#amediting

Finished Book Two

I just won NaNoWriMo! Woo-hoo!

Unfortunately, it was NaNoWriMo 2018. Do they still have badges for that? 

Whatever. For only the second time in my life, I finished a novel last week.

Writing, that is. If I only finished reading the second novel of my life at the age of 46, I doubt I’d be trumpeting quite so loudly.

Although sometimes, when looking at the drivel I put onto a page, one might presume I’ve never actually learned how to comprehend the English language anywhere beyond “See Jane barf. See Dick dick.”

I could barely contain my giggling in the background while listening to Daughter’s first grade class work on their vocab. “Don’t let the cat <Blank> you.” “Theo and Jana <Blanked> the sandwich.” And my personal favorite, “I decided to <Blank> to the finish line.”

(The answers were scratch, split, and sprint, you sicko!)

In my mind, Book Number One took five years to write, but I never bothered looking at the stats. It turns out I was overshooting. Or undershooting, depending on what one defines as “writing.” 

According to Microsoft Word, I began Book Number One on April 1, 2014. I thought it was a NaNoWriMo novel, but that start date implies it was Camp, not NaNo proper. Not that it makes a difference. I’ve never won any NaNo, whether April or July or November. While I could probably shit out 50,000 words in a month, I wouldn’t consider it “Novel Writing.” Nor would it be be a complete novel.

My daughter, by the way, was born one month later, in May of 2014. If I couldn’t finish a book in a month with no child and Wife mostly immobile, it’s safe to say it ain’t ever happening. One November, I had a student teacher, which necessitated me to  vacate my classroom and sit in the staff room with my laptop every day. It also gave me two fewer class periods to prep and grade. I still didn’t “Win” that NaNo.

To be fair, Book One wasn’t really my first attempt. I started a hot pile of puke for NaNoWriMo in 2013, a “semi-autobiographical” retelling of my trip to Mardi Gras as a wee lad. I say “semi” because said trip happened in 2000, thirteen years earlier, and I can barely remember what I taught yesterday. I was also rip-roaring drunk a substantial portion of Mardi Gras, so even if I’d woken up every morning and written down what happened the night before, it would’ve been half-accurate at best. One morning I awoke with my jaw hurting like hell. A day or two later I remembered taking a punch to the chin while trying to break up a fight. Whether or not I broke up said fight remains a mystery twenty years later.

So yeah, that “book” made it to somewhere in the 30-40,000 word and shall grow no more. NaNoWriMo might consider that 80% of a full book, but it ain’t. Not that any of my books are likely to see the light of day, but that one shouldn’t even grace my computer screen. There’s a reason weed journals aren’t on the New York Times bestseller lists, because none of our lives are quite so hilarious as we are led to believe. 

Still, it was probably a good first attempt. Write what you know, they say. If I was ever going to push anything beyond 5,000 words or so, it probably helped that I didn’t need to plot things out, or get to know my characters. Who knows, maybe I’ll salvage some of it for blog posts some February. After all, “embellished life stories” might as well be the subtitle here.

According to Microsoft, I “finished” Book One on June 8, 2017. So not five years. More like three and some change. But it still isn’t really finished, and it’s now been six-and-a-half years. If I split the difference on those two, it’s five years, give or take.

I remember writing the last line of that book. It was a “planned” book, as opposed to a “pantsed” book, but in reality it ended up being very little like the plan. The character that was supposed to die at the end of Act II lived until the end of Act III, while at least two characters who were supposed to survive the book didn’t make it that far. One because he swapped places with the “planned” Act II death, and another because I got tired of typing all the apostrophes in his accent.

But I knew the tentpoles of the plot. I always knew what major plot point I had to get to, and the next one after that. As such, that final line was pre-ordained for three years. I might not have enunciated it in the planning stage, but by the time I was 10K words in or so, I knew precisely how it would end. The month leading up to it was both exciting and scary. I remember the feeling that June afternoon, sitting in a pub while waiting for Wife and Daughter to meet me at a baseball game, as I wrote paragraphs leading up to it.

Is this it?

One more paragraph.

Is this it?

Nah, make him go around the bend, and then…

Is this it?

Holy shit, I just finished a book.

Now what?

I guess I’ll start Book Two.

To be clear, Book Two isn’t a sequel to Book One. I’ve heard that’s a big-time no-no. Because when the editor tells me not to kill off Character One, make it Character Two instead, that’ll make Character Two’s super-important arc in Book Four super awkward. Not saying you can’t teach an old zombie new tricks, but it requires a fair amount of backtracking. During a NaNo write-in, I once met somebody who was writing the SEVENTH book in an unpublished series. Man, I hope he never has to go back and edit book one. I’m guessing some character motivations have changed in the interceding six tomes. At least I hope so.

One of my characters changed quite a bit during this book. I know that because I wanted the last chapter to mirror an earlier chapter, so I did a bit of side-by-side writing. Wow, did I really start out the character that way? He’s always been crass, but by the end of the book he’s more crude jokester. On the re-read, he’s kind of a dick early on. He also seemed to have a son in Chapter Four, but it’s a daughter by the end. I’m not sure what her name is. I kept writing [Daughter] in the final chapters, certain that I named her at some point, and when I find said name, I’ll fill it back in. This might be the problem with taking six month breaks from writing throughout the course of the book.

Sorry, let’s double back to the statistics. Book Number Two’s file was created on October 10, 2018, but I don’t think I actually started writing it then. That sounds like prime “NaNo Prep” range. The first page still has a little preview blurb, again only covering the start of the book. So I can safely assume I didn’t start the novel proper until November 1, 2018. Oh, maybe October 31, because I’ve been known to fudge a little. If it’s past 9:00 PM in California, it’s already the next day on the east coast. Heck, 4:00 PM nets me midnight GMT. It’s not like I use the extra couple hours to push me across the finish line. I promise, if I ever start at 4:00 on 10/31, I will not accept a win after 4:00 on 11/30.

Regardless of whether I started on 10/10 or 10/31 or 11/1, the fact that I finished it in November of 2020 puts it at just about a two-year novel. Not quite half of my first one, but in that range. Maybe by the time I get to book five, I can cut it to a year. I’ll still never figure out how Michael Connelly and Lee Child (pre-retirement) can churn out 17 or so books per year. It takes me longer to read their books than it takes them to write them.

Writing the ending of Book Two was a lot less cathartic than Book One. I’m sure part of it is the law of diminishing returns. After all, Book One wasn’t only a 3.5-year journey, it was a 40+ year one. Finishing any book would’ve fired off endorphins. With Book Two, it’s a matter of been there, done that. And considering that Book One is still in the editing process, experience tells me that getting to the end is little more than a checkpoint. I feel sorry for Stephen King. Does he get any joy out of finishing a book?

On the other hand, he’s a multi-millionaire who gets a movie deal every time he has a bowel movement, so maybe I should hold off on my pity. It’s like when Billy Joel says he would’ve liked to have been a history teacher. I’m a history teacher, Billy. Wanna switch? 

I also wonder if my lackluster finish stems from the fact that this book was “pantsed,” not planned. I had a couple characters and an opening scene in mind when I started. Instead of wasting another six months creating a plot I wouldn’t follow anyway, I decided to just write that opening scene and see where it ended up. Turns out it ended up at a whorehouse.

As such, the final scene has probably only been in my head for a couple months. I had a vague idea of how the characters were going to get out of their final snafu, but I wasn’t entirely sure how they would get into it. And I sure as shit had no idea of what to do afterward. Y’know, you gotta have the requisite cool-down, level-up scene after the big blowout. I know we all think in terms of “Hans Gruber falls from Nakatomi Plaza, fade to black,” but the consumer wants to see some bullshit hug-it-out scene between John McClain and Al Powell.

The final line? I thought it up a week or so ago. Not convinced it’ll make it past the first rewrite. Instead of that bronze ring I’m getting closer to each time the 500-words-a-day carousel comes back around, it felt more like the decision point after my second beer. Do I add a little bit more or call it a night here? In the end, I decided to avoid the headache waiting for me tomorrow morning if I dragged the scene out any more.

So now what? 

Unlike with Book One, where I let it sit for a year, I think I’m going to do the second pass soon. Make the drapes match the carpet. No wait, sorry. Wrong euphemism. What I meant was “check the pubes for hair dye.” Nope. Still not it. 

Make the ass match the face! That’s it! Turn that son into a daughter, maybe finally discover her name. Decide whether I want to keep the character an asshole to make his growth more astute or maybe take a little off the edge at the beginning so readers don’t hate him before they find out his daughter’s name. I also remember some stuff I wanted to switch around at the beginning. I killed off one character earlier than I should have (again, unplanned, but I found myself liking her way better than the main characters, and I thought my readers might, too, so off with her head!). Turns out her death ended up having a major effect on the main characters. Who woulda thunk that when it popped in my head one day?

Then I’ll wait. It seems like the third draft is where the magic happens. Book One started at 127,000 words. After pass two, I got it down to just over 100,000. I was doing a small amount of ass-fitting-the-face, but also cutting large swaths of inner dialogue that, while necessary for my writing process, added little to the reading process. Then I found a couple of beta readers. Well, I found 7-10 people who said beta reading sounded fun, but only two ever responded to the opening 10K I gave them. So yeah, we’ll call that a couple beta readers. I’m hoping the others didn’t get around to it. If they read it and it was too horrible to enunciate, then I might be progressing on faulty logic.

Originally, I didn’t consider this pass a third draft. I was just cleaning up those first 10K words for the beta readers. I was planning to dump the extra 90,000 words on them all at once, with caveats that I would “clean it up” later. So if I used nicer verbs in the first batch, assume they’ll make it into draft three. Or, hell, if y’all like the shitty words, then maybe next time I’ll query the diarrhea first draft and pretend it’s stream of consciousness. 

Besides, I logicked, I’m going to make changes after their feedback anyway, right? 

Except the first beta reader to get back to me said he’d be fine getting it in more 10,000-word dribs and drabs. Less daunting for him that way. So then I figured I’d “clean up” batch two. Less daunting for me that way, too.

I also wanted to play around with a way to freshen up the book that I was bored with after 227,000 words over six years. Right before sending it off, I threw in  a couple of changes I’d been thinking about, some tongue-in-cheek references to add levity and to make it substantially less derivative. Both respondents liked it, so I’ve continued adding them to the new batches.

I’m now starting my sixth “batch,” finishing up Act II. I originally named this file “2.2,” it’s pretty obvious that it’s destined for “3.0” status once I put all the batches back together. 

Draft one is putting shit down on a piece of paper. Draft two, I’ve been told, is making those words less shitty. At least for my first book, I’m finding the third draft is where I’m actually focusing on writing some good words. It’s on pace to be around 80,000 words, which seems like a good spot for a novel with a little bit of world-building. Even better that the net -20,000 words is more like -25,000 less crap plus an extra 10,000 words of those added accoutrements. 

Who woulda guessed, after cutting close to 30K from first to second, I still had more than 20K to cut. First pass, I focused on cutting full paragraphs. Second pass is taking “He decided it was time to go around the corner” to “He rounded the corner.” Can that reduce the manuscript by 20%? Turns out it can.

Book Two stands “complete” at 110K. I’m a little worried that if it goes through a similar culling process, it’ll be down to 60K or so, which ain’t much of nothin’. But I feel like I need to add some to the first half while chopping the second half. When I was still figuring everything out, I didn’t have as much to say. Once I figured out what made the characters tick, I had to explain what made the characters tick.

So I’m a little in between right now. Finishing the last few beta batches of Book One while working on the reorganization, large swath cuts of Book Two. It won’t be easy since they’re drastically different. I occasionally ran into this problem over the past month. Book One is a fantasy/historical fiction, a hero’s journey with a studious main character. Book Two is set in modern-day Vegas with one main character obsessed with sports while the asshole is likely to bust out a Golden Girls reference at any given time. Did I mention Book Two took a detour to a whorehouse? Not an easy transition from that to a heroic stand of cavaliers in chainmail.

I wrote Book Two in the present tense. Not sure why, but it seemed to fit. One goes to a whorehouse, one has not gone to a whorehouse.

So yeah, maybe I spend the next couple weeks finishing the beta batches, then do the ass-and-face pass?

More importantly, when do I start Book Three? And which book shall that be? I’ve had a few ideas bumping around, one of which started out before Book Two was even a thought. Since I went serious then funny, maybe I’ll head back to a “Very Special Episode” again.

It would also send me back on the “Planned” road. I haven’t written word #1, but I’ve known where and how the final scene will go. I might even have the final line picked out. It’s the first line that’s proven to be a right asshole.

And I could totally fuck future me up by starting Book Three this week. When I post about finishing it in 2024 or so, watch how confused I am – December 1? WTF? Did I finish a NaNoWriMo and decide to keep the mojo going? 

Never mind. I’ll KNOW that wasn’t the case.

Still Editing

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.

Editing

I’ve started the editing process.

Wait, editing? Editting? Meh, fuck it. I’ll fix that later.

Right after I finish regrouting the tile. Because that sounds more fun than editing.
Man, I thought it was easy to get distracted away from writing. Then I started editing, and hoo boy. Any chance I can sign up for a root canal surgery or something?

I’ll just blog something instead. Nothing makes writing seem more appealing than editing.

It turns out there’s a lot more “how to’s” about writing than there are about editing. Everything’s all like “Yeah, just keep writing. Get that first draft done. If it sucks, you can fix it in the second draft. You can’t edit a blank page.”

So I finished my first draft. Woo-hoo!

Then they say to let it sit for at least a month, better yet two, so that you can edit it with a fresh set of eyes.

So I waited two months. Even though it took me four years to write in the first place, so Chapter One should have Fresh Eyes, regardless.

Then I waited two more months. And another two. It’s now been close to a year since I finished the book. Five years since I started it.

Because every time I started to think that maybe I should get around to editing, I would realize that it’s 120,000 fucking words. Good God. When I’m looking for a book on Audible, I don’t like them going over twelve hours. This polemic I wrote would be twenty hours. And bear in mind these are 120,000 words of mistakes and typos and characters that drastically changed from the beginning to the end.

Ugh.

But I’m finally doing it. Let me dust off Chapter One, written in November of 2014, and see what I can do.

Back to the writer websites and podcasts:

Write the First Draft. Check.

Let it sit (at least) two months. Check.

Hey, here’s a blog entry about sentence structure.

Because nobody wants to talk about editing.

I did find one podcast, Story Grid, but it’s a really boring podcast. They want me to buy their book, so they never actually say how to make a story grid. It’s just a dude talking about his specific book, and it’s a book that sounds like a boring rip-off of Hunger Games. So I make it about five minutes into each episode before giving up.

Then I edit for five minutes and think that this OTHER episode of the podcast sounds super interesting.

Step number one, according to Story Grid, is to read the entire book while taking notes. Don’t touch a thing. Don’t fix typos. Just read the whole fucking thing.

Hmm…. Let me see if I can find other guides.

Allegedly Lee Child doesn’t edit his books at all. He writes from beginning to end, then gives it to his publisher to fix typos. I guess that’s easier to do when you write pretty much the same story over and over.

I once found a “four color” editing process where you print out a copy of your book and you read through it using four colored pencils to mark four different types of things to fix. It promised that it would become a one pass-through process. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what any of the colors were for. All I can think is, holy shit, there are FOUR things I have to fix on my second draft?

That’s what comes after the first draft, right? The second draft?

Wait, second draft? As in, this manuscript that it took me four years to write, I now have to start over from scratch? Rewrite the whole thing? I want to EDIT, not REWRITE.

In my mind, I really just wanted to go through the book once. Move this thing here, delete that passage there, add a little background to that one scene, change a few “teh”s to “the”s and voila, start the super-fun querying process.

But everything I’m looking at says to go macro first. Read the whole thing, then rewrite it all. Write a second draft, then to start over with the third draft.

Does Stephen King do this? Because it takes me two years to read through one of his books, and he publishes seventy-five per year, give or take. George R.R. Martin says he hasn’t finished writing the next Game of Thrones yet. When he finishes it, is he going to let it sit for a season, then rewrite it twelve times? Good God, he’s never going to finish.

So I decided to say fuck it all, and do things my way. Sure, some of these guys are published. But everybody’s different, right? I’ll just fix it as I go and wrap this shit up in a week.

So I started with Chapter One.

Fixed a couple typos. Cut out some of the excessive internal monologue. And does the reader really need to know the layout of the village the main character lives in? No, maybe not. Clean. Polish. And that’s not a bad first chapter. See? I’ve got this. Bite me, Story Grid podcast.

Why is that foreboding music playing in the background?

On to Chapter Two.

Fix. Clean. Polish. And you know what? Now that I think of it… Do I need Chapter One at all?

A lot of the writing advice I’ve seen says that many books start too early. Chapter One is often groundwork, background information that can easily be sprinkled in later. Some books don’t really get into the plot until you’re 10,000 words in.

I also saw an agent say she couldn’t stand the fact that so many fantasy novels start with the main character harvesting crops. Sure, how else can you make a “Farm Boy Saves the World” story without having him start on a farm. Even if it is a moisture farm on Tatooine.

And here’s where I’m going to do what annoys me about the Story Grid podcast. I’m going to talk about my Work in Progress, which you don’t give a shit about. The difference is I’ll do it for a few paragraphs instead of an hour-long podcast.

First of all, the agent’s comment doesn’t apply to me, because this isn’t a fantasy novel. It’s an alternative history.

But it’s an alternative history such that the Middle Ages never really ended. So it reads like a fantasy. Hmmm…..

And you see, my character isn’t HARVESTING crops in the first scene. He’s PLANTING them. TOTALLY DIFFERENT!!!!

Okay, so is the first chapter really necessary? Ask yourself, the pros say, why does the story start here?

Well, you see, they’re about to leave their manor to travel to a festival many miles away.

So what?

Well, on the way to the festival, they’re going to stop at a tavern and meet the guys that introduce them to the rebellion and whatnot.

So why is he planting shit?

Umm… Because he’s a peasant.

Why doesn’t the book start when he gets to the tavern?

Umm… Did I mention I have a mental map of the village?

Okay, so what if I just start it in Chapter Two? And I can move this part about cotton, which will play into the rest of the book, into a conversation with the girl traveling with him. And all of his whining about the state of feudalism? Well, if he’s already thinking all of that stuff, then what’s the point of the guys who bring him into the Rebellion. Okay, I’ll cut that out. And maybe the third important tidbit from Chapter One can be added later when he meets that one other character. I know precisely where it will go.

After all, I just finished poring over Chapter One word by word.

When I was editing it.

Right before deleting it.

Fuck.

Maybe I should’ve, I don’t know, read my whole book first. It would’ve saved me all that time going back over Chapter One. I wonder if that’s why they suggest it?

Okay, so after reading the first 20,000 words or so, the first major arc, I decided that I now knew where the book should start. On the fourth paragraph of Chapter Two. And I’m going to cut and paste some of those parts from the old Chapter One and split the old Chapter Two into two chapters. One approaching the tavern, one in the tavern.

Except I’m not cutting and pasting. Because the wording doesn’t work when he’s standing on a bridge into town instead of planting crops back at home. And while I’m at it, some of his conversations are going to change a little bit. And you know what? That female character needs some agency. Because I know what’s going to happen to her, and it shouldn’t come from out of the blue that she’s got so much inner strength. Plus, if I change her from “The One He’s Always Wanted” to “The Only Girl Around His Age In His Tiny Village,” it’ll make it more pronounced when he meets his True Love later.

So how do I go about keeping most of the words the same, changing a few things subtly, and tweaking a character all at once?

Well, I open two Word Docs. Old one on the right, new one on the left. And then I, you got it…

REWRITE.

THE.

WHOLE.

FUCKING.

THING.

Oh, is this what they call a second draft?