Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Birth of Novel: Week Two

Okay folks, here's where the brutal honesty kicks in. I want you to know I write this as hopefully a help to other writers, and not as a pity party or whining session.

Honestly, week two was so much harder than week one. I rewrote the scenes I had previously from scratch which was smooth sailing. The minute I got to the new scenes though, I hit a brick wall.

Not literally (though it sort of felt like it) but figuratively and emotionally. I had no idea what happened next, and despite my desperate brainstorming sessions, I couldn't come up with anything. After much whining and complaining to my ever-suffering writer friends I realized it was more about my state emotionally than any actual lack of inspiration or ideas. 

So here's sort of a taboo subject. Something we don't often talk about in detail as writers, but something I've seen every single writer I know afflicted with.

Your state of mind. 

Yes, you absolutely need to learn to write in spite of your state of mind, but pretending that it doesn't factor into your writing can sometimes sabotage your work before the words are even born (like in my most recent experience).

My ideas tend to be these sprawling, complex, layered things, filled with side ideas and tangents. For example, the Harry Potter series. The main plot is straightforward, but anyone who has read those books can tell you there is so much more going on in each book. Harry might deal with issues with his best friend, the love interest, Quidditch, his classes, Snape, Dumbledore, another teacher, his parents, and many other little things.

Yet the books aren't too complex to read. Little story bits add up to the greater whole of the plot. When I get an idea, I can often see the book in it's entirety, like a movie. I see the finished product, all the twists and turns and ins and outs of the book. But writing a first draft is nothing like that. 

And with every first draft I reach the place where the idea in my head and the words on the page do not match up. At all. The words on the page feel so much more shallow and weak than the idea I hold inside me. It's depressing, to be frank. I KNOW that books don't start out layered, that you build them to be that way, that no one's first draft is good, but for some reason it's a surprise when my first draft doesn't turn out as awesome as I want it to be.

Maybe you've been there. My friend Liz calls it the opposite of a Eureka moment. You get this crashing realization that the first draft you had such high hopes for in matter sucks. It sucks big time. It sucks so badly you're scared it's going to create a black hole and devour all of existence.

You might have guessed that I am a perfectionist. This doesn't help. I agonize over small things, like this blog post. "Am I going on too much? Am I over explaining? Does that comma really need to be there?" I look at my earlier blog posts, and just cringe. But people keep tell me they enjoy reading through my back log, so I keep them up and try not to think about all the stupid mistakes I made.

It's ten times worse with a novel. I am at the point now where I just have to push through the crushing feeling that this books sucks and it's a pointless waste of time, and just keep writing. 

Because that's the cure for these feelings of general crappyness. Just keep writing. It sounds simple, but at first it's hard. It feels impossible. That's why I like NaNo. Your word count becomes important, not the quality. That's where I feel like NaNo gets a bad reputation. It's not like we're out here trying to write crap on purpose.

It's just that when you give yourself a challenging deadline, you're forced to let go and dare to suck, like Maureen Johnson says. You have to keep going, despite how sure you are this is a piece of crap. 

Because there's something amazing about writing. You get to hit the do over button a trillion million billion times (that's an actual number, btw) (no, it's not). The first draft is all about laying down the ground work. Finding the characters and the story. You cannot see certain things about the story until you get that crappy first draft out. 

So this week I am all about pushing forward. Past feeling like you're not writing well enough, fast enough. Just keep writing. Forget about everything else but having fun and telling yourself a story. Entertain yourself. Write what you think would be cool. 

The rest will come later.

Okay, I am off to take my own advice. In the meantime, check out how these lovely ladies are faring:

Angela H.
Anna M.
Brooke Busse
Charity Bradford
Elizabeth Davis  
Fida Islaih
Lena Hoppe
Mia Hayson
Miranda Hardy
Nyxie Moon
Tessa C


  1. We all feel the same way at times, at least I do. I never like the first draft, heck I never like any draft, but I love the stories they hold. I just feel I can't do them justice. Glad you are pushing past this. This week is tougher than the first.

  2. I love this post. The whole time I was nodding in agreement. This phrase sums it up perfectly:
    "And with every first draft I reach the place where the idea in my head and the words on the page do not match up. At all. The words on the page feel so much more shallow and weak than the idea I hold inside me."


    Then you made me laugh and reminded me it's okay to let the writing be crap. Because you're right, we can't see it until its all down on the paper.

    Happy writing!

  3. Yes, this is so crucial in the writing process, except for me, when I start writing, even if I'm in a bad mood and I think my work is complete crap, I love feeling like I've done something. So writing, any writing, makes me feel better.

  4. Miranda: Thanks Miranda. It's nice to know I am not the only one out there with sticker shock.

    Charity: I am glad this helped! That's why I decided to be all candid instead of doing something slightly less OMG my writing is trying to kill me!

    Rena: That is a great idea. Because when I don't get anything done I feel SO guilty. So I should try to focus on being productive, and not perfect.

  5. The one constant in this business is the amazing fellowship of writers. They give time and expertise to help and encourage all newcomers and lend a comforting hand to those in the grip of self-doubt.
    Thank God for these wonderful folk.

  6. Huntress: You are exactly right! That's why I wanted to do this Birth of a Novel thing. I know we're not alone and now is a good time to join in the camaraderie.

  7. This is a great post! I think all writers think, "Who's going to want to read this piece of crap?" I know I have said that so many times to myself that I've lost count. Even things that I have been paid to write, like descriptions. I had this small job of writing descriptions for these overly expensive purses, and when I was writing descriptions for spoiled Paris Hilton types, the entire time I was thinking, who really reads these things? (By the way, it is totally hard to write a fun description for a purse where I've seen things come out of my cats mouth look cuter, and for over $1,000, no thank you) But I had to push that aside and just simply write, no matter if anyone was going to read them, and regardless of my thoughts about how ugly they were. It's something people simply never really talk about, and I'm glad you scratched the surface of it.