Thursday, May 29, 2008

The First Time

[X-posted over at the Tri Mu Blog.]

The first time is always memorable. No, not THAT first time (get your head out of the gutter.) I'm talking about the first manuscript. The first time a writer decides she is going write a book, and she does. Day after day she returns to the keyboard to pound out the next word, the next scene, the next chapter, until she hits those two magical words 'the end.'

For some writers, this process may take only a few weeks, but for others it takes years. Some will attempt it many times, but for various reasons, not reach those two words on a novel length project. For me, the journey took years, and during that time I acquired a graveyard full of false starts and half finished stories that never went anywhere. Some of these stories were worked on only a short amount of time before being abandoned, others were labored over for three or more years before I finally gave up on them.

After years and years, the first book I finished took only three months to write. (first draft, of course.) Since that first manuscript, three to four months is typically how long it takes for me to write 'the end' on any given novel length project.

You might be wondering what changed. Did I finally find the perfect writing guide? No, but goodness knows I looked. In fact, I searched high and low, reading all the writing books I could get my hands on from the time I was twelve on, and every time I read a new guide, I learned something new, something I'd been doing wrong. That of course, meant I had to go back and edit the 20k or so words I'd already written. After all, how could I go on when I'd made mistakes? As I only wrote when the muse struck, this led to a lot of very polished beginnings to books that never went anywhere.

This ugly cycle is why most authors I've spoken to advise new writers to "write the first book in a void". What does 'the void' mean? It means you don't join a critique group, read lots of guide books, or join writers loops before the book is finished. Why? Because all of these things make you want to edit, and editing doesn't help finish the book. (**NOTE: This is just what I've learned and may not be true for everyone.) There will be plenty of time to fix a manuscript's flaws once the first draft is done, so write it first, and then edit. (Sure wish some of the guidebooks I read would have told me that.)

The other big secret I learned, and this one is arguably even more important, is that if you want to write, you have to write. Okay, yes that seems obvious, but did you see where I said for years I wrote only when the muse struck me? Meaning I wrote only when I was inspired, and when I was dry...well, lets just say I avoided the keyboard. When I finally got serious about writing and realized that sitting in front of my keyboard once a month wasn't going to get me where I wanted to go, I made a point to make writing a habit.

The first couple days were great. I had a new idea and enjoyed running with it. But inevitably, the dreaded writers block hit. Then I had to drag myself in front of the keyboard. Everyday (or at least most days out of the week) I forced myself in front of the keyboard. There were days I wondered why I was torturing myself, but you know what? It got better. The block broke, and I wrote like a madwoman, almost giddy with it. Of course, over the three months it took me to finish that first draft, I got blocked several times, and I learned I had to write my way out of it. Even if I only wrote a couple sentences, it was something, and eventually I would find my muse again. At the end of it, when I finally wrote "the end" for the very first time, I laughed out loud and then called my husband (who worked nights then) to let him know. It was a rush, and every moment I fought with words or characters--totally worth it.

Those of you who are writers with finished manuscripts, what was it like the first time you wrote 'the end'? What type of process took you to that point?

Happy Thursday everyone. I hope you've enjoyed this look into my writing past!

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