I prefer to revise. I tend to get drafting anxiety and find it easier to fix existing work, though I respect those who like to draft! It’s the best magic to get caught up in creating something new.
That said, because I like to revise, I have been a little intense about it with DragonWIP, and through the process came up with some revision takeaways. I’ll walk you through them in this series of posts.
This isn’t a revision guide (check here for plenty of websites that cover that!) but rather some tips and tricks I discovered through my process with this particular manuscript.
Draft The First
DragonWIP started in a moment of frustration with this Pied Piper retelling I have. I love the Pied Piper thing. But I’ve been bashing my face against the keyboard trying to make it work for three years, and it just isn’t happening. Maybe it’s a bigger book than I can handle right now, or maybe I got writer anxiety when retellings suddenly became a Thing.
Either way, I hadn’t actually finished a manuscript since early in college, and I knew it was time for a project that was just fun. Maybe it would turn into something, maybe it wouldn’t.
I went to Starbucks, invented some characters in the back of a notebook and mashed up dragons with Iceland and a somewhat disgruntled sidekick to a local celebrity. At first it was an exercise, but all of a sudden the idea had me. My boyfriend was out of town for another month so I thought, what the hell, I’ll write this thing right now.
I did 10K that first weekend. The whole draft, 75K, was done in five weeks.
I definitely did this using the NaNo method, i.e. write and never look back. Some people plan their NaNo-style projects; I did not. And yep, I got stuck. Typically when I’m drafting, I have a running paragraph or two at the end of the text that summarizes either the next scene, or the next big plot point I need if I don’t know the next scene. I tend to write linearly, especially in the early stages.
All of this creates a ripe environment for writing myself into a corner, but when that happened and panic was nigh, I allowed myself to break form and brainstorm a light outline for the third act when I got there, since I knew I’d never find the words if I didn’t. And the novel got done!
- Write what you’re interested in. Do this even if the idea’s really weird or you have no clue how it will work. For example, novels aren’t usually about sidekicks, and that’s for a reason. (There are agency problems). But if it’s interesting to you, write about it anyway. If you stick with this manuscript, you’ll read it and rewrite it again and again and again–maybe five times, maybe dozens of times. You have to have the passion before anyone else will.
- Know your style, and know its weaknesses. This applies to plotting vs pantsing as well, but for me it’s important to know this about how I develop concepts. Pretty much all my ideas start with place and character, and I invent a plot from there. I struggle to create high concept ideas, and I think that’s related to the order in which I build the story. To me, the place and characters are the most interesting part, but I have to check myself early on and make sure I can articulate the plot clearly, or else I end up in a whole lot of trouble later. Write the way you write, but learn your blind spots so you can compensate.
- Just because you’re pantsing doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind. Normally, planning a paragraph ahead of time works out for me. But if I’d tried to do that the whole way through, there would be no DragonWIP. If you get stuck, don’t cling rigidly to any routine, style, or habit. Take it as an opportunity to try a new method–you’re not writing anything anyway, so what do you have to lose?
For Draft 2 and its takeaways, continue here.