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?