I’m still editing.
Editting? Meh, I’ll have to fix that on the rewrite.
I may have used that joke the last time I wrote about editing. But right now it’d take too much damned effort to double check. Kinda like when I really don’t want to look up how I described this character 20,000 words ago. So if it’s the blond she was gonna fuck and the brunette she was gonna marry, then oh well. At least we know she was always gonna kill the redhead. While Rick Astley played in the background.
I still don’t know if I’m technically editing or writing a second draft. Sometimes those are used interchangeably, other times not. I think editing is where you get rid of adverbs and sprinkle out some cliches. Find them crutch phrases and fuck them right in their nose-holes.
Nostrils? Nah, nose-holes has more panache.
I’m not to that part yet. Where I’m writing, there’s nary a nostril nor nose-hole in sight. What I’m doing right now is closer to, “see if you can find your five worthwhile words in this chapter of drivel and then burn the rest of it to the ground.”
I know a number of real authors say they add 10-20,000 words in their second draft. Add a little foreshadowing now that you know how the story will end. Maybe add a red herring. Or make the redhead that we didn’t know she’d kill in chapter 20 back into that party scene in Chapter 2. Ooo, can the redhead be a red herring?
That’s not how I approach my second draft. If I’m not cutting 1,000 words from a chapter, then it’s probably still too goddamn verbose.
I just cut 2000 words from a fight scene. That shit was originally 5000 words. Because, you know, when a trained king’s guard is swinging his sword at you, it’s a great time to have three paragraphs of physics. What the hell was I thinking?
Actually, I know what I was thinking. That I suck at writing action scenes. But 500 words a day, yo! So let’s see, the bad guy started swinging his sword yesterday and I’ve got to move the book along today. If I can equivocate for 490 words, I only have to advance the arc of that sword for 10. The POV character, after all, is in heightened adrenaline mode. Time slows down. We notice everything. When else would he be likely to notice the morning dew condensing on a beautiful chartreuse lily? Then maybe tomorrow, a gentle will-o-the-wisp shall flitter across like a… like a… I’ll figure it out later.
Crap, will-o’-the-wisp only counts as one word. He must encounter a rare Will O’ The Wisp. The O’ the Wisp family certainly has a penchant toward a certain fist name for their male children.
I’m aware of my tendency while I’m writing. It’s the only way I ever get on with the scene. When it’s been a week and I’m still thinking about that goddamn sword, I’m like, “Okay, today I’m going to write where he rolls out of the way.” This happens on non-action scenes, too. Oftentimes at the beginning of a new chapter, especially after a major scene shift, I have no friggin’ clue how much set-establishing to do before getting into the real shit. On the re-read, the answer might actually be none. Does the reader really need to know every detail of the alleyway between dude’s apartment and the pizza place if all he needs to do is order a pizza? Come to think of it, can’t I just start the chapter off with pizza already in hand? Will my non-existent readers be tweeting me screaming, “WHY? What was his internal motivation for procuring a slice of pizza. How can I identify with him if I don’t know how many shakes of crushed red pepper he likes?”
Actually, the red pepper shakes might be some good character info. But not the number of cracks in the pavement outside. And he can still shake the pepper after the scene starts with slice in hand.
Astute readers might note that I first wrote about editing this book back in July. It’s been almost a year. How the hell am I still on the second draft? Aren’t those supposed to take, like, a couple weeks? I thought so too!
In my defense, it took me about five years to write this book, so maybe one year on the rewrite is par for the course. And during that time, the other book I was stuck on got unstuck a couple times. Of course it did. Anything that’s not the story I’m currently working on sounds super easy right now.
And no, I didn’t finish that other book when I abandoned my editing for its sultry seductions. I just made it a couple chapters longer. Chapters that I’ll probably cut in the second draft.
Hey, you know something I’ve learned from this process? One of the things all the professionals say is to let your first draft sit for a while before re-accessing it. That way you won’t remember what you were writing and you won’t be as emotionally vested in it. If you approach it as “this was written by someone else,” you’re more capable of tearing it apart and making it better.
Okay, obviously those people didn’t take five years to write the first draft. Because I totally could’ve gone back to page one the day after I finished page last. It wasn’t fresh in my memory.
But on the flip side, I totally remember writing large portions of this. I remember the major plot points. Sometimes I’ll be rewriting a scene and think “Didn’t I make a reference to xyz here?” only to find it a couple chapters later, but still in the same general area. Oh, maybe I don’t remember some of the metaphors or precise language used, but if the whole goal is for me to approach this as if it was written by somebody else, that ain’t happening. I remember precisely why every beat of the story is in there.
Which doesn’t mean I’m super tied to it. Like I said, if I’m not cutting one out of every four pages, I’m not doing it justice.
Maybe it’s because those real authors burn out a book in three months. Whereas I spent a month on this one chapter, so I remember all its nooks and crannies.
Of course, now I’m hearing that the second draft is actually supposed to be shortly after the first draft, and it’s primarily for “making the head match the ass” or “making the drapes match the carpets.” THEN you wait 3-12 month before writing your THIRD draft, which should feel like it was written while masturbating with your left hand.
Wait, I’m going to have to write this AGAIN? THEN I send it to beta readers and they tell me all the things to change and I write the fourth draft. Followed by another drapes-and-carpets run, then let it sit for… Boy, I can’t wait to start the querying process in 2050.
Here’s the strangest thing about this rewriting process though: I’m giving up at the exact same spots.
When I say it took me five years to write, it didn’t really take me five years to write. Even those long slogs of 500 words a day before I finally got on with it happened for maybe only a week at a time. My normal writing schedule was to write 10,000 words in a month or so, usually around NaNoWriMo, then to muddle through another couple months, writing once a week or so, then get discouraged for three months before rinsing and repeating.
I remember the times I walked away. Sometimes it was right before an action scene, other times it was right after. And it wasn’t always in the “this sucks” vein. Sometimes it was a catharsis. Yeah, I nailed that fucking scene. Let me replenish. The book goes through three or four arcs, as did my writing.
When I started this rewriting adventure last summer, I muddled through the same emotions I had when first writing. This sucks. I’ll never be a writer. If I’m bored by this scene what reader in their right mind would ever sit through it? That usually leads to cutting 1000 words. But then there are those times of, “Wow, this isn’t half bad. This character really seems to be earning his level-up. Awww, people are gonna cry when that character dies. If they make it past that super shitty chapter 3.”
When I approached the first major give-up point, I resolved to power my ass through that rewrite. I took out most of the inner-monologue-while-facing-mortal danger that I tend to fill my first drafts with. And you know what? It took me a week, but I finally made it through that fucker.
Then I took the next two months off.
Now I’m finishing the second major arc, and I’m running into the same general malaise I had at this spot during a first draft. I’ve heard it referred to as the mushy middle. I’m once again faced with a general boredom with the plot and the characters and an impostor syndrome that says Stephen King’s first book was Carrie, and even after I’ve fixed half the shit, this drivel ain’t even on the same fucking continent as Carrie.
I was prepared for this on the first draft. I mean, not prepared in a sense of I fought through it. No, I put the manuscript away for a year at a time. But I at least learned from other sources that the impostor syndrome and the mushy middle were things. So at least when I succumbed to them, I knew it was par for the course.
I wasn’t prepared to go through it a second time.
It might be worse now that I know where the story is going, how many more beats it has. Add to that the fact that, the first time I wrote this, the end was where I ran into more and more of those “just get shit on the page” days. I’ve heard a number of authors say they power through the end because that’s when it’s fun again. Not me. The culminating scenes, where I bring all my chickens back to shit in the woods with the Pope, are a fucking nightmare. That’s where I am on that second book that only looks good when I’m stuck on the first book these days.
Both of my “books” start out with crisp 2,000-3,000 word chapters and end with 7,000-word lardasses. And I don’t know if they’ll be any easier now that I’ve made the ass match the face.
The second give-up point is different from the first. This time, I’m going through the “maybe I should change the entire premise of the book. Maybe I should start over from scratch with a different tone. Yep, almost 200,000 words in (120,000 words on the first go through, and 70,000 words through the rewrite), I’m now thinking “eh, fuck it.” I want to make it campier, funnier. I’ve been reading “Kings of the Wyld” by Nicholas Eames. It’s a refreshing take on epic fantasy by merging it with rock bands. Maybe I should do something like that? Something to differentiate myself from everything else that’s out there.
For those who have been following the travails of this Magnum Opus, it’s a world where feudalism never ended, They’re on the cusp of the twenty-first century, but it’s filled with peasants and nobles and an absolute monarchy, nary an industrial invention in sight. Now I’m thinking of moving it from the late 1990s to the mid-1980s and drop in a bunch of real-world eighties references. Maybe all the peasants wear day-glo? A mixture of “Kings of the Wyld” with “Ready Player One.” Aren’t we supposed to use comparables in our query letters?
The problem is I don’t know if I have that book in me. I turned 15 years old in 1989, so while I remember the 1980s, it’s not like I have a font of knowledge of the decade beyond that of a child. I’d have to do some extra research. It can’t be all Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
I also wouldn’t want to go full camp. “Kings of the Wyld” doesn’t. Every time it has a chance to go more “rock band” and less “epic fantasy,” it doesn’t. Most of the band references are subtle. So maybe moving my story to the 1980s rewrite wouldn’t take a whole rewrite. But what fun would that be? If you wanna burn something to the ground, you don’t decorate it with a doily.
Then again, maybe I’m just going through this whole rigmarole because I’m in the mushy middle. My main character is really annoying when he’s still 20,000 words away from finally growing the fuck up and complete his character arc.
God, my writing sucks. Hey, this is pretty fucking good. Back and forth. Back and forth.
I’ll see y’all back here in 2023 when I hit this spot on the fourth draft.
In the meantime, my other book’s making sexy eyes at me, so I gotta go.