep writing, and some day, it'll all click into place. It does for me - every time. 

So keep writing.

35 comments:

  1. Oh yes, there's always that point where you wonder if the story is working. My advice is to push through it. Sometimes I even jump ahead and write the climax just to get me over that doubt.

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    1. Great tip! It can help just to plan ahead to reassure yourself that the story's going somewhere.

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  2. I think we all hit that hard place at some point. I agree with Kelly above, I have abandoned a chapter and come back to it later when I've written later parts. Sometimes this helps you see a way through. Good luck and keep writing.

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  3. I've done that, wrote the entire third book, but hated it. Now the solutions to making it the book I wanted all along are coming like gangbusters. Love the creative process, even when it's the most frustrating!

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    1. Definitely! Glad it's working now! :)

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  4. It is always nice to see an author you respect and admire going through the same thing you are. You're not alone in this, and if others can do it, so can you!

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  5. I hit this stage every time I'm drafting something, and it's awful! I just keep reminding myself that I started writing it for a reason - because I loved the idea.

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    1. Sometimes that's the best thing to do! :)

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  6. First drafts are the bane of my existence. I can't wait to finish the one I'm working on now. But then I'll just start another one so... haha. All part of being a writer :)

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    1. Yep - it's all part of the process!

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  7. I can't tell you how may first drafts I have started that abruptly ended out of frustration and doubts. The hardest thing for me is not editing as I go along. I can't help myself, but doing so slows the pace and the fire goes out too quickly. I get stuck on a scene and frustrated when I should just plug through. I took a workshop once that actually encouraged writing a crappy first draft. As hard as it was to do that, I completed it. And it totally sucked. But it finally turned into something wonderful. I went back to the scenes I struggled with as I edited and they finally worked themselves out (or were just completely dropped!). I can't say I still follow the "don't edit as you go" concept, but I try.

    Meredith
    Meredith’s Musings

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    1. I think it depends on how you write - I try not to edit too much as I go along, but if something obviously isn't working, I just end up fixing it otherwise it'll keep bothering me.

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  8. I have the same problem. Why do I get stuck on the second and third drafts the same way I get stuck on the first? I'm supposed to be writing right now! Instead, here I am commenting on blogs.

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    1. Lol! I've been doing the same thing today.

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  9. I understand exactly what you mean. Since I outline, I don't usually hit that point in the first draft. Instead, I start to get perplexed at the end, after about 5 revisions. I've changed it so much, I've taken so much advice from CPs and betas, that I've second-guessed myself into confusion. Is it good this way? Was it better before? Should I change parts back again? Should I put in the line that I took out 2 days ago, put in the day after, and took out again yesterday? Aaargh!!

    You're right. Just. Keep. Writing. :-)

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    1. That's always a tough time, too - it's hard to tell when it's done!

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  10. Self-doubt seems to be everywhere today. Or maybe it is simply the writer's constant companion.
    It is so easy to wonder if we are following the wrong road, going down the wrong path. When inspiration hits, usually I'm driving about sixty in heavy traffic. Why is that? LOL
    CD Coffelt ponders at Spirit Called
    And critiques at UnicornBell

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    1. I think self-doubt is something that affects every writer at some point!

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  11. I can definitely sympathise with this - I tend to go through the same thing with just about anything I write, including blog posts. (I tend to start off with some rough ideas on what I want to say, then reach a panicking point when I realise a few are incoherent, and it doesn't really flow properly the way I'm working on it.)

    With proper fiction I tend to be worse of course.

    It's worthwhile keeping an eye on the prize - the original idea of what the finished story is meant to look like - and just plow on in that general direction, regardless of what your instincts are telling you!
    Not so easy to do in practice, of course...

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    1. Yeah - I know some people who write the last line of a book first, just so they know what they're aiming towards! But in practice that doesn't always work...

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  12. Maybe if you bounced some ideas off another writer you might get unstuck?

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    1. Yep - talking ideas through is always helpful. :)

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  13. Yes! Those first drafts can be killer. *shudder*

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  14. sometimes when you 'TRY' to write is when your juices are dry girl. just breath and go with the flow!!

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    1. Too true! It's definitely when you least expect it that inspiration strikes.

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  15. I'm one of those writers that likes to have at least a final line of the last scene written. Even if I do end up changing it, it helps me stay focused and the change usually includes, in some form, the original line.

    I love the support of others who know exactly what I'm going through in my writer friends, especially here in the bloggy world.

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    1. That's why I love IWSG - it's just one of the wonderful ways authors can support each other here in blogville! :)

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  16. I know just how you feel....especially on the OCD part, lol :)

    I'm at that 'excited' stage, now, but know the 'argh!' stage will come...no matter how much I prepare or know it's on the way.

    All we can keep doing is plugging away at our work.

    I don't think that most of us will ever have a work that we're -totally- satisfied with, but that shouldn't deter us.

    As we used to say in the 70s....'Keep on Truckin'!' :)

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  17. Hi, Emma,

    Join the PERFECTIONIST CLUB.... Our membership is HUGE! I am like this in all my creative efforts. As an interior designer, illustrator, and writer. I drive myself INSANE But the bottom line is TAKE a DEEP breath and continue on. If you need to leave it for a bit, do it! I find walking away from an intense project and getting out into nature really helps me. Take a walk or jog through the park or lakefront, if you have one. A few hours at the gym can do wonders for your MIND...

    Glad to hear it eventually works out for your ... remember why we call these WORKS IN PROGRESS.

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  18. Glad to read this! I hit that point in the first third of my second drafts - I wonder if all the mess of my first will ever makes sense and if it's even worth revising. And then I remember what I like about my characters, and I get back to work.
    Keep writing!

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  19. I've run into a lot of the same problems - editing myself to death and never finishing because I, too, am a perfectionist with OCD (and ADD) so I eventually hate everything I write or I just become too bored by the process. Which is why I turned my latest unfinished novel idea into its own blog, so that I can stay accountable and see it through without some of the pitfalls of being a perfectionist.

    It's refreshing to know that an established author has some of those same issues and insecurities (that's what the IWSG is for!) but I seriously doubt that you'll somehow lose your mojo after two or three (or more) completed & published works. Trust yourself, trust your process, and if you're still having trouble try another plan of attack. I wish i had more specific advice, but I'm still stuck on MS#1.

    Found your blog through other IWSG members. Glad to meet you!

    The Pedestrian Writer

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  20. I'm in the death edit mode right now too. Good Lord. Does it ever end? Probably not.

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