Thursday, April 8, 2010

Every writer could use a little advice now and then.

Things I have learned:
  • Writing a novel is HARD. It is a LOT of work.
  • Even after writing nearly all of your book, you still might feel a bit lost and confused. (Or, sometimes, even more lost and confused than you felt before you started!)
  • 100,000 words sounds impressive, but it’s quality that counts, not quantity. And quality is so hard to come by!
  • Writers are a very strange breed of masochists.
  • You have to finish; you can’t give up; it’s not an option.

Yes, readers, I have written over 100,000 words. That is a lot of words. And I haven’t even written the ending yet! No, I don’t think the book will be nearly this long when I’m done, and yes, I am aware that this is way too long for a first novel. But writing so many words has been a really great thing for me—it helped me learn so much more about my characters and about their journey than I think I would have had I skipped some of those unnecessary scenes or boring days. A wise person once blogged, “Make every scene noteworthy; make sure something happens in each scene that is vital to the plot.” It is with this mindset that I will endeavor to cut tens of thousands of words out of my novel, not merely to shorten it but to improve it. Such will be my challenge.

So at this point in my novel, my characters have already embarked on their journey, traveled the entire distance, and made it to where they need to be for the final encounter. I know what’s going to happen, and I’ve written an outline for myself, but here’s the problem: I don’t find myself wanting to write it just yet. (Actually I find myself loathing the prospect.) My novel has lots (LOTS) of holes and gaps that need to be filled in before I can be entirely sure of the ending (or rather, of how exactly it will happen, down to each eye movement and gust of wind), and I’m therefore not very happy with my novel at the moment. I feel a bit discouraged, really, and I’m floundering. It’s kind of a scatterbrained, sluggish novel right now (or maybe it’s just my brain that’s scatterbrained and sluggish and I’m projecting those feelings onto my writing!) and I wonder if that might change enough during the revision process to impact the ending. There are a lot of really key elements that either need to be introduced or fleshed out toward the beginning of the novel for the end to be worthwhile, and I’ve realized recently that if I want to be even somewhat proud of the final result, the novel as a whole has to change drastically.

Yes, I know that every writer goes through this. I think that this is the necessary struggle that writers go through with their first novels (the first ones they write, not necessarily the first ones they get published) wherein it suddenly becomes apparent that the story isn’t the only thing that counts, nor are the characters. Finding a way to wrap three million little details into one coherent, smoothly flowing, interesting book is a task that seems nearly impossible--certainly one of the most daunting challenges a writer ever faces.

My question is, would it be terrible if I started the revision stage now without finishing the book first? Should I write down the whole ending, instead of just an outline, and then go back to do revisions after I’m done? I’ve written this until now in the NaNo state of mind: write write write and do not allow yourself to edit ANYTHING until you’re done. Is it okay to let go of that now and finally read back over what I’ve written to see if it’s even halfway decent? Or should I keep writing until I’m totally finished and only then allow myself to revise?

Answers to these questions and any other relevant ones would be greatly appreciated! :)


  1. The first draft of my WIP ended up to be 182,000 words, and I loved every single one of them. But if I have any chance at all to be published, I must conform to industry standards. My goal is to cut my manuscript to 90K -HALF my original word count! I'm at 107K now.

    My advice to you on whether to keep writing til the end, or stop and revise what you already have: I don't think there is a right or wrong choice, but I personally wish I had stopped once I realized my manuscript was getting too long, and started my revisions then. It is very painful to cut entire passages, chapters, and sub-plots that I had worked on for weeks.

    Hope my answer helps you!

  2. I'm also on my first try, so I can't give you GOOD advice. I will give you an opinion, instead. I think you should write the ending first, and then revise the whole thing. Your final word count will give you a rough idea of how much you should cut to get down to 80,000 or whatever you think is the best word count for your genre.

    I know I have bits I should cut, probably bits I should add and bits I should rewrite. The Yousuck Monster sat on my back today as I looked through some scenes I'd written earlier but now hate. But I don't intend to do ANY revision till I've written THE END on the first draft, because I know that if I stop to revise I'll get all tangled up. And I can always rewrite big chunks of the thing later. One thing I think is a good idea is to save a copy of the first draft and work on a separate copy for the revisions, so that you can always go back if you realize you threw out a good idea with the bathwater.

  3. Jaycee and Jane, thank you both so much!

    Jaycee, cutting half of your manuscript sounds so tough, but you're almost there! How long has it taken you so far, if you don't mind my asking?

    Jane, the Yousuck Monster lives in my pocket, in case you were wondering. Anytime there's a spare moment, even just five seconds, he pops his head out to tell me how awful everything is that I write! Argh. I totally agree about saving a copy of the first draft and working on a separate one--a great idea!

  4. I have to agree with both of the prior comments about editing and revising.

    My YA book had 86k words and after editing it ended up with 80,500.

    I always have rough outlines for my novels but I don't always conform to them. Just remember to keep it within industry standard and you should be okay.

    Also, I would advise finishing the first draft and then cutting/editing. The suggestion to save the first draft and then create a copy to begin editing is a sound one. that's what i do. in fact i number each draft rewrite. One of my books got up to nine drafts but it was worth it.

  5. I write...then edit, but I agree with Jaycee, there is no right or wrong way. You have to do what feels right for you.

  6. I also agree with Jane (Hi, Jane- nice to see you here!). Part of the reason I did not stop was because I was afraid I'd get all tangled up.
    I also wanted to give life to all those scenes in my head. But cutting some of those scenes later is one of the most painful things I've ever had to do. I -literally- was nauseated for three days when I realized how much I'd have to cut. I almost gave up.

    I've been working on slashing my word count for about three weeks now. I am attending a writers' conference in a couple of weeks and my goal is to finish by then, so when I have those pitch meetings with agents and editors, I can tell them I have a 90K manuscript.

    The process is forcing me to look at each sub-plot, chapter, scene, passage, and word, and ask if it moves the story forward. Most of the scenes and sub-plots I cut were fun, but did not move the story ahead. I made myself feel better by planning to add those deleted scenes to my future web site as a bonus for my future readers.

    I admit that this process has made my writing more concise, the pacing faster, and my story much stronger.

    I also keep copies of every draft and everything I cut.

  7. Thank you so much, everyone! I guess I'll suck it up and try to just finish the whole book first before revising. So far today I've sat at my computer for an hour and only managed to write a paragraph... so the going is tough... but I will push through it!