I stupidly talk about “the process” sometimes, and I make it clear that I’m not a slow writer when it comes to first drafts. I like to whack ‘em out as quickly as possible.
It’s day 14 of NaNoWriMo, and I’ve hit the 50k without trying hard, while preparing a book for my editor, while being sick and having some sick little babas staying home from school, and, erm, while watching Netflix a lot. I know that a lot of the words in my first drafts likely suck, but that’s okay. I now have the bare bones of the story I needed to write. Editing will just poof that right up into a real novel.
When I work hard, I can write a lot more. (I can also burn out easily). When I’m working on a first draft, 5k is usually my minimum goal for the day. Have to watch out for the wrists though. There’s always at least one trade-off. (I didn’t just wake up one morning capable of typing fast, by the way. It comes with practice and having a very clear idea of the characters and storyline. I know my characters inside and out, and I visualise scenes all of the time, so they make it easy on me).
Because of this, I get asked things like: What the hell takes you so long to finish a book?
I work at home full-time. That job is writing. That job supports my family. I should theoretically be capable of a lot more than I’m doing when you compare my day with most other people. But I’m not good at editing, so I can’t cut corners, or the finished product will be embarrassingly bad. It takes me a hell of a long time to edit a book. I read threads on writing forums which make me want to weep. People actually let other people read their first drafts. Excuse me while I vomit in my mouth. I can’t even write if someone could possibly maybe slightly see my screen, never mind voluntarily allow another person to read the first unedited piece of crap set of words I spew onto a page. I spend an excessive amount of time editing one sentence emails before I can bring myself to send them. And I still make stupid mistakes. I don’t even…
Right, we get it, I suck at life and organisation, and all of that good stuff, but this is what takes me so long. My editing cycle – it’s more of a hellish nightmare really – usually goes a little something like this:
- First draft in Scrivenor – Awesome!
- First edit in Scrivenor – Hopeless despair. Countless hours fact-checking and researching things that never make it into the story.
- Chapter by chapter edit to transfer manuscript into word document – Frustration that this isn’t going any faster. Unsure if research is helpful or procrastination.
- Kindle edit – The story is actually working!
- Typing in changes from Kindle edit – Holy shit, there’s no way I can actually publish this crap.
- Days of ignoring the story and being incapable of writing because I’m so worried about the story that I can’t fix and won’t fix because I can’t even bear to look at it.
- Massive paper edit – I can do this. Maybe. No, wait, I can’t. I can fix it. This is unfixable. I may cry. Chocolate and coffee. Lots of it.
- Typing in changes from paper edit – What the hell does this scrawl mean? I love these characters. Ignore a lot of these changes and feel guilty about past me’s hard work. Laugh at my own jokes that I then delete. Glare at my window in case somebody happened to be creeping by (what? It could happen!) and caught me laughing at my own jokes.
- Kindle edit – Tweaking sentences. This has to be productive.
- Kindle edit – Tweaking sentences. Falling asleep. Panic that I’ve made a massive booboo in the timeline/continuity. Start over and double-check the timeline and continuity. Google the shit out of everything else I can think of. Reassure myself I didn’t mess up, but have stress nightmares thereafter.
- Kindle edit – I have to let my editor know I’m not going to be bloody well ready for editing. Tweaking sentences. Spending way too much time reading about grammar and not understanding any of it. Why didn’t I stay in school? Why didn’t I learn any of this when I did go to school?
- Big frustrated crying jag – Feeling a little better. Determined not to let this bitch book best me. Er, yo.
- Kindle edit – Pretty sure I’m just undoing changes I’ve already made. Tweaking sentences again. How have I missed this stupidity? Why can’t I read English? Why can’t I write English? Oh, my God, I’m so bored of this hateful book.
- Kindle edit – Inspiration. Three sentences change the mood of the entire book. La-la-LA! The pieces are finally clicking together. I am a freaking creative genius, people. How on earth did I manage to spell the main character’s name wrong though?
- (Somewhere amongst the Kindle edits comes the beta reading stage – if I have time. That’s when I rock to and fro wondering what to do when everyone contradicts each other, leaving me more confused than ever).
- Final Kindle edit – At least most of the words are spelled correctly. Probably. Some insane sounding cackling from my office terrifies the rest of my family. Extra obsessive fact-checking. Freeze my laptop with the amount of open tabs in Chrome. Cross out all of the notes I’ve scrawled in my notebook. That has to count for something. Squint to understand most of the scribbles, but feel like I’ve sorted everything I intended to fix. Maybe.
- Work up courage to send to editor – Can’t concentrate on anything but feeling sick with worry that the editor will think it’s the worst book ever written and ban me from hiring her ever again.
- First editor edit – Um, lots of repetition. You know, as usual. Delete seven thousand instances of variations of the word look. Rewrite the scenes that I’ve rewritten the most during my own process. Hate myself. Relieved somebody else is taking care of my mess.
- Second editor edit – Fix the new errors I’ve added because I’m a gobshite.
- Proofreader edit – Fix the highly embarrassing mistake that I’ve missed during my countless edits. Thank the universe for editors and proofreaders who must worry about my rapidly decreasing IQ.
- Final proofread – Doubt myself. Panic. Worry about the likelihood of missing small issues that most people won’t notice, but the ones who do will HATE ME FOREVER.
- Publish – Fall into a state of depression because I miss the book that put me through hell.
So that’s pretty much it! The hell-cycle is complete. And now I can start all over again. Except I can’t because I’m still missing the characters from the book I just finished. While I’m editing, I tend to get trapped there and forget about writing anything new. I’m trying to wean myself away from the obsessiveness and prioritise some new words on a different story every day that I spend editing. And it would be great if the whole editing thing could be more efficient and less soul-destroying. And while I like to tell the world I hate every moment of editing, I do love the finished product way more than I would if I didn’t act like a crazy Gollum person over my manuscripts.
So that’s what takes me so long and why I end up with so many first drafts and not enough completed ones. If I didn’t book editing slots, I would never finish anything. And yes, despite all of this, I know quite well I’m going to get complaints about using British English, but it’s worth it. Pinky swear.
(And I finally wrote an entire long-arse blog post without using a smiley. Maturity. Go me).