Wednesday, January 26, 2011

#WW Only at the end, can we see the beginning

Doesn't that sound zen of me? But it's really just the same old cliche - hindsight is 20/20.

Whenever a new writer asks me if they should submit after writing the first three chapters, I usually answer no. There are several reasons, including 1)you should go through the exercise of finishing a book, and know you can, 2) if you get a request, the last thing you want to be doing is rushing to write the last 3/4 of the book and send in something substandard, 3) your partial will be stronger if you have finished the book and revised/polished it accordingly.

It's the third one I'm going to talk about today because it's just your luck that I'm in the revision stage of my current manuscript. I finished the first draft last Friday, I hope to send it to my editor at the end of this week, Monday at the latest. I used to hate revising, just ask my critique partner. I never made many changes to books after I'd written them - it was very much refining and fine tuning. But as I go on I am more ruthless.

Of course bear in mind this is my process only, but I think one thing can be said for the majority of books. After you get to the end, you know EVERYTHING. Maybe you always knew how it would end but you didn't realize that a certain symbol would have meaning, or things that your character said that took you by surprise. When you get to the end and go back and read your first chapter, it reads differently. You can see where things are missing. Where motivations that made sense in the beginning need a shift to really lead into the rest of the story. Because you KNOW. You simply know things that you didn't know before, and it doesn't matter if you're a planner or a plotter. Until the words are written, you just don't know.

With Clay and Meg, the focus needs a slight shift because I was heavy on some part of the conflict and too light on others. In some places I focused on one thing but forgot to layer in other bits that keep threads woven through (broken threads are not good. Things unravel.).

Sometimes - not in this story thus far - I have to lose a scene altogether. Or set it somewhere else. Or in the case of another story I'm revising beginning next week, I need to add a scene. Or two. Maybe I've gone too fast, or maybe I'm just filling time (filler is not good). Sometimes I have to switch point of view. A scene that is flat from my heroine's point of view is suddenly filled with tension and conflict from the hero's. Those are the things that need to be done NOW, and it's my job to figure it out and DO IT and not be lazy about it.

Thankfully, my first draft isn't REALLY a first draft. I mean, I write it, and then I read it over and adjust a bit, and then I sent it to my CP, and then she sends it back and I adjust it, and so on with the next chapter. And even after all that, I STILL end up revising. And guess what. After my editor has had a look at it, I revise some more. On a good day, I get a few pages of tweaks. On a bad day, I get revisions that are rewrites. Only once have I had a book that needed to be rewritten from scratch. All fifty-thousand words.  In fact, I had to rewrite the first half of this one because my editor saw what I couldn't - that the characters are wonderful but the way I'd chosen to write it wasn't working. I did not like having to start over. But once I got a few chapters in I realized how this way is MUCH better.

The point is, do not be afraid. If a scene feels off, ask yourself why, and take the time to adjust it rather than saying it's good enough. Trust your instincts. And write the end of the damn book so you can make your submission the strongest possible. A lot of work now, but worth it. SOOOOO worth it.

Happy writing! Next week we're going to talk about taking an idea from concept to proposal.

AND, because I haven't forgotten, happy birthday to my Fabulous Critique Partner Michelle Styles!


  1. Great advice Donna - thanks. Caroline x p.s had to laugh my word verification is "goofie"

  2. It is true that until you get to the end,you don't know exactly how things play out. That's sort of the fun of it all.

    And makes editing very necessary.

  3. Hi Donna,

    You know I'm just a reader but I enjoyed this post and Kate Walker has a link to it on her blog. Happy Revisions.

  4. Hi Donna, what great advice. And yes as an aspiring writer I've found that my first chapter was perfect..polished and revised but by the time I reached the fifth chapter my story was finished! Now imagine if I'd sent that 1st chapter off, what would I do if they asked for the full?

    Thanks for the greatest advice!


  5. I like to finish the whole book before I send a query. It's been great to get a peek into your revisions process. Thanks Donna!