Thursday, June 9, 2011

Slowly but Surely, the Process Moves Forward

It's been a little while since I posted, so I think it's time to give an update on my progress, and the process I went through to get here.

2010 and Prior -Wrote the "Shitty First Draft" (SFD)
The SFD took me a long time, about two years.  Of course, I was/am a new writer, still figuring everything out (I'd only seriously been writing for about a year prior to starting 'Pack'.)  About six months (and 35,000 words) into the first version, I decided to rewrite everything.  The premise was the same, but the cast and initial setup was completely different.  The only character I kept was my protagonist, Laila.  Even then, I didn't really know what I was doing, and kept going back and changing things around, so I chalk up most of the two years to newbie mistakes and the learning curve.  The next one won't take nearly so long.  I hope.  :-)

January - SFD Complete
My first draft was not good.  The basic concept was written, the characters were more-or-less developed, and the overall content was laid out, but it wasn't anywhere close to being published.  Which was fine.  It's accepted wisdom that the first draft should be shitty.  The author needs to write the first draft as fast and as creatively as possible, without letting the internal critic slow the process down.  The critic is allowed out to play during the editing process, and that's when you start to have a publishable story.

February/March - Prepared for Beta Readers
This was the first round of edits, and to be fair, I really went through the manuscript two or three times before I sent it out to anyone to read in full.  (I'd asked for some feedback on certain sections, but ultimately I decided it wasn't worthwhile to share the novel in bits and pieces.)  Even after the edits, the manuscript wasn't perfect.  I knew it wasn't ready to go out into the world, but I wasn't able to see what needed to change.  Luckily, that's what beta readers are for.

April - Break month.
I sent the complete manuscript to several people to read and give me feedback (my beta readers).  These were people that I trusted to give honest, constructive criticism, and they did a great job for me.  They all found aspects of the story that they liked, as well as things that needed to be fixed or changed to improve the clarity and cohesiveness of the story.  In particular, I found out I'm not so good at the description.  Which is great (okay, not great that I suck at providing enough setting and description, but great that now I know I suck at it, so I can pay more attention to it in the future, and fix my problems).

Meanwhile I took a break from 'Pack'.  I worked on other things, most time-consuming of which was my day job (it was my busy season). But more importantly, I needed to put some distance between the manuscript and me.  In order to see the flaws, I had to be able to read with fresh eyes, and a new perspective.  I couldn't be so wrapped up in the story that I took all of the criticism personally.  

May - Paper Review
First, I read through an unedited version of the manuscript, making my own edits on paper.  I called this the Master Copy.  Then I read through each beta reader's comments on their version of the paper copy, adding the changes and comments I agreed with to the Master Copy.  Each beta got their own color of pen in the Master as well, so I could keep track of who said what.  Have I mentioned before that I'm a bit of a Type A nerd?  Anyway, I managed to get all of that done for all five copies of the manuscript, despite the fact that I was still swamped at work and busy with personal things on the weekends. 

June (forecasted) - Finish Major Rewrites
My goal this month is to finish incorporating the written edits into the digital file, so that I have a completed work of fiction by July 1.  I think it's doable, but I will have to knuckle down and work hard to get there.  I need to add a couple of scenes, revise the ending, and generally make a lot of changes.  But I really think it's coming along.  Once the major rewrites are done, I'm going to send it to a couple more people to read, to see if it's (finally) ready to go out the door.

In the end, this has been a long and involved process.  Now that I've gone through it (or will have gone through it soon) I'll do better on the next novel.  I now know where I tend to get stuck, and what steps I'll have to go through to get it all finished.  Plus, I'm a much better writer now than I was when I started, so the SFD should go faster next time.  

I want to emphasize, however, that the writing process takes as long as it needs to take.  I'm not going to rush through everything and send a piece of crap out into the world.  If I need to go through another round of edits on 'Pack' to make the story sparkle, I will.  Good things are worth waiting (and working) for.


  1. Megan,
    Everything you said in your above post is spot-on, save for one tiny thing with which I personally disagree: SFDs. I do not believe in shitty first drafts. This notion was popularized by Ann Lamott in BIRD BY BIRD, which it sounds like you've read.

    I understand what she's saying, just let 'er rip and write fast.

    But it has always seemed to me that the shittier your first draft is, the more work you will have to do later. I tend to write a bit slower or at least more meticulously, trusting in the original inspiration (which I believe to be divine in nature) to guide me. And the stones somehow always line up to form a path; the dots connect, and it's always amazing to me.

    Also, you're absolutely correct about putting the manuscript away for a little while. This period of time needs to be long enough to pretty much forget what you've written, so that when you go back to it, you truly see it with fresh eyes. When I do this I find myself thinking, "Egads, how did I do THAT?"

    Finally, read. Read, read, read. Then read some more. If you don't READ you simply can't WRITE. On Amanda Hocking's blog she said, Read more than you write, and write a lot.

    And never give up. You won't be able to live with yourself if you do.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Ryan. You might be right, that the shittier the first draft is, the longer it takes to edit...but for me, that's okay.

    Writing as fast as I can, without letting the internal critic slow me down, means that I actually finished the novel. I have to get the words on the page, and I can't worry about what those words are saying, at least not at first (I have my ideas, my scenes in mind, but the actual words just have to flow).

    I've read Dean Wesley Smith's 3 Draft process ( He's a professional writer making a living with his work, and he only uses 3 drafts for any given piece. BUT even he says, "First draft I do as quickly as I can, staying solidly as much as possible in my creative side, adding in things I think about as I go along, until I get to the end of the draft." That's what a shitty first draft is all about...turning off the critic and writing as fast as you can, then fixing the inconsistencies and polishing the manuscript later.

    Editing is not a burden to me. I actually enjoy it, finding ways to improve what's already been written. Editing is a means of learning and practicing and getting better, improving my writing with each change. Someday I hope to be able to write a 3 draft novel, that would be awesome, but editing is always going to be a part of that process.

    Every writer is different. Every novel is different. You have to do what's best for you, and the work in question. There is no one right way.