Sunday, May 22, 2016

Alpha Beta

(Coincidentally, I think the title of this post was also the name of a beta fish that my sister/her roommate had in college.

Alpha the Beta. Get it? The jokes are strong with my family.)

I mentioned on the Facebook page this week that I've been working on the alpha draft of a new project (which, until I finalize a title for it, I'm just going to refer to as "Project 2016").  This is sort of a lie.

I started working on the actual alpha draft of this project--the actual first full write up of this story--a little over ten years ago.

Project 2016 is, technically, the first book I ever wrote.

And I'm starting it over.

Let me explain.

It's not like I've been working on this project nonstop for ten years. I mentioned in a previous post that my workflow has, until recently, been pretty spotty. This work went untouched for almost my entire time in college.

I also wrote what will be my debut novel, Evin, during this time. (More updates on that as I'm given the go ahead to make them.)

Since much of the work on this project has been stop and start, and since so much of the early work was done so long ago--at a time when I was an awful writer as opposed to a mediocre one--I have essentially had to restart the entire thing.

On the upside, this means that my outlines are super thorough. I've already written the whole thing and sort of know what aspects didn't work and need to be adjusted.

On the downside, it means that my expectations are higher.

The alpha draft of Evin was written in a flurry. Most of the first draft was written during NaNoWriMo (NationalNovel Writing Month) 2012. I’d written about 10,000 words and had a rough outline, but I was mostly just writing. I knew that parts of the draft weren’t good and would have to be reworked if I was ever to try to shop the book around. It was an experiment, and if the alpha draft sucked, that was just part of it.

But I don’t have that luxury with Project 2016. I’ve written the alpha draft. This should be the revision—the draft where it starts to be good, where it begins to resemble the “final” product (I’m among those that think that a creative work is never really complete—it’s just left alone).

The thing with the actual alpha draft, the one that I started ten years ago, is that it’s bad. Like, really bad.

There’s a specific type of cognitive bias that’s called the Dunning-Krugereffect. The crux of this effect is basically that people who have more skill or know more about a certain thing tend to underestimate their competence, while people with less skill or knowledge tend to overestimate their competence.

I was seventeen ten years ago. I, objectively, knew very little about writing. I thought I was one of the best writers in the world.

In the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to learn more about the craft. I’ve realized how little I actually knew—how little I still know—about the art of storytelling. I recognize how far I have to go.
The true alpha draft of Project 2016 is a mess. The story is vague. The characters, while charming, aren’t fleshed out. My voice in undeveloped, and I have no understanding of how to manage point of view.

The skeleton of the book is there—but it is absolutely just the bare bones.

Revisions are always a bit of a nightmare. Having to rework, add in, or cut set pieces and character moments can suck. Refining the connective tissue takes time and requires that the writer be brutal with their own work.

Having a decent starting point makes a huge difference. The alpha draft of Evin wasn’t great, but it was more than just bones (my writing group partner referred to it as a “skinny bean pole”—which sounds way more adorable than the draft felt). The revising process was just refining—not reconstructing.

So I’m having to alter the way that I’m looking at Project 2016. I can’t look at what’s technically a beta draft as a beta draft. It’s a second alpha. An alpha-beta.

The work is still slow going, but adjusting my approach to the project has freed me up a little. I’ve separated myself from second-draft expectations, and the work is a little bit easier.

With any luck, it’ll be enough for me to finally get this story working the way I want it. After ten years, I’d love to see that.

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