Friday, August 06, 2010

first drafts and anticipated revisions

Lately, things have been going pretty well.

And by things, I mostly mean my writing*.  Last week it was going well enough, I was getting about 2k words/day which is respectable.  This week its been even better, and I'm getting between 2.5-3k/day, all on the YA NOVEL project of course.  Things are coming along with it, and I can't really ask for more than that.  The plot is progressing fine, my main character is really getting fleshed out.  It doesn't feel quite as true as THE RISING, but I don't yet think its terrible.

The first draft process is interesting for me, especially because I haven't yet revised any of my novels.  My first project (THE RISING) is finished and awaiting revision, but I've decided not to tackle that until I can finish the first draft of my current YA NOVEL project, along with perhaps another short story and/or nonfiction piece.  That way, come Fall semester, I'll have the first drafts of all the major writing ventures I want to work on complete, and I'll be able to focus on revision.

It won't be ideal--depending on how the workshop classes are structured, I could be simultaneously revising up to three projects at the same time (my main goal is to have THE RISING revised by the end of October so I can get it out to some alpha readers, but I'll also be revising whatever I'm submitting in my nonfiction and YA novel workshops along the way--as well as writing new stuff, mostly short stories, every so often . . . hopefully . . .).  It will be a busy semester, but I think I'll be able to handle it.

Anyway, what I'm getting at:  the first draft process.  Other than short stories, I've never really revised any of my creative work (yet)--its not that I don't believe in it, because I certainly do.  I just haven't gotten around to it yet, for the reasons mentioned above.

But here's the thing with most of the first drafts I've been crafting lately:  I plow right through them, getting the basic story and character arcs out on paper (or on my word processor), ignoring problems of about every shape and size with the justification that "I'll fix it in post."

Will these problems actually be fixable in post?  I don't know.  I suppose I'm going to find out this Fall.

I admit its something I worry about, to a degree.  I'm putting a fair bit of work, time, and energy into these projects.  They're investments.  If it turns out that they're completely unsalvageable**, well . . . you might be able to imagine my chagrin.

But, although it will be frustrating, I'm not too worried about it.  That surprises me, but (I think) its true. It will be disappointing, sure, and frustrating in twenty or thirty different ways, but it won't be the end of the world.  I'll be able to learn from them either way, is the idea (see footnote ** again).

Of course, ideally these novels will turn out okay, if not better-than-okay.  I'm pretty sure THE RISING will.  The more I think about it the more anxious I am to get back to it and see what that thing can really DO.  I'm more worried about the YA NOVEL, but even that I think will turn out satisfactorily.  Again, it may not be publishable in the end, but that won't be the end of the world.

Anyway, at this point there's nothing for it but to push through and see how things turn out.

And you know what?  I'm optimistic about it.

P.S.  This post was meant to be about BYU's MFA program, but my mind was, apparently, occupied by other things.

P.P.S.  Have you guys seen my YA NOVEL progress bar?!  It's like watching a drag race.  Really.

*  If you're curious, everything else leaves me with a cavitous lack of things to complain about, too.  Other than lots of friends leaving us for some exciting (and some less exciting) places, while we stick it out in Provo for another two years.  But other than that, everything is actually quite dandy.

**  By unsalvageable, I mean this:  after attempting revisions I think the piece is so utterly putrescent that I'm positive it will never be published anywhere, and know that even attempting to send it in to places would be a complete waste of my time and not a learning experience in any way--AND try as I might there is nothing I can seemingly learn from the disaster that I could do better in future first drafts.  So, basically, a worst-case scenario.  I don't think its likely to happen for either of these books--I don't think either of them will be that bad--but that also doesn't mean I expect both of them, or either of them for that matter, to end up published any time soon, if at all.  My hope, essentially, is that they will be good "learning experiences," making me ultimately a better writer and helping me to understand what I can do better the next time around.  If they can get published along the way, that's fantastic.  But I'm certainly not expecting it.


  1. Hi Chris,

    Whenever I hit a bump in the middle of writing a story--creating necessary changes to character motivations, plot arcs, settings, or timing when crucial information drops--I usually go back and fix the corresponding sections immediately. If it's a small issue, it won't be a problem to fix it rapidly and then brush-stroke it into perfection during revision; but if it's a big issue, by ignoring it you run the risk of making even more problems later. There is nothing more awful than revising a dreadful story.

    And, regarding your manuscripts, there's no reason, not ever, not to send your work to publishers (or agents, if you like). The worst they can do is say no, and by getting used to rejection and the submission process, by making contacts and developing rapport, you'll be equipping yourself to push through when you've got a manuscript you're super confident in.



  2. Hey Ben, thanks for the advice. I've been told that I should always submit my work to publishers (or agents) before, but I admit I'm the type of person (and I think most writers are, at least at first) that hates to send out stuff that isn't up to par. The question (and problem) is, when will my stuff EVER be up to par? Never, probably. At least not according to me. Its a fact I have to face, and you're right--I really should be preparing to send what I'm working on out into the industry. It is definitely something I need to keep in mind, because I conveniently "forget" it a lot.

    Again, thanks for the advice--and thanks for stopping by!


  3. Trust me, they're salvageable. Fix it in post is a magic incantation.

    Although sometimes that salvage takes an especially destructive turn. I am speaking as someone who read through a 60,000 word manuscript from four years ago and boiled it down to a quality 1,000 word flash fiction.

    Nonetheless, I have every confidence it will sell.

    That's an extreme example, usually "fix it in post" turns out to mean Add a Little, Drop a Little, Throw It to the Wolves, Next.

  4. Thanks for your comments, David. It will be interesting to see exactly how much is salvageable . . . my "fix it in post" might turn out to mean Add a Lot, Drop Even More, Throw it to the Wolves, etc.

    Although I would have to try pretty hard to beat your jump from 60,000 to 1,000 . . . you have the neutron star of fiction right there.

    I'll refrain from comparing my current project to a black hole, for reasons of self-esteem :-s.