The one where Charlie realizes they have no idea wtf they’re doing.
Something I really wish I could do is skip forward to the point where I know what I’m doing at this job. Then I would have the answer for at least a few of these questions as it pertains to my style and process:
Is this bit of preparation something that will actually help make my book better? Will I have enough skill to make sure that this minor character’s story arc and psychological growth will appear to those who read this story without it being a moralistic spoonfeeding session? Is this a story I should even bother finishing or just count as a loss and move on to more exciting projects?
Then of course, the big question: is this story ever going to be any good?
I’ll never have the answers to these questions until it’s done. That’s the painful part of writing, I guess. It’s a lot of work to get your story planned, your characters breathing, your plot rolling along, and then you have to keep hammering away until it resembles something remotely okay. The whole time you just trust that eventually someone might want to read the nonsense you’ve been butchering.
This isn’t a new revelation: writers have been complaining about this part for ages. I’m only now getting to this point because I rarely get past a first draft, or I’ll write short stories which are easier to not think as hard about.
First drafts are all the good feelings: “oh boy, this is amazing! There’s no way this could be flawed!” and then you can just put it away, whistling innocently. The subsequent drafts are you on your knees scrubbing, praying the bloodstains come out of the carpet.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that no matter how cocky you are right now (like I was before this), you will come to this point, too. The experts say don’t quit here, so I’m not going to, but dear god is it tempting. It hurts to finally open your eyes to the faults in your story. To see the supporting characters as flat or to realize a bit of world building you thought was compelling and unique doesn’t actually make any sense.
But I’m trying to remember that every first draft has massive problems, and I can see mine because I have been paying attention. I have studied stories from the greats, I have picked apart trash, and I can see where my work falls short precisely because I’m not a lost cause. What I can see, I can fix. What I can’t see, I hope my beta readers will point out to me, and then I can fix those problems, too. Which will be another painful process in itself, but let’s take this one gut-punch at a time, yeah?
For someone who wanted to write about how my writing life is going, I sure don’t talk a lot about what I’m actually writing…crippling self-consciousness will do that, I suppose. I’ve written this introduction about ten different times, adding and removing disclaimers, rewording sentences, nearly deleting this entire blog and setting fire to my computer to go back to living in the wild…you know: just writer things…
The truth is, this self-consciousness is getting embarrassing. Of course not everything I write will be perfect. Obviously not everyone is going to like even my greatest work. To pretend that it could be any other way is a ridiculous fantasy and is only hurting my ability to get this job done.
I need to figure out how to talk about my work without feeling like a child, for both future professional conversations and for allowing y’all to see what I’m working on. With this in mind, let’s do a rundown of what this novel is about, the process so far, and what I’ve been doing on it recently.
What it’s about
This is the part I’m the worst at. Explaining the plot of the more complex stories I write feels like trying to slowly rip the skin off my bones while waiting to see if the other person laughs at me for it.
Something I did a while ago was write some summaries/pitches/teasers for stories I’d been working on, so I could organize my thoughts better. This is the current (definitely not final) draft for this one:
A teenager attends her own funeral where her saviors are arrested. A Legionnaire is sent on a suicide mission as an incoherent babbler kidnaps a convenience store clerk. Fresh out of training, a Guardian Angel stumbles upon a well-kept secret. Their stories coalesce to upend the assumptions of Good versus Evil for the rest of time.
Still reading? Cool.
The beginning of, well, something
This novel was originally started alllll the way back in 2009 for NaNoWriMo. It was the first/only time I got to 50k words within the month, and wrote a beginning, middle, and end. I was mostly able to do this because I was alone the entire time except the 24 hours a week I worked.
The method I used was full on pantsing. I started with “girl trying to keep her past involvement with angels secret” and went from there. It was a process of “pace around and think of the next few steps,” write it down, then repeat until the end, occasionally with a glass or three of wine.
Like almost every novel idea I’ve had, it evolved into a series – a trilogy, in this case. After finishing the first draft, I decided to get the basics down for the next two books before I rewrote the first. I only got a little way into the second book before putting pause on my writing for nearly half a decade.
Editing draft zero
A few years ago, I read through my first draft and it was a mess. Notes and complaints dotted the draft and needed to be removed or acted on. Chapter dispersion was uneven – sometimes I switched between characters as one would expect and other times I stayed with a single character until I couldn’t think of what to do with them anymore. This led to a lot of plot inconsistencies and timeline problems. Scenes had been written and then rewritten, with both versions kept in. And of course I found plot holes you could drive a damn bus through.
What I ended up doing was printing everything out and using scissors to cut up every scene. I sat on the floor to stack each piece into which character was the focus of the story at that point, and then made a new stack as I reordered what I had into a readable narrative. As I moved the text around in my document, I also added placeholder chapters. This is a mostly blank page that says “Chapter 23 [character y] does [x]” so that I could make sure the next chapter for that character made sense.
The method of writing was chaotic, and the editing process equally so. Especially because I ended up sick during the process and prescribed Vicodin. So at times I was editing while high on medication, what I wrote while drunk.
Pro tip: don’t do that.
Eventually, I could stop taking the drugs, and I rewrote many passages so they weren’t as messy. I deleted notes, cleaned up the prose a little, and ended up putting everything on hold all over again. Every time I tried to work on it after, I felt so disconnected from who I was when I wrote it, I gave up. Or so I thought.
Enter the year of finishing things
First, I started about four other novels I still haven’t gotten as far on. After the last one in NaNo of 2020, I decided to go back and actually finish what I’ve started. I thought this was going to be painful and cringey to see the mess I left myself but I surprised myself halfway through. I cared about the characters and even though I knew what happened, found myself tense during the more exciting scenes.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot of work to be done on this beast. Not only that, I realized a trilogy would be stretching it too far, so I opted to make it one book. This means I need to add an entirely new half to the plot. But that’s okay! I know where I’m headed.
What does this process look like now?
Since starting this new initiative, I’ve *deep breath* reread the book thrice, made notes on all of the ridiculous things I need to cut or change, made notes on all of the plot holes or worldbuilding I skimped out on, decided to make it all into one book, began to fill out the world better, and have started to consider combining or removing characters entirely.
It feels a lot like I’m not making progress because the book’s word count is unaffected by my efforts, but it will lay the groundwork for a much better rewrite later.
Overall, my biggest goal is to finish the book. If I make it great, then I will be ecstatic, but I’m mostly going for decent and complete. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself so I don’t fuss over it so much it remains undone. So here I am, announcing that intention and sharing the premise.