Tag: first draft

I love my job but I hate this part

I love my job. Writing stories and articles and study books delights and excites me.


Don’t you hate when people say something good and then ruin it with a but?

I like your hair, but…it looks like you’re stuck in the 80s
Your dog is so pretty, but…he has no manners at all.

You know what I’m talking about. People do this all the time. WE do this several times during any conversation.
Because the truth of the matter is ugly hard to swallow unimaginable depressing.

Nothing in life is without its flaws and drawbacks.

(Sorry, honey. I know I tell you and everyone else that you’re perfect, but that’s just not the case. You’re perfect in my eyes only…and when you don’t leave the toilet seat up.)

I’m a full-time, professional author. To earn a paycheck, I substitute teach at the local middle and high schools.
I enjoy teaching. I believe it’s one of my secondary strengths (which is why I write Bible study books and teach women and teenagers at my church).

But writing is my soul food.

When I’m in the groove, churning words directly from my heart and mind onto paper (or a computer screen), it’s Heaven-on-Earth.
Why? Because I believe I was created to do this “writing thing.”

What I Love

I love when I get a new idea. It sparkles and gleams. Every cast of light reveals another dimension.

I enjoy sketching out the plot. I do this with a ton of “what if” questions. And I only hammer in the major plot points before I begin to write. I like to give my characters just enough rope to jerk them into an uncomfortable position.

I adore setting up the scenes in Scrivener, color coding them so I can keep track of things like narrator or timeline.

I don’t even fear the blank page.

I crank out the first scene. I don’t sweat it too much. It will get rewritten more than any other scene in the novel. I accept this and pound out the words.

I bite my lip as I write the last scene. Where do I think my characters will end up? How do I end this?
Believe me, I come up with some incredible last lines.

Then they get edited out of the final manuscript.

I write. There’s no fear of blank screens and blinking cursors.

If I’m not “feeling” a scene, I skip to where my characters are begging to go. I can fill in the blanks later. In fact, those blanks might be better scenes if I don’t force them when I’m not emotionally engaged in writing them.

The whole fast draft and first draft process makes me feel euphoric.

Not that I Hate This

Okay, actually, I pretty much despise everything that comes after writing the first draft of a novel.

As for shorter projects, I don’t mind making several editing passes and polishing the manuscript to a shine. I can do it in relatively the same amount of hours I invested in creating the original draft.

Novels? Not so much.

There’s no way to comb through 70,000 plus words in three weeks (the average time it takes me to write that at the rate of 1,000 words per hour).

And every manuscript needs multiple “passes” before it’s ready to be seen by someone I want to buy it.

I think I’ve written about my process before here and here, so I’m not going to bore you with those details again.

The problem is that the words start to all sound the same after my sixth pass through a manuscript. I can’t discern what works and what doesn’t.

I’m done. I hate this stupid thing. Can I throw it away now?

Some writers talk about coming to love their stories the more they work on it. I get there after the publisher’s editor takes a fine tooth comb to it, pointing out all the weak points and helping me strengthen them.

But while I’m working on the pre-published manuscript? I come to despise it.

Sometimes, when I pick it up months later (on a break from my most recent revision nightmare), I decide it’s not such a bad story. That character is pretty witty. That fight scene gives me palpitations.

But when I’m in the middle of trying to polish it, hoping to convince a publisher to take a risk on me?

I get to the point where I can’t stand the sight of it.

Why would anyone want this if you hate it so much?

Who cares? I just want to get it out of my sight.

What things do you love about your job? What makes you groan with dread?

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Check out Finding Focus and my other books. You’re sure to find something worth reading.
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Guarantee your NaNoWriMo Win

The month is halfway over. Maybe you’re on track to finish NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words by November 30.

Or maybe not.

But even if you only have 12,000 words written, you can still win.

No, I’m not crazy. I believe in setting a goal and making yourself reach it. Even if it means skipping dinner. Or staying up until midnight.

First off, you must decide that you want to win. If you don’t really want it, then there’s nothing truly motivating your writing.

I’m not the person who works better under deadline. Or maybe I should say, I don’t do my best work if I wait to begin until an hour before it’s due.

I’m a planner. If you want to write 50,000 words in 30 days, then you need to plan for it.

After you’ve decided you want to win, write down the number of words you’ve currently written on your novel (or should I say project? I was a rebel and wrote five short stories last year for NaNoWriMo). Now, subtract that amount from 50,000.

Does that number seem daunting? An impossible goal.

It’s not. Say that aloud right now. “This is NOT impossible.”

You might need to keep repeating it a few dozen hundred thousand times until you’re thoroughly convinced. But don’t take too long, because you need to get back to writing.

Now look at your November calendar. Ask yourself, “What days do I know I can write for at least two hours?”

If you don’t think you can do it on November 25th because you’re baking two pies and three dozen rolls for the family dinner on the 26th, that’s fine. If you know it won’t happen on the 26th because your house will be overflowing with family on friends on Thanksgiving Day, that’s perfectly acceptable.

However, you need to realize that the more days you excuse yourself from writing, the more WORDS you’ll be required to write on the other days.

Now take the number of words you must write to reach the goal and divide it by the number of days you know you can write. This is how the NaNoWriMo organizers come up with the 1,667-word daily goal they tout at the first of the month.

Let’s say you had 33,215 words left (you know, 50,000 minus the number in your document at this moment) and have decided you can write only 11 days for the rest of November. That means you need to write 3,020 words per day in order to meet the goal.

I can write 1,000 words per hour with ease once I get into the groove. If you can churn out words at that pace, that means three hours dedicated to writing on each of those eleven days.

But I’m Stuck

Image from cutestpaw.com

You only think you’re stuck.


Grab a pen and notebook and start scribbling ideas about your main character, his goal, his problems, and his goals. Then type those words into the document you’re using to tally your words for NaNo.

How many words did you just add?

Are you ready to get back to the story now? If not, choose another character or a setting and start scribbling about that. Eventually, the story will start itching to get out.

Or maybe you’ve drawn a blank about the current scene. Skip it.

“But it will leave a hole in my story.”

Who cares?

Seriously. Do you want to WIN this challenge? Or do you want to write a perfectly coherent story?

You might be able to do both. Or you might not.

Know this, once the first draft is written, it can be fixed.

In fact, it will be in dire need of multiple surgeries. I promise you can fill in the hole when you go back to rewrite the second draft.

So, why are you still reading this?

Go write some words.

You’re a winner. And for this challenge, winners need to write the words.

If you have some awesome advice for other NaNo writers, leave it in the comments. If I get enough awesomesauce (yes, that’s a real word according to the Oxford Dictionary), I’ll write a post in December to share all that wisdom.

Beta Readers: Bane or Boon?

betareaderblissThis spring, I’ve had my second – and third – encounter with a group of beta readers. Even as my stinging ego debates whether they are the bane of my existence or a boon to my career, I can’t deny they are essential.

If you’re a writer, you need beta readers. Further, you need beta readers who are willing to tell you what they think, regardless of how much your feelings might be hurt (and I mean demolished – picture me curled in a fetal position sobbing).

What are beta readers?

In my mind, a beta reader is like a software program’s beta tester. They take the product for a ride and find everything that’s wrong with it.

In the case of books, much of the beta feedback is subjective – as a reader’s preferences are varied and unique. Some people adore Shakespeare. I despise reading him, but I’m all about watching his work performed on stage.

In any case, betas are the first real readers of a manuscript. Sure, Aunt June may have seen your first draft and raved about it becoming a best seller. This isn’t the same as having an objective reader give feedback.

Beta readers read your rewritten and lightly edited second draft. They read it as if it’s a book they picked up off the shelf. The only difference: every time they see something they don’t understand or  something they dislike, they comment on it.

What I expect from my beta readers?

Unlike beta testers for software, beta readers might be expected to look for different things by the author. Software programs are meant to work a certain way, and the betas are supposed to find the bugs, so the code can be repaired before the program is marketed.

In a similar manner, beta readers are expected to see if a story works. Does the plot progress in a sensible fashion? Do the characters grow and change? Is there an obvious story problem that is resolved before the book ends?

Of course, my idea of what makes a story satisfying could be different than yours. This is where the subjectivity comes into the picture.

As far as expectations go, I send a detailed checklist to my beta readers. I generally ask about story structure, setting, believability and character likability and growth.

I consider every comment from beta readers, but that doesn’t mean I always change the things thy find problematic. After all, I’m the author.


Two types of readers tend to be the bane of my existence when it comes to betas: non-genre and published writers.

First of all, having readers who don’t generally read your genre take your manuscript for a test drive is an excellent idea. They are going to be more critical of story elements and plot holes. If you can suck them into the story, great. It’s more likely that they are going to be on the outside noticing all the things they don’t like.

Remember, I don’t change everything they suggest. This is especially true for non-genre readers. However, I do take their thoughts on plot and character seriously to heart. After all, if they can’t relate to my characters, I’ve done something wrong.

Published authors – especially if they are in your genre – are harsh. And, I’ll be honest, it hurts to have someone you respect dissect your story. It feels like being gutted alive.

Once you stop bleeding, however, you’ll be able to sort through all those comments – meant to help not scald – and use them to make your story better.


I always make sure I have some avid readers of my genre and some members of my focus audience read my early manuscript. These people are going to be a boon to my story.

Avid readers know what works. They’ve read so many books, they can predict outcomes and wade through poor prose without losing touch with the story.

This makes it sound like they aren’t going to be helpful. Not true. They will be able to spot a plot hole a mile away. If your plot is too predictable, you can be sure you’ll hear about it. And, they can tell you if the character you’ve chosen works in the story.

Since my novels are aimed at a young adult audience, it’s essential that some of my betas are in this group. It can be difficult to find young readers who can give helpful feedback.

Luckily for me, I have connections at the local middle school. Further, I can interview the readers in person, thus tailoring my questions based on the answers they give me.

Time consuming? Without a doubt.

However, I’ve discovered problems with character consistency, magic systems, weak resolutions and plot progression from my target audience. The investment is worth the outcome.

In the end, books are meant to be read. As the author, I’m too close to the work to determine if the story is clear. I know my characters so well, I might miss the fact that on paper they don’t appear at all like they do in my head.

This is why authors need beta readers. Without unbiased reader feedback, a novel will never reach its fullest story potential.

Bane or boon, if you’re a writer, get your manuscript to beta readers – before you send it to agents, editors, publishers or -worst of all – publish it yourself.

So you think you want to write a book

Image courtesy of littlebahalia.com

No one who has actually ever written a book thinks they want to write a book. They like telling stories. They enjoy playing with words. Creating things using sentences and punctuation as opposed to brushstrokes and paint is very appealing to them.

When we sit down to write a book, we don’t think we’re going to write a book. We just have a story to tell. Things start going out onto the page. Generally someone else might get a hold of it read it.

“Wow. This is a really great story,” they say. “You should write a book.”

Shows what they don’t know about writing. Writing a book is not fun and games. Like everything else worth doing in life, it’s work. Yes, the terrible four-letter word: work. Writing a book is work. There, I said it.

I will admit there are times during the process of the first draft when the joy is welling over as the words spill onto the page. The story is so real, it’s like you can see the characters and hear their voices. You can feel the sunlight on your face.

Amazing! Incredible!

Then it’s finished. You think, “Okay let’s read this and see what I got.”

You know, anyone who thinks they want to write a book thinks when they read it, they’re going to think it’s awesome. I can’t wait for my friends to read this.

Another sign that they had never actually written a book.Windows Photo Viewer WallpaperWhat generally happens: I read my story and isn’t how I remember it being at all! It flowed in my brain and it made perfect sense. Not so on the page. What is this crap where my excellent words were deposited earlier this month?

Sometimes it takes other people to read the book before we see the flaws. Maybe they say they aren’t really sure what happened on page 10. Everything was going along smoothly and then suddenly it’s like we jumped in time, space, and place.

Why would someone want to read about this character? They’re a jerk. Was the point of this whole story just to entertain? Or just to get those words driving me insane out of my head and onto a page?

I’ve written a few books. I wrote my first in a green spiral notebook when I was nine years old. I have it in a box in my attic along with my second book, also written in a spiral notebook, and a whole bunch of journal from my teenage years. I have notebooks full of short stories and steno books of poetry.

I’ve been creating with words since I learned to write a sentence. I wrote a book and sent it to two different publishers. It got rejected. When I went back and read the book, years later after I learned a little more about writing, a light bulb turned on. “No wonder they rejected it,” I think. “This gal is too perfect; who likes her? What’s with the flashback on page five?”

Talk about a truckload of sophomoric mistakes. So, I wrote another book after studying craft and taking writing classes. It was the first of a series and I was so pumped.

I was determined to follow the formula for rewriting and do this one right.Halfway through the rewrite, I realized something was missing. It’s like my antagonist doesn’t exist. The conflict feels empty.

So, I took a class (notice how this is my answer to everything). I talked to a professional writer and editor. I had to scrap that book, too, along with the little darling that was its sequel.

Fine. Whatever. Throw it all out.

Next, I wrote this book that I didn’t even like, but while I was writing it, something amazing happened. I started liking the story again. I started figuring out what the character was going to be like and where the story should go.

So, hey, National Novel Writing Month. Millions of people are going to write a book this month. Yes, we’re all insane. 23 days later, I had 60,000 words in a file. A book. Better yet, the second book in the series.

I loved the story as I created it. The whole thing flowed from my creative center onto the page. I’m actually afraid to look back at it now. What if the thing’s a mess? I loved it when I wrote it. The idea of reading it now and being horrified by it just drains me.

So I didn’t read it, I wrote the third book in the series instead. Finished the whole thing. Then I read the first book (it was still bad), rewrote it and edited it. Afterwards, I sent it to six beta readers.

All of them did not like my main character. They didn’t think she was very sympathetic. The story needs more work. What this means is that I’ll be rewriting it again.

I guess if you think you’re going to write a book, go ahead. If you think your book will be worth reading, pardon me while I laugh or cry or just shake my head. Because writing a book might sound like a good idea, but it’s not as easy as everyone who has never written a book seems think.

Finishing the First Draft

I love having a plan. It’s exciting to finish the first draft of the series I’m writing and know that I have the next steps carefully scheduled.

“I love it when a plan comes together,” says Hannibal Smith on The A-Team.

What about when the plan wilts like a tulip in the hot sun? I don’t imagine Smith would be smiling any more than I am. Of course, he wouldn’t be on the verge of tears either. Well, he’s not a writer.

The first book is awful. Let me clarify:  I had to take naps during the afternoons when I did the read-through (step one of the rewriting process). Yep, it’s that horrendous. Basically snooze-worthy.

The characters are cardboard, tension is non-existent and even I (the creator of this universe) don’t understand the magic system and am unable to visualize the setting. Good grief!

My dilemma: where to begin to fix this masterpiece of disaster?

Image from grumpycats.com

Part of me wants to toss the whole thing in the trash and restart. Sure, I can save it in a Word document and not pay attention to it when I begin again. That way I don’t just delete months of work – some of which might be redeemable.

Another part of me screams, “That’s 50,000 words wasted!” I try to tell myself that they were well-spent words, helping me find my characters and figure out what the story was really about. Even if they’re true, those words fall on deaf ears. I don’t want to listen to that which sounds like excuses for the emotionless bore that I penned.

In truth, there are about ten scenes that I feel are well-written. I cared about the characters and could visualize what was happening during those few moments. I should keep those few remnants and begin again.

My fingers freeze over the delete button. I’m not in love with these words. I read them. They bored me to death. The story is so dead the undertaker arrived with his hearse.

Why am I arguing with myself over this?

The ugly truth: I have a schedule. My master plan doesn’t involve another month for a complete rewrite. It allowed two weeks for revisions and then another two or three for polishing the prose. There are beta readers chomping at the bit.

They would never read something written by me again if they glimpsed the horror show of my first draft. Someone is shaking their head, assuming I’m being a typical perfectionist writer. (Yes, I’m talking to you, Joan!)

Uh – no. I wouldn’t recommend these pages for use as toilet paper. Out of 50,000 words, maybe 8,000 reveal character and build tension. I’m not even sure a match would choose to devour most of this drivel.

I waffled before starting this book. I didn’t want to let the series that I was in the middle of before die. I loved it. It’s obvious that the words in this book were torn from the fingers of a reluctant storyteller.

How can I love the second book in the series, written in 23 days during November, and despise this book? Does it make sense to anyone?

First draft failure.

Plans derailed.

“Do I really have to start from scratch?” Maybe. Maybe not.

Either way, someone should call the WHAAA-Ambulance.