Tag: story structure

Perfectionism in First Drafts

Woman writing


Are you a perfectionist? If so, this might sound familiar…

You write a page, re-read it, research, tweak, search for that perfect synonym for “look” that doesn’t sound as creepy as “ogle” but not as cliche as “stare.” Something with undertones of longing… and if that word isn’t perfect then the whole page is garbage.

So you spend the next hour fussing over how rough your rough draft is.

See the irony?

When you write your first draft and inspect every word, Google synonyms, and research etymology then you’re never going to finish your novel. And if you do, it’s likely going to read choppy because of how disjointed your writing process is.

 

It’s not bad that you’re a perfectionist 

Most people tell you that you have to learn to overcome perfectionist compulsions to make it pretty, and just write.

It’s easy to villainize your perfectionist nature because everyone says it’s the death of the first draft.

You don’t have to say “no” to your inner perfectionist, you just have to say “wait.”

It’s a huge difference.

When you have a deeper desire burning within, it’s much easier to say “not now” and be patient.

Don’t victimize your tendencies, empower them. Don’t resist your desire to perfect, just say to yourself, “I can perfect this, but now is not the time.”

There’s something called the second draft. And in that magical land, your inner perfectionist is a mighty hero who can frolic among the prose and critique sentence structures to your heart’s content.

 

Check your attitude

You have no right to complain about not being successful if you’re not putting in the hard work and hitting your weekly word count but puttering over each paragraph.

If you’ve ever complained that Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey should never have gotten published because they’re trash, remember that Meyer and James had the balls to finish their first drafts.

 

Work hard

Gary Vaynerchuk is an entrepreneur. He’s a double shot of personality with a chaser of vulgarity. Click here if you want Gary to kick your ass for being a lazy writer. Do not click if you will get offended for someone calling you out on your crap. In fact, if you don’t want people calling you out on your crap, do me a favor and unsubscribe from my blog.

I write this blog to check my own priorities by asking myself the hard questions, and to help you do the same for yourself.

 

What is a rough draft?

A rough draft is not supposed to be pretty, or even a good representation of your original idea.

A rough draft is supposed to be ugly, barely a shadow of what you envisioned. But, moldable into something that can eventually be pretty.

 

These will help you practice self control

  1. This application makes it impossible to edit anything while you’re creating your first draft. It was made for perfectionist writers. I just started using it last week and love it. After a session of writing, save it, export it, and paste it in your word document.
  2. You need accountability and encouragement. Write with someone else who will hold you to your goals. Race each other for a word count. If you hit your difficult word count, it’s unlikely you’ll have the time to possessively edit to make it perfect.
  3. This site helps you reach your goals. You need something to lose if you miss your weekly word count. Put money on the line (even if it’s just $1). When you have something to lose, no matter how much, it become more difficult to ignore the task because you don’t want to lose.

 

Whether you’re a recovering perfectionist or go over the deep end every night, there is hope. You just need self control. And self control comes with time by consistently just doing it without waiting for that elusive motivation.

Disclaimer: I am not in any way suggesting you start vomiting words just to hit your word count. That just creates a huge problem for the second draft because everything is impossibly messy and jumbled. The first draft needs to be true to your characters. You should already have a general idea where your story is going (that can definitely change, as we all know too well).


Question(s) of the day: What’s been holding you back from completing your first draft? How have you dealt with perfectionism?

In Reality How People Write A Novel: 67 steps

There are tons of books on how to write a novel. I have about 7 of them on my shelf. In those books on writing, they only share best practices and maybe an outline to follow.

But that’s never how it happens in real life… I have never read an honest breakdown for how actual human beings write a novel.

So here it is.


Journal


 

  1. Declare to your friends and family that you’re writing a book.
  2. Immediately regret telling them because now you feel pressure.
  3. Stare at a blank page.
  4. To freshen up, Google: “How to write a book.”
  5. Remember that it’s a massive undertaking.
  6. Friends ask you, “So, how’s your book coming? Remember me when you’re famous!” And you want to die.
  7. Start to plot the novel just to get your mind off the pressure.
  8. Writer’s block.
  9. Netflix binge.
  10. Write 15 pages.
  11. Rewrite the 15 pages.
  12. Delete 14 pages.
  13. Drink a little too much.
  14. Netflix binge.
  15. Structure your story.
  16. Share your emotions on writing forums.
  17. Energized by the sympathy you receive, write 50 pages.

    Man Jumping


  18. Re-read your pages a million times.
  19. Realize you’re the worst writer in the history of the written word.
  20. Netflix binge.
  21. Take long walks, talking with your protagonist.
  22. Feel a little mentally unstable that you’re talking to fiction.
  23. Feel close to your characters.
  24. Edit the 50 pages.
  25. Ask friends for advice.
  26. Doubt your premise.
  27. Write 10 pages.
  28. Re-read and find yourself refreshing and clever.
  29. An hour later, remember that you aren’t halfway done with the novel and not sure where it’s going.

    Girl in the woods


  30. Netflix binge.
  31. Read about how this one person wrote a novel in a weekend.
  32. Write 25 pages.
  33. Take a month break to recharge your “creative energy.”
  34. Your friends ask you if you’re still writing that book.
  35. Drink a little too much.
  36. Netflix binge.
  37. You imagine your protagonist at your social events and you’re more enthralled by them in fiction than you are by your friends in the flesh.
  38. You feel weird about that occurrence and wonder if you’re going crazy.
  39. Write 30 pages.
  40. Although you seriously doubt your skill, you decide to stop talking about the book altogether. You will finish it. People need to just stop asking you about it.
  41. Netflix binge.
  42. Realize how much time has gone by since you started it.
  43. Go on a research binge, looking up random, insignificant facts about your book’s setting that might be interesting to your readers.
  44. After a week of research you realize you could have written it pretty well without it.

    Spider Web


  45. Get into a rhythm and start jotting down notes of every interesting line you hear.
  46. Ask your friend to punch you if you don’t have a first draft completed in a month.
  47. Procrastinate, but end up finishing the first draft relieved your friend won’t punch you.
  48. You re-read and realize it’s so disjointed, why are you even a writer?
  49. Netflix binge.
  50. You convince yourself it has potential if you touch it up.
  51. During editing, you focus on the tiny details in every chapter.
  52. It takes too long, so you alter the structure, put in foreshadowing, and add to the theme.
  53. Read it again and you actually enjoy it, minus the million tiny errors.
  54. Go back to the forum to tell people you’ve finished your first draft.
  55. You tell your friends that you’re done, and no they can’t read it.
  56. Edit for a couple months too long because everything has to be PERFECT.
  57. If someone sees it with an error, you will literally keel over and die.

    Train


  58. Finally decide someone needs to read it because you’re too close to it.
  59. You send it to a few close friends you trust, reminding them about how “rough” it is, even though by the time you send it to them, you secretly think it’s basically perfect. But if you tell them it’s super rough, it’s a free pass if they find a mistake.
  60. They give their honest feedback.
  61. You don’t remember ANY positive feedback, ONLY the negative comments.
  62. Doubt your skills as a writer.
  63. Drink a little too much.
  64. Netflix binge.
  65. Take your friends’ suggestions and make the proper changes.
  66. Read it again and are slightly impressed with yourself.
  67. Now you have a novel. Still not perfect in your eyes, but decent.

And that is how actual human beings write novels. No one is polished in their first draft, or as polished as they’d like in their final draft. No one likes their own writing at first. Everyone doubts their own abilities, even their mental stability.

You’re not crazy.

You’re just a writer.


Question(s) of the day: Have you noticed a difference between “how to write” and how you actually do it? What’s the biggest difference for you?

17 Things I Learned About Writing From Structuring My Novel In 7 Days

Last week I approached a good friend and told him my woes. “I started structuring my novel about two months ago… I kind of lost wind. Not really sure I know where I’m going with it.”

“How long do you think it would take you if you really pushed yourself?”

“Probably seven days.”

“Okay, then if you’re not done by noon next Saturday, then you owe me fifty bucks, and you get to know that you failed.”

And that’s how I knew I have a great friend.

The last week has been a little crazy.

Definitely depressing. Filled with many thoughts of, “Holy shit, I can’t even figure out how to escalate the tension in this scene, I’m such a hypocrite! I’m the worst writer in the history of authorship.”

But seven days passed by, and I am left with thirty pages of scribbles, scratches, and huge Xs trying to cover up half-baked ideas.

I kept my fifty bucks and my pride.

Okay, that’s a lie.

That structuring exercise sapped my pride for a year.

Next year I’ll be prideful.

Here are a few lessons I learned this week. I hope you can learn from my exercise as well.


 

Glass Doors


1 The age-old question, ‘Which is more important, plot or character?’ is utter crap. I tried only focusing on plot for 48 hours before I called my buddy back. “My plot sucks. I need to bounce ideas off you… now.” He told me to flesh out my characters and plot would follow. And it did. They are a symbiotic relationship. Don’t treat one more important to the other. The way you approach it can be unique, but both are equally as important.

 

2 Get a second opinion. You need external input. Some of your “most brilliant ideas ever” are total crap. You don’t know that until someone sane tells you that in the most loving way. Don’t finish your novel before you let a friend read it, and now 400 pages later you realize that the premise is fundamentally flawed.

 

3 Don’t think about your antagonist as a bad guy. For the first couple days (before I named my characters) I scribbled “antagonist” as a placeholder. Then I realized my mistake: there is no such thing as an antagonist. Just a person with good motives and circumstances happen to put them at odds with your protagonist. But they’re not “the bad guy.” And if, heaven forbid, you think of them as the bad guy, then they will be one-dimensional. I ended up changing my main character’s name and turning him into the antagonist because I wanted a truly likable, dynamic antagonist. And suddenly, I liked the “bad guy.”

 

4 Write. Seriously, this is a point. Since I had seven days to write thirty pages of structure, I turned down Netflix to write. I know you scream heresy, but I structured a novel in 7 days, so I’m not ashamed. I said no to some social outings, and my wife supported my solitude. If you want to write, you have to write. Simple as that. I plan on cancelling Netflix as I write my novel. Only one thing can truly have my attention. And that will be my novel.

 

5 Read. I started and finished a book last week. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, which I highly recommend. If you don’t make time to read, I won’t make time to read your writing. Because a writer who isn’t studious is an insult to their audience. You can always be better. Please don’t act like your writing is great now. So read for goodness sake, and you’ll improve.


 

Trees


6 Work out. Your mind is most stimulated and active when your body is healthy. And doing something like running (without music) lets you actively think about the menial task at hand, while your subconscious works out your plot holes. For Sherlock Holmes it was violin. For me it’s working out. Yes I just compared myself to Sherlock Holmes. Please don’t scorn me.

 

7 Start with a plan. To reach your destination, you have to know where you’re going. Write down your steps. Stick to those steps. And when you write, let your characters take you where they want to go. But you at least have an overarching framework to reference.

 

8 Celebrate the small wins. If you hit your daily 3,000 word count, holy smokes, you’d better celebrate… not with sweets though. Eat food that will fuel your energy, not make you want to nap at 6pm.

 

9 Keep it simple. Wouldn’t it be cool if zombies, werewolves, pirates, and ninjas all fought against each other? Yes it would. Wouldn’t it also be cool if there was a race against time to save the president’s life? Okay, yes. Wouldn’t it be cool explorers in the arctic found out that there was a massive tectonic plate shift going to happen any day now and millions could die? Yes, that would be cool. Please, not all in the same story though. Pick your battles. Or your reader will battle you.

 

10 Take a lesson from Dan Brown. Say what you want about his writing, plot, or controversial subject matter… who cares. What he is undeniably good at is cliffhangers. Every single chapter ends with a cliffhanger. And his chapters are usually around 5 pages long. Yeah. Talk about serious adrenaline rush. That’s why people can’t put down his books. I’m not saying your chapters are bad if they’re longer than 5 pages, but what I am saying is the more cliffhangers you have, the more likely your reader is to clutch the book tight in the light of his/her lamp at 1am even though they have to wake up early for work the next morning.


 

Firepit


11 Get rid of cliches. I struggled with this one. I’m writing an NA adventure story. There are staples in the “adventure” genre like every hero has to have a wise mentor who helps him in the beginning. To avoid those cliches, I’m making the mentor extremely self-aware that he’s the stereotypical wise mentor. If your novel doesn’t have the leeway to use tongue-in-cheek humor like that, then avoid cliches like the plague. See what I did there?

 

Twelve. Be consistent.

 

13 Let it sit. Know when to walk away and do something else. If you’re too close to it, you won’t be able to see any glaring mistakes. Unfortunately this is not the prevailing problem with writers.

 

14 Don’t be distracted. I’m the most distractible person in America. I truly believe that. The internet is slowly turning my cognitive function into Jell-O. As soon as I sit down to write, suddenly I NEED to look up that one actor from that one movie to see if they’ve been in anything recently. Turn off your phone. Close the browser. Sometimes I go somewhere without Wifi. I know. Crazy. But, it works. Without distractions, all you can do is sit and think, or write. And if you dare to say, “But I need the internet to research!” Please. You know that’s a lame excuse. Writing time is for writing, not researching. Don’t confuse the two separate times. If you do, you’ll end up on a Buzzfeed quiz, ‘Which GoT character are you? Mine surprised me!’ and you’ll snap out of a coma 3 hours later on a disturbing subreddit regretting everything.


 

The Single Fern


15 Don’t censor yourself. Write from the heart. Don’t try to be overly vulgar because you think that’s a more raw form of art. Just be yourself and write what comes out. No more. No less.

 

16 Study your genre. You need to know the staples of your genre. Your audience expects some things to be familiar to other novels they’ve read in the genre, and many things to be unique. If you don’t know where the lines are between being familiar and unique, your readers will likely be disappointed.

 

17 Don’t allow yourself to fail. For me, I needed a friend to threaten to take my money if I didn’t get it done. Don’t be naive and say you can’t rush the creative process. They’re called deadlines. And the real world lives by them. If you don’t set yourself BRUTAL deadlines, then you’re choking your potential. Setting lenient deadlines promotes apathy. Sprint. Don’t meander. I would never read a novel that meanders, even if it’s a dramatic romance set in the 17th century. I still want the emotional turmoil at sprinting pace.


 

Door


That’s just a few of the many things that stood out to me this week. Other than slight emotional trauma that I will likely need to seek therapy for, I think I will survive.


Question of the day: Do you set rules for yourself when you write? What’s worked and what hasn’t?

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