I just wrapped up version seven or eight. It’s probably not the last version, though I hope it is.
I began this journey in July or August of 2017. When I began, I had no idea how long it would take. I was ignorant of the unknown unknowns. It’s easier to start on a long arduous project if you have no idea how difficult it will be. No matter what happens next, I’ve learned some great lessons along the way.
Cutting passages, especially passages you love, feels like someone stabbing a glass dagger through your heart and then shattering it into a hundred pieces. But you have to do it. There’s no way around it. Here’s a practice that made it easier for the especially difficult cuts.
Create a file for deleted scenes. Paste all of your deleted scenes in this file. Review your deleted scenes after you finish editing. Delete as much as possible. Keep whatever remains in a file called Future use. I may never use those scenes again but knowing that file exists provides me some comfort and makes it easier for me to edit.
An outside, disinterested, unbiased editor is critical. Your friend, spouse or mother doesn’t count as unbiased. It costs money to hire editors but it’s worth it. To edit properly, you need distance. As a writer, you’ll never have enough distance to evaluate your work with fresh eyes.
Beware The Mind Reader
Other people are unaware of the backstory, bits of insight and other bullshit locked inside your head. What’s obvious to you may not be evident to everyone else. It was nearly impossible for me to spot plot holes. I had evaluated the story based on what was in the novel plus what was in my head. This is why a developmental editor was so critical.
Versions were somewhat arbitrary. After the second edit, I no longer edited from start to finish. I’d plug holes, add references, cut here, enhance there. When I felt there were a significant amount of changes, I’d create a new version. This practice was somewhat pointless.
Will You Marry Me?
I fell in love with one of the characters and became annoyed with another. This realization was slightly absurd since these characters were figments of my imagination. Still, it was important to recognize these feelings. I went back and made the annoying character more sympathetic. In my initial version, I killed her off at the end because I couldn’t stand her, even though she was a main character. It took a lot of redesign and tweaking to make her more sympathetic (and less annoying). I also toned down the awesome character so she was more realistic.
Inventing a universe is a ton of fun. I love science fiction and fantasy. New, inventive worlds in alternate universes or outer space excite me. But nothing excites me more than a reimagined earth — one without supernatural humans. Creating rules for your world and working within those constraints will challenge you, but that’s what makes it so much fun.
Never break the rules you set for your world.
The Never Ending Story
It’s never finished. I’m working on a query letter. A mentor recommended doing this AFTER I put a finishing bow on my manuscript. I couldn’t help myself. I went back and started editing again. I’m still finding little tweaks here and there: eliminating a word, changing a verb, throwing in a funnier line.
This Story Seriously Sucks
Escaping self-doubt is impossible. This happens almost daily.
I’d read something and think it was awesome. Then I’d wake up the next morning, read it again and think, “what the hell was I thinking?”
Then I’d experience a roller coaster of emotions the rest of the day.
Of course it’s good.
Hmm. Maybe I’m I too overconfident?
Were others telling me what I wanted to hear or did they give me honest feedback?
Again, see #2. Find a disinterested third party to evaluate your work.
The Most Important Lesson Of All
Momentum is the key to finishing a novel. I work a full-time job and have two young kids. I don’t think I missed a single day of writing throughout the first six months of the project. On some days, I barely got one-hundred words done. On a good day, I belted out over a thousand. The key is to do something every day. Maintaining momentum is critical if you hope to complete a long-term creative project.