When commiserating with my friends about writing, I’ve found myself saying nonsensical things.
“I hate revision!” my friend will say.
“Yeah,” I’ll say. “Me, too.”
“Drafting is the worst,” another friend will say.
“It really is,” says me.
They are the worst. Really.
I started listening to myself and wondering if I really hated the process all that much. Do I really hate all of it?
Yes, I hate aspects of all of it. But I love aspects of all of it, too.
I love outlining and pitch development (which I do first) because the possibilities are endless. I take my beat sheet that I always use for structure, and throw on ideas and events and characters. It’s like a big puzzle, trying to hit the right beats with the right story elements so that I have something I can begin to draft. But it’s also the worst, because thinking up good ideas to fill the holes isn’t easy. Figuring out what will make a good plot point when I haven’t written to it isn’t easy either. And most of all, I feel like I’m making no progress, because there’s no word count. There’s no novel. There’s just the idea of one, and the task master in me just wants to breeze through and get writing. I’m impatient. I’m ready to go.
And then, I do go. Drafting is the best because it’s where progress is the most measurable. I have word goals; I throw down scenes. I’m free at this stage to be as bad at writing as I need to be, as long as I’m accomplishing something. I usually can’t manage much more than the plot, the nitty gritty scene details, and the main character’s voice, because I can’t hold a whole book in my head at one time, let alone translate it into words. I know that, so I fly through those things. It’s quick; it’s dirty. It feels dang good to get it down.
But what goes down is bad. Really bad. No one reads my first drafts anymore, because there is no point. By the time I’m done, I know I have wasted my time and written the biggest train wreck that has ever been birthed in the English language. The only thing that stops me from canning the thing and quitting altogether is my husband talking me down off my post-draft ledge. “You always feel like that,” he says. “You say this every time.”
Actually, he says that at every stage of the process. And I try to believe him, and remember that since the other books I’ve written didn’t languish in first-draft-horror forever, neither will this one.
Then comes revision. Revision is the best because I get to make the book good. I get to do the beautiful parts like theme and minor characters. I put some real backbone into the tension arcs. Things start to shape up, slowly but surely.
But revision is the worst because mostly, it shapes up slowly. I begin the book with a new vision, and by the time I get to the end it’s become so ingrained in my mind that I can’t remember that the book used to be different. If it wasn’t different before than it is now, I must have accomplished NOTHING! (“You always feel like that at this stage,” says my husband. He’s a wise guy. Love him.)
I’m doing some (close to) final edits right now on a book. (I will have an announcements as soon as I have a final title–Argh! Titles are seriously the worst!) Final edits are the best because the book is in decent shape. Most of my vision has finally firmed up and realized itself on the page. But they are the worst because my new words aren’t allowed to be bad anymore. What I put in had better be brilliant, because my chances to fix them are dwindling. If I am brilliant, it’s usually by accident. It’s not easy to bring the brilliant on demand.
Copy-edits are the best because the major fixing is done. The book is clean; the plot is done; the characters are developed. But it’s tedious. Seriously tedious. Makes me want to poke my eyes out, tedious. It requires concentration, but offers little creative energy in return. Copy editors, I seriously don’t know how you do this all the time.
I feel like I should end this with some sort of platitude about focusing on the positive, but that’s never been helpful for me. Instead, anticipating the negative helps me to make my will-save to disbelieve my own despair. If I always feel like that, I know that a time will come when I will have made the book better. I’ve been doing this long enough, that I’m (finally!) starting to trust my own process.
And that is seriously the best.