When Your Own Bad Writing Makes You Sick

Ever look back and read work you’ve done in the past to realize it sucks so bad you almost feel physically ill?

Yep, that happened to me in a big way Sunday. The previous week my son started school on Wednesday, so I started working on my new novel with gusto (I’d been waiting all summer to start!), but realized I had some background information and research that needed to be done first. Then I got the bright idea to read the half completed first draft of my second novel (Dark Territories) over the weekend. God, what a horrible, awful, terrible disappointment that turned out to be.

I couldn’t even get all the way through two chapters before I decided I’d had enough, because I was real close to vomiting. Yeah, it was that bad. And I can’t even pinpoint one specific thing that was terrible. There was a well balanced amount of terribleness from stiff and completely out of character dialogue to plot leaps that would make a mountain goat proud. There were tie-ins from one story arc to another that left me wondering exactly how much I had to drink that day. And please don’t even get me started on my long windedness. I could probably make a schooner set sail with all that blustering air moving about in each scene.

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How Many Drafts Does it Take to Finish a Novel?

Now that’s a good question. I hear the “it takes three drafts” a lot, but really it depends on the writer and the writer’s experience. Though the more experience you have in writing, the less mistakes you tend to make the first time around and typically add more “correct” information in the first couple of rounds (because you have a stronger idea of what makes a good story).

Even still, there are many well-published authors who do a lot more than three drafts (check out Lisa Gail’s interview with authors as she asks How Many Drafts Does it Take to Get to the Query Stage?). It really boils down to writing style and an individual’s organizational mode. Every writer is different. Check out this interview with Earnest Hemingway…

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
— Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review Interview, 1956

Gah! 39. Now that’s a lot! But he’s right, it’s about getting the words right even if it take 39 drafts or 390 drafts.

And then there are the super star writers who can do up a novel without much rewriting at all.

“It takes me six months to do a story. I think it out and write it sentence by sentence — no first draft.”— Dorothy Parker, The Paris Review Interview, 1956

And some people write drafts with certain issues they want to address in that particular draft.

Leslie Rose (from How Many Drafts Does it Take to Get to the Query Stage?) wrote:

Here are my drafts:
1 – vomit draft – let it fly baby
2- Story arc pass – main story subplots – overall structure
3- MC & supporting character arcs – including character development & embellishment
4- grammar/punctuation pass & bad habit pass (adverbs/tense/sentence variety/word choice)
7 – Hard copy read – make corrections
8 – Kindle read – make corrections
OUT TO BETAS
9 – Including Beta notes pass
10 – Holistic read – wearing my audience hat
11 – Corrections from Holistic read
QUERY TIME

Writing a novel doesn’t even really start until draft two and on (well, for most of us anyways). It’s the rewriting that shapes the story into what you actually want it to be. The first draft is just mental vomit.

“Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what it is one is saying.” — John Updike

In my case, I found I didn’t even know what I wanted to say until my third draft (my novel will take a total of five drafts to be completed by the way). I have whole chapters from draft one and two that will never see the light of day (thank god!).

“Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn’t work, throw it away. It’s a nice feeling, and you don’t want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.” — Helen Dunmore

And then there is the multiple rewrites that happen within a draft. You know, the tiny rewrites that happen over and over until you feel like you can bleed the words (though these rewrites and edits should happen in draft two and beyond).

“By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” — Roald Dahl

Basically it’s up to you how many drafts you write (and don’t let anyone tell you different!). What matters is that the story progresses in a way that you want and gets the point across.

Here are some other posts on how many drafts it takes…

Karen Woodward’s How Many Drafts Does it Take to Write a Novel?

Joanna Penn’s Writing a Book: What Happens After the First Draft?

And check out this article on How Many Rewrites is too Much?

Sooooooo, how many drafts does it take (or will take) you to finish a novel?

 

To Be a Good Writer Means to Be a Good Thinker

Writing is 99% thinking, and the rest is typing. — Ray Bradbury

When I first started writing, I did it the hard way. I just wrote the first thing that came to mind. I got an idea, character, setting, or ect. in my head and I wrote it down immediately.

It was fun. I produced a story, or maybe a part of a story, or maybe really just words on a page. But damn if I didn’t feel proud of my accomplishment. A proud Momma with her precious baby.

And then I got some experience under my belt and that happy bubble popped when I realized I was doing it all wrong.

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The First Draft: A Necessary Evil

Have you ever taken a look at a first draft of a story and said “What a piece of crap?” It happens to me all the time. It’s really quite depressing when you read through the story and think “This is nothing like what I was trying to go for” or  “There’s so many  errors and mistakes I’ll never get it to turn out the way it needs to.”  When coming to these types of low points in writing, it is important to remember that it’s all part of the writing process. First drafts are suppose to be crappy. The most important thing is getting the story on paper anyway that you can. Once it’s there then it will be possible to go back and make changes.

One thing I always do when completing a first draft is to send it to a few of my writing colleagues to critique. I then let it sit and stew for a bit. If an idea or thought pops up about the story, I write it down in a notebook for review later. After enough time has gone by (about a week or so), I sit down with my notes, with any critiques I’ve gotten back, and work through the crap. I usually end up with a fairly decent second draft, which makes the whole writing thing feel like it isn’t such a downer after all.

I recently stumbled across a few other blog posts about the first draft. One from A Place For Writers called Is Your First Draft Really Awful? talks about the importance of writing the first draft, the time it takes and understanding that it is a process. Also check out The Blood-Red Pencil’s blog Shitty First Drafts as Maryann Miller talks about using the first draft as a playground for writers and getting the story down with the “inner editor” turned off.

Don’t judge the quality of your writing by your first drafts, use your finished pieces for that. The process is there for a reason. It helps workout all the stuff that doesn’t, so that you’re free to discover the stuff that does. It’ about getting the beginning, middle and end down so that later you can fix and polish it up. Accept the first draft for what it is and move on. First drafts are a necessary evil.