It’s been over a year now since I began trying to turn a story I into a novel.
Let’s be honest; I thought I’d be finished by now. Which, in retrospect shows how clueless I was, and probably still am, about the amount of work needed to make it happen. I’ve not talked much about my writing for a long time, but I’ve tried to be honest about the fact that I’ve had long periods where I’ve struggled. Apart from life getting in the way, the most time-consuming aspect of this journey so far come from unintentional mistakes I’ve made along the way. Mistakes that are simply a result of my lack of experience.
I’ve finally reached a place where I’ve reconnected with my story, and I thought I’d write down a few things I’ve learned during this year. This is, of course, my own experience, relevant to my journey and process, but maybe at least one or two of the things I’ve learned can help or prevent you from making a similar mistake.
1. Learning from critique is not the same as catering to personal preference.
Immediately after I received the feedback on my first draft, I experienced a surge of creativity. But, after a while, I began feeling very indecisive, and I lost all my confidence. The feedback as such wasn’t the problem, most of it was honest, relevant and helpful.
However, there were also remarks on things that can only be described as personal preferences. One person would remark on something they thought didn’t work, while another would react if I changed it. It seems fairly evident that you can’t please every reader, but at one point I tried, and it didn’t turn out well.
So what I’ve learned is that when it comes to feedback, there is an important distinction between, on the one hand learning from the valid critique of style, plot, world-building and character development and on the other catering to a reader’s personal preference.
Appreciate and value every single word of feedback you get, someone has put in a lot of time and effort trying to help you, but don’t forget that it is your story.
2. Don’t ask for feedback “on the go.”
When I experienced that “surge of creativity,” I immediately began reworking chapters, asking for feedback while writing. I’m extremely grateful for all the time and effort people put into helping me but in retrospect, I believe I went about it all wrong. What asking for feedback in that way did, was cause me to jump around in the story changing things all over the place, creating a story and characters entirely out of sync with the overall narrative.
It’s like that old saying about too many cooks spoiling the broth; every time you ask for feedback you’re inviting someone into your world and their opinions will color how you see it. If you do that before you, yourself have a clear picture of your story it’s going to disrupt your process.
Write a complete draft of your story, then ask for feedback.
3. STOP! Process. Think it though. Make a plan.
My biggest mistake so far was to start making changes immediately after I received the feedback on my first draft. Don’t do that.
Step away from the computer, go outside, meet friends, binge-watch that show you’ve been meaning to see, read all those books that lie waiting, go on a vacation. Take a break from your story and allow yourself to process.
Then compile the feedback, think about how it impacts your story and what you need to change, don’t write, think.
Make a plan. Look at your chapters, starting at the beginning, make notes and comments for yourself, strikeout things that need to go and write in the margins what you plan to replace it with. You don’t need to have every word planned out but, make sure you know where you’re going before you start writing again.
I didn’t. And because of it, I went months hating my story because it didn’t feel like mine. In my rush to start writing without thinking it through, I created a timeline that was entirely out of sync, characters I didn’t recognize and a plot without direction.
Process. Think. Plan. Write
4. Writing the second draft means deleting the first one.
I once read a quote by an author, I can’t remember which one or the exact wording, but it said that once you reach the end of your second draft, you’ll have re-written every single word of the first one.
I always believed it to be a gross exaggeration, I don’t anymore. For months I’ve opened my story, rearranging and trying to make changes in the existing text but it never worked the way I wanted it too. It left me feeling so frustrated and uninspired.
What ultimately helped me to climb that hurdle was when I finally said, “fuck it!” deleted an entire chapter and started over. It’s painful, eliminating all those words that you’ve put so much effort into, but if it’s not working it has to go.
Sometimes the old text is the hurdle blocking you from seeing the way forward.
5. Routine is necessary
The most creative I’ve ever been was when I wrote every day. When you have a routine, even if it’s only thirty minutes before bed, or you only manage to read through the last thing you wrote, your story becomes more present. When you only write once in a while, you always face an uphill battle of getting back into your story, remembering what you were thinking, where you were going. Getting back into a routine is something I’m still working on. The procrastination I’m so prone to become much less persistent when I write every day. My experience is that the more time I spend with my story, the more creative I become.
Well, this is not a comprehensive list, but I think these are among the most important lessons I’ve learned so far.
What about you, do you have any tips, lessons or things to avoid that you’ve learned by doing?
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