Wednesday, February 25, 2015



Ever had a great story idea and can’t wait to tell the story? You work hard on getting those words down and the images on the page. There are notations in the manuscript to research A, B, and C and hours are spent checking the facts. There’s a good plot and some cool characters. The story makes you laugh and cry as the characters play out their story before your eyes. Finally, you type; The End. There’s a feeling of elation because you finished it, but there is also a sense of loss because the story is done.

But is it?

Realistically, you know there are some sections that will need some work and probably words that need culling. You pare it down, polish up scenes and word choices but still…something’s not right, it feels a bit choppy and so you still continue working on it. You tackle the grammar check and spelling. It’s done, right? Finally you print it off and read it.

That’s when you realize a couple of things; one, it doesn’t read smooth like published novels you’ve read in that genre and two, there are still some off spots but you can’t figure out what exactly or how to fix it. Then you tear yourself apart: you’re a horrible writer and what possessed you to think you could write a book? The published authors out there are just smarter and better writers than you. You’re about ready to throw the manuscript across the room and swear off writing. 

A couple of writing friends and I were talking about this and what we had all gone through—most before we had writing friends and critiquing readers. We learned from it. I’ve learned so much!

I learned the meaning of the term first draft. Once you’ve typed The End, it’s only the first draft of the story and going through it to clean up grammar and spelling, doesn’t make it a second draft—just a cleaner first draft. Of course it doesn’t read as smooth as a finished novel because it isn’t finished. Not really.  It hasn’t been edited by anyone other than you, the writer. And that’s when I learned, or at least began to see, what editing really meant. And the value of having experience writers or critique partners read your story.

As a writer we are too close to our work to really see all the obstacles blocking that smooth sounding story. We miss weaknesses and errors in our writing. I don’t think there is a writer out there that masters all aspects of telling a story or the writing skills needed to do so.

It taught me that there is a lot of work (not at all as much fun as the initial writing) between the first draft and the finished draft. It’s not always small stuff. It’s cutting those words and scenes you thought were so good and you start to hear terms like ‘info dump’ and ‘backstory’ which lead to the 4th draft, where I basically rewrote the first half of the book. 

But, to be a good writer and tell a good story, you need objective readers to spot where the plot or a character is weak or where the flow and tension of the story is interrupted. Or a scene is out of place or where the story actually begins (I’ve learned it’s usually a few moments before all hell breaks loose in the character’s life or the event that changes their life).

You also need thick skin.


Because the editing and critiquing process can sting the ego. Especially when you have to lose some of those lovely words or a scene (or three) you loved, which might be well written but, don't add anything to the story or dam the flow of the story.

Friday, I’ll be talking about what I've learned about objective readers (and being one) and a good editor.

  • What have you learned about the writing process after you wrote, The End, on your first draft? 
  • Was it hard to let others read your story?


Natalie Aguirre said...

This is all so true, Sia. And critique partners are so essential in helping us see the big editing we need to do in our additional drafts.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

I always wonder if they don't read as smoothly because we're our own worst critic most of the time?

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

It used to hard to let others read my work. I feel relieved when I finish the first draft even though I know there's tons of work to be done on it. I never let anyone read my first draft and sometimes not the second either.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

My first drafts are almost always exploratory. It isn't until I type "The End" that I realize what the whole story was supposed to be about in the first place. I am always excited going into the second draft, because I feel as if I understand the story for the first time. But I always do at least 4 drafts before sharing with my agent.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That's why my test readers and my critique partners rock. They really help bring it into a complete story.

LD Masterson said...

I like that thought - an edited first draft is not a second draft, it's just a cleaner first draft. A very good thing to remember.

Nick Wilford said...

My CPs have been great for pointing out problems I never would have even realised were problems. On the flip side, it's nice when you get an occasional lovely comment praising something - because you never really think "yeah, that's great" about your own work!

Yolanda Renee said...

I'm there right now, but a good eddit is key to a good product. Still it's hard to throw away 10 pages of work you thought were your best, but sometimes it's just necessary. After I get an evaluation I digest it, mull it over, walk away, and then come back stronger - at least that's the goal - I'm still working it all out! :)

Kat Sheridan said...

The first time I had a really good editor look over what I thought was my masterpiece, I ended up in tears. It felt like the worst thing ever. But she was right about a lot of things, and it made the story better. The thing is to not take every single word of a critique as gospel. A writer has to be strong enough to accept valid critique, but also strong enough to defend their own voice.