Draft Done. Sleep Needed.

manuscript
Ancient Icelandic Artifacts by Michael Jessen

Milestones can are far and few in between when you’re working on a novel, especially when you don’t like talking about a thing until its done (I’m a bit superstitious that way). I am DONE – sort of! YAY!

I finally finished the first draft of The Golden Thread. Remember that one? Probably not. I started it in June of 2011, and took a eight month break in the middle of finishing the draft. The story is a Mongolian inspired historical fantasy. Umm but let’s get back to that later…

I believe the folks that say you only learn how to write the novel you are working on. This  experience was entirely different from the last. I pantsed most of the  way through my last novel and ended up with three unfinished novels instead of one. The last novel took two full rewrites and I didn’t want to go through that again. Not editing, but rewriting… you wouldn’t recognize the story between those drafts.

This time I outlined the entire novel scene by scene and I think it worked. There is one cohesive story. I was able to write pretty fast (minus the break). I  hit my target word count on the nose, which was amazing. BUT I never want to do that again. NEVER. It was a really bad idea. I was so bored while writing it. I need a little of the magic of discovery as I go along, but I’d used up all the good stuff while I wrote that outline.

I also discovered that historical fantasy is not what I enjoy writing. All sorts of non-historical ideas kept interrupting me: What if the act of writing magical spells was really computer programming? What if reincarnation was a restart, the memory loss the result of plugging in stored data into new bodies? What if there were way more ghosts and monsters? Er… yeah.

So next time, perhaps I’ll still outline, but have a looser more high level structure, and fill in the scene by scene as I go instead of all up front.

This story needs to sit in the drawer for a while and sort out its identity problem. In the meantime, I think a week of sleep is in order. Also, chocolate.

Has your process changed as you’ve written? What are some things that have worked for you, or have you discovered, don’t?

18 thoughts on “Draft Done. Sleep Needed.

  1. Congrats! It is a milestone, a huge one, no matter what you do with the MS later. Celebration time.

    “You only learn how to write the novel you are working on”. This is so true! I wrote one MS out of order and I got so frustrated filling in the mortar and working out where the pieces went. I wrote the next one in order and thought I had found the ticket. But it turns out it was only the ticket to that MS. I tried to force myself to write linearly for the next MS and didn’t write anything, so now I’m back to out of order and hoping I can somehow make fitting the pieces together fun. Or more fun. Or something. But at least it’s writing, right?

    All of those non-historical ideas sound fascinating and like they deserve stories too. Hopefully the break, the sleep and the chocolate will help with that.

  2. Congratulations!

    I have the same experience. I pantsed my first novel attempt and it ended up at 53,000 words (it was a NaNoWriMo novel), all from the protagonists’ POVs, and just barely got to the point where the three siblings separated at birth finally meet.

    It was an epic fantasy, all right: an epic monument to why I should outline that story.

    The next one I pantsed and got to an ending of sorts at 55,000 words (also NaNo), but it needs rewriting to add subplots and such.

    The next one was not only pantsed, but written out of order. And I completed that one in February after NaNoWriMo at 93,000 words. All three were totally different.

    This year is an odd combination of both techniques that works…but only for this book. :)

    1. Sometimes I worry about what kind of thing will work for the next one! Its impossible to predict. You’re a pro at nano! Have you considered finishing one of those novels to get them in shape to submit? Or have you? I always find the first draft is the hardest part. No.. wait.. that’s a lie. They’re all hard lol but at least you have somewhere to start from!

  3. Your possible new approach to outlining sounds like mine. I love it, but I’m very emergent with the way I compose. If you give it a shot, I hope it helps you out.

    I’m also not surprised your mind was a little too unorthodox to be totally comfortable with historical fiction. You’re a very creative type who might be compelled to diverge – not unlike me! Have you considered writing secondary-world fiction that is merely highly informed by a specific history, ala Ironskin or Game of Thrones?

    1. I have! The tricky part of that is trying not to appropriate cultural artifacts irresponsibly, and or misrepresenting said borrowed cultures. I’m toying with a few approaches to handling that in the back of my mind. We’ll see what comes out of it! :)

  4. Draft done. Sleep and chocolate deserved. :-)

    I’ve never outlined, but I’ve always imagined it would make the writing itself boring, as you describe. Speaking just for me, of course.

    The one constant for me is that I write and publish serially. That’s been how I’ve worked for over twenty years now. The idea of writing a whole draft from beginning to end exhausts me. :-) (one of the many reasons I don’t do NaNo).

    I think it’s sort of true that you only learn to write the book you’re writing, maybe more true than not, but it’s also true that you don’t go back to zero when you finish a book. You learn some things in writing a book. A lot of them won’t apply again, but some will.

    1. I’ve written serially in the past, and I really did enjoy it. The worst part of moving to novels was not getting the immediate feedback that serial posting would get. Took me a long while, a few years to get past that. It’s not a bad thing though, I totally get it ;)

      And yes, its never wasted. It’s all learning. Some things might not work now but they might in future!

      1. I try to learn from each project, but I also save the scraps (and sometimes more than scraps). Anything that gets cut can be useful later. There’s a major subplot in Stevie One that I had to try in three different stories before I got it right.

        I’ve never had a novel bible. I just rely on Google when I have questions. I know there is a continuity glitch between my first two novels, and I eagerly await the reader who is devoted enough to find it. Nobody has so far.

  5. Congratulations! It IS a milestone, and such an exciting one at that. Enjoy your well-deserved sleep and chocolate — maybe a milkshake, too?! :)

    I absolutely agree that each book is its own learning experience. And how wonderful is that, the magic of always discovering new things? I keep my process fairly similar each time – I start off with a defined sense of beginning/middle/end and a loose outline, but figure out the individual scenes as I’m writing – but even so, each project has been its own little world. It’s a joy to learn something new from each one, sometimes writing-wise and sometimes personal. Makes me fall in love with writing again every single time!

    1. Thanks Shari! It is pretty wonderful. Sometimes you need to try things before you figure out what works. It sounds like you’re all set in the process department. The learning, those lightbulb moments, are pretty wonderful, aren’t they?

  6. Congratulations on finishing the first draft. That’s definitely awesome!

    I’m learning… that I hate hate hate writing in little tiny fits and bursts. I hate writing with only twenty minutes to spare. I hate writing only 100 or 200 or 400 words at a time.

    It’s just not enough to really get in my groove and really get into the story. It’s like, as soon as I’m starting to get a feel and a taste for what I’m writing… it’s time to shut down because there’s other stuff that needs to be done.

    I just hate it.

    Did I mention my hate for it?

    I just want to stretch out for a long afternoon of writing like a beast, just give me three or four hours and say “go” and let me do my thing.

    Unfortunately, life, right now, does not allow for it.

    1. :( Yeah that’s tough. I don’t think I would like it either. I need at least 45 minutes uninterrupted to get into a groove. STILL, 200 words at a time is still progress no matter how small.

  7. Also, last time you talked about your organization scheme for this book. You mentioned here that a full detailed outline didn’t work for you… but what about the rest of your organization? Did you stick to it throughout the novel, or did it ultimately fracture? If you stuck to it, organizing your background notes and whatnot, did that prove helpful?

    Just curious.

    1. I did stick to it. I followed the outline pretty closely, added only one chapter, and a few transition scenes as I went. I’m actually surprised that my word count calculation was so accurate. (based it off of my average scene length in The Book of Day.)

      I also created a ‘novel bible’ as I wrote instead of creating one during edits. I had a list of all names/places, a one sentence description of each scene, where it took place, the characters involved, date, notes about things to change in previous chapters, body counts, and subplot notes, all in one Excel file. It was extra effort, and I didn’t want to do it some days, but it will make editing so much easier. I also didn’t have to go searching to find character names. I’ve got horrible memory for who is who, and I got into a big mess with that in the Book of Day (I’d start calling characters by a different names part way through). I can email/share a copy of it if you’re really curious.

      Another thing that I will keep doing is using notation in the draft where I need to do more research ie @placename @typeofpottery That way I didn’t have to stop while I wrote, and the notes will be easy to search for in the document.

      Since you asked :) That’s then nuts and bolts.

      1. Yeah, I might be interested to see what you came up with.

        I had a lot of notes going into my current first draft, but since I’ve started writing my note-making has kind of fallen off a cliff. Mainly that’s because… well… when you’re only getting a few hundred words at a time, with progress that slow… taking time away to focus more on the notes means no progress at all. I’ve been reluctant to give up what little forward momentum I have to focus some mental energy on some other aspects that I know (for myself) I need to do, but which aren’t strictly part of the novel itself. It’s frustrating.

        I like your use of the “@” symbol… seems like it would standout pretty clearly in a draft, and also not something that would be used otherwise. I’d been using curly brackets {like this} but I find they’re kind of invisible on the page.

  8. Congratulations!! Sounds like you learned a lot, in addition to just finishing. (“Just finishing.” HAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHA…)

    My process is definitely still a fluid thing that I’m attempting to bottle and/or understand. I do work best with SOME sort of outline — destinations that I can write toward. I’m a big fan of this 6-stage screenplay structure I found: http://www.storymastery.com/articles/30-screenplay-structure

    (Sadly that site has been redesigned and the illustration of the stages/percentages is gone now… but it the same info!)

    Meanwhile for my next manuscript, I have a 10-page, chapter-by-chapter outline, and I’m really excited to see how that works out for me.

    Btw, on a related note, Laini Taylor made a great website that discusses her process. Here’s a link to my favorite page on it – http://notforrobots.blogspot.com/2007/08/methods-to-my-madness.html – and also a blog post she did that was more philosophical (vs. practical advice) – http://www.lainitaylor.com/2012/03/maybe-post-about-writing.html.

    And, just for encouragement for you, I wanted to say that I still think about your ms sometimes. That world was so vibrant and engaging. :)

    1. JUST *giggle fit* The sad part is.. its never really seems to be finished. Novels sure are demanding taskmasters.

      Thanks for the links! I will check them out. I think I use a very similar structure and I’d like to compare. And ooh, good luck with the next one. That sounds fairly detailed, and I’d like to try something like that for the next one as well.

      PS your encouragement just made my week! Thank you :) If you ever need a beta reader I’d be happy to!

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