Thursday, July 26, 2012

All I need is a swift kick in the pants


I have a cardinal rule for first drafts. This one rule makes me happy. It keeps me from going crazy and throwing things at the wall. It even keeps me from falling into crazy anxiety riddled place of great unhappiness.

I’m not saying it’s a good rule, just a simple one.

Rule of first drafts: Write them only for yourself.

That’s it. It’s my selfish rule, but there you have it. I write first drafts for me and only me. I write them so I can explore lame things that tickle my fancy. They are meant to be torn apart, after all, so why not make the first draft one that I love. It’s for me.

I have been breaking this rule. In fact, I’ve fallen so far into the pit of despair that I haven’t been writing on my rough draft all month. Yes, I’ve been teaching a crazy intense class. Yes I’ve been working my tail feathers off trying to clean up my dissertation. Yes, I have been sewing costumes for Dragon*Con (for myself and others). These things are all true, but in all that time, I haven’t so much as touched my WIP.

I got hung up on the anxiety of probably choosing yet another unmarketable topic. See, I like to write portal stories. I’ve been seeing all over the place that agents hate portal stories, publishing hates portal stories, and basically everyone hates portal stories. (You dystopian writers know what I’m talking about).

My anxiety climbed to a peak yesterday where I found myself asking an agent if she even considered portal stories (she basically said make the story interesting and make sure the most interesting thing to happen to the MC is not that she fell through a portal, which is really good advice). But the fact is, I had sunk so low that I was willing to toss myself on the tides of agent whims before continuing forward in my project. I was worried about what other people think.

That is a major violation of my cardinal rule of first drafts.

Ah, but here’s the hang up. This isn’t the first draft of this story. It’s a complete rewrite, and here’s where I made a terrible assumption.

My current WIP is a top to bottom rewrite where characters are being given new motivations, a larger view of the world, major plot elements have changed, and everything has to be rewritten from scratch. It’s getting the third to first person treatment. I’m adding a romance, kidnapping people, and putting an entire culture into civil war. This did not happen in the first run through of this manuscript. It is a new story. Literally.

But I’d assumed that because it still used characters I knew, it wasn’t a first draft.

Yeah, sometimes it takes a while for my brain to go from “brilliant” idea to actually functional. I’ve realized that even though it is a rewrite of a previous novel, it is a rough draft. I need to give it the space that I would give any rough draft. I need to turn off all the agents who say they don’t like portal stories (of course if they’re talking about the average, nobody finding a portal, I can see how that might get boring) and write. I need to write for me. I need to go back to that selfish place where I write whatever I need to. Let’s face it, when I write for other people, it sucks and I don’t like it. Chances are, the person/people I was writing it for don’t like it either.

Now that I’m over my personal crisis of faith, it’s time to get back to dragons, faeries, too many princesses and a faerie godmother who got dumped earlier that week.

16 comments:

  1. (KICK)

    I had a similar problem with my first novel when I changed it from SF to an SF comedy.

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    1. Thank you for the kick. And yeah, changing a novel is it's own form of torture.

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  2. It is SO horrible when you find yourself getting dragged down by what agents might want, and making everything perfect while you write. I'm glad your crisis of faith is over!

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    1. and the stupid thing is that I completely know better. So I'm back to writing for me.

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  3. i'm with you, wondering if i'm unmarketable, i mean my story...
    what's wrong with a portal story? i want to be tranported somewhere!

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    1. I think the big deal is that portal stories often rely on the portal being interesting, rather than the character being interesting. If you want a good example of this, go watch the anime Tenchie. I don't know why, but Tenchie is basically the most boring school boy on the planet. Somehow they made a whole series about him, but really, it's his cohorts who are awesome.

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  4. Here's the thing. I think you *have* to write for yourself that first draft. Seriously. It's not selfish.

    Because if you think about it, you write the story for you, at least you enjoyed the story even if no one else does. If you write the story for someone else, and everyone hates it, then NO ONE enjoyed the story.

    Write the story you want to read is some of the best advice I've ever read because I deeply feel like it's true.

    Write it all. All the weirdness, your quirks and fascinations, bleed on the page. That's really when the story comes alive.

    Editing is just making what you already know understandable for everyone else.

    *big hug*

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    1. Yes, exactly. From my dissertation, I've learned that if you write something to please someone else, no one will be happy with it.

      Funny how I'm in my thirties and still learning how to be me.

      ::hugs::

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  5. This is a brilliant rule. You're so smart!

    My one rule for first drafts is: don't stop. Just keeping writing. Don't look back till you've typed the end.

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    1. That is a fantastic rule. I'm not always good about it, but usually I write my first drafts straight through. I may need to do a little bit of a nanowrimo one day just to see how it goes.

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  6. I think that's a great rule. I'm glad you worked it out. You have to let your creativity flow just for yourself and not worry whether anyone else will like it.

    There is an award for you on my blog today. :)
    http://imagine-today1.blogspot.com/

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    1. Thanks for the award. I'm terrible at passing them on, so we'll see how long it takes me... My guess is about two weeks.

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  7. I wanted to stand up and cheer when I read this. I've been having some problems with rewrites of my WIP. Reading this post made me realize that maybe I'm losing what was special to me in the first draft, that somehow I've cut that out of the draft. Thanks for reminding me that there are some things that I shouldn't compromise on.

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    1. You know, rewrites are terribly hard because we expect two things out of them: we expect them to be better than the first time we wrote a first draft, and we expect them to be much closer to publishable than that first draft. While they might be closer, they aren't really. They really are rough drafts. Sure some parts are closer to awesome, but really, we have to give them the space they need. They're like teenagers, not yet there, but so close they (and us) can taste it. It's so frustrating to be on that cusp.

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  8. I definitely agree you have to write the story you need to write - if the story is unique enough, exciting and compelling enough, then people will want to read it. You just have to make it as perfect as you possibly can... which you will, because it's your story and you love it!

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  9. Your blog always makes me feel better. I am not alone!

    Your rule is a great one! I've been working (and working and working and working...) on a first draft for forever and a day. I need to apply your rule and get my butt back in gear.

    p.s. I love portal stories, too. My first MS is one, and I still have hopes it finds a home.

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