There are two camps when it comes to first drafts, the planner camp and the pantser camp. Planners have all the details of their story figured out before they start and pantsers start with one or two great ideas and then figure the rest out as they go along. After many trial and error cycles I learned that I’m a pantser at heart and probably always will be. The problem with this is that longer books need some sort of plan to help guide the story from the beginning to the end.
One of the reasons that this book is taking so long to write is that from the beginning I didn’t understand the story. The other three reasons are wrestling in the other room over who gets to play with what toy. When I started this whole process of taking an idea from concept to completed story I thought that the only way to do it was to create an outline and then follow it. At this point I didn’t know about story structure or pacing or scene and sequel and I was hugely frustrated because even as I created the story it didn’t feel like it worked. Frankly, it sucked.
I pushed along anyway following my faulty and utterly incomplete outline. Those were the days when I was convinced that I would be finished and presenting my work to agents in less than a year. I even blogged about how I was planning on doing this and now looking back I realize just how naïve I was.
The more I wrote the more I realized just how much the outline was missing and how little I understood my world or my characters. I didn’t have my magic system worked out, or the setting, or the climax, or anything that I needed to make a great story.
Each time I came up against a problem I would have to stop and figure things out and backtrack to plug-in the changes. I think I revised the opening ten chapters well over twenty times, all the while thinking that with this change everything would then flow smoothly to the end of the book. It never did because within a few pages I would realize that I needed to make another change. I spent almost an entire year trying to fix things this way and assumed that this was just how the process was supposed to work.
When I realized that half of my fixes were counteracting other fixes I was forced to make a hard decision – give up or stop backtracking and just push through to the end. At this point the story had strayed so far from the outline that I no longer had an ending, not that the original ending made any sense in the first place. While I was working through all these different problems the story had taken several unexpected turns. These turns were so much better than what was planned that they had to stay.
When I finally finished that draft I felt like I had finished a marathon. I was completely spent. It had huge problems, the front half needed an extensive overhaul so that the story flowed into the back half. Those issues were so daunting that I put off editing and revising the manuscript for over a year. That, and with the birth of my third child my whole life was thrown into chaos.
Last fall I buckled down and started the long process of rewriting the front half of the story. With the writing skills that I had acquired over the last few years it seemed easier to find what needed to be added and taken away. That’s not to say that reinventing scene after scene was easy, there were still some tricky plot problems that needed to be solved. In solving those problems I uncovered some really cool ideas that make this story even better.
There’s still a lot of work to do to finish this edit. With the kids in school I’m hoping that I’ll find the time and patience to keep plugging through until it’s done. For the first time in this process I finally feel like I’m getting close!
Just a reminder – For the month of August I am offering a free critique of a query letter or the first 20 pages of a manuscript. To enter all you have to do is click the “like” button. For a second entry, leave a comment! The winner will be notified at the end of the month.