Sunday, 18 May 2014

Final Draft? - Enough is Enough

It's hard to know when you've finished a creative work. How many times do you continue polishing, hoping to improve what went before? When do you ever finish?

Answer: As many times as it takes.

For me, I normally do about five 'Final Drafts'. It's crazy. Each time, I save the next draft as 'Draft_FINAL' and it never is. There's Draft_FINAL One'; 'Draft_FINAL Two' and so on. My personal favourite? 'Draft FINAL_FINAL'.

Each time I review a draft, I find more errors, or more room for improvement. Each re-draft takes less time than the one before, but each re-draft is harder, more freaky, because each time I re-read it I realist that there's still so much wrong.

So I suppose for me,  a piece is finished is when I can't bear to read it again. If I work on this story anymore I will go insane.

And then I take a deep breath, package my finely crafted work up and sit it on it for four to six weeks.
I dread the next part, the sending it out into the wide wide world. Because as soon as that happens, I start getting rejections.

Rejections are almost inevitable. But, oh, how they hurt.  So instead, I keep working on a story, trying to make it perfect, delaying the inevitable pain.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Third Draft Woes

Where are we now?

  • you know your story premise
  • your characters are all fleshed out
  • you know what will happen to them
  • you know who narrates your story
  • you've written your first draft. 
[Quickly, or slowly: either way, it doesn't really matter - although there was a time limit on the title of this sequences of blog posts, so I've been a little bit under pressure. Because - did I say this? - dear reader, I'm doing this along with you.]
  • you've edited your first draft
  • you've shuffled your story around, creating your second draft

And Now: Time for the really meaty bit: THIRD DRAFT.

For me, third draft is about copy-editing. Tightening the words, so everything is succinct, where the writing is powerful and immediate and interesting. Third draft makes sure the right word is in the right place.

I like doing my third draft. I work in hard copy, sliding a ruler under each line, and read line by line down the page, following the ruler. This stops me skimming, makes sure I consider each word carefully. I often do this in a cafe, just for a change of scene.

I save my draft two file, make a new one, called 'Draft Three' - duh - and type up the changes.  It's time consuming, of course, but it's also fun, because it's a chance to see if the premise and themes I dreamt of so long ago are coming together, that the story kind of hums along.

The big problem that I have is the continual second-guessing. Oh, but will this appeal to a reader? To an agent? To a publisher?

Which is where I introduce an important little tip: at third draft stage, it's helpful to consider a Critique Partner (CP). 

A CP is someone who reviews and comments on your chapters. preferably, someone who will be brutally honest, without fair of reprisals. Don't use a family member, or a neighbour, or a friend. You need someone to tell you the parts that are boring, or which scenes don't make sense.

Personally, I don't find it too useful to have a CP until draft three, because up until this point, there's so many changes. But after draft three, it's invaluable. Especially for the all-important first three chapters.

Why are The First Three Chapters so Important?

Because these are the ones read by agents, editors and readers. Actually, the first three words, the first three paragraphs, the first three chapters. If you spend time polishing anything, polish these parts of your story.

Where Can I Find a CP?

  • If you're doing a creative writing course, well then, it's obvious. You'll have more than enough eyes on your manuscript. 
  • You can join a writing group.  Google writer's groups + [the town you live in]. Or look up your local Writer's Society. Here's the link to the New Zealand Society of Authors
  • You can join a special interest group - such as a Romance Writers Association
  • Or - and here's a special tip from me to you - you can join Ladies Who Critique - and no, they're not paying me. LWC is kind of like a speed dating service for writers, matching writers with critique partners. I've found it useful and its a good way to chat with other writers, all from different parts of the world, with varying experiences. Ignore the 'ladies' bit. They welcome men, too. :)

Finally: A Warning.

You will probably lose a lot of words in draft three. I usually lose about 10 - 20 percent. This means that if I'm aiming for a final word count of say 50,000 (average for a YA novel), I need to write about 75,000 to ensure I still have enough words for my manuscript to stand half a chance of acceptance.

And at the end of Draft Three - will my (good) novel finally be finished?

It's up to you. If you are happy with it, then yes, perhaps. But for me - no. I will keep going on redrafting for quite a little longer.

And Lastly: An Apology

I now have a job that pays me ACTUAL MONEY. Unlike writing, which doesn't. So blog posts will be infrequent for a time. But don't worry, I'm still writing, just much slower than before.