Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pushing It To The Finish Line Turtle-Style

June 6th looms on the horizon like a D-day of sorts in my house. Though it means that I will have my kids home for the summer and we have all sorts of wonderful things to look forward to, it also means the end of my quiet, uninterrupted writing time as I know it until late August. I'm almost done with the first draft of my new novel, and the fear of not finishing it before they are omnipresent has really put a fire under me, so I created a series of goals for myself that felt realistic.

I created an imaginary self-imposed deadline of June 6th to bang out this first draft in it's entirety. Trying to meet that goal, though incredibly daunting, has helped me stay focused and push everything I can to the bank burner (including housework! Sorry family!) so that I can get the words on the page. I have given myself permission to just write, even if it's not perfect, and not worry about correcting ANYTHING at this point. Instead, I keep a pad handy and make little notes to myself so that when I revise later, I can target areas I know from the get-go I will need to address. Writing without the pressure of having that first draft be perfect takes off a HUGE amount of stress, because I have promised myself no one will read this until I have given it at least one revision pass, no matter how anxious I may be to get some feedback. The self-imposed deadline has given birth to an average writing day of anywhere from 8-12 pages, which is great, and also means that if I keep this up, I should meet my goal.

Next, I have given myself the entire summer to tackle revisions. I don't want to rush the process in any way and send my agent something crap, nor waste my crit partners' time by sending them something to read before I think it's truly ready. My mother may be willing to read umpteen drafts of my novels, but realistically, I can't expect everyone else to. Not without a large denomination Starbucks gift card involved at least.

I have tried to absorb all I have learned from the process of writing the first one and not fight it. Check grammar, punctuation and verb tenses. Then check them again. Make sure every piece of dialogue and every scene furthers the story along in some way or chuck it, no matter how beautifully written. I saw a great suggestion on a blog this week that said to create a folder called "Darlings", as in "Killing Your Darlings", and cut and paste all the beautifully written chopped passages of your work that were painful to let go of and keep them here. Maybe they will serve a purpose in something you write in the future.

Next, plug my story into the Save The Cat formula and make sure it works and hits all the essential marks. I followed it loosely in the original writing, because it gave me more of a general guideline, but it will really serve as a fantastic tool to help make for a tight revision. If you are not using this method or don't know what it is, you should totally check it out. Truly, if your story doesn't have all the elements described, it helps you hone your focus on how to fix it. Great stuff.

When we finish typing "The End," if you're anything like me, you can't wait to get your book in front of readers and hope that they will come back saying you're written something epic that needs minimal changes. I have learned this is completely unrealistic, and have learned not to feel disappointed and overwhelmed by this in earlier drafts. That's why it's called a "first draft." Maybe one day I'll possess the skill to knock it out perfectly in one shot, but I have yet to meet a writer who does, so I give myself permission for that first draft to suck and to temper my patience by giving myself a little space and then reapproach it. At the end of the day, I know what I want the story to say, so until it's ready and I feel like all the holes are plugged and I am completely confident about what I've written, I will not jump the gun.

Last but not least, don't shortchange my pitch and figuring out how to articulate a great hook for my logline. This is ultimately what will spark the interest of agents and editors so if it's not the best it can be, you may be shortchanging yourself an opportunity to get your work read. I am allowing myself as much time as needed for this piece because it's so very important. My pitch for my first novel went through many incarnations until it reached its present form because either it gave too much away or was too vague or didn't have anything to hook the reader in and make them feel like this might be a story that they haven't seen before even though the theme might be familiar.

For those of you writers in the same boat as me in the coming weeks, enjoy the last of the silence, and then enjoy the time with your kids! That's a gift not to be missed as well! Your story will still be waiting for you when you can get back to it and any time away from it will only give you the benefit of fresh eyes! Good luck!


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