Sunday, July 3, 2016

Finished (sort of)

I finished the first draft of Project 2016 Thursday night.
It was a huge relief. This process for this one has been rocky—in no small part because my expectations frequently outstrip my talent—but there has been something incredibly satisfying about finishing a whole draft over the course of months rather than years.
Which is not to say that the project is done. The plan now is to let it sit a while, to let my writing group partner read through the draft, and then to dive back in to clean it up and smooth out the lumps.
Even so, the end of a first draft is a good point to look back on the work so far and figure out what worked and what didn’t. I’m not starting another novel-length project just yet, but Project 2016 certainly won’t be the last one I write. Reflecting on how this draft went might help me figure out what tricks to keep in my catalogue for next time.
So, what did I learn from draft one of Project 2016?
·         Daily writing makes it SO MUCH EASIER to remember where I was going with a particular plot thread.
Part of my struggle with previous work has been that I’ll leave it sitting for months on end and then run across something that I clearly meant to be the start of a subplot or a reference to something that I had planned to work in that I don’t remember. Looks like this character was supposed to be important—but hell if I know what they were supposed to do.
With daily writing, that didn’t happen. That’s not to say that everything flowed smoothly. There were still plenty of days that were more pouting at the computer screen than actually writing. The difference was that the pouting was more “what do I do next” than “what was I going for there.”
·         That said, setting a high daily wordcount goal is more hindrance than help.
I started out with a goal of 1000 words a day—not an outrageous goal, but hefty enough that I’d be making significant progress each day.
It took maybe three days before I started falling short of this goal. There were different reasons: I was traveling; I had to get things done for my real job; I had a four day long migraine and could barely see, let alone look at a computer screen.
None of these were me slacking off or being lazy—they were unavoidable interruptions that were largely out of my control (I mean, I guess I could have not gone to my best friend’s wedding, but there was no way I was gonna make that choice). And it’s not like I did no writing on those days—even on the worst days, I managed 250 words. But I felt terrible for missing my goal on those days. My disappointment in myself made the next day’s writing more of a struggle.
Next time, I’ll probably set lower daily word goals. Going over the wordcount goal doesn’t always make the next day’s work easier, but it does at least keep me from feeling like a failure before I even start.
·         When I’m struggling, sometimes writing things out on paper eases the way.
Getting stuck is part of my writing process no matter what I’m writing or how I’m going about writing it (just ask my spouse how much of the time I spent working on my thesis was me staring at my computer and swearing). Even though I was less likely to miss the connections or suggestions that I had set up each day, there were still moments where I couldn’t figure out how to go about moving things forward.
I got stuck right before I left for my friend’s wedding. On top of being stuck, I didn’t bring my computer with me on the trip. To keep up with my daily writing, I had to jot those days’ additions in my journal.
Something about that change in how I was working seemed to shake things free. Maybe having to alter the process got me to take apart scenes in a different way. Whatever the reason, the scenes where I got hung up seemed easier to write when I sat down with pen and paper.
·         I’m probably not ready to write a huge, multi-POV story.
Project 2016 is my first time experimenting with more than one point of view in a story. Two different characters tell the story alongside each other. Jumping back and forth between their perspectives was harder than I thought it would be—if for no other reason than that I had to constantly remind myself “no, this is the one who wouldn’t even blink at that” or “no this is the one that would start a fight.” I think I was (mostly) able to manage these two perspectives without getting them too confused, but I don’t think I’m ready to negotiate multiple points of view.
It’s difficult enough to keep up with two distinct voices. I want a little more practice before I try to wrap in multiple characters’ viewpoints.
·         Sometimes you just have to get it on the page.
In my head, I know that first drafts are always terrible—especially first drafts of something as big as a novel. The process is a little like herding cats, so something(s) is bound to get away from you or to come across as awkward or clumsy. First drafts are not meant to be the finished product. I know that.
But I still want my first draft to be perfect.
What held me back more than anything with this draft was trying to tinker with the things I’d already gotten down rather than forging ahead. I’d open the document and think, “You know, I’m just gonna go back and smooth out this bit of dialogue before I get to the new stuff” or “I should really plant the seed for this reveal a few chapters earlier.”
All of these are things that I’ll have to go back and adjust eventually, but the point of the first draft is to get the bare bones of the story on paper. At this point, I don’t even know that the bits of dialogue that I’m worried about will be in the next draft. Going back and trying to perfect all of the little bits and pieces right now is, really, a waste of time. I’d be better served by just getting the story out and going back and fixing it later.

I’ve put in a lot of work on Project 2016 at this point. The work’s not done by any stretch, but I’m pretty proud of hitting this milestone. I’m not sure where this project will end up going from here, but I’m pretty excited about the progress that I’ve made.

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