The Revision Process for Book One – the Beginning

I mentioned this in a my post on finding out I had depression, but it’s a big deal so I’m going to restate it. I’ve finished my rough draft!!

WOO HOO!

I think I need to talk a little bit about how finishing my rough draft came to be before I start talking about how revision is going for me.

I STRUGGLED to finish my rough draft. I almost quit several times because I didn’t know where I was going on top of all of my natural insecurities. I’d started writing with a loose outline and quickly veered from it. Whenever I looked at where I was going versus where I planned to go, I decided that I liked my changes more than I liked the original loose outline, so I kept going. I got farther and farther into the weeds. I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going but turning back meant abandoning half or more what I had written, stuff I loved, and I wasn’t going to do that to myself. So I resolved that first I was going to finish. I was going to finish something, ANYTHING. Once I finished I would go back and fix everything, but I couldn’t change anything significant (which I always want to do) until I had finished the rough draft.

So I did what everyone told me to do but I fought the entire way. I stuck my ass in my chair, I put my hands on the keyboard, and I didn’t get up until two hours or 1000 words graced the pages.

As God as my witness, it was HARD.

Then one night, I’m working on this mystical element that I was using to connect the protagonist to her future mentor, and bam! There was the climax. Suddenly I was writing the final chapter. Where had it come from? Who the fuck cares? It worked, so I ramped up the tension, I dialed up the consequences, and I pushed my heroes to the limit forcing one to sacrifice something of him or herself for the other to prevent disaster.

When I finished I sat back and went, “wow”. I liked it. I liked it a LOT. But I knew the rough draft was broken in a dozen different places. I have really cool scenes that I know just aren’t going to make it to the final product. I cut an entire subplot. I have problems and characters introduced much later in the manuscript that I know need to be foreshadowed or introduced much earlier. I have issues with continuity. Finally I have no real external conflict, and while that might work for some stories, I think mine really needs a solid external conflict of some sort.

So I took a week off before revising.

Then a week turned into two, which turned into a month.

During the month I pitched around several ideas about what I might do to give my story some external conflict that paralleled or at least co-operated with my protagonist’s internal conflicts. I finally hit on a couple of different things I could do. One of those ideas was an externalization of her literally internal fears and desires. I asked my psychiatrist about this because it felt like something someone would read and yell about how I didn’t understand the ego and id or some such, but she thought it was a neat idea and was interested in reading it when completed. My writing coach was really excited about it too.

But I was scared.

Yes. I was scared. This was revision time. I had come to the conclusion that “the Rough Draft is Shit” (see Anne Lamontt‘s Bird by Bird). But revisions? Revisions are supposed to be better, and I didn’t know I had it in me.

Finally, after letting way too much time go by without writing, I decided to test out my ideas. I found the single most deplorable, sickest, and potentially reader-alienating scene in my book about a ghoul, and I rewrote that scene with all relevant changes in mind. The rewrite was about 6000 words, and I kind of loved it. But I’m a little bit of a sick puppy so I figured I would reach out to a few friends and family to see if they would give me some feedback.

Almost everyone loved it.* I mean of course they would, they’re friends and family, but those that loved it, really loved it. They wanted to read the whole thing right then, but I didn’t have the whole thing. I just had that one scene. But their wanting to read more makes me want to write more. So that’s what I’ve started to do.

This week I’m nearing 21k words revised. Almost 14k revised this week alone. I’ve been putting off blog posts because I’ve been writing, which is nice, but my idea for this blog was to always leave you folks in the loop on the off chance that one day, someone would be looking for some inspiration, stumble upon this site, and find out that they are not alone. This shit is hard, but if you do it, you’ll reap vast rewards even if you never sell a single copy. This is the most fulfilled I have felt in a long time – although that could be the drugs talking. Whatever. I’ll take it.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to do some more writing tonight. I need another 2.2k to hit my weekly target. My deadline for Revision 1 being done is Sept 30, 2017 which of this writing is 49 days away.

I’ll try to keep you posted.

Now go forth and create something new.

* The only person not to love it didn’t expect and adult horror novel. They were expecting a YA chapter. I felt bad.

© 2017, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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A Bad Week, Doubled

Last week was a bad week. I wrote maybe 500 words. I may have imagined them. The week before wasn’t much better with something in the neighborhood of 2-5000 words written.

What was wrong? Well on one hand I have my outside pursuits: Destiny – a video game I play with my wife and several friends; HirstArts – imagine Legos, but you literally make the blocks, glue them together, and paint them to make castles and dungeons; and just general laziness. On the other hand I really didn’t feel … I want to say ‘valued’ or maybe ‘capable’, but I think instead I’ll just let the sentence be, “I really didn’t feel.”

Was I depressed? Likely. But I have a crippling level of self-doubt and some major Imposer Syndrome going on too. Plus right now I don’t really like my job, despite loving it, the company I work for, and the people I work with. And I feel like I have no close friends, despite having many to whom I’m likely a poor friend yet they still call me friend. So yeah, depression is the most likely reason for some of my lack of writing.

I was likely on the verge of giving up, for a while.

A week or four, tops.

Probably.

And then I received an email from my writing coach, Erica Wright. I met Erica through OneRoom, which I pay for so you know she’s going to be supportive. Yet it took me two days to read the email.

I was pretty sure the email would say something like, “God Damn It, Joe! Get off your fat ass and write, or I’m passing you off to someone else who doesn’t give a shit.” Instead the email basically said: “You seem to work better with word counts as a goal. I have some suggestions on the OneRoom page. Check them out and let me know how I can help.”  Pretty straightforward stuff.

I still wasn’t sure the “help” on the OneRoom page wasn’t going to equate to what I feared the email might say, so I dragged my feet and waited another four days before reading. Mind you I was still in the mood to give up. For a while at least. Probably.

Erica maintained an upbeat and positive message for me, and it was exactly what I needed to hear (or read … or whatever). Suddenly I was out of my writing funk. I vowed to renew my writing over the weekend. Glory be to Erica.

During the weekend I didn’t write, but I did plan a lot. I returned to my story, and I reexamined it from the ground up. I know it has significant holes, and I know I am likely to veer from my outlined path, but damn it if I’m not happier. I feel the story again. At least for now.

I later reread Erica’s message out loud to my wife so that she might hear the gloriously uplifting message from my coach. Honestly it fell flat. It was almost as if upon sharing the message from coach to student, the potency of the message was diluted, was dissipated. A secret shared is no longer a secret. That was weird, BUT I must say, the impact of the message remains.

IF you are like me, maybe you could benefit from a writing coach. OneRoom is probably not the only player in town, but it is what I discovered. So far I’m happy with the results, as it has likely saved me from a wasted month or three. Plus my coach’s (to date) unwavering support keeps my eye on the prize more than it has ever been.

Thanks Erica!

© 2016, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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Questions

At what point does one throw in the towel? To admit defeat and move on? To simply quit?

As of this writing, I have 49000+ words written on my novel Charlotte. This isn’t my first attempt at a novel, but it is my most successful. And it is a total failure. Complete rubbish.

Well maybe not complete rubbish. I still like the basic premise, and Charlotte herself is mildly interesting. I also have a few secondary characters that are just starting to become more interesting. I have hints of a backstory for my heroine and a constant turmoil that she must endure as she simply seeks for a normal life. But the story so far simply lacks a plot. It is a day in the life sort of story told episodically through diary entries.

I like it, my wife likes it, my friends kind of like it … but it’s horrible. Just horrible. None of us would finish the book if we found it lying on the seat next to us on the train one day. Not unless we had a macabre desire for nightmares before bedtime. Currently I can’t even back that one up. In all honesty the reader would more likely drift off to Slumberland due to boredom. We would all wonder how it was that we came to be on a train however, as none of use live anywhere that train travel is readily available, but I digress.

My lead has no major flaws other than the inability to face her past. She’s only mildly proactive. Mostly she goes out looking for work each day and tries not to eat people. Kind of interesting, but not really. Right now my half developed secondary characters are more interesting: a roguish young man who seems rebellious but who is loved by the tenement children because he cares for them; a foreigner shopkeeper who has hunted vampires, was almost burned at the stake, and who is currently a mercenary spy; a manservant with a grinding voice who does vile work for monsters, yet gives his victims honest advice in what few words he speaks.  The most interesting thing my heroine has done is set her own compound fracture. Ouch, but yeah … that’s it. Oh and my villain? Meh! Right now he is a vague outline of a man who wields a whip while wearing a beaver top hat and has a thuggish toady to do his underhanded bidding. And maybe he had an affair with the heroine’s mother … and maybe he’s her biological father. Other than that though … nothing!

So I’ve determined that I have to restart. It is inevitable. I need to make an actual plot, and I have an idea. I will make my heroine more flawed and start before she becomes a monster. She will have a purpose but no ability to follow through. Then she’ll take a “job” that will kill her and begin the process of making her a monster. She’ll wake from her death and fight that transformation. At this point she will have power, power to follow through on her purpose, but she will find that she doesn’t have the skill to use the power. Enter the mentor who will guide her and become like family until his inevitable death. There, on the cusp of accomplishing her purpose, my heroine will now be cast down once more. Her descent will lead her to fully become the monster, but just before she does the one thing that will ensure her monstrous transformation, she pulls back from the brink with help from her friends. Her purpose largely fulfilled, she reasserts herself to a new purpose, one that will be far lasting and potentially redeeming (possibly ensuring future stories / serialization).

The above plot is significantly different than my current rough draft. There are scenes I can keep from my current work, but I feel like I should complete my current work before restarting. On the other hand I have a very difficult time telling myself to write something I know is going to be completely removed from the next draft. So how do I progress?

Options before me:

  1. Continue writing my current rough draft and just plow through with my original idea. I might be able to save something somewhere.
  2. Stop immediately, create a structured draft of the new story, and start again.
  3. Combine the two – sort of. Continue with the current rough draft but write as if I’m halfway through already.
  4. Delete everything. Get rid of it all, pull the hard drives and drill holes through them then pass the platters through some industrial shredder, delete all of my social media accounts, take online hypnosis classes and hypnotize my friends and family into forgetting I ever thought about writing, and then silently weep at night when no one is around until the pain goes away.

Options 1-3 are all pretty close in my mind, but currently 4 has the lead.

Does anyone that’s ever done this before have any advice?

 

© 2016, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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I Ain’t Skeerd (Actually I’m Terrified)

One of the things I tend to do with this whole writing business is to make decisions based on the level of fear it invokes in me. The more terrifying I find the potential for something, the harder I dig into myself to actually do it. So as I mentioned in my previous post, I mentioned writing a short story for the Writer’s Symposium at GenCon in 2014. What I didn’t mention is how close I came to not doing it in the first place.

The idea of writing something and reading it in front of a group of unknown people was terrifying. I remember looking over the schedule of events for the symposium and wondering if I could do that. No, no I’d never be able to do that. I was certain of it, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to do it.

At the time I didn’t know any other writers closely enough to feel confident to ask them to read my stuff, so I mostly asked friends and family who historically gave me high praise. But I knew I needed more. I needed someone to tear me down – in a good way. I needed someone who would be able to separate the bullshit from the Shinola and help me become better in my craft.

I don’t want to be overly critical of my alpha readers, they’ve been wonderful in helping me grow and develop. They’ve encouraged me and pointed out some fatal flaws. For all of that I’m desperately grateful. But they weren’t industry insiders. They weren’t people who did this for a living or even as a hobby. I needed that next step in critique, and that’s why I kept coming back to the idea of writing something and having it critiqued by actual strangers.

It was terrifying to consider. I shook visibly as I reached for the button to reserve my spot. My guts twisted, pushing acid into my stomach higher and higher until I could almost taste it. I salivated nervously and licked my lips before swallowing several times.

Then I pressed the button.

Instantly I felt relief. My guts unwound, and my salivation returned to normal. I still trembled slightly, but it was over. Finished. Complete.

Except it wasn’t. Now I had to write something to read in front of four editors. Fuck.

I went with an idea I had about a young lady being led through a tunnel and into a room where ghouls dined. I didn’t have much more than that, and I wrote it up pretty quickly. That first version was around twelve hundred words. I revised it four or five times after getting input from my readers and ended up with something I’m rather proud of.

When I attended the event at GenCon I was trembling once again. The panelists were really funny and interesting people. They all seemed to know each other and talked and talked and talked and OH MY GOD STOP TALKING I’M DYING HERE!

And talked.

Ooo! I found my notes. The panelists were Jason Schmetzer, Kerrie L Hughes, Dylan Birtolo, and John Helfers. They seemed really cool in all honesty. But I was full of anxiety and ready to go. I mean that literally and figuratively. I wanted to flee, to give up my spot at the table I had secured for myself and go away. It was a terrible idea in the first place. Why did I even consider doing this very, very bad thing?

AND THEY’RE STILL TALKING! HA! HA! HA! HA! THAT WAS FUNNY CAN I DO THIS THING NOW?! AAGH! STILL THE TALKING!

It may not seem like it, but I knew it was only my anxiety being a dick, and it was on point with its dickishness too. I had made a pact with myself, however. I’d worked hard to polish my turd into something I thought was good or at least good enough, and damn it, I was going to see the ordeal through to the end.

Once they FINALLY started, they asked for volunteers. I didn’t want to be first, but I did want to get things over quickly, so I ended up going second or third. They were pretty nice to me I think. They had a range of items with my piece including: The pacing was wrong for someone who’s nervous. Who was this person escorting her? Surely they knew each other somehow for her to go with him. Apparently I gave too many details (sight, sound, texture) too often.

There was more, but I forgot half the things they said almost as soon as my turn was over. All in all, it was a good experience for me. I mean, I wrote a horror story – something I don’t even read very often – and they didn’t laugh me out of the building. Well, maybe they would have had they been assholes, but they didn’t which told me the writing world has some good guys in it. It also told me to keep trying, to keep going, and to get better because there may one day be a place for me – eventually, maybe.

So that has become my model. If I consider doing something and it scares me, I do it.

My latest adventure is to take the Writer’s Digest University class “Worldbuilding in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing” taught by Philip Athans. I haven’t done an online class like this before, and I’m really interested in how it goes. I really didn’t want to spend the money, but so far every time I’ve considered something and did it despite the cost in time and money, I’ve later looked back on the experience and thanked myself and God that I did it. Each thing I have done has helped me grow in my craft, and I am thankful for it all.

So I implore you. If there’s something scary about your art – not dangerous scary, but stupid anxiety scary – and you hear yourself saying “if only …” please, please, please make that jump. Do it. Swallow that stomach acid. Take slow and steady breaths. And press the button. You’ll be glad you did, because at the very least you won’t be sitting around one day and think “if only …”

© 2016, Joseph K Little. All rights reserved.

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