I often meet writers who are looking for words of wisdom. Some are wearing the same deer-in-the-headlights look I’m sure I had when I was a brand-new writer! The advice I give to them is the best piece of advice I ever received – finish the first draft. Many aspiring writers have drawers full of half-finished manuscripts or files full of ideas, but don’t have the wherewithal to complete the task. If you ever want to publish a book, finishing what you start is essential.
Here are some thoughts that might help you stick with your story:
It isn’t meant to be perfect on the first round.
Really. Just write it. With my last book, I needed one of my main characters to find a black ops site and track down some important data. I knew the scene I’d written leading up to the discovery wasn’t believable, but I didn’t want to get hung up on it and derail myself, so I left it as a place-holder. By the time I came back to it during edits, new ideas had been swirling and I was able to write a much stronger scene.
Don’t get caught up in perfection. It’s more important to get the ideas down on paper. Leave yourself a little note if you can’t find the right words or the right plot action. There will time to come back and fix things later.
Writing the middle is hard for everyone.
All writers get stuck here sometimes. Inevitably, the middle of my story is the where crippling self-doubt kicks in. Suddenly, everything I’ve written sounds ridiculous, I can’t find my way out of the plot tangles, and I’m sure no one will ever want to read this book. Sound familiar? Click here for some practical tips on making it through the middle: Stuck in the Middle.
The most important thing at this point is to keep going. Again, the story doesn’t have to be perfect, you just need to finish it. If you’ve never experienced the success of pushing through those difficult pages, you’ll never really believe that you can do it.
The plot serves the story.
I’ve mentioned this in other posts, but it’s worth repeating here. There’s a difference between story and plot action. Through your plot, you’ll develop all the interesting bits that make your story unique, compelling, and page turning. But, the plot isn’t the story itself, only the component parts, some of which can be tweaked to better serve the story.
When I really wrapped my head around this concept, I felt a great sense of relief. I could make changes, sometimes significant changes, to my manuscript and still be true to my story. In fact, this idea allowed me to experiment with different plot scenarios without fear that I’d lose my way. Remember this if you get stuck or know something isn’t quite working in your manuscript.
You can’t edit a blank page.
You have to have a finished manuscript in order to edit. Don’t make the mistake of editing too much as you go. Even with a solid outline in place, the creative process is just that – creative, and your finished draft may be quite different from what you first imagined. Until the whole story is out, it doesn’t really make sense to write and re-write something that may change significantly or be cut altogether during edits. The idea is to finish the draft and get the bones of your story in place. You can finesse during the editing process.
The best way to learn to write is by writing.
Sure workshops, critique partners, and even a degree can help us with our writing skills, but nothing will teach us more about writing than actually writing. All the advice we’ve gotten like “show don’t tell” or “kill your darlings” has no real meaning until we’re immersed in the work of writing. We have to practice to improve our skillset, and part of the learning process includes finishing an entire manuscript. Whether or not a particular manuscript ever emerges from the desk drawer, if you finish what you start, you’ll know you have what it takes to write the next one.