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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Novel Submission: Writing an Effective Cover Letter

516TFGYGF9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_We talked about Novel Submission: The Query Package, but now let’s get more specific and discuss how to actually write a cover letter (and FYI, writing a novel cover letter is different than a short story cover letter, in fact there are some publications that don’t even require a cover letter for short story submissions).

The following post is an accumulation of what I learned from Gary A Braunbeck’s worksop on cover letters and synopses, research I’ve done, and my own observations as I wrote the cover letter for my novel.

Here are some important things to keep in mind as you begin to write the cover letter (or what some call a query letter)…

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Novel Submission: The Query Package

Untitled-2After many years, my novel is finally done, now comes the hardest part yet… it’s time to submit it. I have to admit, I’d rather write another entire novel from scratch then do what comes next, but paraphrasing Theodore Roosevelt, “anything worthwhile never comes easy.”

This summer I’ve been taking the first steps in getting my novel ready for submission by writing a kicks cover letter (or sometimes called a query letter) and a handful of synopses (because it’s not good enough to have just one synopsis, but that’s another post!).

The first step I took in writing the cover letter and synopsis was to do research and see how the professionals were doing it. And I was also lucky enough to take a workshop about cover letters and synopses from science fiction author Gray A. Braunbeck last September. After a frustrating search, I finally managed to find my notes from his workshop. Yay!

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Should I Write a Novel or a Short Story?

What a great question, and one may writers struggle to answer in their writing journey. The best part about this question is there is no wrong answer. And yet, a writer often feels like the whole world hinges on that one important question… Should I write a novel or a short story?

The simple answer is… it depends.

It depends on the subject matter, how long you really think it will tell the best story, and how much staying power you have. Let’s face it, writing a novel is not easy. Many people have tried and failed. And many people have succeeded and wished they’d just wrote a freaking short story.

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The End is Here

The EndThe end. The most two satisfying words a writer can ever write. The end. Two words standing alone that means more than all other words put together. And as those two words are written and then stared at in shocked disbelief, a rush of emotions hit in one great punch. Ecstatic happy dancing commences… Swirling ribbons of sadness twist in the stomach at the realization that a great journey is finally over… But mostly a profound relief settles and solidifies as the truth finally hits home… after countless days of hard work, overcoming large bouts of self-doubt and writer’s block, constant rewrites and edits, and grueling self imposed hours The End finally came.

Yeah, that was me three weeks ago as I finished my novel Blood Feud.

Granted, I’m not completely done. I sent the last draft out to pre-readers to get some feedback. Once I hear back, I may make a few changes here or there, but for the most part it’s done. And even though I say that and have had three weeks to bask in my novels completion, I’m still somewhat in disbelief. I’ll be honest there were many days, weeks, and months when I never thought the novel would ever be completed despite my always optomistic behavior of “I will get to the end no matter what!”

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Hello There, Stranger!

Wow! I just checked the date on my last post. March 30th. I knew it had been awhile, but I didn’t know it’d been that long. So sorry to you and myself. I really had not intended to stay away from my blog that long. What can I say? Life got in the way.

Two major things really.

One, in the last few months, I have been going through some incredible changes in my personal life (and in extension in my overall health as well). Some of it’s been easy (no not really), some of it’s been hard like really freaking awful hard, but all of it has been very much needed and long over due. In doing all that soul searching and reflection, it’s left little time to do well… a lot (and not just blogging either).

In all my reflection, it’s also put things in perspective for me and made me see what was really important. And while I do like to work on my blog, in the grand scheme of things, blogging is down near the bottom of stuff I really should be doing (so sorry, the truth hurts I know).

That being said, I do want to start working on my blog more regularly. And since I will be taking a break from major writing over the summer, I just might have the time to get back into the swing of things.

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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?