Thursday, January 15, 2015

If Something Isn't Working, Stop Doing It! ... by Barbara Graham

When Pat said I could come and play here and voice my opinion (always dangerous), I didn’t have a topic. It’s January and I don’t do resolutions anymore because I always fail to achieve them and they only add guilt to my year. What I do is participate in JaNo. It’s like NaNoWriMo but in a month that works well for me. The holidays are over and the garden is dead. I sit down and write as much as I can, every day, on a new book. I keep track of the number of words I add each day. By the end of the month I will have a genuine, bona fide “crappy first draft”. I would like to convince all aspiring authors to write the “crappy first draft”.

Only after an entire, complete first draft is done can the author know where the story needs to go. What characters work and who needs to leave. Admittedly, I am a “pantser” not an organized and outlined thinker. In this case, I would consider a good outline to be close to the first draft.

Once upon a time, there was a want-to-be writer in my town who asked me for advice. At the time, I had only one book in print. I was very excited about it because it was probably the ninth novel I wrote and the first that sold to a traditional publisher. When I told this person that my best advice was to write entire first draft before trying to do rewrites, he said that he wanted a perfect Chapter One before going on. My efforts to convince him that there is no perfect Chapter One fell on deaf ears. My sixth book in the series, Murder by Gravity: The Coffin Quilt, just released. In the years since I was asked for advice, his perfect Chapter One is still not written.

I do not pretend to be an expert. But, if something isn’t working, stop doing it! Whether it’s writing the entire book, doing an outline (not for me) or at the very least having an idea of the middle and ending of the book in mind is crucial. Even if you own a road map but have no idea of your final destination, how do you know which road to take?

Writing the first draft for me is painful and messy but I slog through to the end. Secondary characters show up with their luggage and rearrange the furniture. Others pop in, raid the refrigerator and make a mess on the floor. They leave without an apology. Characters don’t get names until I’m sure they are staying and I know enough about them to be sure who they are. Not until about the third rewrite do I feel like the book is really starting to take form. What I thought should be the opening, ends up later or is discarded. Admittedly this is my approach. Whether they realize it or not, authors who write decent first drafts have probably at least worked through the first drafts mentally. I don’t have that many gray cells. The important thing is to produce full manuscripts. They can be fixed.

The fabulous thing about computers and rewrites, compared to the old quill pen and parchment approach to writing, is flexibility. Word processing has cut and paste and insert and delete which are fun, simple and fast ways to move blocks of information. You can move the beginning to the middle or even to the end and if needed, return it to its former spot.

Even dedicated outliners I know admit they will switch things about as the work progresses, following the story. Until the thing is printed, change is possible.

Murder by Gravity: The Coffin Quilt is the 6th book in the series. Number seven is under contract and I’m busy slogging through book eight.


Thanks so much for being my guest here today, Barbara. I can see why you'd choose January as your blitz writing month. Living in the far wilds of Wyoming would keep me inside at my computer as well. I love the cover art for the new book! I'm looking forward to another fine quilting mystery.

Barbara has loved mysteries "forever" and wonders what could be more fun than making up people and killing them off. Legally. A Wyoming resident, she is a long distance member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. You can learn more about Barbara and her mysteries at her website (which is in the middle of reconstruction). She can also be found on Facebook and Goodreads.

Barbara will give away one copy of Murder by Gravity: The Coffin Quilt to a U.S. or Canada resident who leaves a comment on this post before midnight Mountain Time Friday, January 16th. The winner will be posted here on Saturday.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting first results.
My fourth book comes out soon. I haven't written a perfect chapter one yet either.

Allan J. Emerson said...

As one who used to agonize over each chapter of a new book and is now happily churning out the "crappy first draft," I find the latter approach very freeing. Even fun. Who knew?

M. K. Theodoratus said...

I keep trying to "just get that first draft written" just like you and so many others recommend.

But ... I'm beginning to think that my critique group deadlines interferes with that "resolution".

Patricia Stoltey said...

My goal is also a fast, crappy first draft. For me, anything on paper is better than nothing because it gets me going.

Barbara Graham said...

Patricia, you're so right! Anything is better than nothing.

M.K. I hope you are sharing something other than the first draft with your group. At this stage, keeping it under wraps may be better for your work in progress.

Arlee Bird said...

Good advice. We should strive toward perfection while having the reality check of knowing that we'll never make it. But we can try!

Thank goodness for computers! Writing by hand or typing sure uses up a lot of paper and time.

Tossing It Out

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Barbara, your writing process sounds exactly like mine. And I've known writers who try to edit as they go and never have finished a book.
And though I admire the idea of NaNo, having it in November makes it very difficult for people who have Thanksgiving obligations to participate.