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Drafts

janni wrote a brief LJ post about her drafts, and what they achieve. I like this.

It's not like my process, but I've always liked to read about other people's process, because mine is constantly changing, in little increments; if I wrote a drafts post like this every year, or with every book, things would shift. And sometimes someone will say something about their current process which is like a little epiphany.

For instance, at the moment, the West novels require -- even demand -- a lot of starts. I will write chapter one between six and eight times, and write between 1500 and 4000 words before I abandon that attempt. My husband says that each iteration is necessary (which is his way of saying it isn't a waste of time). I generally look at the page count or word count and weep in frustration, because none of those words count, and it is very hard not to see them as a waste of time.

(For added punishment, I will hop off and read matociquala (I would pay money if she used 'ebear', and would probably quote her more often, because every single time I want to do so, I have to go and look up the spelling of her LJ handle. But I digress, which should come as a surprise to no one), kradical or mizkit, because at my very fastest and my most focused I will never be able to write as much as they do; I think the worst day was when mizkit was despairing over her paltry 2300 or 2700 words for the day. The very, very best I can do is 2700 words for a day, and that is only at the end of book, when everything is now racing downhill and I'm desperately trying to catch up.)

For House Name, there's a prologue section (yes, I know, people hate prologues. This one is called Angel). The prologue section, which is the beginning of the book, required eight false starts, one of which I liked enough to write 6k words on before I realized (where in this case realized=admitted) that it wasn't actually going to work =/.

But for me, when I hit a page one that does work (for me, or for the book), there's no guessing. I write it; I know that this is where the book actually starts. There's a lot of uncertainty up to that point; I should know by now that if there's any uncertainty, I should just give up, and start again. But, you know, hope springs eternal.

However, with this particular book, I not only had 8 Prologues, but when I sat down to start with Chapter One, I had six of those as well. I consider this excessive. And painful. My subconscious is not listening. So for the second volume of the House War series, I had almost 200 manuscript pages of Stuff That Goes Nowhere. And it really does go nowhere; I don't rework it, or try to fit it in later; I just shelve it permanently.

Once I have the right start, though, I don't have to draft the entire book in order to know it's the right story (thank god). At least, not so far; this may change, because everything does. At this point, my "first" draft is also my 2nd draft, because I'm a rolling reviser; I write, and the next day, I will reread and revise what I've written as a lead-in to new words. If something big has to be added, and it's a discrete scene, I'll add it; if not, I make a note, and I keep going forward.

So I have no set first/second/third draft. This doesn't mean I don't revise. I used to consider first draft to be the thing I sent my editor, but realized that this wasn't the common parlance. My big final edits (i.e. the things about which I make notes) are reserved for her comments; once I have her email, or her phone call, I put it together with the notes I've made while writing, and then I start on page 1, and do my line-edits, my scene revisions (this means: dump entire scenes which do not do what I thought they did, and rewrite them from the ground up) and structural changes. There are usually not many structural revisions, because if there were, they would generally require a total rewrite.

The Sagara Luna novels, on the other hand, don't suffer from this stop-and-start Chapter One. Partly, I think, it's because there's only one viewpoint (the various starts in the West novel are often from different viewpoints, moved backward and forward in the time line). Partly it's because the tone for the Sagara books is different, and is its own character. Oddly enough, although I didn't realize this until I was talking with kateelliott, they don't start with action or incident; they start with Kaylin's usual day (Kaylin being late for work; Kaylin looking at the duty roster and hating it, etc.).

But, at the end of the day, janni's last line is also mine (although she wrote it first and I'm shamelessly stealing it):

And for about the millionth time, I take that leap of faith: There is a book here. I'll get there yet.



ETA: closing bracket, because I always forget those the first time out.

Comments

( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
autopope
Mar. 27th, 2008 10:19 pm (UTC)
If it's any consolation, I got slower with age (and blood pressure meds). Used to be able to average 3000-5000 words per day; now a solid quota is 1200 words, and a week-long run of 2000 a day is exhausting.
msagara
Mar. 27th, 2008 10:24 pm (UTC)
If it's any consolation, I got slower with age (and blood pressure meds). Used to be able to average 3000-5000 words per day; now a solid quota is 1200 words, and a week-long run of 2000 a day is exhausting.

I would have added you to the list of people-who-are-intimidating, but your LJ is friends only. Your solid quota is pretty much where mine is; I can get up to 2k words a day, but it's very project specific, and actually, to be fair, I can burst at a high number, but I won't do that unless I'm nearly finished something. If I try to sustain that output, I burn out, and on average, I end up doing less for a month than I would if I did the lower numbers consistently.
autopope
Mar. 27th, 2008 10:25 pm (UTC)
I reckon 10,000 words a week is good going (and 7000 is acceptable). Mind you, 10,000 words a week is a novel every three months ...
domynoe
Mar. 27th, 2008 11:14 pm (UTC)
Both of you got me beat--there's no way I could produce a novel in 3 months, but then my process is so anal retentive it's not even funny. I could probably produce a rough in 4 months, if I pushed, but I'm having a heck of time mastering/managing revisions, so I end up taking a whole lot longer to actually complete a novel.

And my first novel? Still in the works after 20 years, for a lot of varied reasons. The others I've attempted go much faster. Now I just need one good enough to DO something with...and revised enough to be submittable.

Makes me wish that my process would allow me to write a clean copy, but it doesn't, not for me anyway. :(
msagara
Mar. 28th, 2008 02:21 am (UTC)
Wow. I think your process would kill me o.o. It is, as you say, very complete!
domynoe
Mar. 28th, 2008 02:44 am (UTC)
Yea, my process is something most writers seem to find intimidating, but I have taught it to a few and most find something useful in it so there is that comfort. lol
mizkit
Mar. 27th, 2008 11:19 pm (UTC)
*laughs* I learned to spell matociquala at some point, causing great surprise among online friends when I mentioned the LJ in rapid enough response to a question that it was obvious I hadn't had to look up how to spell it. :)

*laughs more* Oh dear. *hugs* I don't mean to make it worse. *laughs* I do the same sort of rubbing salt in the wound thing myself, though, so I sympathize. :)
msagara
Mar. 28th, 2008 04:06 am (UTC)
*laughs more* Oh dear. *hugs* I don't mean to make it worse. *laughs* I do the same sort of rubbing salt in the wound thing myself, though, so I sympathize. :)

We all do; I think it's a built-in part of the writerly condition. But, ummm, well. On the other hand, you're often a great motivator...
mizkit
Mar. 28th, 2008 09:54 am (UTC)
You know, I think the motivation factor is one of my very favorite things about the online writing community. It doesn't matter to me whether I see somebody's written 300 words today or 5000 (although often, despite posting 5K wordcounts myself, I give existensial screams of despair when I see the latter); it's mostly that I know other people are out there suffering right along with me, and it makes me feel so much more connected. And there's inevitably the, "Well, ok, if all of *them* made their wordcount for the day, I guess I better try harder myself..."

Rah, LJ, for that. :)
matociquala
Mar. 29th, 2008 02:59 am (UTC)
I have a certain amount of envy for you and Jay. I can write 2000 words a day. But that's because I spend eight to ten hours working on it.

Not so much fast as dogged. :-P

You guys AMAZE me.
burger_eater
Mar. 27th, 2008 11:41 pm (UTC)
I have productivity-envy when I read jaylake or cmpriest's word count numbers. My "big" days are 1500 words, and lately even those have been a struggle. I like to think that I'll be more productive as time passes (it's worked that way so far) but who knows?

Also, I hear you on the throwing out and starting over. I threw out a 100K version of Twenty Palaces, then a 25K version before I wrote the "final" version of the book that no one wanted. Again, I like to imagine that I will develop this thing people call a "process" that will let me skip that crappy step.
msagara
Mar. 28th, 2008 01:50 am (UTC)
Again, I like to imagine that I will develop this thing people call a "process" that will let me skip that crappy step.

I think this doesn't really happen, but what does happen is the ability to throw away stuff that needs to be thrown away gets less painful with time.

My very first editor once told me: There are no good writers. Only good re-writers.

This is paraphrased, because it was on the phone and I don't remember exactly how she worded it, but this was also when I had to throw out all of book three and start it again. If something major -- i.e. structural -- is wrong, that's often what's required. I listened to her tell me what the problems were (because there were problems with it, and I couldn't clearly see them at that point), and after she finished, I said "You realize that this means I have to throw this all out and start it again?" and she said "Yes, I think so."
burger_eater
Mar. 28th, 2008 03:21 pm (UTC)
"You realize that this means I have to throw this all out and start it again?"

"Yes, I think so."


"What?! That's the wrong answer!"

:^)
msagara
Mar. 29th, 2008 03:24 am (UTC)
"What?! That's the wrong answer!"

LOL! I should have said that -- I think my brain had seized up at the time.
arielstarshadow
Mar. 28th, 2008 01:48 am (UTC)
I have a suspicion that my process for this first book (yes, I am a newb) will turn out to be a combination of you and janni. I already know this first draft is mostly a wash, and I can easily see multiple drafts. And I do your thing where you go back over what you previously wrote and edit before moving on.
msagara
Mar. 28th, 2008 01:53 am (UTC)
I already know this first draft is mostly a wash, and I can easily see multiple drafts.

The thing that finishing my first novel made clear was simply that I could finish a novel. It was significant, for me. The thing that my 3rd novel taught me was that I could finish a novel that did not, in fact, work. And that I could throw it out, start again, and have a novel that did. So all of the writing process is useful.

But finding other writers, and learning about their processes, was also useful to me because although no two writers have the same process, misery does love company :D
deborahjross
Mar. 28th, 2008 04:07 am (UTC)
My last few novels were tightly outlined because they had to be approved by the MZB Literary Trust, so I had fewer problems with Point-of-Entry than usual. Which is not to say, no problems -- ha! that will never happen. Just not as many.

Sometimes I flop about for quite a few pages/chapters until I settle into the story, then go back with surgical scalpel. Other times, I can't get up even that much momentum with so gelatinous a start.

When a rough draft is going well, I try for 5 pages (1250 words) a day; when I'm flying, I can write 10 or 15. Other days, I'm happy to write a paragraph or two. Over the years, I've learned when it's helpful to push and when I need to back off and be gentle, trusting that time spent knitting and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs will come back to me many times over in a surge of creativity.

I used to think, too, that if I didn't get the bulk of my writing done early in the day, I never would. Now, trusting my energy flow better, I recognize when I'm not ready to focus until late afternoon, and then I can be incredibly productive, fingers flying over the keyboard, prose streaming forth like a woodland spring.

For revision -- and I usually do 2nd or 3rd drafts before I send a novel ms off to Trusted Readers -- all bets are off. I'm usually obsessed for hours/days/weeks at a time.
leilawinters
Mar. 29th, 2008 03:05 am (UTC)
This is absolutely wonderful. I love hearing about process. Yours seems a bit more painful than mine and I'm amazed at (and mourn for) the amount of interesting material we will never be able to see as readers, but I don't ever think of any amount of writing as wasted effort. It all does something and changes us somehow.

Thanks for sharing. I await more Avandar! :)
msagara
Mar. 29th, 2008 03:26 am (UTC)
This is absolutely wonderful. I love hearing about process. Yours seems a bit more painful than mine and I'm amazed at (and mourn for) the amount of interesting material we will never be able to see as readers

The material you don't see, though, is the beginning, or the attempt at a beginning, done over and over, with different viewpoints, and in different places; it's not like lopping 200 pages out of a finished manuscript, and losing subplots. It really doesn't... go anywhere.

And thank you, for the rest :). I always liked reading about process, even before I started to write my first novel. I'm not sure why, but it always fascinated me, and it still does.
leilawinters
Mar. 29th, 2008 05:37 am (UTC)
Still...regardless of whether or not they go anywhere, I imagine that there is some gem lost somewhere...whether it be a particularly poignant sentence, a description, an observation...just something involving brilliant word choice that wasn't somehow able to be transferred into the final version after all of the drafts/versions were written and abandoned, maybe because the tone was just not compatible or once the viewpoint is changed, doesn't translate well, etc.

Even if minor, I still find words with the great power to move. It's those words I mourn. (Although, I _am_ relieved to hear that there aren't excellent subplots I'm missing out on. :)
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )