Tuesday, March 29, 2011
(I will be playing with the settings for this blog for a while. Just so you know.)
Some people write faster than others. This is just the way they work, and there is nothing either better or worse about it. There's the first truth authors need to realize because when you start judging a writer's ability by the speed at which they create, you are looking in the entirely wrong place. Only the story itself can be used as a judgment of worth -- and then sometimes it comes down to taste as well.
Now let's talk about the difference between writing fast and rushing through a story to publish it.
I almost always write fast first drafts. The important words are First Draft just in case you missed them. For me, the story unfolds and I move with the flow, sometimes caught up so much that I hate to step away. The first drafts are often sparse of description and may have a few illogical leaps I will work out later. I make notes in the manuscript as I write and keep going. It's far too easy to say 'I need to fix this stupid little problem now' and get stuck and never move on. I've found the answer to the problem often comes as I keep writing, because I now have a feel for where I want to go, and I can see what I need in the earlier spot to turn the story on the proper path.
But this still has nothing to do with rushing. Rushing comes after the first draft.
Whether you are preparing to send your manuscript to an agent or publisher, or you want to self-publish -- now is not the time to rush through the rest of the steps. You need to do more than a quick edit to clean things up. Now is the time to look seriously at your story and fix problems, not just the typos and missing punctuation.
Here's another little truth. No matter how difficult it is to write that first draft, it's still the easy part.
And even if you edit as you work, don't trust that the story is now perfect. You will be terribly embarrassed later. Don't take the chance.
The first thing to do is set the manuscript aside for a while. Go work on something else and get the story out of your head. Unless you have a deadline, there is no reason to rush ahead now. After at least a few days, go back and read it for what it is, not what you think is there. This is a huge part of editing, especially for those new to the work. You might get better at going straight from first draft to edit later, after you begin to recognize some of your problems, but at first it's important to step back.
Sometimes it's easy to fix things like grammar and punctuation; however there may be other problems which you shouldn't ignore. After plot, grammar and punctuation, the flow of the prose is an important place to focus. The best way to find prose problems is to read aloud. You can't trust the voice in your head for this task. When you read aloud, you are going to find yourself stumbling over lines which seemed fine until now. Those are the lines you want to look at and see if they need changing.
Don't give yourself an excuse for this one. No 'I hate the sound of my voice' or anything else as silly. So what? You are only reading to yourself, and you are doing it to be a better writer. Get over it and do the work.
I have found a free program which has helped me with those dreaded overused words which can often go unnoticed. Go here and click on tools and look at the Manuscript Analyzer.
There is an on-line and download version. I use the download one because I don't want to have to go online every time. And besides, when you rely on something online, it's bound to be down at the time you really, truly need it.
I work through one chapter at a time, and do several rounds for each chapter, checking for each problem word using the 'find' function in Word. The analyzer gives you words like 'the' and 'a' which you can skip. Click on the frequent offender column and check those, too. I also do a quick check of the adverb section, too.
This program is probably going to point out some other words you need to try and cut down in the manuscript. One of the most common overused words for me turned out to be 'it' which I had not noticed until now. I knew 'that' was a problem, but 'it' took me by surprise, especially since the words appears more often than 'that' in many of the chapters.
I can see some of you wincing at the idea of going through each chapter several times. And this brings me back to the point of this little note.
Don't tell yourself the work will to take too long. Focus, instead, on getting the story right, paragraph by paragraph, no matter how long and how many edits it takes. There is no reason to rush and every reason to slow down and do the best you can.
Every story that you put out will be read by someone who might become a fan. You owe it to that person to take your time and do the writing right. You must make your best impression with every piece you put out. You will grow as a better writer and my earlier stories are not as good as my later ones -- but I never stop thinking I can improve, so this is to be expected.
You can't rush the work and hope for the best, or think the editor or reader will overlook a few mistakes because the story is so good. There are far too many other good stories out there, and you are in competition with them all. Never take the easy way and think something is good enough. Make it the best it can be.