Chronicling The Craft is a series where I share my experience with working on my YA fantasy novel THE KEEPER’S CURSE. These articles alternate between a) progress updates and fun “TKC-related” content, and b) revising / editing tips. Today we finish our celebration of the end of Draft #3 with a tips-oriented post.
Working on a novel is a learning experience in and of itself. You’ll make right and wrong decisions, figure things out, and find ways of improving the story. You’ll also absorb tips away from the WIP via blog articles, workshops, and literary conferences. That “self-teaching” can double – or even triple – your knowledge about writing between Day 1 of Draft #1 and The End of Draft #3. And after wrapping up my WIP’s third draft, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned about the craft of writing and about myself as a writer.
So, the last Chronicle for Draft #3 isn’t exactly a tips-oriented post. Instead, it’s a retrospect of discoveries I’ve made since I started working on The Keeper’s Curse (or TKC). Perhaps these lessons might help you on your own writing journey (or maybe you’ve already embraced them). Then, at the end, I’d love to know what you have learned about yourself or your process from any of your writing projects. 🙂
Lesson #1: If One Aspect of Your Process Isn’t Working, Take the Time to Evaluate and Change It
Writing can be shifty sometimes. You start with a process that you think is foolproof, then later discover which parts aren’t so helpful. So, when your process feels imbalanced, take some time to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t, then make any necessary changes. And what works for a WIP’s first draft won’t always work for later drafts.
During TKC’s lifespan so far, I’ve gone through the “evaluate and change” steps three times:
- During Draft #1, I taught myself to stop rewriting previously written scenes by taking note of those changes, then turning those notes into a checklist for Draft #2.
- Between Drafts #2 and #3, I created a new writing / editing routine after realizing that upcoming changes in other areas of life would (for lack of a better word) kill my old routine.
- While the new writing routine worked well for Draft #3, I developed a bad habit early on: I’d work on edits longer than I’d planned, which led me to staying up later and not getting enough sleep. So, for the sake of self-care, I programmed a Windows “task” so my laptop would shut down at 8:45 pm every night.
Each change dealt with a different aspect of my writing process: efficiency, schedule / time management, and well-being, respectively. Yet all three changes have been instrumental in improving that process and helping me grow as a writer. Most importantly, had I not been willing to make those changes, TKC wouldn’t be as far along as it is today (and maybe it would be in much worse shape, too!). Thus, by evaluating problems I recognized in my process and implementing solutions, I also became a more flexible and adaptable writer.
Lesson #2: Worldbuilding is Never-Ending – But Don’t Forget to Start Writing Your Story
It’s impossible to know everything about a fictional world you’re creating. So many ingredients are needed, from the big picture (history, culture, religion, geography, etc.) to the smaller details. And while speculative fiction writers should build as much as they can so their universe feels real, it’s also important to know when to hit the “pause” button so you can start writing.
I LOVE worldbuilding – so much that I could obsess on it for weeks before writing the story’s first words. Good thing I recognized this while I was preparing for Draft #1 of TKC. Between that and my itching excitement to get writing, I convinced myself to be content with a month’s worth of worldbuilding (along with outlining and character profiles), then dove in.
Having that “pause-button” mentality was a great idea for other reasons. As I drafted TKC, and then revised and edited it, I let myself be open to opportunities for strengthening the worldbuilding. When I had questions about past events or history that were relevant to the WIP, I would flesh out those event(s) in a separate document, then incorporate the necessary details into the story. If I needed to get information, check accuracy, or fix my own illogic, I would research until I found answers, then make those improvements to the story as well.
The point is, speculative fiction writers never truly stop worldbuilding. We just need to remember to temporarily stop playing so we can get to work – and that work may be challenging, but it’s also the most fulfilling part. 😉
Lesson #3: Don’t Be Afraid of Becoming a Writerly “Jack of All Trades”
Working on TKC has prompted (or, in some cases, inspired) me to do more than just write. Over the past 3+ years, I’ve created fictional languages and (sort of) written a song that “plays” during one chapter. I took archery lessons to better understand its techniques, terminology, and history. I attempted to draw a map of my story’s world (and failed because I have ABYSMAL drawing abilities). I even created a line of custom teas for TKC to use as possible swag when the book comes out.
(Also, if you’re curious, some of the topics I researched while working on TKC are herbal remedies, new age crystal therapy, land travel with horses, woods used for making bows and arrows, weapons used by indigenous peoples… and I’ll stop there. *winks*)
The point is, a writer is never simply a writer / editor / researcher. You’ll have plenty of kinesthetic learning opportunities during a WIP’s lifetime, and the activities will depend on the story’s plot, characters, genre, and so on. And when you try them, not only will they let your creativity unfold in ways you hadn’t imagined, but you might find new hobbies and meet people who might become good friends or important connections later in life.
So, go on and be a linguist / songwriter / archer / tea crafter / epic failure of a mapmaker, or whatever your WIP needs you to be. You’ll enrich your writing as well as your life by becoming a jack of many trades.
Lesson #4: Editing Is My Favorite Part of the Writing Process
Many writers say they HATE the editing process. I can see why: It’s often tedious, and it uses less of our “creating” juices than drafting does. And yes, editing sometimes frustrates me to the point of feeling “brain-fried.” But I’ve also realized that, of the three drafts I’ve done on TKC so far, the editing stage (Draft #3) was my favorite part of the writing process.
Why? Because editing is the stage where you’re polishing your story. You’re taking what’s already there and improving it. Adding necessary details that weren’t there before, deleting redundancies and unneeded words, checking consistencies in character motivations and behavior, finding the most fitting words and weaving them into better sentences and paragraphs… Something about all that is oddly yet immensely fulfilling for me. Maybe it’s because most of the heavy lifting of drafting and revising is (hopefully) behind me, and I can finally concentrate on bringing the story’s heart to the surface.
Lesson #5: There’s Nothing Wrong with Going at Your Own Pace
It’s easy to compare ourselves to other writers and belittle ourselves over our perceived “inferiority.” Last year I wrote a guest post at Wendy Lu Writes about being a “slow” writer and offered tips to help others accept and embrace their unique process. But you know how we’re often terrible at taking our own advice? Yeah. I still get discouraged with my lack of writing speed – and the feeling only deepens when I see Tweets or status updates from other writers who managed more words per hour than I can.
So I still need to work on accepting my own process. That’s OK. Changing a warped perception about yourself or your abilities doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, you must teach yourself how to think and react differently, and in a way that empower you. This requires practice and patience, and doing so will help you persevere. Besides, aren’t those the three qualities (practice, patience, perseverance) you need most as a writer, apart from the desire to write?
If you’re also a slow writer, please remember this: There’s nothing wrong with going at your own pace. Instead of celebrating word count milestones, rejoice over finishing a scene or chapter or reaching other milestones. Instead of criticizing yourself over things you can’t control, verbalize one aspect of your process that you’re grateful for, even it’s something like, “I’m grateful that I’m writing this story.” Learning to look at your unique process in a positive way will make you more excited about your work, more committed to continuing with your craft, and even more open to changes that can boost your productivity and self-esteem.
Lesson #6: I Love This Story Like It’s My Baby
I loved TKC as soon as its first glimmers of inspiration flashed in my mind. And with every day that followed, I’ve grown to love it more. Through the smoothest writing sessions and the days when I could barely finish a page, through the excitement and suggestions of friends and fellow writers, through the moments when I wondered how CRAZY I must be for working on this story, through frustration and joy, through doubt and catharsis… And finally, after almost 4 years, this tortoise of a writer is preparing to have beta-readers
rip her baby to shreds critique her manuscript.
I shouldn’t be afraid, though. Beta-reading is just another step in the process of nurturing our stories. Just like how parents need a “village” to help raise their children, writers also need their own tribe of writerly and bookish supporters in order to make their stories strong, compelling, and publishable. What my “baby” needs from me now is bravery. It needs me to let go of it for a short time so that my beta-readers (book bloggers and fellow writers / creatives whom I trust) can help me care for it further. I’m ready to do that.
Who knows what will happen next? Most likely I’ll make more revisions based on beta feedback. Then, maybe TKC will need another round of betas, and I’ll need to make more changes after that. Or maybe it’ll be ready for querying. I won’t know for sure until the next stage is over.
But that’s OK. What I need to remember is that I love The Keeper’s Curse from the bottom of my heart, and this love is propelling me to take each step in this process. I’m willing to make tough decisions and do what needs to be done with this story (except compromise its soul) so it can one day be a book that readers can touch, enjoy, escape with – and maybe even be moved by it.
Until then, I thank you all so, so much for keeping me company on this journey thus far, and I hope you’ll stick with me for a little while longer. 🙂
Other Writing Reflections You Might Enjoy
- “If You Want to Be More Productive, Go To Sleep!” by Leanne Sowul (DIY MFA)**
- “Knowing Myself Better: 9 Lessons Learned” by Leanne Sowul (Words from the Sowul)
- “Now Available: THESE SAVAGE BONES (Plus, I Get Vulnerable About What It’s Like Being a Published Author” by Kaitlin Hillerich (Ink & Quills)
- “What My Most Recent WIP Has Taught Me About Writing” by Rae Oestreich (The Wallflower)
**This post came to me when my lack of sleep (see Lesson #1) was hitting me worst. Thanks so much again for the reminder, Leanne!
What have you learned while working on your own WIP? How has your writing or process changed between the day you started Draft #1 and now?
Did you miss the first half of the 100% progress report? Click here to catch up on last Thursday’s post, where I also shared five more songs from TKC’s novel playlist.
Original photo credits: Sylwia Bartyzel (banner)