I know of a bestselling author who sends her first draft to her editor, who then helps her craft it into another bestseller.
But that’s not real life – at least not for me.
It takes many, many drafts for my happiness meter to go up. My first draft is a thin, uninspired plot. Then I add the muscles, tendons, and ligaments to that skeleton. With each draft, I fall more in love with my hero and want to befriend my heroine.
The magic comes after I’m happy with the plot and get sick of my characters. That’s when I can look at the dialogue and the plot with clear eyes. Once I rip those ‘rose-colored glasses’ off, I can see everything without bias.
I’m there in my current book. That’s when I need to force myself to go through the book again. It takes a lot of energy to make it through, but, to me, this is the most valuable draft, since I can find plot holes, stilted dialogue, and general weirdness that I may have overlooked during my love affair.
I urge you to write your horrible first draft and then add to that bony skeleton during the subsequent draft(s).
Perfection is not the goal when you write the first draft. Sonja
But you need to be careful about your source. Are there footnotes? Sources? Corroboration?
There is a lot of false information out there. You need to be careful with your research.
I was recently researching a location for a book and found a lot of conflicting information. Granted, it is a historical site and I was looked for the minutiae, but, still, it was frustrating. The thing was, the sites were the information came from were all vetted sites and operated by trustworthy sources.
Although several of the sites supported each other, I’m not sure if they’re correct. It’s frustrating, isn’t it? It’s so tempting to take the one that matches what you need and use it, but it may be dramatically incorrect.
What do you do?
I will likely modify things to suit my story and put in a disclaimer that I did this. I’ll write that I couldn’t find good corroboration in my research and to not take my information as fact. I certainly don’t want it used as a source. I pride myself on the accuracy of my research.
I’m sure each of the sites I researched insists that their version is based on truth. How can I know which is accurate?
All I’m saying is, be careful and admit when you aren’t sure about something. Sonja
Last month I told you about my favorite book that helps me with my narrative and descriptions. It’s called the Descriptionary: A Thematic Dictionary, by Marc McCutcheon. There are some sections that I don’t use, like “French Cooking Terms” and “Surgical Procedures.” But if I want to know what a “hand-and-a-half sword” is, then there’s a definition for it. (It’s an intermediate or small sword, smaller than a two-handed sword, by the way). There’s also a section on clothing, separated by major historical eras or shifts.
Hey, have you heard of a “ha-ha”? No, it’s not laughter. It’s a sunken fence or moat around a garden to keep animals out of the area.
I like books that help me with research or language. I don’t like redundancy or interrupting my writing flow while I search for the correct word. Sometimes I put XXX to hold the place of a word I need and then go back to fill it in. Otherwise, that fleeting thread of dialogue or plot will evaporate. It usually doesn’t come back, whether it was good or bad.
I know, when don’t I? But today I want to talk about asking for help. What? I don’t want a writing partner. I’m not talking about someone helping you write your scenes; I’m talking about a fresh set of eyes to look at your finished draft. There will always be something you missed!
Have you ever written a paragraph, read it over and been satisfied, then handed it to someone else who pointed out that you missed a word? Yup, we’ve all been there. My big gaffe (which makes me laugh every time I think about it) is using lamp for lamb. It makes a big difference in the sentence.
I must have read that almost a dozen times and never caught it.
Because my brain saw the word that I wanted, not the word I had written.
It doesn’t need to cost you much, whether that be money or time, but it’s necessary for your writing. Can you imagine submitting a manuscript with a ewe birthing a lamp instead of a lamb (Hand raised. I did it.)?
When I tell someone I’m a writer, there are two questions that I’m always asked: 1. where do you get your ideas, 2. when did you start writing.
I’ll answer these questions in order.
My ideas usually come to me as I’m falling asleep. I tell myself stories as I drop off. When I’m in the middle of a first draft, I think about upcoming scenes and imagine dialogue and the interaction between the characters. Sometimes I come up with an idea during the day, file it away-either written down or in my memory-and then imagine the scene that night.
I started writing in middle school. My best friend at the time was an amazing writer and we talked about the process. It piqued my interest and I began a story. The other influencer was one of my middle school/high school English teachers. She promoted the idea of writing and even brought in a guest lecturer. He discussed creative writing and had us write ideas and chapters.
I think these two people built the foundation for my writing career. So, thank you to you both.
I miss my friend and am thankful that I am Internet friends with the teacher.
I hope you have someone, or several somebodies, who inspire you. Sonja
I’ve had a lot of questions about how to come up with a title. For me, it generally appears in my imagination before I start writing. My current work-in-progress (WIP), doesn’t have a title, which is weird for me. So, I’m using a placeholder. It’s uninspired, but I don’t want to spend time trying to think of one. I expect it will come through as I’m writing. If not, then I’ll spend the time thinking about it.
I like to spend my time writing, not thinking slowly closing circles about something that will likely appear–as if by magic!
The title is so important, as is the cover art and the text on the back. They’re more important than the first five pages! They encourage a reader to pick up the book and read those words–hopefully, leading to them buying the book to read.
I hope to give my readers adventure and a taste of the magical kingdom where the fairies live. And I want to give readers a glimpse into the life of Guinness the Therapy Dog.
Here’s another look at the journals I keep for each story. The photos show the journals for the Fairies of Carlow series.
I keep one journal for each book, with the pages divided into several sections: main characters, settings, events, chapter summaries.
They help keep continuity while I’m writing the book, and any books that may share characters or settings. (I’m a big fan of series’!).
By using a journal I can make sure the eye and hair colors of each character are consistent as I write. Sometimes, these things get lost inside my head and I can’t remember if I made someone a blonde, redhead, or a brunette. Also, I include height, preferences, things they hate/love, etc. Some characters get a full page, others get a half-page. It depends on how much I need to know about them.
For the Fairies of Carlow books, I found journals with covers that match each fairy’s signature color. (Confused? Now’s a good time to buy the books and find out what I’m talking about!)
I happen to love journals and tend to buy way too many of them. I have a stack of blank journals and a ton of pens that I need to find a use for. Did I mention my love of pens?
I have found that I don’t like gel pens… and try to find anything but those these days! I don’t know, the ink smears, it bleeds when you drip tea on it… But I love ballpoint pens and feel so posh when I use a fountain pen. I was given a Mont Blanc decades ago and feel so special when I use it. (But talk about wet ink and bleeding under drips of tea!)
Anyway, consistency is the key to good writing. Floor plans need to make sense. The barn needs to stay in the same place. And the sun needs to set in the same direction every evening.
I am a small business. So small, in fact, that I am the only person. Writing can be a lonely business. When I lean against the virtual water cooler to gossip, I talk to my dogs, including Guinness the Therapy Dog. They listen but don’t have any gossip of their own.
On the plus side, I am always the employee of the month!
I generally sit at the dining table to write. It is my designated writing space and gives me full access to my dogs, my tea, and my DVD player. I think my time in the newsroom made it necessary to have noise when I write. I usually stream Netflix or Amazon Prime or have one of my many movies playing. I don’t watch much, just hear the dialogue. Generally, I don’t even listen very closely, I just seem to need the noise.
Why don’t I listen to music?
It’s too distracting! Who’d have thought?
As I said, I think it goes back to my days in broadcasting when three or four police and fire scanners were blaring behind me, reporters were scanning their video or talking, and there was general ‘stuff’ going on around me.
Editing is a different story, and I need quiet. But during the initial creation (the icky first draft), I need the background noise.
I am asked frequently how I became a writer. I’m asked also how I come up with my story ideas.
My response is: how do you not have stories constantly running through your head?
I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember. A wonderful lady used to tell how I would be going to sleep when we were all camping and they would hear my voice acting out some scene or other. That’s when I was maybe three or four years old.
Everything I see is filed away and it’s fun to take things out and examine them to see if they will fit into my current WIP (work in progress). Sometimes I’ll write a scene and a memory will pop up that I can integrate into the description.
The fun of writing the Guinness the Therapy Dog series is that I have the famous dog right here at my feet. If I want to see how he plays with a ball, I can throw it for him. It’s fun to have my subject ready to watch!
When I write longer chapter books, as opposed to the illustrated easy-to-read books, I need to keep track of characters, settings, and scenes. The ‘Fairies of Carlow’ series v. ‘The Voyage’ or the ‘Guinness the Therapy Dog’ series is a good example.
I keep a journal for each book with sections for characters, settings, chapter summaries, and events. This way I can map out rooms, homes, gardens, etc. to make sure my writing is consistent.
Since I like to write series’, I keep notes on the characters so when I revisit them in another title I can stay consistent with who they are and what they look like.
Consistency is the key when creating a world, which is what each book does.
I don’t have journals for the Guinness the Therapy Dog series since they are shorter and less complex. Also, I have the real thing laying at my feet so I don’t need to go far for inspiration or to see exactly how the white blaze goes from nose to the top of his head.
Let me know your tips and tricks for keeping track of details! Sonja