I have been working on my very first story, the one that infected me with the writing bug, for seven years. That’s a LOOOONG time. I wrote the rough draft in about six months. The rest has been adding, deleting, slashing, tinkering, and molding that sucker into something fit for publishing. My last round of major edits occurred about two years ago. In the meantime, I’ve submitted, been rejected, and waited for another LONG period of time.When I went into that last round of edits, I was so sick of working on it that I didn’t even entertain the notion of changing plot points, writing new scenes, or deleting extraneous exposition. I strictly attacked style and structure and left the story as-is. “I’m done tinkering,” I told myself.
As I finished up the rough draft of the sequel and started the third, in the process honing my craft even more, a little voice whispered, “It isn’t quite right. It isn’t as good as the second and you aren’t even done with that one.”
I hated that voice. What did it know anyway?
The voice was right. A week ago I opened up my novel and started reading. I went into it with absolutely no agenda. I let the story flow as I read it and fixed the handful of stylistic issues or typos I found. Then little pieces of the story jumped out at me. One scene needed more tension, another more character development, and so it went. I let the story tell me what was missing rather than trying to force it to be done. I’m enjoying the ride rather than arguing with a GPS over which way I should go. It feels right this time.
So what are some writing/editing pitfalls I’ve learned on this journey?
- Write the story. Edit later. – This is the number one reason for beginning authors never finishing that novel they started. I write all my rough drafts in yWriter now and worry about spell check, typos, and formatting after the whole thing is written.
- Get to know your characters.– Whether you write a few pages of back-story just for you, do character interviews, an outline, or some other brainstorming method, the better you know your characters’ deep dark secrets, the easier it will be to find their voice and write the actions they want you to write.
- Learn your favorite no-no’s. – I’m a comma sprinkler, fond of passive voice, bookisms, and my rough drafts are littered with adverbs. That’s okay. It’s a rough draft. However knowing what I tend to write makes it easier to look for it while editing, and the more I write, the less I do these things.
- Don’t rush the end. – A lot of my stories involve two central characters, typically a male and female, who fall in love amidst unlikely circumstances or paranormal craziness. As all of my stories are more than simple “boy meets girl”, I tend to get in a rush to have them work things out so they can tackle whatever antagonist or plot issue that is the “real” story. This holds for friends, comrades, or any other combo of characters you can imagine. Add in tension and conflict. Keep things interesting. Don’t make it easy on your characters. It makes the end that much more rewarding when you get there.
- Be true to the story.- Don’t obsess over what is or isn’t popular right now. Write the story which is begging to be told, not the one you think will sell. The first will sell if you do your very best to bring it to life, while the other will be little more than the book version of fast food. People may buy it and perhaps even like it, but it isn’t all that good.