First Draft Climax = Total Trash

Maybe you have this problem too. It’s a trend in my process that I’m just beginning to come to terms with. The rest of my manuscript will be generally logical, clean and coherent, but the climax is a giant, raging mess.

It’s all over the place. It doesn’t follow a rational path. Motivations, descriptions, tone and setting are sloppy at best and there is often some long info dumps revelations that DRAG it down. So over all, my climax is just awful.

Usually by the time I get to the climax, I’m in full blown writing mode, so I have two choices. Power through, let it come out as it is, or beat it into submission.

Now I have to admit I’ve frequently tried to beat it into submission. After all the climax is pretty much the most important part of the novel, the part I have been writing toward the whole time. But pounding away at it has a tendency to sap my motivation. To be completely honest, I love writing, and when I don’t love it, well, I don’t really want to do it any more.

And the truth is, even when I do get through it in this fashion, it’s still pretty bad.

So my newest method is to let it suck. Let is be the heaping pile of hot trash that it wants to be for now. I’m going to have to go in there with a bulldozer during edits anyway, what ever gets me to the end of the story is the method I should take. I will have a clearer idea on what it needs to be concise and effective after the story is done, the theme has emerged and I’ve had time to identify specific problems.

First drafts aren’t supposed to be good. They’re supposed to be finished.  Even something as important as the climax isn’t going to be any good to you if you can’t finish the book.

Finish the book. Let it be trash. Trash can always be cleaned up.

 

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When you have writing momentum DON’T STOP!

You will scrape and toil, pecking out a few horrific words and deleting them for days, weeks, months, years. You will stare at blank pages in utter horror as the words in your mind shrivel, unwritten, into dust. Then one day you still start to write and it will flow.

When this happens, my best advice for you is don’t stop.

Your words are a boulder that is rolling down a hill. Let it roll! Let it crash over cars. When it hits a plateau let the force it built up rolling, keep it moving forward,until it hits another hill.

Do not stop the rolling boulder! It was was hard to get moving in the first place.

Skip the Game of Thrones finale, if you have the writing momentum. It’s on Demand. Your words are not. Let them roll out or they will stop.

Skip the early bedtime that you wanted to get. You can hazard through a tired morning if it means you spilled two thousand words onto a page.

Even skip the night out, unless you have amazing tickets, already hired the babysitter, or your meeting a friend who’s only in town for the night. Then, do the night out, but get home and get writing as soon as it’s over.

Skip everything you can skip. Work. Dinner. Bathroom. Life. Just don’t stop!

Okay, well, you may have to stop, sometimes. It’s very hard to pull off mad artist these days.

But put off all the things you can, at least for a couple weeks, if you can keep the momentum going that long. Because it is a gift, and it does not last, especially if you don’t get on that big rolling rock and ride it as far as you can.

Other people will have great advice for you on how to finish a first draft. It all can work, but for me, from me, this is the only fool proof advice I have.

Don’t stop. Keep writing, until the well dries up or you finish the draft.

Things you learn when you’re a writer

You might have gone to grad school for creative writing. Or maybe you’ve just joined your first crit group. You might have written twenty eight novels or still be pecking away at your first short story. Regardless of where you are, there are some things that you need to know. I am going to tell you these things. In fact, many people may tell you these things, but it’s likely you’re going to have to learn them through experience before they really sink in.

So if you’re just starting out, this is just a heads up.

  1. Everything about writing takes time. The writing part, that’s the short part. Editing, submitting, waiting for response, publishing, everything takes time. Lots and lots of time.
  2. Everything about writing takes patience. See above.
  3. Your first works won’t be that good. You can fix them or you can move on.
  4. Sooner or later, you’re going to need to redraft. You may think by editing as you go you are saving yourself time or effort. You are not. Just get the first draft done so that you can get to that second, third and fourth draft.
  5. You are a writer for a reason. Even if you’re struggling to find your voice, it’s there and with time and practice it will emerge.
  6. Not everyone’s suggestions are valid to you. It’s your story. When people try to start rearranging it, they’re trying to turn it into their story.
  7. Most of them time “They just don’t get it” is not a good excuse. You may use it alot when you start to get critiques on your work. The thing is, if the people reviewing your work just don’t get it, neither will your readers.
  8. Only JK Rowling is JK Rowling. We’d all like to have that first manuscript we punched out during a hard time in our lives become an international sensation, but the truth is even JK Rowling’s idea took seven hard years from conception to publication.
  9. Your ego will be crushed. Again and again. Just say goodbye to it. It’s not serving you anyway.
  10. You can do this. Yes. It takes a lot of work and even more perseverance. No one can do it for you, and for a long time, there won’t even be anyone to do it with you, but if you have been gifted with the burning desire to write stories, to share your mind with the world, then there is a reason for that, and if you keep moving it will come together for you.

What are some lessons you have learned about being a writer? Please share!

How to be an excellent critique partner

If you want to keep improving your writing, you will want to foster relationships with people who give you the best feedback. But in order to get you need to give. A great critique partner is not going to continue to spend their precious writing time scouring over your chapter if you are not offering quality feedback in return.

This can take some practice but there are some ground rules.

 

Identify strengths! Whether it’s the idea, descriptive abilities, strong characters, use of language this should be the first thing you look for when you critique another writer’s work. If the writing is generally strong, tell them! If the writing is still in need of a lot of work, it’s even more important to tell them where their strengths lie so that they know where they are safe once editing begins, and to encourage them to keep going.

Consider the genre. Romance is not the same as Thriller. Pulp Horror is not the same as Literature. It may not be your preferred genre but that doesn’t mean you can’t critique it. If you really don’t understand the genre, you can fall back on the basics. Clean writing, strong characters, solid plot, grammar, descriptions, ect. If you don’t feel qualified to comment on the effectiveness of a certain troupe in the genre, then don’t. Insisting that a romance is “frivolous” or a fantasy is “ridiculous” because they are not what you would choose to read for pleasure is not helpful. It’s really kinda douchey.

Don’t pander. No matter how “nice” you are or how much you want the other writer to like you, you’re not help to anyone if you just feed their ego. You may be blown away by their work. That’s awesome. Tell them that! But if you see flaws in their work, it is your job to point them out. That is why they gave you their manuscript.

Be professional. Writing is work. Providing feedback is work. Yes it is personal work but the critique you are offering should not be taken personally. It is to help them improve their work, so keeping your language professional will help keep the line intact, prove you are taking their efforts seriously and allow them to consider your efforts to be serious as well. We are writers, people. We know the difference between “Your character is such a bitch” and “I’m concerned this passage could alienate your character from readers”.

Consider the writer’s skill. Determine where they are in their writing and critique accordingly. If someone is a new writer, their work should not be judged on the same scale as a published literature professor and writer of twenty years.  New writers will become non-writers if you rip their work apart the first them they submit. Give them time to adjust to peer critiques. Participating in critiquing the work of more experienced writers will do more for them then your harsh review of their own work and even without you nit picking every single thing that is wrong with their writing, you will start to see their work rising to the standard around them. On the other hand, a more experienced writer can not only handle more extensive criticism, they are likely seeking it out specifically as they are already aware of where their strength lie (although you shouldn’t skip that party).

CONSTRUCTIVE Criticism. Please! Telling a writer you don’t like it, It’s weak writing, The story makes no sense, it’s boring, it’s too sad, you just can’t get into it… it’s not helpful. All it does is make the writer feel kinda crappy about themselves, about you and undermine any helpful advice you may have in the future. Why do you feel the writing can be improved? What are you struggling with understanding? How is the story dragging? Offer suggestions, not problems. Otherwise you’re useless. And also kinda douchey again.

Never ever ever ever assume you know the writer’s story better than them. I shouldn’t even have to mention this. But i do. I see if all the time, particularly with chapter by chapter submissions. You can say “I can’t see how you are going to pull this together” or “I’m really surprised you made this choice”. Maybe that will be helpful, but it’s even more likely that the writer is trying to keep you on your feet. Telling them that they are writing their story wrong, that their character shouldn’t be this way, that the twist doesn’t go with what you thought would happen is silly until you’ve seen how everything turns out. It’s not your story. Don’t try to hijack it.

Work to your own strengths. If you are a grammar queen, make those grammar notes! If you are more of a big picture person, comment on how the work is coming together. You are best equipped to help others in the areas you excel in. You should never ignore problems that you notice, but don’t kill yourself trying to correct punctuation if you know you can be most effective helping them to develop their characters.

What are some things you have found most helpful in critique partners? What are some things that you have learned to avoid?

You’re always moving forward, unless you give up

There is nothing quick about being a writer. Writing a book takes a long time. Editing a book can be just as long or longer. Publishing takes forever. Making money… I think you get the point.

In this very long process, it is easy to get discouraged. In fact, it’s pretty much standard. When you finish writing a novel and realize how much work it needs, when you spend years editing and it’s still not right, when you can’t find an agent, a publisher, when your self published work languishes, literally at every step you are going to be discouraged because it feels like after all this work and all this time you are stagnant.

This is only emphasized by the fast furious flurries of activity, writing and editing binges, critiques, contracts, launch parties, that seem to consume everything while they are going on.

With these big exciting milestones, it’s not always easy to see the little steps in between. They are frequently eclipsed by the waiting game that plays such a prevalent role in the path to becoming published author. But if you find yourself discouraged while you wait for these big things, it’s time to scale back and look at all the little things that you have been ignoring, because that is where the real progress is made. Even if it doesn’t seem like progress.

Because another reason we get discouraged is that these little steps can feel like they’re going backwards. A bad critique, a failure to impress with your novel, a query rejection.

But they are all pushing you toward what you want, as long as you keep going. Each failure is an experience to learn.

If you join a new crit group that tears apart a manuscript that your last crit group was praising, it’s not a back slide. You just leveled up. You’re going to learn things you never would have learned in the last group.

Your query’s been rejected again? Now you know that query isn’t working for you. Write a new one!

A reader doesn’t like your book? Find out why and determine if it’s something you can and want to fix. Maybe they are seeing something you missed. Maybe it’s not for them.

There are also little steps you take every day, cutting a few words, writing a new chapter, reading articles on writing, signing up for classes and seminars that are pretty mundane but all provide the potential of that final piece to make your work click into place.

And don’t forget the way you help other writers. Reading and critiquing the work of other authors can not only give them the benefit of your knowledge but also help you to zero in on your own strengths and flaws. Supporting other writers gives you a community to support you, people to bounce ideas off of and to commiserate with.

The milestones are huge. They tend to overshadow our little steps, but they cannot be accomplished without them.

You are not stuck, no matter how long it’s been since your last milestone. You are never stuck unless you throw in the towel forever.

 

Keep writing, friends.

 

The overused phrase

We all have one and it’s practically invisible. To you.

But your readers will start to notice it and notice it and notice it, and soon it will start to overshadow your entire story.

Yesterday I came across a tweet on my feed. An otherwise awesome book used the same description so many times it was distracting her. Soon other people were chiming in, recalling their own experiences with this situation and I remembered my own.

I was reading a series by an author I had been reading for years, but this time I kept getting held up. Over and over characters were described as having a “shock of red/black/white/blue hair”. Now there is nothing wrong with this description. Once. Maybe even twice.

But over the course of this series it came up again and again and again and it started to become bigger than the story itself. Eventually, I was rolling my eyes so hard that I just put down the book and didn’t pick it up again. (To be fair there were some other frustrating issues, but this is the only one I remember, years later).

The thing is, just about every writer I know has this problem, including myself. And we are practically unaware of it.

A few years ago, when “The Silent Apocalypse” was up on a critique forum, a writer pointed out that I wrote “certainly” about twelve times in one chapter. He certainly noticed it. It certainly was distracting him. When I did a search of the manuscript, I found that I certainly used the word a lot and it certainly didn’t match the voice of every POV character using it.

But I never would have noticed if someone hadn’t pointed it out to me.

While we are busy killing darlings and cutting adverbs, we writers may not even consider looking for phrases we use too much. This is why it’s crucial to have betas, peer critiques and editors go over your work. And if they’re reading chapters separately, make sure you ask them to keep an eye out for this specific issue.

If you suspect you may have an overused phrase, search it out through the find function in word.

It certainly will go a long way in cleaning up your work.

 

Obviously, it’s editing time

I have written and deleted about twenty posts here over the last couple months. As I have mentioned before, it seems my writing seems to work in cycles. I have some great stuff started, but I’m not getting very far on it.

I have been trying not to fight the tide and right now, the tide is low. I’ve been reading a lot and, man, that has been fun, but my fingers are itchy to work. I have a fresh first draft that has been going through my crit group and collecting some excellent suggestions.

There are many ways to work as a writer. Don’t assume that because you are not creating new content that you are stagnant. If you are anything like me, each phase has a season and if you don’t observe those seasons, they may wait around for you.

For me, it’s editing time. This summer was busy and I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked. Now my time is freeing up and ideas for improvement are spinning around in my brain.

Good luck to you in all your writing endeavors, and I hope once I give into my writing nature, I will have some more original content for you here.

The laundry list description

L.C.W. Allingham

We want to establish how our characters (especially our MC) look from the beginning. It feels important to us because we have a clear view of them that we want to give our readers. Unfortunately, most people stumble into a bad habit early on in their writing of making a list and it sticks out like a sore thumb.

The laundry list.

Maryanne stopped to check her reflection as she headed out the door. Glossy chestnut hair, dark almond shaped eyes with a fringe of black lashes, plump rose bud lips, on top of a lean frame with no hips. Shrugging at the image, she grabbed her keys and ran out the door.

Oh please do not.

This does several things that damages your story.

  1. It cuts away from whatever action you start with.
  2. it is disrupts the voice.
  3. It is unrealistic.

When was the last time you looked in…

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Start encouraging other writers now

Hey. You with the finished novel and the query plan. And you with the agent and the possible interested publisher. Also, you over there who just got smeared on a writing critique website and that chick beside you with the Masters in Creative Writing. All of you, listen up.

You might be great. You might be golden. But you ain’t shit without other writers to back you up. And if you going around with your Grammar Nazi red pen and your condescending  and overly worded notes on how they should have written their novels, you aren’t doing them, or yourself any favors.

In my life I have read all sorts of writing from all sorts of people and there have been times I have put my hands over my face and thought, this is too hard to read. Sometimes the genre was just not my cup of tea. Sometimes the writing really did need a lot of clean up. Sometimes they had a writing quirk that I fixated on until it drove me crazy. Sometimes It was just so really good that I wanted to gouge my eyes out in jealousy. It’s honestly happened many times for many different reasons.

But the fact of the matter was, I always did read it, all the way through. And after I digested it a bit, I could always see the light glowing in that story.

Every story has a light.

A unique voice. An amazing premise. A clear and concise manner of wordplay. A riveting style.

The truth is, I have been wealthy in the work I have gotten to read. There is very little I have gotten my hands on that hasn’t revealed it’s light to me. Hasn’t taught me something, changed my ideas just a little, made my brain spin in that beautiful, awesome way the brains of writers do.

And you will never read most of it. Because someone, or sometimes, multiple someones, have beaten that story down. They convinced the writer that instead of chipping away at the rock and mud and sometimes, yes, sometimes even caked shit, until they shined that gem gleaming at the center, that instead that gem itself was trash, and maybe the writer was trash as well.

Now, please, let me clarify a moment, before going on. Not everything you ever write is going to be diamonds. You are going to write a lot of petrified dinosaur poop with some garnets sprinkled in. Especially when you first get started and before you tell your ego to take a back seat to honing your craft. But you can salvage those garnets and you can keep trading them up until they surround diamonds if you keep working at getting better.

And working at getting better takes some serious diamond hard will. Not all of us will make it. Not because we can’t, but because we get crushed under the egos of the peers and mentors we go to to help us refine our craft.

So here is my plea to my fellow writers, who have used that diamond will to forge on.

Keep looking for the light in the words of those around you. Keep looking for the lessons they have to teach you. Keep looking for their strengths. Keep encouraging writers, every writer.

I’m not telling you to pander. To flatter. To lie. Those things serve no one.

But find the strengths in the work. Find that spark that made that person decide they wanted to write in the first place and while you give your criticism, and please do make sure you tell them how to make their work stronger by elevating the strengths that are already there.

A person can learn grammar. They can learn plotting. They can learn to set the tone. But they need to feel like it is worth it. And it is always worth it.

Neil Gaiman is quoted saying “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

This is what we, as writers and as critics, need to remember. The story is unique to the writer. We do not know where it is going until it has gone there. We must read as readers and not as writers. We must acknowledge that every story is a journey for the writer, because we know every story we write is our own journey.

Not all of our journeys deserve publication. Not all of our paths lead to riches. But we learn along the way, don’t we?

And to your benefit, you never know when that kid your encouraged in night school is going to unleash the NYT bestseller, or the girl in your crit group is going to be endorsed by Stephanie Meyer. Do you want to be the person who told them their story sucked because you thought the twist should be something different, or do want to be the one they are endorsing when you release your first work because you made it possible for them to see their flaws and play up their strength?