blank page of paper, eraser, lightbulb, pencil

Where to Begin?

I’ve been plugging away on my work-in-progress. It’s a contemporary romance novel that I’ve been revising for (hand-covering-mouth-mumble) much too long for a work intended as light entertainment. Let’s just say, it’s not War and Peace.

I have two problems with this process.

  1. It takes forever.
  2. It never ends.

Although those might appear to be the same problem, I assure you they are not. The accepted method is to create a rough draft and then revise it. Repeatedly. How long does it take to create a rough draft and then revise it? FOREVER. When are you finished revising? NEVER.

For me, writing the initial 50,000+ words takes a healthy chunk of time. But just because I cobble together enough words to meet my goal, doesn’t mean I chose the correct ones. I understand that the intention of a first draft is not to create a finished piece. Words, like garden weeds, must sprout before they can be pruned. Flow is part of the process. (However, I don’t understand why the flow I create contains so MUCH sewage…sorry, I digress.)

The rough draft must be molded into a more coherent and entertaining story. So, the transformation-aka editing-process begins. Additional time is spent rereading, reorganizing, rewriting. Only then will I have completed a second draft. SECOND. This does not equal a finished novel.

Next, I ask trusted readers, critique partners, and/or editors to read the story and provide feedback. Dependent on the publication deadline and manuscript condition, this might be done in separate passes. Suggested improvements may require learning or brushing up on a troublesome technique such as correcting the point-of-view, improving the setting, or killing a character. Any of these may require another chunk of rewriting time.

Another wrench in my process is an addiction to writing advice blogs. It’s not that the advice is bad. On the contrary, the advice is (usually) helpful. I often learn why the initial draft I thought was so brilliant, seems so rotten upon re-reading.

For example, I’ve had a tough time with the opening of my novel. How do I include all the necessary information and not bore my reader? I recently reworked the first chapter.  I tightened up word choices. I omitted adjectives and substituted stronger verbs. I enhanced my character’s traits. For the fifth time, I cut descriptive set-up and focused on action. I spent a few hours on this process.

At the end of the session, I felt encouraged by my progress. I wasn’t quite sure how to segue into the next scene, but that was a problem for another day. I cleaned up my desk, saved my work, and printed out a copy. My cute boy-meets-girl opening must finally be finished.

As a reward, I checked my e-mail and saw a blog post on this very subject by author and writing teacher, Kristen Lamb. I love her wicked sense of humor and helpful examples. However, as I read her post, my heart dropped. I realized I’d started my book in the wrong place-AGAIN.

If the action starts too late, the reader gets bored. If it’s too soon, the reader may not have connected with the character. For instance, our hero can’t be hanging off a balcony until the reader has a reason to care if he lives or dies. (This isn’t part of my story-yet.) I realized I’d taken much too long introducing the setting. All my words might be pretty, but they weren’t effective (or affective either). Once again, I’d need to revise it. I might as well have spent my time making lasagna for dinner.

One of these days I imagine I will sit down and the wonderful story in my head will magically appear on the page. In the meantime, I’ve found the revision process to be frustrating and painful. Why is it so difficult? Is it that I have no talent? Possibly, but this isn’t about talent. This is about learning a craft.

Like many other human activities, learning the craft of writing takes time and practice.  Take baseball for instance. I understand a ball thrown to the batter should go toward home plate. That doesn’t mean I can pitch one. If I took lessons or practiced, I might improve my accuracy and velocity. (Believe me, it couldn’t get any worse!)

I know my writing abilities have SLOWLY improved with courses, practice, and feedback. Even though I rant, rave, or shred my failed attempts, I always begin again. I find advice and attempt to implement it. I abandon drafts and start anew. Who knows, maybe someday I will publish my novel-just don’t hold your breath while you wait.

What’s your stumbling block on the road to accomplishing your dream?

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