Monday, March 31, 2014

On Finishing a Draft (Again)

The other day I finished working on a draft of a novel that I have been revising (on and off) for five years. This was version number 4.

There will be a draft 5.

Writing this draft almost killed me (in order to meet a totally self-imposed deadline, I worked 6 to 10 hours a day for 46 days in a row)

--but it also taught me the greatest truth I know about writing (again).

Trust the process.

Say it with me, people:




I understand this mantra now at the very core of my being. I say it at the beginning of every new project. I say it somewhere in the middle. And I say it at the end. Most of the time I don't even believe it.

And then I do.

Trusting the process means:

  • pushing forward, writing every day whether or not you want to/feel like it/care/have fantasies about flinging your laptop through a plate glass window
  • focusing on the day's goal--whatever it happens to be--a passage, a scene, a chapter, a word count, a character arc, a plot line, etc.--and not worrying about what you will have to work on the next day (or God forbid, next week) 
  • pushing out of your mind if this story is any good, if it will ever sell, what your agent or editor will think, and/or what the bloggers on Goodreads will say. I heard once that every writer has an ideal reader in mind while writing--this is the person you imagine reading and responding and it is the person you most hope to please. My ideal readers are my husband--who is extremely critical, and yet, I admit, nearly always right, and my writing critique partner Donna, who knows exactly what to say and how to say it and who has kept me from jumping off a ledge too many times to discuss here. I need both of them in my writing life. I also need to push them out of my mind during writing sessions.
  • celebrating small successes and going easy on yourself when you feel like you've failed. 
  • reminding yourself and then believing it--that this is only a draft and you will finish it, and if you have to, (likely) you can pick it up again and go back in, knowing that each time you really are getting closer and closer to that nebulously termed "right" feeling of completeness.

A few months ago I was chatting with one of my favorite writers Rae Carson. We had volunteered for Small Business Saturday to work at our local children's bookstore Cover to Cover. Small Business Saturday, unfortunately, turned out to have been poorly scheduled in our town of Columbus Ohio--it coincided with a college home football game and not just any college. The store is about 10 minutes away from where the Ohio State Buckeyes play.

Rae and I spent quite a bit of the quiet day in the bookstore chatting--about our favorite books and about the writing life (she is a New York Times best selling author, so let's just say that her writing life is a tad different from mine). But at the same time, there are similarities--ie: figuring out how to balance writing with promoting and with actual living of life with kids and bills and grocery shopping.

At one point the conversation turned to what our latest project is. Rae has a three-book trilogy out, the glorious Girl of Fire and Thorns, and now she is working on writing her next three-book series, something she's already sold on synopsis. When she told me this, my mouth dropped open. I can't even imagine writing under that kind of pressure--selling a book before you've written it... Yikes.

I told her that I was working on a rewrite of a rewrite of a rewrite, and we lamented about how to fit in writing around travelling (I laugh as I write this because Rae's travel schedule dwarfs mine--I think she said she hasn't been home for more than a month at a time in several years). She asked if I had sold the book yet and I said no, and she had a funny expression on her face.

She said something like, Wow, I can't even imagine that kind of pressure.

My mouth dropped open again. What do you mean? I asked.

She said, you're writing something without knowing if it's ever going to go anywhere?

After a pause, I laughed, because this is how I've written every book I've ever written. I've never had a guarantee that anything was going to sell.

We parted that day, probably both feeling sorry for the other person. Okay, that's stupid. I do not feel sorry for Rae Carson. She probably does not feel sorry for me either. So, forget I said that.

My point is, (I think this is my point), that writing is hard for every writer, no matter where you are in the process or in your career.

I know that my friends and family look at my crazy, totally self-imposed work schedule and shake their heads in amazement and confusion. Why not take a day off? Why work so hard for something that you could easily put off for another day? Why work into the night in order to get just one more sentence?

The answer: I don't know.

The answer: it seems to be my process.

And, I trust it.

PS: For the record, I am taking a two-week break from writing. I am traveling soon to the area where I grew up. I will be visiting libraries and schools and reconnecting with old friends and relatives. Stay tuned for all the fun (and pressures of a different kind)...


  1. Congrats on finishing your latest draft! It's always such a relief to complete a draft...even if you know there's another revision in your future. :)