1. Orcalot

    Orcalot Member

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    Question for experienced novelists from a completely overwhelmed basket case first-time novelist

    Discussion in 'Novels' started by Orcalot, Jun 6, 2017.

    Hi everybody,
    I've been writing for as long as I can remember, but I've recently written my first novel. Or at least, I've written about 60k words of a first draft. After a decent break from it, I've now started the first re-write/edit, and I have to say I'm drowning!! I've spent about 12 hours working on the opening paragraph alone! I'd really, really like to know if other writers experience this. I can't be alone here, can I???? I just seem to find myself re-writing, sentence by sentence, over and over, cut, paste, delete, replace words, delete, read aloud, like it, hate it, delete......and on and on it goes. I initailly set myself a target of 4 months to have a completed manuscript, but now that I've actually started the edititng process I think I can fuck that target right out the window, and maybe the computer along with it!
    So the question folks - is this normal? I've read all the stories and anecdotes about literary icons who took 20 years to write their 1 masterpiece etc., but I'd just love to share the nuts and bolts of other writers real experiences. I'm not trying to write a stunning piece of leterary genius here, I'm just trying to write the best story I can write. And I'm failing spectacularly!! The voice in my head is winning - the voice that keeps telling me "give it up, it's too hard, you're only struggling cos you don't have the ability, you'll never finish it, it's a piece of fucking shit..."etc.
    Am I alone? Does the voice have a point - is it only this difficult because I'm not able to write a good novel? Or is this hair-pulling, wall-punching, teeth-grinding neruotic madness all just a day in the life of the average writer?

    Truly greatful for any responses xx
     
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  2. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    Sometimes. But editing can be a bear at times.
    My fist I re-wrote the first portion, and cut like
    4000 words out the entire story in big chunks.
    And it was a little more twice the size of yours.
    So to say editing is fun, is never going to happen.

    Take it easy on yourself, the first book is the hardest.
    You put all your hopes and dreams of becoming the
    next 'hot new author' on the shelf (Pick some famous
    author in recent history). You put in a lot of hard work
    and now some more. The end is getting close in terms
    of it all coming together and the writing/editing
    you have done. Have you had it Beta read to get
    some feedback on it? If not you might want to,
    as it will offer fresh perspectives and you will
    get some ideas of what to expect when you
    finally get your book out there.

    So don't give up, many have that voice of discouragement
    when they are green. I still do, and I am 55k into a sequel.
    Though I learned after the first one to edit as I go, so I am
    not editing another leviathan. 123K+ is a bitch to edit
    when its your first. But I managed to get it in working
    order.

    You got this. :supersmile:
    quotes-winston-churchill-historic-inspirational-motivation-motivational_www.wallpapermay.com_83.jpg
     
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  3. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Yes, yes it is.
     
  4. Dr.Meow

    Dr.Meow Contributor Contributor

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    Get a beta reader, someone you trust, or maybe even a few of them, that you know have a good grasp on literary works and at least spend some moderate amount of time reading. While you're waiting, leave the manuscript alone, don't touch it :slaps your hand as you reach for the computer again:. Time away from something like that might help, I often step away when I see I've gotten way too close to the tapestry. If you're able to make out individual threads and weaves in the cloth, you're way too close. These are my opinions, someone might disagree, but if you're bashing your head against the wall as it is, it can't hurt to try a different approach, right?
     
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  5. nastyjman

    nastyjman Senior Member

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    You are line editing rather than developmental editing.

    The problem with editing paragraph by paragraph or chapter by chapter is this: if you find out in chapter 10 that chapter 4 needs to be changed, then you have to go back and fix it for the second time around, only then to realize that the fix would alter chapter 7, and so on.

    Try reading the whole manuscript from a print out and only make notes on what needs to be changed, deleted, moved or added. Emphasis on "notes" because you want to field as much diagnostics for your manuscript.

    I also do reverse outlines of my work since it forces me to summarize each scenes and gives me a bird's-eye view of it.

    And yes, the revision phase makes you want to jump in front of a Japanese bullet-train, but it comes with the craft. Personally I love (hate) it: love it because I get to mold and sculpt my story (hate it because it takes longer and requires more mental stock than when I'm writing).

    I've shared my method, and there are more methods out there. Try experimenting. You could try various methods on some short stories. Part of your growth as a writer is finding and engineering a process that works for you and makes your brain happy.

    Best of luck and keep writing!
     
  6. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Yep, sympathy and concur with all of the above. Mine was a 20 year effort and at 240K words , editing was a challenge... I went through seven revisions (major ones, typos don't count) and one professional edit over eighteen months. Editing is not fun. I like@nastyjman's recommendation to mark up a paper copy. That will prevent you from getting into the cycle of edits that makes you feel like you are fine-tuning a house of cards! I would not spend 12 hours on that first paragraph, at least not in one sitting... get some beta recommendations, this site is good for finding good readers.

    There are two different mindsets for writing and editing, as you are discovering. The writing mindset is "Wow, this going to be a great story, I can't wait to finish it." If you don't think that way, you choke off the creative juices and stall out. The editing mindset is "why the hell did I ever write this piece of crap, how can I make at least not terrible?" So be gentle on yourself, take a deep breath and take a drink (or puff) of whatever your favorite is, and remember that you have done the hard part... you actually finished the first draft! A lot of people here will be green with envy for your having done that.
     
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  7. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I should note that I'm not an experienced novelist. I'm not a novelist. I haven't finished my first novel yet either, but for different reasons.

    It sounds like the primary task here is to break the perfectionism.

    Random thoughts:

    - Why did you spend 12 hours on the first paragraph? Are you spending that long on the hundredth paragraph? If you're spending so long because it's the FIRST and you feel all the weight of capturing the reader's attention, I think it's way premature to do that--you may discover that the beginning of the book is really two thousand words in. If you are spending a long time on each paragraph, can you give any more detail about your thought process there?

    - How did you get to 60K? What was different then? Was it because it was the first draft, and something about editing makes you feel that now every change has to be perfect? It doesn't. For even quite small pieces, I tend to go through five or six or ten editing passes, and the later passes learn from the earlier passes. Each pass is just a little better than the previous one. Now, that's just me--some people do write to a high level of polish on the first draft. But the fact that you seem to be frozen to a standstill suggests to me that that is not a great strategy for you.

    - Is the 60K a completed plot, or are there chunks of plot yet to write? If there are chunks left to write, I would recommend writing them, so that the whole first draft is done.
     
  8. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I don't think twelve hours on a paragraph is normal, no. But I think a lot of writers struggle with perfectionism.

    I don't, personally. I can look at books by favourite writers and if I break them down and really examine every word, I can find things that could be changed about practically every paragraph. But those "imperfections" didn't interfere with my enjoyment of the story, because the plot and characters were enough to keep my brain busy. That's what I work toward in my writing. The writing isn't there for itself, for me--it's just a vehicle for the plot and characters (and sometimes setting or theme).

    I agree with the above points about developmental vs copy editing, and also that it would make sense to finish the whole story before going back and agonizing over tiny parts.

    But I also think you should look at your end goals and eventual market. If you're writing poetry, every word counts. If you're writing short literary fiction, just about every word counts. If you're writing longer literary fiction, most words count. If you're writing just about anything else? Relax. Tell a good story, create some intriguing characters and an interesting setting, and think of the words as a means to an end, not the end itself.
     
  9. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    Yes. Every time I look at my work I find things to improve.
    There are many other threads on this subject here, just look around and you'll find them. You're not alone and there's a lot of good advice on this matter in all those threads.
     
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  10. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Have you actually finished your novel? 60K seems a tad short, although not impossible. But if you haven't actually reached 'the end,' then you should probably keep going and worry about the fine-tuning once it's all done.

    I agree with the people here who suggested you should a) get some beta readers to give you insight, and b) go through the MS looking for developmental issues LONG before you start sentence tinkering, etc.

    I found it helpful to go through and state in a sentence or two (for each one) what I wanted each chapter to accomplish. That approach might give you some ideas of where things might need to be pared down or added to. Make sure all the elements of your story are in place and that nothing important has been left out.

    Make sure you have no plot holes—things that couldn't have happened in that time frame, or people who can't really be two places at once, or spring flowers blooming in October, etc.

    Make sure your characters develop in a meaningful and believable way. (If they start out as a certain type of person and end up as a different type of person, make sure that transformation actually makes sense.)

    Have you made the transitions between chapters and scenes clear—so your readers won't struggle to follow the who, what, when and where of your story?

    You can also work on your dialogue passages, making sure the speakers are saying what they need to say without going on and on and on. Make sure it's always clear who is saying what.

    If you use a pronoun, he, she or they, is it stunningly obvious who these pronouns refer to? (If you have more than one female in a scene together, the use of the word 'she' in place of a character's name can become a real problem for a reader who isn't sure which person 'she' refers to.)

    Once you've done all that, and received feedback from a couple of beta readers, you'll have a much clearer idea of how to shape your prose.

    Just break the editing work down into small sections. Go through searching a specific problem or two, and don't try to tackle everything at once. Take breaks, and if you find yourself changing something, changing it again, changing it back, changing it again ..and again ...and again...go do something else. Wait for that section to gel before you start working on it again.

    Yes, in short, the editing lark is a long, fraught process! And there will be times when you think who in hell wrote this crap? But in the end, when you can read through it and become absorbed in the story yourself, you'll know y0u've done it. You've written something worth while and enjoyable that is entirely yours. Nothing like that feeling, really.
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2017
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  11. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Contributor Contributor

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    Consider that your second draft isn't going to be your final draft.

    As a writer, I end up going through my novels at least 7 to 9 times, and in some areas I revise it more where needed.

    With different passes I focus on different items. Finding plot holes or something that went off on a tangent, and address those. I work on dialogue and description, I work to catch typos and missing words, I work on grammar and consistency, things like that.

    If I catch something out of my main focus, I either fix it on the spot or make note of it (I use a spiral notebook) to address, so that I do not worry about forgetting.

    Maybe something like this will assist in working to improve that first draft, such as if you're spending an inordinate amount of time in one small area, including a line or paragraph) make not of the concern, and move on, and let the concern simmer in the background as you make progress.
     
  12. Orcalot

    Orcalot Member

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    Oh my God guys, seriously, thank you so much for all the responses, I'm indebted! I'll try to clarify a little:-

    60K - no it's not finished. I had my characters and plot so I got stuck in and just played to my strengths completely- action, drama, dialogue, all written, with tons of notes and *need detail here*marks on it. I'm rubbish at writing description or any kind of scene-setting/exposition type stuff, so there are major gaps because I allowed myself first draft free reign to skip whatever I knew would get me stuck. So now, here I am. Stuck! I think "editing" is probably a premature word on my part. In the last week of work I've realised that my biggest problem is really a technical one - outside of my strengths I simply flounder because I don't have the ability to write good prose.
    I'm very lucky - I've had very positive feedback from my writer's group, and I've also shown a piece to an editor at a writing event, who told me that the writing is very good, and that I've an original and wonderful story. Although once again I played to my strengths, so they've only seen the juicy stuff!

    The 12 hours on the opening passage, yeah, that was mostly what someone said above - I realised I'd started the story in the wrong place and had to re-write. But the struggle I've had with it has become the norm now, because anything that's not dialogue or direct action is just painfully bad and reads flat and dead like the minutes of a story, rather than an actual story and I end up just deleting it all. Then I usually pick up a bunch of books by my favourite writers and read random passages, just to reassure myself that no, I'm not deluded, my writing IS actually shite!

    oooooohhhh never a truer word was said!!!! Although it's probably a shrink's couch I need for that one, not a writer's forum!

    thank you so much for that!!!

    Thank you everybody for all your comments and advice, I'm so very grateful. Taking it all on board. How wondeful to know I'm not alone!!! Apologies also for the pissing and moaning. My new strategy is to break it down into smaller targets so that it's not so overwhelming. Start with that, and keep going. Shut down the writer's forum and open a new document instead and do some bloody work! And maybe, as someone suggested, open a nice bottle of Merlot to go along with it :)
    xx
     
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  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    If I were in charge, which I'm not: I would suggest that you write that stuff, just to get the details down, without worrying about whether the writing feels flat. I would get everything that's a note now, into words, so that it really is a complete first draft, even if you hate lots of it.

    Because thinking out the final details is work, and editing the words to feel right is work, and maybe separating those two elements of work will help.

    And maybe it won't. But I'd suggest knocking off at least several of those "need detail here" items to see how it seems to be going.

    Also, is it possible that you could translate some of the description/scene-setting/exposition into action/drama/dialogue?

    Random sloppy example, just for the dialogue:

    Joseph walked into the museum lobby. The floors...marble...hangings...carvings...blah de blah de blah description blah.

    as opposed to.

    Joseph walked into the museum lobby and sighed.
    "What?" Vicki frowned at him.
    "Why can't we have a decent modern museum like the Guggenheim instead of this...what is this? It's like a church reproduced with a railroad station."
    "Bus station. No self-respecting railroad station would have that horrible Formica counter over there."
    "Whatever."
     
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  14. Orcalot

    Orcalot Member

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    Thanks again ChickenFreak, that advice is definitely resonating with me. And you're right, as several others have said here, it's too early for serious line-editing.
    Again, I'm truly grateful to everyone who read my little SOS of a post. I've so much to learn! Thank you all, most graciously.
    xx
     
  15. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Looking at my own advice, I feel the need to clarify that I'm not suggesting what one person whose name I can't remember referred to a as "Hollywood" exposition, where characters tell each other things that they already know and that are irrelevant to the moment:

    James said, "As you know, Vicki, my old school friend, I need to buy an entry ticket. I will do so by crossing the sixty-yard width of this art deco-style museum lobby, to reach the painfully inappropriate Formica counter."

    Vicki responded, "James, my brother's best friend, I will remain here, near the three-headed statue of a the dachsund belonging to the museum's founder, Wilbur Farnsworth. As you may recall, the dachsund statue was an essential part of the evidence presented at Mr. Farnsworth's commitment hearing."


    So, not that. You know I mean not that. But I always need to clarify things anyway.
     
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  16. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Actually, too much exposition is what trips most new writers up. This is the "show not tell" syndrome. I had a whole lot of exposition about what a wonderful city ancient Alexandria was in my first draft. Nicely written... if it were a history text, but it's a novel. So it became dialogue, one Roman spends a lot of time there, knows the city well, is taking the other two, who are in "the pearl of the Mediterranean" for the first time, out to see his ship docked on Pharos Island by the lighthouse, giving them a ride in a cart, and a tour. So narration replaced some of my exposition, and meanwhile the centurion's eye is caught by girls on Eunostis Beach, playground of the rich, wearing two piece bathing suits... he wonders if they are "perfessional women... beggin' yer pardon, sir." Getting rid of exposition and setting was my big editing challenge.

    So concentrating on dialogue over exposition IS where your strength is, @Orcalot, so relax and enjoy that bottle of merlot.
     
  17. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The game sour like a pickle be.... Contributor

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    Merlot? Shiiiiiit... switch that up to a Bordeaux blend with some Merlot in it at least. Hop over to this thread and we'll set you straight:

    https://www.writingforums.org/threads/the-wine-list.152138/
     
  18. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    When critiquing other people's stories, I've discovered 'flat and dead' writing usually means the writer is trying to move too quickly through the story. They are eager to get through the chapter and hit all the plot points, so they end up just telling us that this happened, then that happened, then something else happened ....the end.

    I suspect you're not rubbish at writing description, setting, etc. I suspect you're simply not taking the time to feel the atmosphere for yourself. Instead, you're probably focused on what your characters are doing and saying, but not enough on the surrounding environment. Or maybe not enough on how they feel about what they're doing and saying, or how their environment affects them. (I'm not meaning 'the great outdoors' when I say environment here, but I mean the setting—which might be a bedroom, a castle or a McDonald's restaurant.)

    I'd say take a few steps backwards, and pretend YOU are in that scene and are actually one of the characters. One of the other characters approaches you and starts speaking. You will recognise them (or not) and have a reaction to them, won't you? You might be glad to see them (why?) or wish they'd never been born (why?) What is it they do that attracts or repels you? What are you actually thinking when they talk to you? When you talk to them, what kind of reaction do you want them to have to what you say? How can you tell if you've hit the mark?

    And the environment itself. What does your point of view character actually notice? Do those plain cream walls and ceiling make him want to go to sleep? Does the wallpaper make her grit her teeth to prevent herself making a negative comment? (Why?) Is the room hot, and you SO wish somebody would open a window? Has she been here before, and the familiarity calms her down? Or infuriates her? (why?)

    This is the way to handle description and setting. Make the setting MATTER to your point of view character. That way it comes alive. It doesn't mean you need to describe every object on the scene. A few details coupled with the character's reaction is enough to make the setting stick in the mind of the reader. Why have you set the scene here? Think about that, and try to work that aspect into your story.

    Above all, slow down. You are taking your reader on a journey, not just telling them what happened.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2017
  19. ajaye

    ajaye Senior Member

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    I love this example, it gives a couple of pieces and I fill in the rest with my imagination - we don't need a dry list of things to picture a setting.
     
  20. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    And yet, that reads like very good satire and it made me chuckle. :)

    (But just to clarify: the example above is good in satire, and satire alone.)
     
  21. Orcalot

    Orcalot Member

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    Invaluable. Thank you so much. xxx
     
  22. Gidget

    Gidget Member

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    Agree 100%. Although not planned by me, time away from my manuscript was invaluable. Without it, I don't think that I would have been able to make the drastic revisions that I needed to make.
     
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