It must have been before Christmas, maybe even before Thanksgiving that I became unbelievably cynical about my abilities as a writer. I suppose many writers go through this at least once during their serious endeavors in the craft, but it’s a poignant thing to experience nevertheless.
The words had been sticking in the most unfortunate places. Most of mine peeked out just before I wanted to use them, and then snap–the word literally vanished from my mind all together as I’d take my pen to paper or my fingers to the keyboard. I looked through dictionaries and thesauruses trying to recover these words. On rare occasions, I did spot them. Still, many times they continued to elude me until the wee hours of the morning. I’d be sleeping soundly when all of a sudden, I’m either looking at the wall or over my spouse into the darkness of the room with the word forefront in my brain. I insisted on getting up and writing it down every time this happened or I’d forget once again.
The summaries I wrote before burrowing into a project, sounded interesting, intriguing, even compelling. Yet, by the time I got three or four pages into the draft, my doubts had multiplied and diversified. What in the hell do I think I’m doing. This story is preposterous! The plot is senseless! The characters are wooden and fake! I’d read what I had over and over again seeing if there was something worth saving. Usually I’d save settings. I’d still be enthralled with where the story was to take place even though the storyline and the characters was worthless.
Even with all I’ve tried to salvage in the project, last November–maybe December–I felt my competence to produce anything worth reading had jilted me like a self-centered lover sneering with glee. All I could think to do that would keep me from the unfulfilling writing process was big bowls of popcorn and reruns of Sex and the City, with breaks of the repeats of Law and Order. Of course, watching Sarah Jessica Parker get drench by a puddle from the street numerous times and Chris North saving the day on a New York street for the umpteenth time had to stop sometime. Those were the times I wrote the less-than-satisfactory blog posts.
Those of you who have been unduly faithful to my blog must have noticed the steep and severe decline in the quality of my posts. I felt no gusto coming from my efforts, no matter how hard I worked at it. I felt as if I was writing to a void beyond one of the black holes in outer space. To say the least, the Christmas season was grim for me. Because I’m a firm non-believer in New Year resolutions, my slump continued on into this year, but I did start trying new tactics–starting in February–to alleviate the disgust of my passion.
Some writers say they do their best work when experiencing sleep deprivation or hunger. Maybe it’s true for them, but I need at least six hours of sleep to feel alert enough to write anything. Being hungry is not an option for me either. If I don’t eat, my brain goes in circles getting nothing done. Yet—get this—I’m not a big fan of eating, wishing I had a little door on my stomach so I could open it and shove the food in.
This last month it finally dawned on me that in addition to sleep and food, maybe I needed more liquid in my system. Way long ago before the issue of age crept into my life, the only medicine I took was over-the-counter for the occasional run-of-the-mill illnesses and a prescription once in a great while for those nagging more serious illnesses. Now I’m taking four medications daily so I don’t die of a heart attack or anxiety. Three of them can and will dehydrate me. I used to think two huge mugs of coffee and two huge mugs of tea per day was enough liquid unless I actually felt thirsty. No, I was wrong. Recently I’ve started drinking two or three liter bottles of water each day in addition to the coffee and tea. It’s amazing how the hydrated body can improved a person’s mood and productivity.
I’ve always been one to do moderate exercise, but because of that age issue and having a broken kneecap a few years ago, in addition to the mobility problems I’ve had for so long, my limited abilities to exercise have increased. There was a time when I could go for somewhat exhilarating walks or do a half-hour on an exercycle. Now, because the gate of my walk is so odd, these activities can’t be done effectively. I used to do mat exercises but it’s getting more difficult for me to get down on or up from a mat. This isn’t stopping me though. Not long ago I was introduced to “half squats”. This is a marvelous exercise. I sit in a straight chair, stand up, and then sit down again. It gets my heart pumping after doing a mere 30 of them. This takes less than five minutes to do. Pressed for time but still want the exercise? Do “half squats”.
Early last week I noticed a slight improvement in my writing. Is the writing slump over? I don’t know yet. The words are coming to me like a trickle of water flows in a creek after a long summer. I’ve gotten past the first two scenes in a story. My writing sessions are back up to two hours or longer. It’s a “wait and see” game right now.
Being disappointed in oneself is dreadful beyond what words could ever say. I’m sure it isn’t just writers who go through this. Not by a long shot, right?
What are your slumps like? What do you do to get out of them?
There isn’t a person anywhere who isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can. – Henry Ford
I met Drae Box in the group, Writers’ Coffeehouse at Google+. When I decided I needed to acquire some guest bloggers, she just happened to be looking for places to guest post her articles. The article below is one answering questions I’m, just now, beginning to ponder on. This is excellent timing.
I was asked recently this question, by our lovely host, Glynis Jolly, over on Google Plus:
“ Could you do an article about the drafts after the first one: your ideas of what each one should entail, how many is suitable and how many is too many, etc.? ”
Here’s my answer…
Meet The Royal Gift. That’s it right there, next to this text. It took twelve years of writing, then editing, then rewriting from scratch, back to editing, back to rewriting from scratch and another round of rewriting and editing. Four rewrites in twelve years before I said, “I’m done. Raneth, Aldora, go and earn your keep and entertain others. Shoo! Go!” Their reply?
“Don’t take so long with our other stories!” And off to Kobo and Amazon they went to flaunt themselves. Or would have, if they really existed. Actually, Aldora probably swore at me – in my mind they’re both nearly thirty now, due to where I am in the series for the first drafts.
The book itself was first written back when I was fourteen. I had read very little about writing a story. I knew I enjoyed creating them, because I had recorded stories on a cassette recorder as I made them up on the spot back when I was eight. I enjoyed homework that let you create a story too (thank you Year Six English and Year Nine English – I wish this had been a more common homework assignment). Yet when it came to writing a story, I was making up my own rules as I went along. I do remember that I went to FARP and About and learned a little as I went along (I remember loving the in-depth character sheet available on FARP). Garth Nix’s site was also invaluable – he was the mentor who let me know all about idea books!
I think making up your own rules as you go along is a better practise – you learn by reading and writing. If you want to be the next Stephen King, yep, read his book. But if you want to be the next YOU, your characters and stories will be much happier (and better) for it.
What Should Each Draft Entail?
The Royal Gift went through several drafts. Rewritten from scratch four times (2003, 2005, 2009 and 2014/15), it went through “normal” drafts between rewrites. Threat, the second book of The Common Kingdoms Series, is another book with a similar past – I’m actually rewriting it for the last time now, with the plan of getting it ready for launch either the next week after The Royal Gift’s launch, or a month after.
Back in 2003, The Royal Gift was split in two, and was called, The Kingdom’s Gift, and, The Dagger of Protection. It also had sixty-four chapters after my first round of edits. A bit excessive. I can’t remember the exact word count, but I do remember it was over 90,000.
My draft work back then was a shamble of figuring out where the chapters started, typos, grammar, rewriting awkward sentences, and even disliking something Raneth said to Pedibastet and rewriting it so he wouldn’t get a disciplinary hearing (because Pedibastet would dob him in just to flaunt he is a human’s superior).
In hindsight, editing that way is a bit backwards. You’re focusing on too much of the story. In more recent years, I’ve found a process that works for me. I talk about it briefly in this article, but I’ll go more in-depth here.
First Editing Round
By editing, I mean not rewriting your story from scratch, but the usual editing most authors do. The line-edits – where we tweak the words we have used, rewrite the odd sentence here and there, and edit out chunks of scenes that um… Perhaps didn’t move the story along. In this round, if I’ve not already typed up the manuscript, I also type it up for the first time. I then focus on these, but only on the computer.
Chapter positioning: it’s not uncommon for me to write a book by scenes, jumping around the timeline. When this happens, I don’t add in chapters until the first editing round.
Hunting typos: pretty straight forward. I look for those words I often misspell on the keyboard (such as from becoming form), word I never seem to remember the correct spelling for, weird nonsensical words that happen when I should go to sleep, and I also check formating. With the formatting, this is just making sure my paragraphs are correctly spaced and indented, and where the characters speak, these are on new lines to the previous talking character, and also indented.
Clunky chunk banishing: Sometimes we write sentences that are difficult to wrap our heads round when we or somebody else reads them later. Or they are so long, we should rework the sentence so it does it’s job better (without readers forgetting how the sentence started). I’m pretty bad with these. I try to catch them all before I let anyone read them, but often I find these again later in the other rounds.
It’s at this point I then go and work on something else for two weeks to a month. This makes it possible for me to read the manuscript without remembering the lines. My memory loves to interfere with the editing process by making me remember at least half the sentence I’m reading. This means I read what’s in my mind, not necessarily what is written. The purpose of editing is to grab what’s on the page and wrestle with it, not think it is OK when it’s only OK in our minds. Whoops!
Second Editing Round
A few weeks or a month later, and we come back to the manuscript. The first thing I do at this stage is print it off, (and more recently, also turn it into an epub and upload it to my tablet to read on Kobo). This editing round is really crucial in my mind, and it requires that you understand your setting, plot and characters better now than you did when you initially wrote the story. With all future work on The Common Kingdoms Series, I have the advantage of not only writing for that world and that cast of characters for twelve years now, but I understand and know the development of each character, their own situations and desires through each (and between) each book. I’m not saying wait twelve years (heck, don’t do that), but waiting to publish the first in a series does have its benefits.
Another question I’ve been asked before is:
“ How do you format your (printed) editing copy of your manuscripts? ”
I print it in a moss-green. This was initially because my printers have always gotten through black ink pretty fast (one of the downsides of writing), but later on it also became a good way to tell drafts apart at a glance.
1.5 spacing with the font at size 9, Times New Roman. This is just for me, not a professional editor, a publishing house, agents or well, anyone BUT me. So I’m happy with that font size.
One-sided. The back of the previous page is good for reworking those clunky sentences, like this one from early on in the final version of The Royal Gift.
Bound by two crocodile clips. The less the temporary binding gets in the way of editing, the better. Whilst working, I sometimes take these clips off entirely.
So anyway. In the second editing round, I focus on this:
Character consistency: is my character acting like themselves at that time of their life, as they should? For example, during the earlier versions of The Royal Gift, when I knew my characters a less well, I had Raneth grinning a lot and being a bit of a verbal joker. Later on in the series, partly because of what’s happened to the Giften Kingdom, but also him, Aldora and those they know, he’s less jokey and a lot more serious (he’s grown up). Looking back at his development this last time of rewriting The Royal Gift, I cut down on how chirpy he was, recognising that the transformation was a bit too strong. He’s also wary of interacting with Prince Pedibastet – the cat is a superior officer, and that means he can get in trouble for saying the wrong thing. The way he acted in the previous versions with him being jokey was wrong also when you took this into consideration. Later on, he’s more comfortable about Pedibastet, but The Royal Gift is the first time he’s actually spent time having to talk to the feline. With Aldora, a similar thing happened. My editor suggested in her structural suggestions (I’ll get to that in a bit), seeing more of Aldora’s emotions about the quest, specifically the king sending her off on what could be an endless quest whilst everyone she knows gets murdered. I also needed to make sure that this version of the sixteen year old of Aldora was consistent with the twenty-seven year old later on in the series, per her development line. Her can-do, will-do attitude was brought into this last version, underneath the hesitations that were more carefully hidden.
Seek the inconsistencies: nobody likes a plot hole. Keeping everything running around your head as you read, you take notes (mental or written) about what characters are wearing, their appearances, the landscape and so on, but you also start questioning what you’ve written. “Why did Aldora do that when X action could have worked better?” If there’s another scenario that the characters could have walked into, better prepared – why didn’t they think of it themselves? What are the consequences? Did they realise later? But there’s also things like forgotten staircases mentioned later on, criminals standing somewhere when they could have been shot five scenes ago, and other such plot holes. Question everything.
It’s at the end of this second draft when you consider if you need to rewrite a few scenes from scratch, or the whole manuscript. If you decide yes, you do, dive straight in, on a new or copied file of your manuscript.
Otherwise, I go back to another manuscript to play with, sometimes a different series altogether. In one or two weeks, I come back for round three.
Third Editing Round
By this point, you’re probably wondering, what else can I do to this thing?! This is when I try to read the story as a reader, not the author and not as an editor. If I stumble over a sentence, I make a note of it, if I find a typo or inconsistency, I make a note of that too. I do this on Kobo, as I’m more likely to just relax and read on that, where I can’t edit it or necessarily write on the manuscript with a pen. Once I’ve done this, it’s time for the first revision.
With my tablet open on one side of my keyboard on the epub I’ve uploaded into Kobo, and the printed manuscript on the other side of my keyboard, I start to type in the edits. Sometimes they’ll both have notes for the same thing, other times, not. I try to do this as fast as possible, because this is the bit I find tedious.
Editor Time! Structural Suggestions
At this point, if you don’t want to do what I did with The Royal Gift for twelve years, it’s time to get a professional in. Check with online writing communities if any of them can recommend an editor they have personally worked with, and preferably is native to your own writing style. For example, I made a point of asking around for a UK editor, because I’m a Brit and I write in UK English, not US English. It is bad enough MS Word and Google Docs both kept trying to insist that all UK spelling was incorrect. I didn’t want my editor going through it and doing the same if computer software could do it in a nanosecond. I also wanted an editor who would notice and edit the American spellings these softwares would quietly switch into the manuscript sometimes.
Editors can be expensive, and they can be reasonably priced. It depends on your budget, their costs and the size of your manuscript. Always try to get a structural report from an editor for any book that hold a very special place in your heart, or that you feel must have one because it’s part of a series, the first book in a series, or stands on it’s own. For Kateti, I went without this, but later on, after line-edits had been done, I did go to my editor and ask if there had been any questions or sub-plots she felt were unresolved. She emailed me back with a few, reminding me that not everything has to be neatly tied up. The reason for this, for me, is because Afien’s Howl, the follow on from Kateti, will have structural edits, and is a much larger manuscript, and answers those questions in books two and three.
Anyway, so during a structural review, your editor will take a careful look at the plot, story, setting and everything but the lines. They may comment on words that you excessively use (mine was the word, slammed), so you know to moderate. I really loved mine for The Royal Gift. Eve was able to confirm that yep, I put Raneth through waaay too much stuff in the 2009 version, and that needed toning down, but she also picked up on a LOT of other things, and even suggested less actual fight scenes, so that when they did happen, the stakes felt higher.
After getting the structural review, there’s a chance I’ll rewrite the book from scratch again. I did with The Royal Gift (my editor first saw the 2009 version). I felt that my style of writing from 2009 and my 2014 writing was different. Any insertion of new scenes or lines might compromise the consistency of my writing style. I didn’t want that. I’ve also found each complete rewrite brings with it new scenes naturally, and removes a lot of fluff.
Editor Time (Again)! Line-edits
After I’ve completed the previous revision, I send it back to the (same) editor for line-edits. This is when they read through your story carefully, dissecting your sentences and your choice of words, word tense and grammar. When my editor is finished with it, I get straight to making the edits. This takes very little time. I trust in my editor, so 99% of all suggestions she makes for line-edits take place.
And that’s it. That is all the drafts I will do these days.
How many drafts are suitable, and how many unsuitable?
This depends on your publishing goals. If I looked at The Royal Gift’s 2014/15 version as a completely new book, I’d say the above is all you need, but that’s only because it works for me and my aim for that book at the time (publish by December 16th). Yet, if you look at the story from it’s initial creation, it’s been through countless edit rounds and four rewrites. The above is basically seven stages of editing for one version of The Royal Gift, with five versions for Kateti.
If you answer yes to any of the following:
I want to publish in the next twelve months
I have the money set aside for an editor and/or other costs
I plan to self-publish this story
Then you can probably use the above method without any problems. But, if you answer yes or agree to any of the following:
I don’t have any money set aside for the editor, the cover and/or ISBNs.
I’d rather get an upfront lump payment.
I don’t care about keeping the multiple rights that come with writing my book
I don’t care how long it takes to publish
I want to explore my world and characters a bit more.
Then you will likely need more than just the above, and are probably best placed to send your work to literary agents to try to get a traditional deal with their representing you to traditional publishing houses. Whilst doing that, save up for those costs – you can always change your mind later, or hire an editor to work with you on a manuscript you want to send to agents. As you’re doing that, I’d also recommend working on your next book, if you didn’t between drafts.
Drae Box’s Biography
At the age of fourteen, Drae completed writing her first book, The Royal Gift, and didn’t stop. By the time she left college, she had gone on to complete six other books’ first drafts and was writing the scenes for another twenty-one books. This year she publishes for the first time, launching two books on 16th December: The Royal Gift and Kateti. Kateti is currently available for free download by subscribing to Drae’s email list, and a free preview of The Royal Gift is available at her website.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this article for my readers and me. As I embark on my second draft, I’ll be reviewing the information you have given so generously. ❤
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.” —Elmore Leonard