This year has been busy. I released my first novel, finished and sold my first two novellas, re-wrote 55-60% of a novel I thought was finished, and put out my first collection of short stories. Also, in the last two months, I finished the first drafts of another new novella and a novel I started last year. Seems like a lot to some, but I’m a slow poke to some of the scribblers I roll with. So, where am I going with all of this? Where is the slow down?
There was recently a little Confession Session between myself and some writing friends of mine. We talked about our pace. Our speed, our need to create and release. We discussed our process a bit. How long we waited, if we waited, to start our first edits/re-writes on a just finished piece. For some, the answer was immediately. For others, myself included, it was a matter of weeks. I believe it’s like that book I read to my daughters about little Ruby the duckling, we all work at our own pace, and get things done, like Ruby, in our own time.
So, here’s my process and why I choose to do things the way I do.
Obviously, with each piece, with each baby, the process has room to move and change accordingly.
If I’m writing a short story, I may jump right on the edits. Usually, that means I’m trying to sub somewhere that has a submission deadline, otherwise the piece may sit in my laptop until I stumble across it in a desperate attempt to mine some forgotten gold.
I’ve written three novellas now (and I love them all equally). The first one came really fast (don’t be a pervert).I had a submission deadline to aim for that was fast approaching. Even with the pressure, the story truly was a magical experience to craft. I hate taking credit for it when they feel that way. I prefer to think that I was granted access to the great writing ether and weaseled the tale down through my fingertips. When that first draft was complete, I immediately sought out and found four or five beta readers to hand it over to and have point out the flaws (there are always flaws). The few early readers mostly enjoyed the story, gave me their questions and and tips, and I was onto editing/rewrites. That was it. That story was not taken by the intended publisher, but on a whim (and a hope and a prayer), I sent it to Samhain, and they said yes!
Novella #2 was a different case. It started the same: deadline less than a month away, idea, story, go! I had no time for beta readers and no time to make sure the story looked real pretty. What do you think happened? Rejected. Of course. That story was put away (to be mined at a later date). Almost a year after finishing that 1st draft, I hauled it back out and re-read it. There was a great story in there….I just needed to decide for certain about a very important aspect of the story that read very wishy-washy. Very John Kerry, if you will. I made up my mind and viola! I wrote a new beginning, re-wrote a few middle bits, and fixed the ending in accordance with my other changes. Two beta readers, and one editor later, and BAM! novella #2 subbed and sold.
I finished the first draft to novella #3 at the beginning of September (started it in late-July). Again, I got a late start on a submission deadline. I finished the first draft in time for the deadline (with 2 days to spare!), but, having learned my lesson from novella#2, decided not to submit it. I knew it needed edits and re-writes. I know it needs to be looked at by another set of eyes, or two, or three. I just started those edits/re-writes last night, and I’m glad I waited.
What have I learned, and why should you care?
Maybe you don’t care, but I do. I’ve learned that I can craft a novella in about four to six weeks (first draft, mind you). I’ve learned that I can’t see all of those ugly spots right after finishing it. I need time and space to step back and help me gain some perspective.
The way I write plays a huge part in this, as well. I can’t plot to save my life. I always , ALWAYS fly by the seat of my pants. I start with a character or two, an idea, and a scene. I let the story take it from there. So, I usually don’t even know who my main character is when I get going. By the time I type in ‘the end’ I do, and this always leaves room for change. As with novella #2, #3 has a John Kerry-thing going on that needs to be pressed for a decision. I could just leave that piece in there. I could, but looking at it a month and a half later, I think it is a weak spot in a good story. The pain is that I’ll have to do more re-writes, and then make sure the flow and continuity remains intact. It’s more work, but if I think the story deserves the extra elbow grease, why wouldn’t I shut up and make it happen? Aren’t these things supposed to be precious to us? I’m doing my first revisions now… that time is coming. Rather than fear it, cry about the extra work, or allow myself to think that the rest of the story will make up for that weak spot, I welcome the challenge. I want this story to be really good.
My plate is full. I usually have multiple stories going, and I’ll admit, the temptation to rush a story in, because I have an editor that is willing to look at any piece I think he should see, is always poking at me. Selling a piece is an amazing feeling, but I’m putting these things, the babies, out there for the world to see. Why not make sure the story is as awesome as it can be, as awesome as it deserves to be?
My advice for any writer, from the slowest to the most speedy, who finishes that first draft…let it breath. Some people have that pre-sold story, those plotters and their trusty editors, but if you have the option… set it aside, work on anything else, and then come back to the piece and be ready to have to do some more heavy lifting. You might be able to take that good story and turn it into a great one.
Abram’s Bridge (Samhain Publishing, Jan. 6th, 2015)