Monday, April 6, 2009


Seems I've used this title before, but we can always use a little more, right?

I've had my beta comments for The Other Side for over a month now, yet I'm still writing the new subplot. It's going to be six chapters instead of five, and while I'm liking where it's going, it's not coming fast enough. I pretty much know everything that's supposed to happen -- I've written a rough outline with only a few specifics -- so it should be pouring out of me.

But it's not.

Sunday morning, or maybe it was Saturday night, I finally got angry. At myself. This is stupid, there is no reason for me not to have already finished this. I knew when I decided to add a subplot that my February query deadline would be shot, but it's April and I still haven't even gotten to the EDITS.

Now, I'm on the fourth draft, but I think I finally realized what's holding me up: I'm technically on the first draft for six chapters. All those anxieties I thought I left in my spiral bound notebook have crept back into my subconscious.

I hadn't read any blogs since Wednesday, so Sunday afternoon I got caught up on days worth of writing wisdom. Two of my favorite bloggers stepped up and hit me over the head with the motivation stick.

Alexandra Sokoloff's post at Murderati, Your First Draft is Always Going to Suck, is a must-read. She said lately around the blogosphere she's noticed a lot of writers getting stuck, sidetracked, or otherwise preoccupied, and she's offered up some excellent advice:

People are getting about midway through a book, and then lose interest, or have no idea where to go from where they currently are, or realize that a different idea is superior to what they’re working on and panic that they’re wasting their time with the project they’re working on, and hysteria ensues.

So I wanted to take today’s blog to say this, because it really can’t be said often enough.

Your first draft is always going to suck.

She goes on to say:

Even though you will inevitably end up writing on projects that SHOULD be abandoned, you cannot afford to abandon ANY project. You must finish what you start, no matter how you feel about it. If that project never goes anywhere, that’s tough, I feel your pain. But it happens to all of us. You do not know if you are going to be able to pull it off or not. The only way you will ever be able to pull it off is to get in the unwavering, completely non-negotiable habit of JUST DOING IT.

Your only hope is to keep going. Sit your ass down in the chair and keep cranking out your non-negotiable minimum number of daily pages, or words, in order, until you get to the end.

This is the way writing gets done.

Some of those pages will be decent, some of them will be unendurable. All of them will be fixable, even if fixing them means throwing them away. But you must get to the end, even if what you’re writing seems to make no sense of all.

You have to finish.

At some point you will come to hate what you're writing. That's normal. That pretty much describes the process of writing. It never gets better. But you MUST get over this and FINISH. Get to the end, and everything gets better from there, I promise. You will learn how to write in layers, and not care so much that your first draft sucks. Everyone's first draft sucks. It's what you do from there that counts.

This really struck a nerve with me, and for a reason she doesn't mention: I really like my book. I honestly believe in my story, and while I know we all say that, I'm excited to get to the next step and start querying. I'm not nervous, I'm not scared, I'm just pissed at myself that I'm still piddling around with this draft.

Yes, I've been busy with work that is actually bringing in money, but that's not an excuse. The majority of my writing friends have families, and a lot of them also have jobs. I have neither. I have no excuse.

Erica Orloff's post, Bring It, is icing on Sokoloff's cake. She discusses how the economy has made it even more necessary for writers to, well, bring it, if they want to succeed. The advice that most struck me is:

Every page has to be a page turner. Why are some books those people CAN'T PUT DOWN? Can't. Will stay up all night to finish? What's the X-factor. Well, of course if we knew, we'd all be lifting our glasses and congratulating each other from our houses in Lake Cuomo. But . . . one thing most "can't put down" books have is PACING. Everything extra is stripped bare. The pacing is flawless.

As you all know, my past two reads -- A Thousand Splendid Suns and Water for Elephants -- have kept me up way past my bedtime. The first jumped to the top of my favorite books list, and the second is up there. While I read, I kept wishing I could write a story that affects people the way these writers have, and that's when it hit me: I can't affect anyone if I don't finish the story!



spyscribbler said...

Oh yes, hate is definitely part of my process. I get stuck at the end. Eegads, I really hate my stuff by the time I'm done. If I read it a year later, it's alright, but I rarely even read it a year later unless forced to.

Eek, I need to get going myself this mornin!

Jenna said...

Great post Mel--it kicked me in the pants a bit as I'm seriously lacking motivation.

Thanks for the links!

Melanie Avila said...

Spy, I know you've said that before, that you hate it by the end. I'm still at the point where I'm surprised this story is coming out of me, that I'm the one actually creating it, and I hope that magical feeling doesn't go away.

Melanie Avila said...

Jenna, I hope it helps!

It's funny, there always seems to be a trend on the blogs -- a couple weeks ago it was the yuckies, and all of a sudden there's a new sense of energy. I'm sure the changing seasons has a lot to do with it, but it's interesting to see how the moods shift.

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I don't want to sound maternal here, but I think you need to give yourself a break. I believe that most of the time we're all running on the wheel as fast as we can. I also believe that if it's not coming to you, it's not ready. Sometimes time away is the best thing. When you do finish I think you'll find that your final produce could not have been written earlier, at least that's what happens with me. Meaning, it's just the right motivation that will kick you into gear, and make the book what it needs to be. Before that time, it's just not time.

So ease up on yourself. I didn't meet my January query deadline - and now don't use the word deadline - it's a goal. My goal now is to query in May. If I'd have been finished and querying in January it would have been a completely different book -- so I'm hoping it will be worth the wait. And if May becomes June because it has to...then there's a reason and I'll be OK with that too, although I'm also itching to get out there.

Melanie Avila said...

Amy, I definitely agree with you about not rushing it. My aunt gave me some great feedback (which is how I've ended up with a subplot to write) and she reminded me of the exact same thing. I don't want to pitch a book that isn't the best it can be and I've accepted that I need to put more work into it. I'm just frustrated with myself for not putting in the work.

You're right about not forcing it. 1000 words a day is my goal but if nothing but pure dreck is coming out, I'll let myself stop. I actually shuffled some things around yesterday so now I have two half chapters instead of one almost finished chapter (I split #4 in half) and that actually helps me because I don't have to come up with another chapter beginning.

Nadine said...

Thank you Melanie, this was exactly the post I needed today! I've been stalling on my book, only at 8,000 words, and just wasn't into it. Was thinking about starting something else, but no. I'm going to finish this one. I'm going to make today a good writing day and get a lot done!


Melanie Avila said...

Nadine, I'm glad this helped you! I was really struggling to get my butt in gear and while getting mad at myself helped, these posts really really helped. :)

Robin said...

I felt motivated just reading this post. I'm going to write tomorrow. Really. I will.

You go, Girl! Melanie Power!

Melanie Avila said...

*pumps fist at Robin in a cheerful-yet-energetic way*

colbymarshall said...

Don't feel deadline for finishing my current draft was, erm, this week...and...I'm...not even halfway through. Wow. It happens, I guess, but is still depressing!

Melanie Avila said...

Colby, I have been genuinely busy so at least that makes me feel a little better. Since I'm just starting out with the web stuff it's taking a lot more of my time than I expected. But I'll keep pluggin' along...

I'd say you're plenty busy with your show and everything else!

Anonymous said...

I can totally relate to the subplot thing. I added one to make my novel longer. (it came out too short). So it was like working on a first draft while the other part of the novel was near final draft. I've had some really slow weeks, but things are now coming together.

Hang in there! :)

Melanie Avila said...

Gypsy, I'm glad you can relate. While I feel bad for you, it's nice to know I'm not alone. I've polished the other chapters so much that I ate adding this drivel to it, but I know it's necessary to get to the next step. Grr.

My motivation is already slipping today because I couldn't find time to write yesterday. Now that the NCAA tournament is over I shouldn't have any other distractions.