What do you do when you pour your love, sweat and soul into a first draft, and on read-through it looks terrible? If you’re me, you have a huge confidence crisis, rue the day you ever told anyone (let alone the internet) that you’re a writer, and then oscillate between feeling sick about wasting so much time on the page and wanting to put a match to the whole thing.
Fortunately the rough draft is still in tact, and I’m at least on the right path to putting this into perspective. So in a physician heal thyself type of way – this is how I’m trying to handle the jandal.
1. Emotional Space.
I’ve always been told that you should give any kind of critique a few days to sit (even if it is your own), so the emotion can settle down and you can make an objective evaluation. I can’t speak for other writers, but the creative side of me has a flair for drama, or if I’m honest – melodrama. I’m either on track and loving the process:
OMG these characters are amazing – and I so didn’t see this coming. This is awesome!!!
Or the whole thing seems hopeless:
The whole thing is drivel. And I still can’t understand the comma rules…
Even as I write this, I realise the emotional sting is fading and I will be able to do something with this draft. I’m neither brilliant nor horrible, just a writer on a journey.
2. Identify the Positives.
There must be a reason I’ve plugged away at this for so long. There are bits that work. Obviously not in the way I need them to yet – but that’s what reworking is all about. There are a few characters that shine, one subplot that’s working beautifully and an ending that’s worth putting in the time to get the start right.
3. Is there a Quick Fix? (Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water).
Often there isn’t much difference between a strong scene and one that misses the mark. I see this most often when I’m beta reading or critiquing for others (because I’m usually having a moment when it comes to my own work). Which means with a few small changes the scene can really shine.
For example the biggest issue I have with my WIP at the moment is the opening chapters have good character development and world building, but instead of exploding out of the gates, the plot is still warming up doing stretches somewhere. Yet I know in this day and age hooking the reader early is essential.
If I were counselling someone else I might ask if there was some incident I could drop into the earlier chapters that would tie into the plot and give the start more momentum. And with a great sigh of relief I can already think of a few interesting possibilities.
4. Develop Stamina.
Writing is not for the faint hearted. At the end of the day you need to find a way to keep going. There will be edits, rewrites, plot bunnies and one day when the dream of publication happens – there’s always the joy of public critique. That’s how it is. I wish my WIP actually reflects the story in my heart – but it is going to take time, effort and determination to make it happen. So I’m digging deep. I’ll still be here next week. Writing.
5. Draw Strength from Others.
It helps to know others have gone before and overcome the obstacles. They’ve written at odd hours, learned the comma rules (or found an understanding editor), survived the criticism and have created something beautiful. Although I am in awe of those rare creatures for who the journey to publication is easy, I’m more encouraged by people who have endured the hardships of learning the craft and have triumphed. So I read author blogs, aspiring author blogs, articles – and I don’t feel quite so alone in this journey.
6. Set a Course for Adventure.
I was reading Victoria Grefer’s awesome blog, Creative Writing with the Crimson League this morning and she seemed to sum it up perfectly:
Let me tell you, you have to find an adventure that makes trudging through the struggles and the challenges worth the pain. You have to be on as great an adventure as your characters are, or you’ll pack it up and go home. Believe me.
I’ve done that. I wrote 100 pages of a novel once before I gave up…. Because there was no adventure. Nothing was happening. While I liked the characters, I didn’t like what some of them were doing, and I didn’t see how their actions would lead me to where I saw a possible adventure I could really invest in. So I started over, and began with the adventure itself, instead of trying to paint a background for it. That was one of the best writing decisions I’ve ever made!
And I realised for me, like Victoria, writing fantasy is an adventure. And adventures are exciting, captivating and always moving forward. My WIP is an adventure – something happens and my characters are all pulled into something bigger than themselves. If I can connect with that sense of adventure from the outset things might be very different.
Honestly, when it comes with dealing with the first draft blues I suspect the only answer is to write a great, polished final draft.
How about you? I’m sure I don’t have all the answers – I’d love to hear how you deal with first draft disappointments.