I have finished the first draft of my manuscript.
And through the process, I have learned many things. Here is a glimpse into what has consumed me the past four months.
1. I have no idea what I’m doing. That didn’t stop me, but it certainly was a humbling realization. There is so much to know about plot and character development and dialogue and conflict and more conflict. And while you’re muddling through that? You also have to, you know, write. Which brings me to:
2. Sweet mother of biscuits this stuff is work. Hard work. Work in progress is completely accurate. I have literally spent days on one paragraph, trying to get it right (it’s still not right). So I have put it aside to obsess over other stubborn paragraphs and pages. I have cut large swaths of words. I have added chapters and characters. I am contemplating adding another subplot. But this all requires brain power, and there are days when that’s simply in short supply. Still, I keep fighting.
3. I need feedback. My baby has been sent to several people whose opinions I trust. Who I know won’t sugarcoat it because they don’t want to hurt my feelings. A work of art is personal, whether it’s a novel, a painting – anything that you created from your soul. However, I have to separate myself from my words and look at it as objectively as possible, so I can take the criticism and use it to make my story even better. I have had hours-long Skype conversations that should’ve involved an adult beverage or two. I’ve had emails with bullet points. I’ve had discussions over a chapter with my fellow editors here at Write on Edge. I ultimately decide what feels right and what doesn’t, but without someone with distance weighing in, I would miss valuable insight.
4. Yes, I’m too close to these characters and their story. I talk about them to people as if they are real (which they are, to me, of course). What’s good about that is someone can say, “Yes, but I didn’t get that motivation from what s/he said in this chapter” or something like that and I can make my story more clear. I know I need some time away, and I have had days where I haven’t looked at it. But those lines and chapters that I know need work keep calling me back.
5. Murdering your babies isn’t really as tough as you think. There were scenes I really loved, but they simply didn’t work with the way the story went. I plucked a couple lines or descriptions from them, but mostly, they got deleted. It actually was liberating and helped me move on and create other parts that worked so much better. And were still pretty good.
6. Enough with the sex scenes already. When I started this manuscript during NaNoWriMo, my goal was just to get words on the screen. My characters are young and hot so, you know, they did it. A lot. With some detailed play-by-play. They also seemed to be either drinking, having sex or eating. Quite the hedonistic lifestyle and somewhat realistic for who they are. But it did nothing to drive the plot. So when I started editing? Lots of those scenes were cut. They are a little more chaste, sober and hungry. Okay, not entirely, but in most cases, less is more.
7. Facebook, twitter, Skype – as much as they can be a help, they are a huge distraction. I have to close the browsers when I’m really writing because, if I’m struggling with a particular passage, I’ll look up and see I have a message on Facebook and it’s all “Ooh! Shiny things!” I do my most productive writing once the kids are in bed, but if I keep my social media avenues awake, then writing takes me 10 times longer.
8. It can take over your life. I have not been around here much. I have not been at my own space as much, either. My passion is writing fiction, I have discovered, and I have a perpetual story going on in my head. I also have three kids and a husband who occasionally want to see my face and not the back of my head as I sit in front of this computer. I’ve tried to pry myself away. This serves to let the story marinate, and when I do get to work on it, I am fresher.
9. Google is so lovely. Much of my research has come from Google. My main character is a widow, and there are a ton of resources out there to give me a glimpse into what that would really be like. I have consulted street maps – and friends who live there – of Boston, where much of the story takes place. I have even searched images to see if I could find someone who looks like how I imagine my characters. I still have more research to do that I won’t find on Google, but at least it’s a start.
10. I have no idea how a writer knows when the manuscript is done. I can pick at this thing like a leftover Thanksgiving turkey for, possibly, the rest of my life. There will always be something I wished I’d done better, whether it’s a turn of phrase or a description or whatever. In related news, I hope, someday, to be done.
This has been an amazing journey so far. I still have a long way to go before I tackle the world of researching agents and sending out query letters. I am proud of what I’ve accomplished, even though I’m well aware I have a huge amount of work ahead of you. But it’s a labor of love.
I love this stuff. I really do.