Why I Love Writing # 5; Sometimes It’s Pure Magic

Actually, it’s pretty magical most of the time. Of course, there are days when it feels like anything but. When you’re revising the hundredth draft of something, when you feel like it’s a complete waste of time that no one will ever want to read. There are days when you don’t want to do it, days when you feel rejected and uninspired and full of self-doubt.

But the magical days for me, outweigh the negative ones. They can happen at any time during the creation of a finished novel. I often find the writing of a first draft a magical thing. That first line, first paragraph, first chapter is so daunting, so impossible, yet suddenly you’ve done it. It’s there. And then strange things start to happen. Magical things.

Characters you had a loose idea of start to come alive. They flesh out and invade your mind. They start talking to you and you talk back. That’s magic. The magic of make-believe. And then there’s the plot itself. I often have a good idea of what’s going to happen in a book before I start writing, and I would have made lots of notes before starting the first draft, but at some point, something else seems to take over. Unexpected things happen. The plot takes another direction, or parts of the story start to weave together in ways that are genius, but like something out of my control. Sometimes it feels like there is something else at play, controlling the whole thing.

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Often I know where I am going, but not how I will get there. I never worry too much about the finer points because I have learned to sit back and let the magic happen. And it always does. Out of the blue, never when I expect it to, it will all just come together. This happened to me recently with the six book series I am working on. Books 1-4 are written, and book 5 has had one very rough draft. I knew roughly what I wanted to happen in book 6, what storylines would be continued, but I didn’t know how I would end the book, or indeed, the whole series. I didn’t stress about it because I still had work to do editing books 3 and 4, and book 5 to write a second draft of.

But one day, out walking, it just suddenly came to me. My mind pieced it all together without me even trying, without me even consciously deciding to think about it. I suddenly just had it. How to end the book and the entire series, and it was perfect.

How does that work? How does that even happen? I have no idea, but like I’ve already said, sometimes I really feel like it’s not me in my head, working things out. Moments like that are so satisfying, and magical, they make all the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile.

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Second Draft Joy

Back in December, I penned this post Why My Favourite Draft Is The Second, while I was busy writing the first draft of a YA novel called A Song For Bill Robinson. I was enjoying the first draft, but also realistic about its ugliness, and I was excited about going back to the second draft for the reasons I mentioned in the post.

Well, three months on, I am now well into that second draft, and enjoying it every bit as much as I said I would! It is easier than the first because the basic framework is there and the hard work has been done getting the story out of my head. I already know I can make it better and I have already listed and made notes of how to do this. The second draft is just fun!

I had to have a think about this earlier. Has this been the case with all my books? And I think the answer is yes. The first draft is the hardest for me. The later drafts are the most tedious because you know the story, and really you want to be writing something new, but you have to polish this thing up, cut bits out, sharpen it and refine it and make it as good as it was when it first appeared in your head. I think of the first and the final drafts as the real hard graft. The second, for me, is much more fun.

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In many ways, the second is more of a read through than a rewrite or a detailed edit. After a break, I am familiarising myself with the story and getting to know the characters again. I read through each chapter, getting a sense of them and their motivations, making notes and finding my way back into it all. Of course, I fix any typos I come across, and I do a lot of deleting unnecessary and repetitive words or phrases. I tidy it up as much as I can, but at the same time, I know the more brutal cuts, the reshuffles and the changes in direction will all come much later. This is still very early days, and I want to enjoy it. I don’t feel the need to make any major decisions at this point.

At the moment, I am totally addicted to this particular story, which is also how I felt when I first wrote it. I suppose it’s more familiar ground for me as an author and a person. A gritty, contemporary YA drama with lots of dysfunctional family behaviours and social issues thrown in. I feel a passion for it. I want to tell these stories. And there are so many stories in this novel…

It’s fast paced. Which is good. I hope! On later drafts I might feel the need to slow things down a bit, my niggling worry being that it might come across as unrealistic for teens to have a life this dramatic. It’s literally a roller coaster of events, repercussions, consequences and drama. It’s full of highs and lows with plenty of unrequited love, dangerous lust, and familial miscommunication and resentment. Oh and of course, a rather wonderful soundtrack (the male protagonist is a talented singer) which ranges from The Four Tops and The Foundations, to Arctic Monkeys and Jamie T. There is just so much to play around with!

And I know I haven’t got it all right yet. I know I need to keep fleshing out the characters and finding stuff out about them. I know I need to work on the visuals, the environment, such as their homes and bedrooms and so on. I tend to forget about all that stuff on a first draft, knowing that no one else is going to read it for a long time. I just want to get the nitty gritty down first.

But at the moment I am enjoying the ride, and just felt the need to share that with you. Adding bits and cutting bits. Reading it like a reader and bloody enjoying the process. I can’t get enough of it.

I doubt I will feel this way by the time draft ten comes around, so this is why I savour the second draft so much. I know the time will come when I almost come to hate this book. I have been there with The Tree Of Rebels many times, and Elliott Pie reached that point just recently before I sent it out to a second round of betas. I was sick of it. I am sick of it. Diving into this much fresher book has been just what I needed.

So, for me anyway, I give my thanks to the wonderful second draft, with the foundations laid down and the really hard work yet to come. I shall enjoy the party while it lasts.

 

Why My Favourite Draft Is The Second

Writing the first draft of a novel (as I am doing right now) is wonderful and scary and full of surprises. There is nothing quite like the exciting moment you first put down words to see where they go. Also, if you have been spending a lot of time revising and editing, writing something brand new and fresh, is just glorious. If you’ve had to push back ideas and ask noisy characters to wait their turn patiently, finally starting that first draft is just about as exciting as it gets.

However, the first draft is also tricky. It’s entering unknown territory. You may have a plan and a plot, but things change, things happen. Sometimes the characters take over and throw constant spanners into the novel you had envisioned! It is also a draft full of self-doubt. Is this working? Is this rubbish? Then there are the bits that drag. It’s slowing down, what do you do?

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Writing your first draft is an exhausting, nerve-wracking business. Compare that to the frustration and tedium that sometimes accompanies the third, fourth or fifth draft, and you might understand why the second draft of a novel is my absolute favourite. Here is why!

  1.  Because it’s surer, more confident than the first. It has a clearer idea of where it is going and why
  2. It is usually a hell of a lot better than you thought it was! Writing the first draft I am often telling myself how clumsy and awful it is. Going through the second, I tend to get a pleasant surprise. It’s actually not that bad!
  3. The journey has been mapped out and the plot is staked into place. Yes, things still could change, but the solid basics are there. The journey is basically filled with less trepidation
  4. The characters have come alive and introduced themselves properly. They were a tad shy to begin with, but that is so not the case now!
  5. The characters have taken control and surprised me. They’ve taken the wheel from my hands and even changed the direction we were going in
  6. The themes are growing in strength and making sense
  7. As I am blundering through the first draft, I can already see how much better I can make it in the second, and this is very exciting
  8. I’m excited to get back to the start again for a better effort with more tools in my kit and my knowledge about my characters and story
  9. The hardest bit is over, I’m now refining it, fleshing it, trimming it, shaping it and perfecting it
  10. I’m not bored of it yet! It’s only the second draft so it is still all shiny and new!

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How about you? Which draft do you enjoy the most? Which one is the worst or the hardest? Please feel free to comment and join in the conversation!

Beta Readers; Handing Over Your Baby

Sometimes I try and work out what the toughest part of writing a book is. Is it the first draft where everything is at its freshest, but also most fragile? Is it the second draft when you realise how much work your first draft needs? Or is it when you are edging closer to the finish line? When you are swinging between self-doubt and elation? I’m not sure, but I think handing it over to someone else to read for the first time has got to be up there as well.

Last Friday I finished the second draft of Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. This second draft took less time than I had anticipated and went surprisingly well. To be honest, it was more of a read-through than a rewrite. I’d left the book for some time while I focused on other things, so I needed to familiarise myself with the story and the characters. I found myself smiling whilst reading it. I genuinely love these characters and it was enjoyable and comforting to be back in their company again. Obviously I cut out words here and there, picked up on some minor plot holes and corrected any glaring typos. But generally, I have to say, this time around it was a pleasant second draft. I like this book a lot. I feel good about it. I feel like I had a clear and concise goal before I started it, and I feel like I have so far achieved it.

Of course, I’m not naive enough to think there won’t be major rewrites and frustration further down the line. If my other books are anything to go by there will be! But right now it all sits nicely with me.

Only now I’ve got to let someone else in on the secret. I’ve got to hand it over to beta readers and see what they think. Now it’s obviously up to the writer to decide when their book needs to be picked apart by betas, and with a lot of my other books it has been much further down the line. But handing Elliot Pie over now feels right. The basic plot is all there. I just need to know if it works. If it is believable. If they see the ‘twist’ coming. If the characters ring true. I need to know if it makes them laugh or cry. The structure of the book is also rather different this time around, and I might be completely wrong about it. I can’t say too much at the moment, but I have been slightly experimental in terms of point of view and tense. For me, right now, it works, but I am bracing myself for my beta readers thinking otherwise!

They are so important in this process though, so vital as the first set of readers to dive into this fictional world I have created. Will they see it the same way I do, or will they see plot holes and inconsistencies I’ve been blind to? Now feels like the right time, because if the particular layout and structure of the book doesn’t work for them, then I will need to do some serious thinking.

Handing your novel over to your betas is a strange and disconcerting feeling. It’s a bit like handing over a piece of your soul. When you write that first draft, you are writing just for you. You have no idea if it’s going to work or not. You just start and see what happens. Sometimes it’s a flop, other times it’s spectacular, but no matter how good you feel about the finished product, you can’t just rely on your own opinion. Handing it over to betas is the first step in what Stephen King so wonderfully describes as ‘killing your darlings’. Hopefully, if they are doing their job correctly, the betas will send it back to you with a long list of thoughts, feelings, corrections and criticisms. Of course you want to hear positive things about the book, but it’s the negative things you really need right now. What doesn’t work needs to be changed or cut out. Subsequent drafts after the beta response ought to set the culling in motion. If it’s not adding anything to the story, it has to go. Cut out the fluff, tighten it up and be ruthless. I don’t think I could enter this phase comfortably without waiting for the response from my trusted betas. It’s like once I’ve heard the good the bad and the ugly from them, I can start swinging my axe with confidence.

Having said that, I already have a rather long list of things I made not of while going through it. Things I need to amend or add or pay more attention to on the next draft. It will be interesting to see what else my betas pick up on. I’m so curious to know what they think of the book in general. I feel a mix of emotions right now. Impatience and excitement; will they love the characters as much as I already do? I feel anxious and nervous at the thought of them casting their critical eye over something I am rather in love with. I know I will have to brace myself for anything scathing that may come my way, and remember how much better it makes a book to have early critiques like this before you unleash it on the public. I’m also sure there will be things we disagree on!

It’s exciting though because it is all part of the process of writing and finishing a book. That first draft. The elation and pride when it’s done, when it’s written, when this thing that was once just inside of you, is now out and in story form! That second draft. You’re moving on, starting to get critical, cutting bits out, polishing it up. Sending it to first betas is another significant stage in the life of a novel. They are the first readers to tentatively enter the world you have created. They are part of the process of making it all the best it can be.

It’s a bit like this book is my baby and I’m watching it grow before my eyes. It’s taking it’s first steps and changing! It’s got so many more stages to go through and I know from experience that the road ahead is nearly always a bumpy one. Some of my books have had major rewrites at later stages, leaving them almost unrecognisable to what went before! It’s satisfying to have set it on it’s path though. I’ve given birth to it and set it on its wobbly way towards maturity! I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Please add your comments below! When do you feel the time is right to hand your work over to beta readers? Does it feel a bit like giving your baby away? What do you think is the toughest part of writing a book?