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Notes on Writing
The first draft of anything is always bad. They drill that into your head from the moment you decide to be a writer. It’s like the moment you proclaim you are a writer, you are vested in this imaginary cloak of awesomeness and you are handed your little diploma made of all the pages you are going to write in the Great American Novel. As you’re walking out the door you hear the whispers that become the same advice we ignore.
The first draft is going to be bad.
Sad, but true. So, the moment we stop with the teenager temper tantrums of how great our prose is, and the compelling lives of our cardboard characters, and the setting that just jumps off the page. Then time begins to set in, we distance ourselves from our work. We find it in a drawer on the desk, forgetting what it was all about and then when we read it we realize something. It stinks. It has become bad and how dare we ever think that what we were spinning was gold? What kind of crazy pills were we taking?
Once we accept this, we can move forward. The great and secret step to being a writer is to face that first step. You will spin words into gilded crap, it looks pretty until you distance yourself. The best way to combat this, and knowing that the tide will one day hit you, because let’s face it. Most of the writers I have met, see the tsunami of crap coming their way. If you have outrun it and finish that first draft before it hits you, you can at least say you finished it.
Many writers get bogged down and it hits them right in the middle of their work and they almost cement to the spot. Do I edit it so it is better leading up until now? Do I continue onward knowing it will be bad?
The best way to keep yourself ahead of the broken illusion is to know that you just want to get from the beginning to the end as quickly as possible. I know many will disagree with this philosophy but I ask you. Is it easier to complain about how bad a book is, as long as there is a completed draft in front of you? It’s like a house. It may be falling apart at the seams, but you have it. The fixes you make can only make it better, strengthen the foundation, paint the walls, or replace the roof. I would take a full manuscript over a barely started one. You can tell me how grand your novel is going to be, but without any proof of the work all you have is a dream.
I have found that there are three factors that I have found to keep me spinning my literary nightmares. These three factors that will keep me on my track.
I cannot remove my pants. No matter how hard I try. I am a born pantser, and cannot outline to save my life. But that is okay, I venture into the dark an unexplored with little more than a matchstick but still find that there is something to brighten the path as I go.
Some people outline, if this works for you, my hat is metaphorically tipped to you. Yes, there are days where a map would get me out of a lot of trouble but like my exploration to be uncharted. When I sit down for the day, I think of where we were the day before, perhaps I will read the last chapter and see the tiny threads to where I am to attach the coming portion. Some days are harder than others, as the path is something as wide as a four lane highway and some days it is as thin and invisible as a path through the woods.
What helps me is to know where I want to go. If there is a beast in the woods in my story, and little Timmy just happened to chase his football into those woods. I am wondering if little Timmy has the power in his legs to outrun it. What if he doesn’t? What if he suffered an injury just days before that his mother told him to care for, but instead he went back to playing? What if he slips? What if the beast narrowly misses him? What if he gets him? What would we find afterward? Would there be anything to find? Surely there’d be a ball, but what else? It’s hard to pinpoint where you want to go, but I let the characters do the talking and walking. I’m just the guy behind the keyboard telling you folks about it.
When I get up in the morning, I get myself a cup of coffee, most recently it has been Dunkin Donuts Frozen Caramel Dunkin with whipped cream. My wife has officially started her process of killing me thousands of calories at a time. In the old days I would light up my cigarette and get that nicotine in my blood and brain, but these days the caffeine will make do. I sit down to my computer and just try to catch the coat tails of what I had the day before. Some days I see hidden threads, things that linked underneath that only became visible once I paid attention and then the narrative begins to come together and pieces of the puzzle help to shape what path is right and which will lead me to certain blocks.
I shoot for 2,000 a day. Some days I struggle to reach that because my mind wanders to if I paid the bills, did I do the shopping for my three children, or is my wife secretly dating a surgeon at work. I pray the latter remains a resounding no. But minds tend to wander.
Set yourself a goal that you get to. I started out with 500 words a day. 2 double spaced pages. Hell yeah, now we’re moving. Let’s rock and roll all the way down the road. But then I realized that I had too much day left at the end of my writing, and voices started to nag me about the speed I was moving. Little voices of characters who would wait off stage and blast me for when I will bring them on. 500 words a day, 2 pages, enough to get you rolling. Not exactly careening down the road, but a nice bicycle pace. You could travel that way, but let me tell you brothers and sisters, it takes a long time to get from New York City to Los Angeles on a Schwinn.
Some people enjoy that pace, and again, I tip my hat to them. Those who enjoy the scenery rolling by are true gems. Others want to get behind the wheel of a great muscle car and ride until we hit 120 miles per hour! Flying through the streets screaming like a demon the whole. 10K baby! 10K per day! I finish novels in weeks, not months or years! And that is all right too. It takes all kinds of people to populate this ridiculous world we live in.
This one can be referred to as a pissing contest in some circles. I find it hard to maintain a steady pace at times, so fellow writers hold me accountable. We write in different genres and there is a little bit of competition, we see who can get their quota of words for the day and the simple rule is this. You cannot copy and paste your work, you cannot chicken out by using one word repeatedly for the duration of the time, and lastly, don’t waste your time lying to each other. If you have a crap day, admit it was a crap day and pick up the pace tomorrow.
I currently am being held hostage, or accountable if you will, by a fellow author Stephen Anthony. He writes Young Adult Fantasy novels and is currently awaiting an answer as to publication of his first novel The Shards of Aakeron. We start each day by giving each other a bit of conversation before slipping into a daylong email exchange about what is going on with the stories, tips and tricks for marketing, where our doubts lay in the story. You don’t have to do anything like that.
You just need someone to know you are writing, and make sure that you meet your goals. If not, it’s someone to encourage you that even though you fall short, it doesn’t have to spell disaster. You don’t have to talk about the book, story, article in detail but just someone knowing that you are hard at work on it, makes it a little less lonely. And besides, it’s good to have someone telling you that you can do it even when you feel like you are stumbling. You don’t have to find someone to be accountable to, but in my mind it makes it easier.
It also helps that my buddy is writing in a different genre, so if we were to talk details at least it doesn’t derail either of us. I don’t need a dragon swooping in while a serial killer is stalking a woman, just as he doesn’t need a reanimated corpse coming to the king’s courtyard… or maybe he does…
In the end, you just need to find what works for you, these three factors have helped me immensely as I have written three novels so far, and one collection of short stories. Do not be afraid of taking each step, fellow writer. Each step is a step closer to fulfilling your journey.
Matthew Leverton is a long time writer of horror fiction. To purchase some of his work, just click the images below, and if you would like to read a little more about Matthew, visit him on Facebook, Twitter, and at his personal website, www.matthewjleverton.net