A spoonful of sugar

A spoonful of sugar

You know what I hate? First drafts. I hate them a LOT. I know not everyone feels this way, some people find them freeing and thrilling, but for me the single most painful part of the writing process is getting that first draft done. I am less able to lock my inner editor away than I was even a couple of years ago. It is always in my head, screaming at me with every word I type, that my work is bad, that I don’t know what I’m doing, that I have too far to go and with this crap there’s no way I’ll ever get it right.

That’s my experience with Temperance so far. 500 words here, 1000 there. All forced out through the keyboard slowly and painfully, with that inner asshole screaming at me the whole time.

The part that I love is revision. Cut it up, put it back together, change this inadequate word for a better one, add a new scene to increase the tension, fix it, polish it. Watching that godawful first draft turn into something that kind of makes sense, and then finally become the story I was trying to tell–for me, that’s the fun stuff.

It seems to have occurred to my beloved that perhaps focusing exclusively on doing something I hate, such as a first draft of a story I am deeply invested in, wasn’t going to work out. He suggested that I have a backup plan, such as revising one of my old novels. Not necessarily do that instead, but in addition to. Just in case Temperance isn’t ready for Taos (which at this rate, it won’t be.)

He knows me so well, and always gives me good advice. So I dusted off Found Objects (a YA urban fantasy I wrote a few years ago), started reading through it, and surprise, surprise–the weight of the world came right off my shoulders. This is the fun stuff! And that makes the agonizing stuff more bearable. I suspect that I will be taking Found Objects to Taos instead–I really didn’t want to workshop a first draft.

Not only did the anxiety I’d been feeling specifically about Temperance lift, but my crippling sense of loserdom went with it. Suddenly it wasn’t about what I can’t do, won’t do, am a fool to consider doing (welcome to the inside of my head, enjoy your stay), it was about what I could fix, create, change, and do. To the point that I was able to even add a couple hundred words to a short story and start a new one.

Those of you who have been doing this noveling thing seriously for a while seem to work this way already–revise Novel 1 while working on Novel 2. Now I understand why. Maybe you’re the type who hates the editing but loves the freedom of the first draft–in which case you’re probably making the editing bearable by creating something new along side it.

I had an email conversation with a friend who was feeling that same sense of loserdom. I told him that just doing something–anything, really–might help. Maybe, or maybe not. I know that 500 words on Temperance wasn’t making me feel much better. That’s bitter medicine. So the trick, I guess, is to do something you’re good at, that you enjoy. For me, fixing broken stories is the sugar that makes the other stuff palatable.

Which is the medicine and which is the sugar for you?


4 thoughts on “A spoonful of sugar

  1. I’m not sure if I could edit one novel and draft another. It’s so hard for me to hold the entirety of one book’s spirit in my head that I don’t think there’s room for two! But maybe I’ll get better as I go.

    I hope so, because I’ve really been overwhelmed by the urge to revise one of my older novels!

  2. I’m with Wendy, I don’t think I could work on two at once. I can barely work on short stories and my novel at the same time.

    I’m opposite. I really like first draft writing..just letting it all hangout. Editing is tougher for me, which is really sad..since I spent 3 months writing the first draft of this novel and I’ve now spent 7 months editing it. AAAAAHHHHHH!

  3. Oh, wow! I totally thought you were both doing that! Maybe I’m just remembering the transitions from one to the other and thought they were happening simultaneously.

    In which case I may be doing something completely nuts. O.o

  4. I agree with what Sandra and Wendy said. I hate editing and revising. That’s when the “everything is ruined forever” voices come out. I couldn’t try to revise one novel while writing another. I’d get tones and characters too mixed up.

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