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First drafts suck and the process of writing a novel

first draft suck

Last week I finished the first draft of the novel version of my short story, Plunder. I wanted a minimum length of 50k and ended up at 42k. There’s so much that needs to be cut or repurposed, like the chapter of exposition. There are secondary characters whose names I lost track of, and ones who need to be fleshed out. There is a lull about two-thirds of the way through after I break up my couple  that needs a lot of work. Tertiary characters flip between being alive and dead because I lost track. It is a jumbled, disorganized mess. But that’s okay.

edit without mercy

The biggest challenge I’ve faced with the novel is the sheer scale of the story.

Where Capturing the Moment had two main characters and two secondary characters, Plunder has two main characters, and tons of secondary characters. The nature of life on a ship means that I had to flesh out some portion of the crew, and with something like seven named secondary characters on two ships, it’s easy to lose track of who is who and what their personalities are.

Plunder is told from Bree’s perspective, unlike Capturing the Moment which showed both Meg and RJ’s points of view. It is very challenging to not tip my hand or give things away before their time. William is an alphahole, but I need my readers to still root for he and Meg to figure things out.

I have realized that in order to effectively edit the novel I need to create

  • a master document wherein I list all the characters and details about each of them
  • a chronological timeline.
  • chapter by chapter summaries–some of the exposition in a later chapter was dealt with in casual conversation earlier.
  • a sexual summary–style, position, allegories I use for orgasm. I don’t want to get repetitive, or miss out on something.

editing

I’m not going to start editing yet. I’m still too close to the story. My plan is to take a few days off, write a short story or two, and start the edits in June. I’ve shared the document in all it’s disastrous glory with my husband, but I will spend a month (or more) polishing it to the best product I can create.

When I wrote Capturing the Moment, I knew that my setting was accurate because I based it on my own visit. As I said in my guest post with F dot Leonora, I’m a photographer like Meg. I had to look up some details about art and the proper name of an instrument, but I was on solid ground. With Plunder, I’m dealing with a foreign time period and selective historical accuracy. The closest I’ve come to being a sailor is working as a costumed guide on the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum in college. I know nothing about rigging or the other jobs on a ship in the 17th. Research is only going to get me so far. I’ll need to consult with someone who knows their stuff as Bree is supposed to be a skilled sailor and fix the details I’m bullshitting today.

Once I’m done with edits, my husband will give it one last look. When both of us have signed off on it, I’ll send Plunder to my betas. They’ll need time to read and provide their comments.

During that lull, I’ll work on other projects.

When I have beta feedback, I’ll digest their thoughts and then revise Plunder further. I may send it to one more round of beta support or editorial support. A story is never really “done”–it just reaches the point where you are going to send it in or futz with it forever. I also call this the I keep editing, but now I’m making it worse instead of better. That’s the point where I’ll submit it for publication, and cross my fingers.

pirate 1

What does first draft, unedited hot mess look like? Here’s an example…

She was just about to head back to William’s cabin when it happened. A wave rose up and slapped the Ghost, tippping it starboard. She thought she heard a scream, and looked up in time to see the man from the foretop falling. He hit the gunwhale and slipped off into the sea.

“Man overboard!” Bree screamed, but her words were drowned out by the shrieking wind.

The starboard side of the foresail was unmanned, and began to flap. Bree might not be a pirate, but she was a skilled sailor who knew her rigging. She took a deep breath and dashed over to the ratlines and began to climb. The ropes were slick with rain, and she fought to keep her footing. Once at the crossbar over the foresail, she grabbed a piece of rope and knotted it about her stomach as the missing sailor should have. That would hopefully keep her alive if she fell, and she retied the knots that had gone slack.

The storm was like a living predator, snarling as it attacked its prey. Lighting slashed across the sky. She was soaked to the skin by the drowning rain. Waves tossed the Ghost, water sometimes crashing over the deck. Bree clung to the mast, keeping a close eye on the sail, listening for orders.

Bree prayed that the Maya was safely moored somewhere far from this storm. The thought of losing Marcus and James was unbearable. She looked for William, worried that he, too, might have fallen victim to the storm, but he wasn’t near her, and she couldn’t see the aft of the ship. Her heart twisted, but she remained focused.

The storm quieted, but she knew it was just the eye, and that the eerie calm wouldn’t last.

“Lass!” The pirate above her at the fore topsail called down.

She looked up. “Yes?”

“Can’t decide if you’re brave or dumb as a rock, but good work.”

My thoughts

  • “just” is one the worst offenders when it comes to filler/unnecessary words in my writing
  • Living predator? As opposed to a dead one?
  • I really know nothing about rigging, although I looked up proper names for things online
  • “the man from the foretop falling” what?
  • Would tying a rope around her waist save her if she fell? Really?
  • The storm needs more description. Do more than those few sentences.
  • She cares about Archie, the ship’s boy she befriended as well as Marcus and James

It’s not a bad passage, but it’s a really important one in the story. It needs expansion, more details (including support from someone who knows something about ships and sailing), and other editing support.

Here’s the thing, though. You can’t edit what you haven’t written. I wrote this, so now I have something to edit. In a month or so.

Writing Schedules, Pantsing vs Plotting, and a Sneak Peek

I recently spent a week fully immersed in what I hope will be my first full length-novel, Plunder (based on the short story soon to appear in Rogues). I had an absurdly productive week unlike any other writing experience, except the one I had when I wrote the first draft of the Plunder short story, am now roughly halfway done with the first draft.

pirate 5

However, I am a pantser, not a plotter. So what I have is an incredibly rough half of a book that will require extensive editing.

Does this mean I don’t know what’s going to happen next? For me, it means I have the complete arc of the story in my head, and am filling in all the empty spaces.

It’s easy to say that I’ll refine the first half and then write the second half, but if I learned anything from the ghost novel, which holds the record for most starts and zero finishes of any story I’ve ever written, ever, it’s that you suck it up and keep going.  My goal is to write the entire first draft and then fix it.

It’s only apt that I pepper this post with pirate memes not only because Plunder is a pirate story, but because even when I have plotted a story, my characters have committed mutiny and gone off to do whatever they want despite my outline. I have learned that I write more effectively by pantsing than plotting.

pirate 4

When will the first draft be done? Damned if I know. People talk about daily word counts and schedules, but as Jade A Waters said in her post called “The Process,” I kept fooling myself into believing I have a systemized process, and it’s become abundantly clear I’m full of shit. I laughed with delight when I read that line, because I find it to be so true for myself as well.

I’ll write in the mornings, when the kids are at school–Oh crap, I have to grocery shop. I don’t want to grocery shop with my four and seven year old, do I?

I’ll write in the afternoons, while the kids are absorbed in tv–Assuming I can block out Sofia the First or whatever other inane tv show is on/am not on Ms 7’s case about homework.

I’ll write in the evenings, after the kids are in bed–Well, sure, once I’ve done the other at home things, and if I’m still conscious enough to not fall asleep at the laptop/have enough energy to do anything other than watch tv listlessly. Or if I don’t have a freelance article due.

I’ll write on the weekends, when Mr. Night is around to run interference with the kids–Sometimes. Sometimes we actually want to do stuff as a family.

I don’t have a hard and fast policy because my life isn’t regimented enough to have one at this point (and probably never will be as I’m just not that organized). I have hopes that I’ll finish it before Capturing the Moment comes out on March 29 (pre-order will start March 14), but have accepted that it may not be.

pirate 2

I think that Plunder came along as well as it did during my intensive writing week was due to the fact that I love this story. This is a story I am happy to give up my free time to, and characters I absolutely adore. William is an alphahole (a term I only just learned thanks to Ilona Andrews post on that trope–btw, I loved her book, Clean Sweep). Brianna is an equally alpha heroine who has no desire to bow to the whim of any man. All she wants is to be a sailor, and eventually the captain of her father’s ship, the Maya. Both William and Bree are strong personalities with lots of opinions about everything, and throwing them together is often delightful.

If anything, I think the reason that things have slowed down is that they are currently apart because William was, well, an alphahole. Entirely his fault. I’m finding it hard to keep the story moving until they meet up again. Which is not to say that the middle bit is bad (although it’s a draft so it probably does suck–all first drafts suck), but rather than I have more fun and thus write faster when they’re butting heads.

pirate 3

Speaking of William and Bree, here’s another glimpse into their story

“What are you doing?”

“Darling, clearly it’s your nature to argue over everything, but it’s a blanket. It’s warm. You sleep under it.”

“I didn’t say I was ready to sleep.” Bree plucked the blanket from his hand and tossed it back to the floor. “I’ve yet to fully explore your territory with my tongue.”

“If you must. I suppose I can close my eyes and think of my duty to cartography.”

Bree’s hand had been trailing through his chest hair. At his comment she grabbed a fistful and yanked.

“Vicious little vixen.”

“Damned pirate. Turn over.”

“Aye aye, wench.”

All mine.

Her hands roamed his body. Freckles were scattered over his back, and Bree pressed a kiss to each. She had never considered a pirate would have such a banal thing as a freckle.

“Where did you get this?” An odd scar marred the perfection of his buttocks.

“Slight disagreement with a shark.”

She dug her nails into the cheek.

William sighed deeply. “Slight disagreement with a fishing hook. Rum was involved.”

Bree laughed with delight. “Turn over, and let me see what other wounds have been inflicted upon you. I wish to catalog them all.”

He turned onto his back. “What of the wound you gave me, minx?”

“A memory I shall always cherish.” Her tone was tart, but her eyes were soft as they made a study of his form

Siem Reap: Let the Edits Begin

When I first started writing erotica, my writing process went like this—

I would sit down and write a story. I would re-read it and do some light editing. I would spell-check it. Then I would submit it for publication on literotica. Within a few days, the story would be published. Email feedback would roll in. I would bask in my awesomeness. Fin

literotica

The thing about writing for literotica or any of the fan fiction hubs is that there is an audience for everyone. As a new writer, that sort of positive community support and feedback can be so valuable for building confidence, especially if you have a fragile ego.

My most productive period on literotica was when I was a graduate student in New York City. The program was a terrible fit for me. I came to the realization that I didn’t want the career I’d been focused on for years. I was new to the city, shy, broke, and miserable. There were weeks when getting a positive review email from a literotica reader was the only good thing that happened to me.

Looking back at that work, while there are stories that show promise—a scene, a character, an idea—the reality is that they are largely crap. The first reason for that is that I was a baby erotica author–those first steps were full of falls and bruises. I was new to the genre and rusty as a fiction author and it showed. The second reason–and if I’m honest–the bigger reason that those stories suck is that they lacked editing.

editing

After I finished the first draft of Siem Reap, I went over my story page by page, line by line and I worked on it until my eyes were ready to bleed. I tweaked it until I thought I had the best piece of writing I could come up with. Then I sent it out to beta readers, and steeled myself to have those readers point out all the faults I’d become blind to.

The difference between amateur Delilah and professional Delilah is that (a) I believe in editing and (b) I know that “my best” is a starting point far from the finish line.

My”best work” is full of flaws that I can’t see because I live in my character’s heads. I write with an ear for English instead of an in-depth knowledge of grammar, which means my writing suffers from grammar errors I don’t know I’m making. Something I think of as clever may be clever, or it may miss the mark entirely.

edit without mercy

I’ve been very lucky to get feedback from several readers. Some of it has been positive, other bits have been critical.  All of it is useful.

I took a break from Siem Reap largely because of health issues. If you follow me on twitter, you probably know that I was hospitalized twice in March due to back and pain management issues.  It’s why I’ve been so absent from the blog–it’s hard to write when the painkillers have you seeing double.

Now that I’m no longer in the hospital, and I’ve begun to rehabilitate my back, I’m ready to dive back into Siem Reap.  I’m trying to look at the forced absence as a positive. The story is not so fresh in my mind, so I have a bit of emotional distance from my characters.  I have valuable feedback to help me revise the story and make it stronger. I’m not so sick of the story that I want to burn it (a real hazard at times).  I’m eager to revisit Meg and RJ and begin the next phase of editing.

april 15

Literotica Delilah would likely have hit publish back in February after the first draft was done. Today’s Delilah is hoping that I will be ready to submit the story by mid-April. Siem Reap is an okay story today.  Thanks to my beta team’s feedback, I think the editing I’m about to do has the potential to make it a great one.

 

Sometimes you have to suck…

I’ve been stuck on Chapter 6 of my ghost book for over a month.  I’ve tried writing it multiple ways and no matter what, I hate it.  HATE IT.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 8.44.14 pmBurn, chapter 6.  Burn.

I am giving myself permission to suck.  To write it, knowing it will be weak and will likely be cut entirely or hacked to pieces in the second draft, so I can move on with things.

I have tried to write this novel on and off for about a decade–a draft of it was written for a Halloween contest, and the characters have never left me alone.  But this is what inevitably happens to me when I’ve tried to write full length pieces–I hit a speed bump and get mired in the desire not to suck.  So the book has gone through several incarnations with characters of different names, different plot lines, and so forth.  But it always seems to hit a point where I can’t move past the momentary bad writing.  I second guess every choice I make until I have a zillion starts to the chapter, but no finish line.

So what changed?

Lynn Townsend.  I’m going to have to paraphrase because otherwise I’ll spend forever trying to track down exactly what she said to me, which was “Just write.  It’s okay that it sucks.  Just keep writing through it.”  Which is obvious.  Which is advice I’ve given.  But hearing it from a REAL AUTHOR who actually is willing to put one of my stories in her anthology (and thus thinks I don’t suck) changed something for me.

Now, you may say “but Delilah, you’re an author.”  To which I would tell you “Yeah, but I’ve never written or published a book, so I’m not a REAL AUTHOR like Lynn or Alison or Insert Name Here.”

So I’m going to suck it up, and I’m going to suck.  So I can move on.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 9.04.17 pm

September 30th.  I’m stating it publicly–I will send some terrible sad chapter 6 to my editor and move on with my life by September 30th.

Balance

I’ve talked before about struggling to find balance as a writer and a mother.  It’s something I often fail at, and sadly my writing is one of the first things I give up when something else needs to be done.  Partially that’s because I’m a terrible procrastinator.  More often, though, it’s because something is going on that kills my mood.

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 6.14.17 AM

I struggle to write erotica when my mood is anything but sexy.  When my kid is puking.  When I’m so tired from my day that I fall asleep at my laptop (ironically, though, I’m writing this at 6am after not having slept all night).  When watching tv feels like a challenge.  When I the only time I can carve out is in the parent cafe of an indoor playground.  When the mood isn’t sexy, each word is akin to pulling teeth.

We are heading toward year’s end at a frenetic pace.  It’s early yet, but I’m starting to think about 2014, and how I would like it to be different.  I want to prioritize my writing.  I want to carve out sacred time that is only put aside in extreme cases.

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 6.12.10 AM

Very soon NaNoWriMo will start.  I won’t be starting a new story, but I do plan to use it as a motivational tool to kickstart my progress with the novel.

Do you struggle with balance?  What do you give up to write?  Do you give up writing to get other things (even something like grocery shopping) done?  What’s your approach?

Beta Readers

I’m in the process of wrapping up my third story submission for the year. 

When I write a story for submission, I try to get a full first draft together. I’ll let it sit for a day or two. Then I try to edit for my common sins-run on sentences, irrelevant tangents, and working on being more concise. I read my story aloud to look for awkward phrasing, or a missed word (you’d be surprised how you can forget to type the word and or what have you, and when reading it, your brain often adds it in).

Next comes the beta reading and response stage.

Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 12.18.16 PMsource

I am a good writer, but what takes my stories from “okay” to “publishable” is taking advice from beta readers.

Some of my beta readers give me grammatical feedback. However, this has more to do with the fact that I know a few serious grammar nerds than with what beta readers most frequently do.

The majority of beta reader feedback is content specific. Their feedback helps me understand when I’m giving too much set-up (or not enough), what darlings I need to kill (those details in the story that you love, but may be irrelevant to the actual plot), and what improvements I need to make.

I’ll listen to their advice and edit.

I try to get multiple perspectives. Every reader has a different world view and different experiences they bring to the reading experience. Those various perspectives help you get a wider view of your story and the strengths and weaknesses.

The story I’m currently working on takes place at the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum (a former workplace of mine). My beta readers who are also from the Boston area all picked up on the Tea Party references (which were minimal in the first version). It’s a huge part of our social studies curriculum growing up, so they didn’t have a lot of feedback on that. My friend in Seattle was able to figure out the reference because she knew I’d worked there. Otherwise she wouldn’t have picked up on those same references because the Tea Party isn’t emphasized as much outside our part of the US. I realized that I needed to go back and do some edits to be more specific/show my setting in a different way because of her feedback.

I’ll repeat these steps as necessary until I think I have the best version of the story possible.

Do I give my beta readers every single fix they ask for? No, I don’t. At the end of the day, I’m the one with the vision of the story, and I have to listen to my own instincts about the story. Sometimes I disagree with my reader about a character’s personality or motivation, or what have you.

When you submit a story to an editor, you have to send your absolute best work. In my experience with anthologies, you are submitting the story you want published. The editors are not beta readers-they don’t ask you to make a change, or fix something-they accept or reject the story.  I’ve gotten feedback about liking a detail in an acceptance, but I know that when I send in the story, that’s the final draft.

Thanks to my beta readers, I’m far more confident about the quality of the stories I submit.

My spine sucks and other true tales

Although my preferred genre is erotica, at the moment I could easily author a series of essays and package them as a book entitled “My Spine Sucks and Other True Tales.”

My spine has sucked since I was 16 years old and got injured playing tennis my junior year of high school.  I jumped up to hit an overhead shot and when I landed, I fell and hit my tailbone, hard.  I didn’t go to the doctor because of a mixture of youthful invincibility and the reality of being poor and either uninsured or only having crappy welfare insurance.  That summer I got a job bussing tables at a restaurant, which meant I was hauling around super heavy buckets of dirty dishes, which did no favor to my already injured back.  Weeks before senior year began, my back seized up and I finally took it seriously enough to see a doctor, who referred me to a physical therapist.  My physical therapist gave me exercises and a lumbar pillow I was supposed to use any time I was seated.  Not that I wasn’t a giant nerd with no hope in the universe of EVER being a cool senior, but carrying the lumbar pillow around from class to class underlined, bolded and italicized that lack of coolness.

I would diligently do my physical therapy for a few months until I felt “better.”  Then I’d happily drift about my life for a few years, only to have my back start to spasm and seize up again.  Rinse and repeat.

In 2006, weeks before my wedding, I herniated a disc in my spine after I spent a day hauling boxes of books out of my classroom.  I’ve been known to joke that my wedding shouldn’t count because I was high on vicodin and drunk on champagne at the time. Which was the last funny joke I can make about the next few months of my life.

Within eight weeks of our wedding I was confined to bed in our guest room, waiting for my surgery date, high on an absurd number of painkillers and sex was a thing of the past.  I could still get to the bathroom, but only if I used a walker.  I hit one of the lowest points of my life when I had to ask my partner to wipe my ass after defecating.  Admitting that publicly is perhaps one of the few lower points than the actual experience.  Within twelve weeks of our wedding, I had surgery, and while the back pain relief was immediate, we had to wait another six weeks to have sex again.  This is not exactly an ideal honeymoon/start to a marriage.

In the intervening six and half years since that surgery I’ve had two bad episodes with my back, but luckily both were short lived and easily dealt with between a few days on vicodin and some physical therapy.  And, as always, after a time, my dedication to and interest in doing my physical therapy waned and disappeared.

I am not, as a rule, an “exercise” kind of girl.  I don’t like sweating.  I find it boring.  I’ve tried classes, personal trainers, you name it–it’s just not my thing.  For some people, that’s something they can get away with.

I can’t.

Early on in this month, I was doing the very mundane task of putting Ms 1 into her stroller…and tore the disc directly above the one I’d had surgery on in 2006.  I ended up in the hospital for a week.  I was released and felt as though things were getting better with the minor exception of a terrible set of side effects to a medication.  My doctor took me off that medication. Twenty four hours later I was back in the hospital.  A week later I received cortisol injections to try to calm the nerve pain that was rendering my legs close to useless.  I came home Thursday.  I would not say that things are getting better.

This month has been one long frustration of medications that make me too muzzy headed to focus, pain, fear about my ability to parent and partner going forward, separation from my kids, family flying in from the states to help out, and a lot of self pity.  There is some chance that over the next two weeks I am going to have to make a decision about surgery.

This has also been a month where connecting with my partner hasn’t been easy.  Emotionally, yes.  Physically, no.  You can imagine then, how my writing has been going.

As a rule I don’t tend to ramble on about my personal life here, but as I deal with these developments, I think I am going to have a lot to say about sex and disability, so I’m going to go with it and talk about it.

Music to write by…

My writing time is cobbled together from stolen moments.  While Ms 1 is napping and Ms 4 is in school in a coffee shop.  I type by the light of my screen as Ms 1 snores in her crib within arms reach of me after bedtime.  Alone in my bedroom during those blissful hours when the girls are someone else’s responsibility (my husband or my sitter).

Neither the hiss of the cappuccino maker nor the delighted giggles of my children make for an environment conducive to writing smut.  So I slip in my ear buds and use music to help create the right mood to write by.  Half the time I’m not even really paying attention to the music-it’s about giving my subconscious a clue as to where I want to go.

My music isn’t always the same.  I have a story set in New Orleans, and when working on that piece, I put on my New Orleans playlist-heavy on Preservation Hall Jazz, the sexy growl of Tab Benoit, the soft sweet voice of Theresa Andersson, and other assorted local artists.  While writing a Lancelot/Guinevere piece, I put “The Trial of Lancelot” and “Avalon” by Heather Dale on repeat.

But I do have an erotica playlist.  If I don’t have a specific agenda (such as above) this is what I’ve got playing on shuffle in the background.  Songs are listed by artist…

  • Rag Doll by Aerosmith
  • Naughty Girl by Beyonce
  • Cradle of Love by Billy Idol
  • Gimme More by Britney Spears
  • But I am a Good Girl by Christina Aguilera
  • Express by Christina Aguilera
  • Genie in a Bottle by Christina Aguilera
  • Your Body by Christina Aguilera
  • Infatuation by Christina Aguilera
  • Don’t Let Go (Love) by En Vogue
  • Whatta Man by En Vogue and Salt N Pepa
  • Persephone by Escape Key
  • Lollipop by Framing Hanley
  • Damsel in Distress by Idina Menzel
  • I Kissed a Girl by Katy Perry
  • ET by Katy Perry
  • Addicted by Kelly Clarkson
  • Chocolate by Kylie Minogue
  • You and I by Lady Gaga
  • Alejandro by Lady Gaga
  • Teeth by Lady Gaga
  • Strangers on a Train by Lovage
  • One More Night by Maroon 5
  • What Would Happen by Meredith Brooks
  • Gett Off by Prince
  • Cream by Prince
  • Buttons by Pussycat Dolls
  • The Kiss (from Last of the Mohicans Soundtrack)
  • Fiery Nights (from Lord of the Dance Soundtrack)
  • Stay by Shakespear’s Sister
  • Touch Me by Smash Cast
  • Kiss Kiss by Stella Soleil
  • Sexy Naughty Bitchy by Tata Young
  • I Wanna Be Bad by Willa Ford

If my appalling taste in music hasn’t sent you packing, what do you write by?

Accents and the trouble they cause writers

There really is nothing sexier to me than a brainy Brit.  Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer? YES, PLEASE.

I have long wanted to write a story with a brainy Brit, but the major thing that has stopped me is the whole question of accent.  How do write an accent without writing a pidgin English to convey what they’re *supposed* to sound like?  JD Robb (aka Nora Roberts in wearing her murder mystery romance hat) has a male protagonist named Roarke, who has an Irish accent (also way sexy) and has set several stories in Ireland.  She manages to reference things like lyrical quality or a hit of Ireland just often enough to keep you reminded (or the setting does).

But in a 3-4K story, how often can you reference something without it getting repetitive?

Food for thought.

 

Also food for thought–after spending a week in Sydney, I have realized that I’m ambivalent about the Aussie accent, which is surprised me.