Monday, May 21, 2012

Word-Spew or Edit-As-You-Go?

I just finished a second draft of book 3 in my trilogy. For any of you watching out there, yep, I know I was just talking about finishing a rewrite of book 2 almost exactly a month ago. I already had about 20k of usable words on bk3 from earlier in the year, but suffice to say, it has been an insane month bringing it to 66k word count. 0_o

Well, an insane FEW months to be honest, and I feel an infinite amount of relief at having solid drafts of both books done. I recently read a post by Robin Lafevers on Writer Unboxed where she talks about how being a writer is different from say, being a carver, because wood or marble carvers at least get to start with a block of wood or marble. She writes: But here’s the thing: we writers don’t have so much as a block of marble or lump of clay or even paints with which to create. Writers are required to produce the material from which they will then craft the book.

Yep, that's the kicker. I go back and forth on whether it's best to get out a crappy first draft just to get that lump of wood to start with, or to take it slower and edit as I go. I did the word-spew method when I wrote a sort-of first draft for book 3, and it bit me in the butt (only about 20k of I'd initially written was usable, the other 30k ended up needing to be rewritten). I think writing without stopping and editing as I go just makes for a ton more work. But I've still kept doing it, I think because I was so scared of not being able to get out a first draft. Trying to write a book is a terrifying and daunting thing. Getting words on a page and then piling up a bunch of pages together feels like a win.

Part of me thinks: tons of writers talk about having to write a book several times before it's right. Maybe that's just how it has to be. But the rest of me wants to ball my hands into fists and slam them on the table while screaming, "I don't WANNA!" I want to get it right the first time! I realize, of course, that this is an impossible goal. At the same time, with my next novel, I'm going to take it slow and edit as I go. In the end, maybe it's the same amount of rewriting of scenes happening--it just feels a lot less daunting when dealing with small bits at a time instead of writing furiously for a month and then look at the steaming 60k pile of dung you have written and then trying to reshape it, i.e. rewrite it from scratch. Inevitably, some events from earlier will change during the editing process, or there was an idea that wasn't well-thought out but I just charged ahead anyway without figuring it, or there will just be scenes that don't fit together well. All of that means loathed rewrites.

I edited as I went with this draft of book 3. I wrote in the mornings and then edited at night, seven days a week. Some nights I still didn't do as much editing as was needed, so I'm doing a big edit pass on the whole novel before I turn it into my editor at the end of the month. Still, this draft is far more usable and edit-able than my word-spew drafts.

I'm hoping this is a lesson learned for me. At the same time, I recognize that it's just what works for me and that other writers tackle it very differently.

What's your writing process? Word-spew or edit as you go?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Balancing Act

When I'm on a tight deadline like this, everything in my life begins to revolve around the book. I work on it for half the day, and spend the other half of the day thinking about it. While I heat up food for my son, I'm thinking about what happens in the scene that comes next. When I stop to watch TV or read a book, I'm constantly analyzing the stories being told and thinking if there's a way I can learn from them to make my own book better. When I talk to my husband and he tells me about the computer language he's programming in for his latest research project, I'm wondering whether I've rounded out a character arc well enough, or what I could do to fix it. I think about how much is going to need to be done in edits. And then I think, oh god, right when the drafting is done consuming my life, edits for book 2 will begin to consume!!

And then I stop and take a deep breath. I tickle my son or curl up next to my husband on the couch. I keep listening to Sara Zarr's podcasts about finding balance between one's work life and personal life, and also how elusive that kind of equilibrium can be sometimes. I do hope, eventually, I can achieve that tight-rope act of balance. Maybe not right now or in the next two weeks until this book is due, but some day ;) My husband and I keep talking about this mythical oasis (theoretically sometime this summer), when his research projects for his PhD program will be in lull, and I'm in between edits, when we will take a breather, and also take care of all the things that have piled up during the crazy time, such as (but not limited to):

- laundry (oh how it has piled)
- unpacking the last couple boxes from when we moved in nine months ago
- getting our driving licenses for the new state we live in
- decorating (someday I would like to live in a place that doesn't look like I'm a transient college student)
- buy a couple of plants (kind of ties in with previous point)
- organizing all the things that we just shoved random places when we did unpack, so that I can actually FIND things when I need them.
- color my hair (which I managed to bleach after turning in book 2, but have yet to get around to coloring blue and pink)
- take off on a road trip in a random direction some weekend like the hubs and I used to do when we were back in college, preferably towards somewhere incredibly beautiful and soul-affirming. (If only there were mountains in Minnesota! Le sigh, guess a bunch of lakes will have to do).
- clothes shopping. I've gone up a size, but my clothes have not.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


In the strange world of being a writer, happiness and sadness are generally decided by the whim of the day’s productivity. When I’m productive, I’m happy, more gregarious, and I’m all active blogging and tweeting every day. When I have a rough day or *gasp* a string of rough days where the word count only inches upwards, and painfully at that, I wring my hands, cry, and am a veritable black hole when it comes to social media.

I imagine there are healthier ways to balance all this, but I’m a debut writer just trying to figure it all out and manage to get a manuscript written on deadline.

I used to boast: I never have writer’s block. Yeah. That was before I faced professional deadlines. Now that I’m on deadlines, I write slower and rougher, and it all feels far more painful to eke through.

I realize, these are privileged problems to have. I know just how lucky I am to have a book deal with all it entails, including deadlines.

But perspective is lacking a bit while I’m in the middle of writing book 3 with a due date at the end of the month. I feel like my learning curve is straight upwards, so many days I take steps backwards instead of forward, eat way too many overly salty chips, and generally freak out on a regular basis.