First, a moment of celebration, for a few weeks ago I finished the first very rough draft of the WIP! The working title for this project was “White Wedding” and it has been a trainwreck from start to finish. But most of it is on paper now and I’m going to ignore it for a few weeks.
Writing a novel-length project is crazy hard because, at least in my experience, you often start the project meaning to move in one direction and find that the thing has twisted in your hands by the end. What you thought was a vase has now become a teapot. Don’t ask me how this works — I don’t make the rules. I’ve been to writing workshops where writers that I admired stated that true mastery of the craft was being able to sit down at the desk and do what you intended to do, which sounds good and all but in practice is more of an aspirational state. There are stories that have worked like that for me, more or less. And then there are projects like “White Wedding” which….did not. I started this project with the goal of writing a short novel, and that’s what happened, and so that’s good? But it took me Two. Whole. Years. And this draft? It’s the second attempt, cut pretty much from wholecloth.
I was of course working on other projects during that time. I started three other novels and a novella within that time period, and will continue to work forward on those. I revised a novel that needed a lot of love, and I have just gotten editing notes back on another trunk novel that I aim to rewrite over the next year (in my free time, har har). I also revised and published a novella to editor specs — which you can buy! Right now!
But none of this changes the fact that even though this draft is the second attempt, even though I have written this story twice, the rough draft of “White Wedding” is, inevitably, a dumpsterfire. A sweet, baby dumpsterfire, a winding snake of a story that starts with one vision and ends with another.
Everyone’s process is different, but nobody gets to skip editing. Some folks do it as they go. I find that this does not work for me — I might tweak some words in the paragraph I finished the night before, but my goal when I sit down is to make more words, not workshop the same words over and over. Some people write to outline and stick to that outline rigidly. Some people, like myself, see outlines as sort of…guidelines. Signposts, if you will, that hardly keep the story from running around in the woods for a bit, like a dog you’ve let off the leash. There’s joy in that sprint. My best work comes from those brambles. But the rawness of it needs to be refined.
So therefore, revisions. My first round is additive — fleshing out characters, rearranging scenes, improving setting and character descriptions. Making the beginning of the story match the ending — making sure the characters I started the story with either exited gracefully or made it to the end. Making sure my main character’s motivations stay clear throughout. After that, well, betas go in there somewhere, and then there’s a round of answering questions readers have raised. Which probably means more words honestly. That’s how these things go. At some point there will be copyedits — workshop of the lines themselves to make for the maximum sentence richness. It’s all necessary work. Cultivating your editor brain is just as important as your writer brain.
Keeping them in balance is the real work.