A few days ago, I finished my third draft. I printed out all the pages, shoved them into a binder, and the first thing I did was drop it. On purpose. I wanted to hear that sound, that thud that meant something that had weighed on my mind for the last four years had actual, physical weight. And my god, was that a satisfying thud.
That binder, with its 271 pages and 77,283 words on those pages contains the third draft of Under the Gold Paint, a novel I started my freshman year. My “shrink” draft as I call it, encompassed the grand task of cutting down 150,000 words of the second draft in half and rewriting everything. I started right after Christmas 2016 and finished on Tuesday February 7th, 2017. In those few months, I wrote almost every day (I wrote thousands of words while on my trip to China and on the plane over winter break) and every day after school. Compared to the four months it took to write my second draft that previous summer and nearly three years it took to write the first before that, I feel almost as though I’d gotten off a roller coaster: a little nauseous, breathless, but dying to do it all again.
All in all, both my story and who I am as a writer grew a hell of a lot in the process too. Here’s what I picked up on, for not just this draft but all the drafts of this project so far:
1. Act in Spite of Doubt
To be perfectly honest, I never thought I’d get to this point. There were dozens of times I sat there staring at a blank page or the list of chapters I had to rewrite and just thought, “Goddammit, none of this is working.” I believed that nothing I did was original or “decent writing” and seriously considered throwing away my manuscript and starting over.
I could say those were dark times and that I pulled through and that now everything’s handy dandy, but frankly I’d be lying. Those thoughts still plague me, each and every time I open up my laptop. That voice is still whispering in my ear from a dark corner of my brain and to this day, I still wonder if my story will ever be good enough for the world to see. It’s one of many reasons I took three whole years to pound out my first draft, the reason behind my vicious cycle of writing, hating it, and throwing it all away.
As someone who rewrote her novel a solid four times before completing a first draft– we’re talking entire chunks of manuscript ranging from 20,000 to 50,000 words down the drain each time– all I ask is that you take one thing out of this post:
To finish a draft, or do anything outside your comfort zone for that matter, you will have to act in spite of doubt.
What the hell does that mean?
Accept that the fear you have simply means you’re trying something new. That you’re stretching yourself and you’ll grow as a result. Know that even if you do suck, everyone has to start somewhere and the only way you’ll know how good you can be is if you continue to try. Accept that it’s okay to be scared out of your fucking mind. And then do it anyway.
Don’t just lie down. Don’t just hate yourself. Find that inner passion that brought you to the computer in the first place and kindle that fire. Refuse to give into that fear.
It won’t happen right away. Sometimes you’ve got to hit rock bottom. Sometimes you have to write an entire draft only to realize that you moved backwards instead of forwards. You might need to cry. A lot. But at some point, you’ll be ready to say “Fuck it, I’m doing this anyway”, climb over those barriers, and get that shit done.
2. There is No Such Thing as Originality
There’s nothing a writer fears more than answering the question “What’s your novel about” with a long-winded explanation only to receive a “Oh! So it’s basically ___ right?” in return.
My god. I ran into this so many times. I used to be obsessed with originality. I felt obligated to come up with something different so I didn’t feel as though I was copying. But guess what? ORIGINALITY DOESN’T EXIST HAHAHA *cries*.
Chasing pure original thought is like chasing a unicorn. It probably exists in a distant magical forest, but the chances you’ll find it are ridiculously low.
The good thing is though, you can BS your way to it. Take your favorite ideas and concepts and shove them into a blender. Put a twist on a classic story. Use cookie-cutter tropes and make delicious cookies that audiences will love. The truth is, although most ideas have already been done before, none of them have been done by you.
I think you get the point. I’m going to keep this portion a bit shorter. You can read a longer post that I wrote two years ago about it here.
3. You Will Need to Forge Your Writing Routine Out of the Magma of Mount Doom…er Practice
Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but you get the point. Finding what clicks and what doesn’t if you’re a noob like me feels a lot like you’re Gollum searching for his missing ring after that stupid hobitss stole it from you in the dark. You know you need it, you know someone else probably has it, but it’s really hard to tell your precious from a shiny rock.
But why the hell do you even need a routine or style? Writing should be simple. Sit at a laptop, open a word doc and just start to write. And for some, it really is that easy.
But for me at least, I just ended up with a lot of wasted time and “writer’s block”. My writing routine was inefficient to say at the least and I did more back-tracking in the beginning thanks to my lack of a set style.
I can further narrow down the source of my struggle to three things: 1) I didn’t know if I was a plotter or pantser 2) I never decided on a set point of view and 3) I didn’t have a set schedule
For starters, the great debate between plotter or pantser. A plotter is someone who plans out everything before they even set a pen on the paper. A pantser is someone who just sort of plays it as they go, coming up with plot as they see the need to. I thought I was a plotter, and as it turns out, I’m a heavy pantser.
What does it matter, you ask?
Well if you’re like me, mistaking what you are can lead to some major backtracking. For the longest time, I was dead certain I was a plotter. It’s just who I am, Miss To-Do-List and Miss Spreadsheet who always has a Google Calendar event ready for anything that needs to be planned. As expected, I would make intricate spreadsheets outlining details of plot thought down to the very item of food my character was ordering at a restaurant. Straightforward, right?
But when it came to actually writing it, something wouldn’t flow and I’d change it. And then, that loose string undid several other loose strings. Before I knew it I had my plot all scrambled and knotted and I had to go back and rewrite the whole beginning.
After constantly starting over, I realized loose outlines worked better for me. My outlines had only five major plot points for me to pay attention to in the beginning. In between was an empty canvas for me to work with, with no set road map. I could take the detours and turns as I wanted and still meet my destination. I filled in my outline as I went and slowly I “discovered” my story with every chapter.
I’m a pantser. Go figures.
So bottom line of this, find your plotting style and you’ll save a lot of time. You can do some blind poking around like I did until you figure it out, or just read this awesome article by the Write Practice.
Here’s another thing you can do to save time: find a point of view and stick with it. The biggest flaw to fix from my second draft was my inability to pick a point of view. I would jump from first to third, have two main characters narrating and then decide on having just one. Most of my written chapters were unusable as a result.
Don’t be me. Pick.
But how do you choose?
Well really it depends on your story and what you’re comfortable with. First person POV makes it easier to really get to know one character and limits the scope to just one person, allowing for more surprise and mystery. The problem? Some people find it too limiting.
Third person POV makes it easier to bounce from character to character and get a more outsider perspective. The problem with this? It’s easy to resort to head jumping, which just confuses readers.
Somehow you’ll need to find a happy medium. Write a few thousand words in either and find which one suits you better. If you have an idea of where your story’s headed, try and figure out which one best conveys it. Bottom line is, pick one and stick with it. You’ll thank yourself for it later.
Last but not least, set a writing schedule. The biggest complaint for most things is that there’s simply not enough time in the day. As a student, athlete, executive producer for my school’s newscast and someone that’s stressed about college and college apps almost every single day, I couldn’t agree with that statement more.
But somehow, you have to schedule in time to work on your book, even if it’s just fifteen minutes a day. That consistency is what makes ideas flow naturally and actually puts you leagues closer to finishing that draft.
You may need to sacrifice something, time sleeping or watching television or checking Facebook, but it’s worth the work. I’m not going to lie, writing a book is a lot of work but it’s worth it, trust me.