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Category Archives: first drafts

Shifting gears

My inner critic is confused.

For the nearly six months I was working on the first draft of The Polaris Uprising, I kept her locked in a room, with nothing but jigsaw puzzles and Angry Birds to keep her entertained. Occasionally, I’d let her out to take a whack at a particularly egregious typo (I couldn’t let her muscles atrophy, after all–I needed her in tip-top shape when I unleashed her for the editing process), but for the most part, I was pretty disciplined about keeping her in that room, no matter how many times she’d bang on the door and beg me to unlock it.

But then the editing process came, and I set her free, and boy did she have a field day. How she mocked me with her cruelty and hinted I was a hack writer with flat dialogue and repetitive phrasing and plot holes the size of Rhode Island. I bowed to her whim, fixing everything I could, pouring out blood, sweat, tears to get to a draft that was a far cry from what it was when I first typed “The End” (ok, I never actually used those words, but you get my meaning). It was a grueling process, but one that brought me results I was proud of, and when it was all over, I thanked my inner critic for all her hard work, and then…

… forced her back into the room and locked it up again, because I had a new first draft to write as I begin book 2.

She’s in there now, whining and pouting, calling me all sorts of nasty names. I can hear her still. The thing is, she had a taste of freedom, and she was enjoying it a little too much. Now she’s back in her room and the jigsaw puzzles ain’t cutting it, and she wants out again.

See? Confused.

That’s the thing about switching gears. You get used to one thing, and you start to get proficient at it, and then you change things up again, and it’s like starting at the beginning. In theory, I know it’s not the absolute beginning; I know I’m starting from a far stronger foundation than I did before. I know this world. I know its people. I know the story inside and out, backwards and forwards. I’ve constructed a story structure that’s very sound, mapped out a character journey that’s compelling and (hopefully) moving. And yet, all my inner critic can focus on is the crappy words I’m producing right now, and she’s sure letting me know it (even from way inside her locked room).

It took me a while to get good at learning to ignore her. I suspect it’ll take me just as long this time, too. Beginnings are especially hard; it’s where I struggle most in a story (once I get in my groove though, man, there is no stopping me!). But the only way to get through it is… to get through it. Just keep hacking away at it. Eventually, she’ll get bored and go back to putting together those puzzles. She’ll leave me in peace to just get this draft down, knowing I’ll let her out eventually so she can have a field day with it. I’m in those negotiations with her right now.

Until then, it’ll be painful for both of us.

At least until I let her out again temporarily after I get my editor’s feedback on book 1 and need to shift gears again back to editing mode–boy that’s going to be fun. But then, back in she’ll go, and hopefully she’ll give me a good 5, 6 months of harassment-free writing.

Pardon me if I stall out a few times as I get back in the first draft mode...

Pardon me if I stall out a few times as I get back in the first draft mode…

Surviving the writing taper

First, let me get the squealing out of the way.

I FINISHED MY FIRST DRAFT!!!

160 days later, I now have 113,983 words’ worth of raw material from which to create my final manuscript. This is the good news.

The bad news? Now the real work begins. In other words, I finished my longest run of my marathon training. But now I’ve got to run the actual marathon.

In marathon training, the last stage is called “taper.” It’s the three-week period after your longest training run, during which you drastically pull back in mileage and intensity of your workouts. This is all done to prepare your body for the grueling experience of the marathon itself: you’re saving up energy; you’re letting your tired, aching muscles rest; you’re getting yourself mentally prepared for the mind-**** that is a marathon (and yes, there really isn’t any other way of referring to it without resorting to profanity in this case ;)).

But when you’ve spent the last 16 weeks or so building up in mileage and pushing yourself to the very limit in your workouts, suddenly pulling back can feel like a shock to the system. You’d think that at this point, your body is begging for some rest. But surprisingly, taper is difficult for many runners. We often feel cranky, restless, and bored.

And we just can’t wait to run the marathon already.

I realized something yesterday (the first day in 160 days that I wasn’t writing or thinking about this novel), as I spent the entire time twitching through my withdrawal and wishing more than anything I could just dive into the editing process. I am now in my writing taper.

It sucks. I’m not going to lie. I can count on two hands (maybe even only one) the number of days in the last 5 1/2 months when I wasn’t writing about this world and its people. I’ve hung out with these characters more than I’ve hung out with many of the people in my life in the time I’ve been working on this. They are lifelong friends to me now. Family. As much a part of me as my hands and my feet. And being forced to spend time away from them (they say distance will make you more objective so you can kill your darlings; right now, it just feels as though distance will make the heart grow fonder) is sheer torture.

But I know it’s necessary. If I want to take my first draft from “suck” mode to “brilliant,” I must go through the taper diligently. My coach likes to say, “Nothing you can do now can help you in your marathon. But doing the wrong thing now will most certainly hurt you.”

And so, I will keep away for the next 4-5 weeks. I’ll read other books, I’ll develop other stories that have been floating around in my brain since I’ve been working on this. I’ll try not to think about Ryla, Alanna, and Owen. Because I know when I finally return to them — when I finally get ready to start my marathon — I’ll be that much stronger, that much more clear-minded, that much more prepared.

And I plan to kick some major tail on that course.

See y’all on the flip side.

Counting down the days till I can reunite with Ryla, Alanna, and Owen…

Racing towards the finish…

As I write this, I’m 3 1/2 chapters from finishing the first draft of The Polaris Uprising. What a journey it’s been so far –exhilarating, terrifying, gratifying, and all around amazing. I passed the 100K word mark earlier this week, and that milestone was nothing short of astounding to me.

In school, I was the kid who played around with margins and font sizes and spacing just to hit the minimum word count for my essays. I struggled with putting enough words down, and when I first set out to write a fantasy novel many years ago, I balked at the 100K word requirement and decided maybe I wasn’t ready to write genre fiction just yet.

When all is said and done, this first draft will probably weigh in at around 115K words. The finished manuscript will no doubt need to be trimmed a lot, of course, so it probably will be closer to 100K-105K, but it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that I’ve written this much. And there’s still more coming.

And I’m about to finish.

And so… to celebrate this, I’m going to share one more excerpt. I’m hoping it doesn’t give too much away, but it is meant to pique your interest :). Tell me what you think!

“So you won’t help me.”

Gates was quiet for a long time. She issued no denial, but offered no confirmation, either. Finally, she turned back to Ryla.

“You want my help?” she said. “Here’s how I’ll help: I’m going to give you some advice, and if I were you, I’d listen very carefully. Go back. Go back to your comfortable life, where you’re safe and you’re oblivious and you can pretend you never got involved with us. Too many things have already been set into motion, and this is bigger than any rescue mission you could possibly stage.”

“You mean there’s a war coming. A genuine uprising.”

Gates didn’t look at her this time. But Ryla knew the answer was yes.

Polaris

Coming soon…