It's been four years since I started writing with the goal of publication.
My first (not joking) 190,000 word draft of an urban fantasy spewed forth like drunk on New Year's morning in less than three months.
My second manuscript was a much tighter 105,000 words and took two months.
My third ended up around 95,000 and took twelve weeks.
Then I really got down to the business of learning the craft and self-editing.I've now passed a year and a half without finishing a new manuscript. In part this has been because other responsibilities (most notably, editing my completed manuscript for querying, then with my agent) have taken precedence. But there's no doubt that in the last couple years, I've collected half a dozen aborted first drafts. Not because I don't think the stories are worth writing. And not because I haven't collectively had enough time to finish one of them. But because my normal process has stopped working.
See, I used to write without thought for anything except getting the story down. Just write and write and write. Sure, sometimes I skipped forward in the story if I needed to know how a scene came together in order to write up to it. But generally I wrote a linear story from melodramatic start to wordy finish. Then I edited.
But the more I learned about writing craft, self-editing, and the pitfalls of story-telling. The more I started to see my mistakes as they happened. My internal editor started taking over, talking in my ear as I typed:
"That sentence is SO clunky!"
"That scene is awkward, and the character motivations are paper-thin."
"You can't honestly believe the reader is going to swallow that?"
Soon I was struggling to enjoy drafting at all because I just knew the product wasn't up to scratch.
The dumb part about this is, I know even the most talented writers need editors. I know that even bestselling authors have to revise and redraft at times. I know that a story doesn't go from brain to page in perfect form.
I know I have to rework stories to make them the best I can make them. But I get so caught up in the editing now, that I can't be happy with where I'm at.
What if I get the ending wrong and have to go back and rewrite whole chunks of a manuscript?
What if I haven't nailed that characterization? My protagonist might need an overhaul!
The entire plot hinges on getting the timing right on that reveal. What if I get it wrong – will the book even work?
These are stupid things to worry about, but worry I do. My practical, pragmatic mind says "Just draft. Work it through later". But my creative heart can't commit just in case.
I was beginning to think maybe I'd ruined myself as a writer. Until, totally by accident, I stumbled on a new process:
I've started writing longhand.
Now, I know plenty of you are thinking, "well, duh?" but trust me, for me this is revolutionary. On a lazy day I type at 90 words per minute. When I'm in flow, I can get 1500 words down in an hour, easy. The idea of writing longhand, to me, was akin to trying to ride my bike as fast as I could drive. (Not only impossibly, but incredibly frustrating).
Then, a week or so ago, I didn't have access to a computer. And I had a scene that needed to be written. So, oh well, I'll just write it in my notebook so I don't lose the idea.
But the scene turned into another scene, turned into another scene, turned into another scene…
Pretty soon, I've got my notebook sitting on my coffee table, and whenever I have five spare minutes, I read back through the (rough, sometimes barely-more-than-an-outline-plus-dialogue) scene I've written prior, and add the next few paragraphs.
Without putting any time aside for drafting (because, seriously, life is CRAY-CRAY right now), I've finished Act one and am rolling strong into Act II.
I don't have chapters. I'm pretty sure some of my character names are wrong. And we're definitely off on pacing. BUT, momentum is momentum.
What I'll end up with, I've realized, is what can either be viewed as a very extensive (read 50,000 word) outline, or a very skeletal (read: 50,000 word) first draft. In truth, the document will have bits and snatches of both.
But my story will be mapped out. I'll already know where the problems are. And those wonderful phrases that sometimes germinate amidst the weeds, have been recorded. The gems of my first draft will be there. But the work is yet to be done to carve it into a book.
That's when I'll need the computer. That's when I'll be able to edit as I go, because as soon as I get stuck, I get back to my outline/draft and find where I left off.
So, it turns out, I have a new process.
For some reason, when I'm writing by hand, my internal editor can't get a look in. I am free to just throw the ideas around, make notes where I can't be bothered writing the transitional scene, and that dialogue that I adore is still recorded for perpetuity.
In short, it works (for me). And it isn't cutting into any of my actual writing time. Because the work on revisions of my completed manuscript continues. And that has to be done on the computer.
So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you're stuck, don't be afraid to try something new. And definitely don't be afraid to try something that hasn't worked in the past.
As we grow in competence, our brain processes differently. For me that means needing to find a new way to write. For you it might mean needing a different color screen. Or writing at a different time of day. Or being willing to write in five minute snatches throughout the day, giving up on the two-hour-blocks you've always thought were required.
Whatever. Just give it a shot. And whatever you do, don't give up!
Your Turn: Has your process changed? What works for you? Share your ideas in case your process might spark something that works for someone else.