WARNING: This post is not for the faint of heart (cliché!).
A first draft is a GREAT achievement. After you’ve finished, you definitely deserve a pitcher of margaritas or a giant ice cream cake or tickets to an NFL game or whatever makes you super happy.
But it’s definitely not the end. It’s only the beginning (cliché! Yes – you must get rid of these as you re-draft over and over again.)
My first novel… I think I revised it about 25 times. No joke. I’m currently thinking about revising it again.
My second novel… started out as a mixture of verse and 75 mini-vignettes before it became a full-fledged novel. 10 drafts later. And after I queried the novel and found wonderful Agent Sara (yay!), I still had to do two more revisions.
My third novel… I did a couple drafts, but it wasn’t working. I’ve put it away for now.
Now I’m currently about to start the 4th revision of my new book. For this post, I will call it THE ANNEXATION OF PUERTO RICO.
Here’s the history of this book:
March 2010: I come up with idea for book.
Late March: I give Agent Sara a general overview. She says, “Ooooohhhhhh.” That to me means, Go forth and write, Miranda!
April: I concentrate on big work project and finishing up novel #2. Forget about THE ANNEXATION OF PUERTO RICO.
Early May: Take break to read a bunch of books and think about THE ANNEXATION OF PUERTO RICO. I start writing only when I have a complete character arc in my head. In my previous novel, I had issues with developing the character arcs, so I decided to start with that. It wasn’t the best idea. Looking back now, I should’ve written the plot first, and made the character development fit the plot.
Late May: Start writing THE ANNEXATION OF PUERTO RICO. I share some early scenes with beta readers. All of them love it. All of them hate the love interest. Beta readers convince me to change love interest to unlikely character. Back to the beginning. NOTE: I knew deep in my heart (cliché!) that the new love interest probably wouldn’t fly with Agent Sara, but I kept it that way just to see what she’d say.
Early June: I give an outline of the novel to my most trusted beta reader. She has issues with the character arc. I decide to make changes. Back to the beginning. In re-writing, another potential love interest emerges! But I keep him as “just a friend” and will see what Agent Sara says about current love interest.
Late June: I finish the first draft and give to my dad. He has plenty of issues with the beginning. I rewrite the beginning and send to another beta reader. Beta reader has issues with some minor characters and the ending. I kill off two more characters. I tweak based on beta reader’s comments, then send to yet another trusted beta reader who says, “Love it. Show to Agent Sara.”
Early July: I send to Agent Sara. I freak out a bit. Drink a lot. Play a bunch of Scrabble. Bite all my nails off. Read five books. Wonder what Sara thinks about it, because I genuinely have no idea what she’ll say.
Early July: (one week later – Agent Sara has a great turn-around time. She is AWESOME): Sara comes back and says she loves the hook, the book is relatable, but says she doesn’t “buy” the love interest (I knew it!), the supporting characters need work, she wants to change the character’s motivations and demeanor, and she wants to extend the plot. Some things I agree with, some things I disagree with. Agent Sara and I have lots of discussions. I think about crying because the stuff she wants to do seems so daunting. I shake a lot and question whether I should be writing, if I’ve got what it takes.
Mid July: After about 40,000 emails with Agent Sara, we’ve come up with a FANTASTIC way forward.
Late July and August: I re-write the entire book. Word count expands from (gasp) 50,000 to 75,000 words.
Third week of August: Agent Sara writes to “check-in” and says, “How is THE ANNEXATION OF PUERTO RICO going?” This makes me incredibly happy. She’s eager to see next draft! YAAYAYAYAYAYYAAYYAYAYAYYA.
First Day of September: Dad reads new draft and says, “I wouldn’t cringe if you sent this to anybody. Send away.” I send book to Sara.
Labor Day Weekend: Drink a lot. Freak out a lot. Play a bunch of Scrabble. Read about five books. Go to movies. Watch a bunch of crappy TV, like Cops. Wonder what Sara thinks.
Early September: Agent Sara comes back, totally excited about book, especially the plot arc and character development and humor. She gives me a compliment that nearly makes me cry: “This is really exceptional work.”
Sara gives me about eight ideas on how to strengthen the book. These are relatively easy fixes. They take me about three full days to complete. I think, “Wow, it can’t be this easy, right?” I sit on book for a week. Read some other books. Do some beta reading for other people. Think about my plot arc. Come back and make some other tweaks.
Talk to my dad about my changes. He looks at them and says, “This book is on a totally different level than anything you’ve written before.” Since I’ve been writing short stories and poetry since I was about ten years old, this makes me ECSTATIC. *cries*
Mid September: I send to fantastic trusted beta reader, and ask if she thinks I’ve met all Sara’s concerns. Beta reader thinks it’s good to go. It just so happens this beta reader had read the very first draft and couldn’t believe how much better it was. (Look what three months and great editing will do, eh?)
Late September: I send back to Agent Sara. I read a bunch. I watch a bunch of TV. I continue to think about ways to make book better. Tiffany Reisz and I write a couple of somewhat-indulgent short stories involving the sexy main guy character of my book. 🙂
Early October: Agent Sara sends back edit letter regarding my THIRD draft. She says, “Still love the book, but there’s so much more that can be done here. Let’s change the character arc. Let’s do some tweaking to the plot arc, too. Let’s cut these scenes. Let’s shorten the book a little. Let’s up the stakes.”
My first thought is: CHANGE THE MAIN CHARACTER’S MOTIVATIONS?!?!
Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap. That is so hard to do. So hard. I did it with my previous book. I know how hard this is. But to do it twice on the same book? I don’t think I’m talented enough for this. *cries*
Some of the scenes Agent Sara wants to cut are the absolute favorite scenes of other beta readers. I talk to three beta readers about Sara’s thoughts. EVERYONE is confused about what I should do.
I call Agent Sara and we chat about possibilities for about an hour (God bless her), and eventually I come to the conclusion that Agent Sara is probably right.
But how do I know if it will WORK? How do I know that these changes will make the book better? What if I have to re-write the book for a fifth time after I make her suggested changes?
BREAK: For a very important PSA from a NYT Bestselling Author that I have bothered from time to time.
Let’s call this author Gwildor.
The great and powerful Gwildor once told me: “You know your book better than anybody. If you don’t “buy” the edits your agent/editor is suggesting, odds are, after you revise, they won’t “buy” your edits in the end, either.”
I step away from the book for a good three days just to think. I go to movies. I beta read. I watch Cops. I go out to dinner and drink a pitcher of margaritas with my friend, who tells me crazy story about how a Saudi prince tried to woo her.
October 10, Evening: I sit down and free-write a bunch of nonsense, using the voice of the “new” main character Agent Sara has suggested. I spend about 15 minutes on this. 15 MINUTES.
I go upstairs, where my husband is working out. I read him the pages while he does his crunches. He looks up and says, “That was damn, damn good.”
I re-write the first 12 pages of the book using this new voice/attitude of main character. I show to Dad. He likes it. I show this to a friend, who likes it and understands what I’m trying to do.
October 11: I send to Agent Sara and say, “I’m experimenting based on your ideas! Do you like?”
October 11: Agent Sara writes back. “Well done! I like this main character better. I feel for her more. Love the voice, love the characterization. Now can we talk about plot/conflict again? I want to up the stakes more! Make things more immediate. More urgent.”
October 11: I write back: “Was already working on that, Agent Sara! Look at these paragraphs that show what I’m doing.”
October 11: Agent Sara writes back, “Rock on, you! But what about this…”
October 11, Midnight: I send Sara a full plot outline and new pages.
October 12: Sara writes back: “I say go for it! Write the whole draft. But let’s up the stakes some more! Re-write the opening pages to reflect this and then resend tomorrow. Oh, and what about this…?”
Tonight: Going to up the stakes. 🙂 And maybe eat a steak.
Tomorrow: Who knows? These edits might work, they might not. Does it matter right now? No. All that matters is that I keep working hard and writing as best as I can.
In conclusion, the book would still be a piece of JUNK if not for all the people who have helped me with it.
My husband rocks.
My dad rocks.
My agent rocks.
My beta readers rock, especially other writers who took time from their writing schedules to help me.
Gwildor, the NYT bestselling author that I stalk on occasion, rocks.
The writing community rocks.
I LOVE WRITING.