I am in the camp of "Don't Stop Writing Until The Draft Is Done," and yet at this very moment I'm putting my majorly secret project under a pretty massive revision. Mid. Draft.
This is something I never imagined I would do. In some ways I feel like I'm "betraying" my process, or at least my process as I've known it for the last, oh, 15 novels. Sure, I've gone back to reread in the middle of the writing, maybe make a few tiny changes. But this time I'm doing some pretty huge things—like deleting 4 characters, completely altering my MC's character arc, cutting scenes (entire chapters, even), and adding new ones.
I've been asking myself often why this couldn't wait. Usually while I'm drafting I'm aware of problems, and I note them to fix later. I'm fine going on knowing things aren't perfect. But this was driving me crazy. Maybe I can take this as a sign that I'm growing as a writer, because I can more readily see my mistakes. Or maybe I'm just getting more neurotic and paranoid. Total possibility.
But I did have reasons, and as I approach the end of my mid-draft revision I don't regret it in the slightest. It needed to happen. So I thought I'd share my thinking on this in case any of you have ever wondered whether or not you should stop drafting to revise.
• 140 pages seemed a lot easier to manage than 300. As I saw these issues piling up, I knew that continuing on that path would only exacerbate the problems. What were considerable changes now would have become insanely unwieldy had I continued.
• Character arcs are hard to change. I realized last week that I had written my MC's motivations as I wanted her to be at the end of the book. Which means if I'd continued, she'd have experienced little growth during the book and I'd get called out on that. I had to shift it now so that I could write the rest of the arc the right way.
• Major Case of Character Soup. I tend to write big casts, and by mid-draft I could already see it was out of control. Characters were becoming stick-figures—completely interchangeable. They were cluttering the story and adding confusion. And I hadn't even brought in all the characters I'd planned on! Bad news. Minimizing the cast has made it less clumsy.
• Neglecting Important Sub-plots. While focusing on the main plot, I'd dropped a lot of elements I needed to have for the latter half of the book to make sense. Adding that now will save me work later.
Notice that none of these have anything to do with punctuation, grammar, or prose in general. It can be really easy to fall into that kind of polishing mid-draft and never actually finish anything. But I think if there are big story-related issues you are already aware of in the middle of drafting, it might not hurt to revise those if you want.
What this has taught me is that my process isn't a permanent thing. And that's okay. You have to do what works for the book at hand, and it's never quite the same as the last novel. This is both frustrating and oddly invigorating.
This is exactly why my selkie book got shelved. I didn't stop to fix huge things halfway through (was so dead-set on finishing, I didn't even see the problem) and now it's pretty much unfixable without rewriting the whole book from scratch. You're smart to do this.ReplyDelete
I had to do this with the current WIP - trashing the first and then second draft midway to go back to the drawing board and try and fix persistent plot issues. And know what? It made it better. I'm on the fifth rewrite and have already been told by a few of the persistent pre-readers that it is the cleanest draft so far. So sometimes you really need to just go back and revise.ReplyDelete
Thanks for this post, Natalie!
That is good, as an aspiring author I realize what may have worked last year or even few months don't relate now, I used to do exhausting outlines so precise it seemed like a book itself then I changed my style and wrote the outline following the GMC technique, but I too check the main things MC growth conflict and characters that are going to be integral to the protagonist journey which includes the antagonist. The technical stuff such as grammar,punctuation, prose etc comes at the end with my editors assistance.ReplyDelete
Its hard though I would think for pubbed writers doing so much then when editor gets mss and makes changes and the whole process starts again.
Welcome to my world. I do this with all my books. I'll even delete thousands of words during Nanowrimo to fix it before moving on. There are no set rules to writing, do what you feel is right!ReplyDelete
I end up completely changing plots in the middle of drafts because things aren't working, which means that continuing on and finishing with an ending that doesn't make sense anymore never feels quite right. But I figure I'm still making progress because I'm coming closer to a plot that actually works.ReplyDelete
I often revise as I go -- for similar reasons. Small things I can ignore and keep moving forward. But if I decide on major plot/character/world-building changes, it's easier to revise. As long as I maintain progress, I feel okay about it. In fact, it's part of the process, if you're a "discovery writer", a term I heard from Brandon Sanderson.ReplyDelete
This is great advice. Everyone's process is different. I have friends who write, revise, write, revise. That works for them. But I know how I am. If I start revising in the middle of a discovery draft, I won't continue drafting. I'll just pick at the words I've already written until I drive myself nuts. But if I sense a shift that needs to be done, I usually include a note saying "Revise." I write a lot of notes to myself as I draft.ReplyDelete
When I realize there's a problem earlier in the story I usually make a note then continue writing as if I'd fixed the problem. So if halfway through I realize I need to cut a character I write the second half of the draft as if the character had never existed. It means my initial drafts don't match up or make any sense, but I'm okay with that. If my writing process has a single constant it's that my first drafts are always terrible, anyway.ReplyDelete
I haven't had this problem with an individual novel, but since I'm writing a huge novel series (26 books!) I have had that problem while writing early drafts of my collected novels. My main antagonist's motive, personality, and even methods of carrying out EVIL THINGS change COMPLETELY by the time I hit the fourth novel. Now I'm going back and editing all FOUR novels before I try and move on. And honestly, I found I had all the same problems you did with those four novels. It's amazing how authors think alike, lol.ReplyDelete
Yes! Someone actually wrote about this! Geez, I've been wondering forever when to stop revising a draft and move on! (People say "you know it's time when you're happy with what you wrote" but seeing as this is my brain child I'm always going to find SOMETHING wrong with it.)ReplyDelete
Knowing when to stop editing a draft is one of my biggest problems. I sometimes wonder if it would be better to do a more detailed outline before writing my first draft, but I find I like to write my first dirty draft only when I know my characters' names and a little about them and the vague idea of the plot. It does lead to a lot of re-writing afterwards though.ReplyDelete
I think it's good that you made your cast smaller; I've read book where there were so many characters that it was hard to keep track of them, and it was even more difficult when the characters had similar names.ReplyDelete
Yes, yes, yes. I tend to revise as I go. If I spot a major problem or major hiccup with the foundation, I will raze the entire house to the ground. Learned my lesson once; now I do my best to make sure each chapter is as clean as it can get before I move to the next one.ReplyDelete
I'm in overall revisions now and...ugh. Yeah. My perfectionist nature is driving me crazy!! I'm glad to know I'm not the only one out there who does this, though. Luck to you in your revisions, and can't wait to read your debut when it's out :)
I think one of the hardest things to learn as a writer is to be flexible enough to do what THIS BOOK needs. We all have patterns that work for us as a general rule, but there will be projects that force us to work differently.ReplyDelete
I'm sending my current project to my beta readers earlier in the revision process than I normally would, because I know I need some story help. There's no point adding detail to scenes that will probably change, move, or be cut after hearing back from them. Kudos to you for seeing what needed to be done, and being flexible enough to do it.