Thursday, March 15, 2012

Growing As A Writer - When Is It Good Enough?

Official Group Photo of the Authors at EAFOL
Yesterday I mentioned I'm on my 27th draft of August Rock. Before I clarify, let me say that I also began book eight this November and August Rock was book two. Just wanted you to know that I didn't spend all my time polishing one book. Instead, I write a new one then go back and take all that I learnt from writing that one and apply it to August Rock or until recently The Cornish House or whatever the current book is.

Also a bit like when you are learning the piano...or at least how i remember it. You learn a piece of music in parts...left hand then right or vice versa. Well for me - with each rewrite I focused on a different aspect because I still had so little experience that I couldn't do an edit for pace, look at spelling and at continuity at the same time. Each phase of editing was new to me so they had to be kept apart. I still can't do all the editing required in one pass...

So if I were set my process out it would look like this...

a. write dirty first draft
b. leave it alone and edit previous book
c. maybe write synopsis for story now that I know my character and what will happen thanks to step a. I also look at this point to see if I have any themes - I usually do but I don't know them or see until the first draft is done
d. look a the twists and turns of the story...are there places where i can turn up the heat and make things worse for my heroine? This draft is about upping the conflict and also beginning to look at pace
e. leave it alone and rework another story which is at a different stage
f. at this point I look at the words...in the past this might have been a couple of drafts, but now seems to be one. I look at verbs - am i always using the same one? Are they strong enough or are they fiddly? I look at word choice - again am I always using the same ones - I get certain words into my head and use them to death...
g. rework another script
h. now I look at sentencse and paragraphs... do they vary? are they in the right order? (see my comment yesterday about page 2 of The Hunger Games - boots before trousers) are they necessary??? This phase hits on my key weakness - repetition.
i. work on another script
j. look at the story at a whole again and break it into chapters - make sure that each chapter grabs you at beginning and end. Finally does the promise of chapter one get fulfilled in the last chapter...

Long process isn't it and now with adding an agent and an editor it becomes longer...
k. agents sees things I've missed and I work on her suggestions
l. editor can see the book as whole in a way I don't think I'll ever be able to...so I will rework again
m. copy editing...who knew my characters sat up so straight so often!
n. proof reading...
o. letting go....

It is true a book is never 'done' until it's published...

Looking at my 'process' above, it sure seems like a lot of work and it is. But I can hope that as I grow as a writer somethings will become instinct, but i know it will always be hard work because I always need to be pushing myself to be a better writer. And by that I mean in the technical/words department and in the story stakes...I was never going to be a concert pianist - i didn't have the passion, skill or most importantly the hunger. However I want to be the  writing equivalent of of that and that means all this 'practice' draft after draft will help me reach my goal - being read.

So now I'm working on August Rock with new eyes...and it's exciting and scary. I want it to be better, need it to be better...

How many drafts do you do? And how much do you try an achieve in a draft?

10 comments:

Alison Morton said...

Exactly my process, Liz! Well, items a to j, anyway as k to o are in the future. Something not appreciated by many non-writers is the sheer hard slog of crafting a product so that it's 'fit for use'.

This sounds dull and mechanical, but we are trying to produce an experience, an escape, possibly a dream for the reader, so it has to be as nearperfect as possible.
Looking forward to August Rock...

catdownunder said...

I do not write like that at all. I am a messy jumble I suspect. The story happens. I have no control over it. Eventually I get to the end and then I prowl through and correct things. After that I leave it for a while and then go back and tidy things up but I do not consciously think of plot or characters or grammar or style. I know I should but it never happens that way. Sigh...probably why you are published and I am not. :-)

JO said...

How many drafts - I don't count, I think I'd depress myself if I counted just how often I go over each manuscript. And I try to be reasonably organised with each edit, but somehow each time I work on it I see something different - so I can be concentrating on character and realise that a scene is in the wrong place.

So it's probably a good thing that the thought of editing doesn't fill me with dread. I enjoy watching a story grow from general scribble to something I know is the best I can possibly do.

Carys said...

Hi Liz,

Thank you for two great posts and your honesty about process. I just wondered if you had read any particularly invaluable books that helped you understand each breakdown of the editing journey that you mention? Any must have recommendations or ways to improve (Other than by reading a lot and widely I assume?) Thanks

liz fenwick said...

Alison...it is a sheer slog some days and I have no doubt that you will make to the other steps! :-)

Cat - we all have different ways of writing...thank goodness. No way is the right way or the wrong way....your time too will come x

JO - you reminded me of how scared of the editing process I used to be...now I've embraced it and *whispers* love it...I love seeing the story improve..!

lx

liz fenwick said...

Hi Carys...craft books...love them. But it has to be the right book at the right time if that makes sense.

So the one that first lifted my writing by reading it and working through was Sol Stein's Solutions for Writers. That book taught me how to make my writing leaner and how to show not tell.

The I moved on to Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook...fabulous to really work through like a workbook. I did the exercises and still do. His other book Fire in Fiction is never far from me. When I'm stuck I open it and do an exercise....

I loved Stephen King's On Writing but not when I first bought it...right book wrong time...

The other books that have helped are Jane Wenham-Jones' Wannabe a Writer and Sue Morcroft's Love Writing.

For industry information and the whole mystery of getting an agent and getting published ...From Pitch to Publication by Carole Blake (my agent but I had the book long before)

Hope that helps a bit
lx

Anita Chapman said...

Hi Liz,
I've found this post and your others on the same subject really interesting-thanks! I started writing book 2 recently and I've realised that leaving it for a bit and polishing book 1 is a good idea. Polishing is a refreshing break from writing a first draft. Hopefully when I return to Book 2 I'll be able to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes.

liz fenwick said...

Anita - it's amazing what you can see with even a short time break. We get so close and involved with our work...good luck with book 2.
lx

SofaJudgeJo said...

This has given me much hope. Returning over and over to my first draft, finding ways to improve the writing and story had me believing I had little talent. I honestly thought if I had natural ablility I would be able to nail my book first time around. Naive, I know, now.

Thank you for showing me that success can come from hard slog in conjunction with raw talent.

liz fenwick said...

SJS - I think persistence is the glue that makes the difference...keep writing and keep editing. Good luck!
lx