Writing Method Experiment

20180507_093600The day before my husband and oldest son went on a caribou hunt, I bought a vacuum sealer from a second hand store. It did not work. Annoyed, I returned it, and my annoyance was compounded by the fact that I could only return it for in store credit, and that credit had to be used immediately. (This was after being told at the time of purchase that yes, of course I could return the item, and nothing more was said. I feel like something more should have been said.)

In the midst of my discontented wanderings through the store, I came across a most beautiful thing- a vintage turquoise Smith-Corona portable typewriter. Of course, it was irrevocably broken, as all things in this shop seem to be. But still, it was fun to plink away on and I’m sorry I didn’t buy it. It would have been just lovely on my book case and I could have spent many happy hours tinkering with it in the vague hope that I could resurrect it and name it Lazarus, but my husband would have caught me trying to sneak it in the house and given me that look and really, I don’t have any room on the book cases anyway. Alas. (In other news, I need more book cases. And a bigger house.)

But just touching that typewriter made me feel suddenly more creative, and I hustled home (with a bunch of new books I’m not sure where to put and some curtains I’ll never use, curse you, vacuum sealer) and knocked out another chapter in the Copper book I posted a chapter from last month (read here!).

The typewriter got me thinking. Some writing methods work better for me than others. And some that work for me might not work for as well for other writers. So I thought it might be fun to spend some time writing using several different recording methods and see if any patterns emerged. I came up with several styles of writing that I wanted to try, and went forth, hoping that a victor would emerge in each of these categories: best for brainstorming; best for drafting; best for editing. Each of the following writing methods was ranked according to these categories. Read on for my own personal results!

Method: Longhand, cursive

I know so many people who draft in longhand. (Sadly, I don’t know anybody who still uses shorthand to write anything more than short notes, and I was too lazy to learn stenography for this.) I don’t normally draft in longhand so it was fun to give it a try.

Pros: very good for inspiring creativity; excellent for working out outlines of books and individual scenes; very accessible;

Cons: difficult for later editing; in nearly all cases, must be transcribed to a digital format for sharing;

Method: Longhand, print

Everyone I know who uses longhand for writing does it exclusively in cursive. So I though, ‘Huh! What’s wrong with print?’ And once I start asking questions, I gotta find answers. All in the name of science. Sort of.

Pros: actually somewhat better WPM than cursive (Ms. Hardman lied to me); accessible;

Cons: doesn’t feel quite as inspiring as cursive; same cons as cursive;

Method: Typing, computer

This is my workhorse. A solid ninety percent, maybe more, of my writing uses this method.

Pros: very quick WPM; easy to keep files together and organized; easy to share materials with others;

Cons: computer isn’t always accessible; I am so very, very bad at technology; screens make my eyeballs sad; inspirationally meh;

Method: Typing, mechanical typewriter

Wow it took me half of forever to scrounge one up to type on. I’d never used one this old before and I was a little afraid to touch it, haha. It didn’t type very well, but honestly, the thing is like a hundred years old and I’m really impressed it worked at all.

Pros: mega super fun; creatively inspiring; that little ding at the end of the line; general coolness; that typing sound- something about the clickety-clack of a typewriter just feels all inspired and literary;

Cons: SO HARD TO FIND; keys jammed when typing too fast; had to push the keys really deep to get the typebars up to the page; machine was old and I didn’t know how to change the ribbon (let alone where to get one); difficult to edit;

Method: Typing, electronic typewriter

I actually managed to scrounge up not one, but two of these- each of them in dusty storage rooms of increasingly underfunded libraries. Go figure.

Pros: halfway between an old typewriter and a computer for coolness and inspiration; able to keep up with my typing speed;

Cons: relatively obscure- difficult to procure, and doubtless difficult to keep in repair; difficult to edit;

Method: Audio Recording

This method started out at a steep disadvantage, largely because I hate the sound of my voice. Not enough that I’d consider ever shutting up, but still. (It really didn’t help that I’ve been sick and sniffly for the entire duration of this experiment.)

Pros: can be done relatively hands free once you hit record; thoughts can be recorded quickly; very accessible if you have a phone that takes recordings; assuming recording was on a phone, sharing is very easy;

Cons: Very self-conscious of doing character voices; self-conscious of my just normal human voice; how does editing even happen like this; must be transcribed into another format for editing and sharing; while it worked well for taking notes, it was TERRIBLE for doing actual prose or, even worse, dialog;

Results

There are many, many ways to record stories out there. And while I was tempted to bust out some clay tablets or carve on some tree bark, I by no means exhausted the possibilities. These are just the methods that I thought a decent percent of people might actually regularly use. (Maybe not the typewriters these days. That was more for fun.)

But anyway, here is some data because data is delicious.

  Words/2 min WPM Accessible Editing Sharing Inspiring
Longhand, cursive 48; 54 25.5 Easy Medium Difficult ****
Longhand, print 51; 57 27 Easy Medium Difficult ***
Typing, digital 142; 150 73 Easy Easy Easy ***
Typing, electronic typewriter 82; 83; 79; 77; 77; 78.8 Difficult Medium Difficult ****
Typing, mechanical typewriter Didn’t record Slooow WHYYY Medium Difficult *****
Audio recording 373 in 4 min 93.25 Easy Difficult Easy *

So the results are in and I think we have our winners! For brainstorming, I definitely did best with longhand cursive.  For drafting, digital typing (on my laptop) was hands down the winner, as it was for editing. Typing on a computer isn’t the most inspiring way for me to write, but it is the quickest and the easiest, and it’s way easier to edit and share than its counterparts.

But that’s just me! Seriously guys, this was great fun running this experiment. You should consider doing it yourselves. Just spend a few hours working away using each method and see if any patterns emerge. You never know when you might stumble across your next big breakthrough on putting out your best work.

Until next week, happy writing!

(PS- Warning: in a couple more weeks, I’ll be skipping the country again and I’ve slated about a month of not putting up blog posts, depending on how quickly I recover, etc. But I promise I’ll bring you back some cool pictures and new sample settings. More details to come.)

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Of Productivity and Patience

patience-is-a-virtueEvery Tuesday morning and Thursday evening, I put my kids to bed and get on my computer and curse my internet connection and open Scrivener. I write every day, usually at night after having put my kids down to sleep, but Tuesday morning and Thursday evening are special because those are the times when I write with friends.

Mary has been my number one writer friend for years and years and is pretty much my soulmate. My number two is Anna- who shares with me an almighty kitchen quirk and who gave me a questionable bag of flour that I can’t get rid of because it was Anna’s questionable bag of flour and I’ll be darned if I throw it out before I figure out what it is- and, even though both of them have moved away from me, we still carve this time out to write together. I love this writing time, and it feeds my soul in a different way than just writing by myself does.

In our little group dynamic, I am and always have been The Nag. I’m constantly blowing up their phones if they forget what day it is, or talking smack when their word counts are low, or coming up with new and improved ways to extort their stories out of them. My latest scheme is our Chapter Pact of Doom. (I am the only one who calls it that.)

Every other Friday, we are each supposed to post a chapter of our current WIP to a Google doc that the others have access to. This is kind of new and terrifying for me because I once-shy-of-never show first draft material to people, and here I am posting it to the internet to peruse at their leisure. *faints* But this just goes to show you how far I will go to try and shoehorn forward writing progress out of myself and everyone around me, especially when it comes to first drafts.

I write rapidly. Feverishly. I squeeze first drafts out with the hurried frenzy of Peter Rabbit popping through Mr. McGregor’s fence.

But there is another end to this spectrum. As important as it is to get stories quickly to market, there is a Zen to writing as well that cannot be rushed.

No matter how quickly you can put words down, writing requires phenomenal patience. A book that takes me two months to write can also take me two years to edit. I’ve been querying literary agents with only glacial progress for years. Even if I signed tomorrow, it would in all likelihood be years longer before a book of mine ever hit a bookstore shelf.

So here are a few things that I’ve learned to be patient about over the years.

Editing As quickly as I draft, I am at least that slow in editing. Everything about this process is super slow and thoughtful. A passage that took me minutes to jot down can take months to tweak into its polished final state. Drafting is all about just getting ideas onto the page. Editing is a hundred things more- checking for spelling and grammar; clarifying; refining the voice; making sure the scene and each part of it move the story forward; putting emotion on the page; grounding the scene in sensory detail; ALL THE THINGS. And that takes time!

Submitting Even after all these years, it still burns us. Crafting submission materials (blurbs, queries, bios, etc) is only half the battle. Then you have to research the heck out of who you’re going to send all this material to- and then tailor each submission for just that person. This does not happen overnight. (Or if it does, you’re doing it wrong.) And even after you’ve finally gotten your materials perfect and sent them to the perfect people, you still have to wait for…

Responses So, waiting for responses is actually one of the things I’ve gotten decent at being patient for. When I first started submitting stuff (to anyone, really- friends, beta readers, agents, etc), I felt like I was sitting in a boiler room on a bed of broken glass. There were even a few times where anxiety got the better of me and I thought I was going to die of a heart attack or something before the whole ordeal was over. But these days, I’ve learned how to keep myself busy while waiting for responses. I have other projects I work on. I send things out in batches timed so that there’s always a few out and a few more to send. I read exciting books. I occasionally skip the country on vacations. You know, things like that.

Fame, Riches, and Glory I’m, uh… I’m still waiting on this one. Completely. And frankly, this is probably a thing I’ll be patiently waiting for until I die.

Writing is a lot of work- the kind of work that happens quickly, and the kind that happens slowly. If I worked very slowly at all of it, I would never have the body of prose that I’ve accumulated, nor gotten through the literal millions of words of practice that I have. But if I was a slave to speed in its every aspect, sure, maybe I’d have a lot of work, but none of it would have the kind of polished refine that it requires to garner any critical notice, whether that’s from agents or publishers or readers. A writer requires both. And that is something that took me a long time to learn.

So whether you’re pouring on the heat to try and muscle through a first draft in three weeks flat, or reining in the horses to make sure you really get this one line just right, take pride in knowing that you’re giving your work just what it needs- a push of productivity, and a pinch of patience, each in due course.

Happy writing!

Pants, Plans, and In Between

pantsLong time readers may have noticed this about me, but I like to experiment from time to time with my writing strategies. Sometimes I try a bunch of creativity inducing activities to see which ones I like best. Sometimes I try out several writing programs to see if there’s a better system out there. I know what’s working for me now, but I don’t always know what will work better.

To that end, I’ve been experimenting this last year with various degrees of plotting preparation. When I first started out this writing gig, I was pretty deep in Pants territory, writing whatever the heck I wanted as the whimsy took me. I planned absolutely nothing. In recent years, I’ve been taking an increasingly structured stance for starting out new projects. I even sometimes use wonky little character sheets that might have details about their dietary preferences in childhood and how their first pet died. Real who-cares sorts of details, but it helps me get into the characters’ lives a little more.

The last three books I’ve written, current project inclusive, I’ve taken pains to plan them to different degrees. In the first book, I did no planning whatsoever; I went into it with a very brief premise idea, and just wrote whatever little rabbit trails came to mind. For the second book, I did just a little bit less than my usual degree of preparation, falling about midway between no plan and front-to-finish omniplan. And for my current project, I planned and planned until I felt like I had everything down and if I did any more planning, I would puke.

Here are my thoughts!

The Plans-Are-For-Sissies Approach: This one was a little painful. The words seemed to come alright, and I never really lacked for inspiration, but story wandered quite a bit before I found the track I wanted to take, and this poor baby will require gobs of editing to clean up all the foreshadowing that never went anywhere, the events that came out of nowhere, the sudden and significant eye color change of the secondary main character midway through the book, et cetera ad infinitum. (Heck, I never even nailed down which title I want to use.) Not only was the story all over the place, but writing the thing out took kind of forever. I never really lacked for things to write, but not having a plan meant moving forward at a snail’s pace. It took nearly six months to write this meandering draft, while first drafts of a similar size usually take me about two or three. I like the story, and I enjoyed the totally-free-to-explore feeling of writing, but it came at a huge time cost.

The Moderate’s Approach: This one was even more painful, but for different reasons that are probably not the method’s fault at all. I planned out the story just a smidgeon past the midway point in moderate detail, leaving myself a bit of wiggle room for exactly how things would take place, and a whole lot of wiggle room for how things would wrap up. The story progressed pretty easily at first, following my nice little plan. But the closer I got to the end, the more I realized I was in deep water. As things came onto the paper, all the little gaps and giant holes became painfully apparent. When I got past the outline’s reaches, I was swimming blind but, unlike the Plans-Are-For-Sissies story, nothing was coming. I tried to force it and things just got more and more lame, until finally I quit a couple chapters before the anticlimactic final battle. Blehhhhh… But as I said, this is probably more due to the story idea’s weakness than the method’s invalidity. The Moderate’s Approach is probably closer to my regular degree of plannedness (which is totally a word, shhh) than either of the others. I think I just picked a bum story idea for the experiment. 😦

The Doomsday-Prepper Approach: I can’t totally write this experiment off as done, since I’m still working my way through the book, but I have been so far most comfortable with this one. This story- and the historical timeline, the magic system, and each character and location- was planned out in detail, start to finish, before I even created the new Scrivener file. Honestly, the planning stage is usually the most fun part of the whole process for me, and I was a little worried I would use up all the funness (also a word, sh) before I got to the drafting phase. But I’ve been working on it for about a month now and things are still fun! I will say, though, progress is being made, but the words aren’t flying onto the page the way I assume they would with the way ahead so clear from the start. But this could also be a product of my writing habits; when doing the meandering no plan book, I got into the habit of just sort of picking at it- about five hundred words a day- and that habit has so far stuck. But as I write this, I am resolving anew to pick up the pace. Ask me how I’m doing in another month!

So this little experiment is inconclusive. Turns out each story (like each pregnancy?) is different. Go figure. But still, I had fun playing around with the degree to which I plan a story, and I now have a firmer awareness of exactly what my most comfortable planning style is. Not quite a pantser, and not quite a full on planner, but a plans-oriented plantser, which is kind of what I had figured I was before. Turns out I found the spot just by wandering there all on my own over the last twenty years of writing.

How about you readers? What’s your planning style? Why do you like it that way? Let me know in the comments! Happy writing!

Sample Chapter: Seasong

Boy, I haven’t done a sample chapter in ages! Probably because I produce horrible horrible first drafts that aren’t fit for human eyes until they’ve gone through at least two major revisions. BUT WHO CARES ABOUT THAT. I shall now assault your eyes nonetheless!

Enjoy!

Seasong

Chapter One

He was one of the older ones, old enough that he should have known better.

Meisa watched Urae carefully pull herself up out of the water, slowly, slowly, so as not to startle him. He bumbled forward, curious, blinking at her with spell-clouded eyes. The water washed around his ankles and he didn’t even notice. Urae held the spell tight around her, golden curls spilling over her pale shoulders, her round breasts. She sat on the rocks, keeping her true half hidden down in the water still. She flashed Meisa a quick glance, flicking her chin away to the far side of the bay.

Meisa slipped down into the water and darted through swirling seaweed and surging tide. The sea distorted her sister’s song, twisting the notes into tuneless keening, a nightmare of what could only be the sweetest dream to the unwitting landmeat above. Meisa breached on the far side of the bay, tucked back against the black rocks, and watched.

Urae sang without words, the seasong pouring from her elongated throat. She spread her arms toward the landmeat sloshing toward her in the tide, tripping and stumbling against the sharp rocks below him, scattered with mussels and weeds.

He had no idea. No idea.

Meisa felt a twinge of uncertainty.

Her sister sprang forward like a striking eel, grabbing the human around the waist. He fell backward into the water with a cry and a splash, and then all was stillness.

Meisa waited a moment, squeamish about what came next, and then sank without a ripple, swimming to her sister.

The landmeat was dead before they passed the tideline.

Want to read the rest? Follow this finely crafted link to the full chapter!

How I Blog, Pt. 2: Drafting, Brainstorming

HeaderSketchColor

D’awwww. Mommy’s sleepy li’l man-eater…

Look at all the pretties!  As you can see, I’ve made a few changes to the site: mostly superficial, but hopefully nice to look at.  If you have any other ideas for improvements, please, please, please let me know!

In the meantime, on with part two of my blogging system.  (If you missed last week, you can find part one here!)  Last week, I talked about how I do my scheduling.  But what is a schedule without the drafts and the ideas to back it up?

The Drafts

Directly following the schedule, I have the drafts, each separated by double-spacing and an all-caps title.  The drafts come in all degrees of doneness, from a rough outline, to just an introductory paragraph, to a final draft ready to be posted.  I have them written out chronologically, with the top of the queue at the top of the page.  It makes it easier for me to tell at a glance how much more work I need to do before posting, and how soon that work needs to be done.

When it’s not a NaNo month (because NaNo months are lazy months), I try to have first drafts done a week before posting, and final drafts done the day before posting.  That way, I have a bit of a buffer if something happens and I can’t write, or if the schedule needs to change with little notice.  It doesn’t always happen that way, but it’s way less hectic for me when it does.

There are usually two to four active drafts in this section.  Some sit there for weeks or even months before I’m satisfied with them.  After a draft is finally posted, I delete it from the document to clear room for a new draft.

The Notes

Ideas

Down at the bottom of the document, I have the notes.  These are the ideas that are too ugly and vague and newborn to even have a scheduled slot yet.  This is the area I come to when I am scheduling a new quarter.

Filling It-

But how do you generate a robust notes section?

Any way you can.  Whatever gets your brain ticking, do those things.  I try to do my brainstorming- both for fiction and for blogging, depending on the mood- when I’m doing otherwise brainless tasks.  Washing dishes, chopping veggies, folding laundry, exercising, showering, etc…  We all have chores we have to do that don’t take too much thought; use that time to think about other things.  Keep track of interesting dreams, weird happenings at the supermarket, funny scenarios in the police blotter, whatever.  And whenever possible, have the means to write those ideas down immediately.

Another tactic to keep in mind: other writers probably have a lot of the same questions you do.  Quite a few of my blog posts have come about because I had questions- about craft, about querying, about social media- and spent a lot of time finding answers.  Why not write a blog post about those answers?

Whenever you attend writing events- critique groups, conferences, writing guild meetings, book signings, etc- take a some paper with you.  Jot down notes throughout the event, and then take the time to talk to the presenter(s) afterward.  Get permission to write up a blog post, and then ask other questions that may have been left unanswered.  You suddenly have not only a write up of the event, but also an exclusive scoop.  Similarly, think of field experts you can interview.  Other writers you know?  Book shop owners?  Reviewers?  Acquisitions librarians? Writing teachers at your local schools or universities?  Come up with as many as you can before you even start to think about feasibility.

You can also look into what other bloggers are writing about.  If someone you follow had an article about diversity that got you thinking, why not write a blog post about your thoughts?  If you read another blog that got tons of great comments and you know people are interested, why not write your own take on the same topic?

Whenever I get a new idea, no matter how stupid, I write it down.  Truly stupid ideas can always be erased later (Alas, Brandon Sanderson probably won’t grant me an interview just because we both write and are Mormon); but I cannot tell you how many times I have gone to delete an idea only to stop, and tweak it, and suddenly have something I can work with.  Never decide an idea is too bad to work the moment you have it.  Sometimes those ideas just have to stew a while until you can find a better angle.  Write everything down, and keep it all in one spot.

Using It-

When it’s time to schedule another quarter, I first skim through the archived schedule to get a good idea for what I’ve already written recently, and to maybe get a sense of any gaps in the topics I’ve covered.  Then I come to the notes section and start stewing.  I cut/paste the workable ideas from the notes section into the new schedule, again with more refined ideas toward the top and less refined toward the bottom.

After I pull out all the good stuff, I am left with a stinking heap of terrible ideas in the notes section.  I do not delete any of them.  A bad idea will sit in my notes section for nine to twelve months before I let it go, sometimes longer.  But I never delete them in batches, and never after a scheduling session.

The notes section is only useful if it is full and active.  Constantly add fresh ideas, constantly tweak old ideas.  Nearly everything I write about on this blog spends some amount of time in the notes section.  It’s like the slush pile for my blog, but I work really hard to make sure it’s all useable eventually.

 

And that’s about it!  The ideas support the schedule supports the drafts, and it all comes together once a week on the blog.  I think blogging makes me a better writer for two reasons: it forces me to constantly come up with new ideas; and it forces me to constantly write new material.  I don’t usually have a schedule for my fiction and it’s easy to let that fall to the wayside.  Blogging ensures that I don’t ever step completely away from writing.

So for those of you who blog, what do you do to keep yourself on track?  What’s your blogging system?

DIY Writing Prompt Generator

DiceYou’ve probably all known me long enough by now to know that I’m pretty much a dork on a multitude of levels. (For those of you who hadn’t picked up on that yet, check out any of these posts.) And so it was that, in the name of good dorky fun, I set out to create my own writing prompt generator! Whee!

So after kicking around the idea for a couple weeks, I had a list of a few features that I knew I wanted. I wanted it to have an element of randomness. I wanted it to deal with various parts of a story instead of just one. (So, it might prompt me on either setting or inciting action or characters, rather than just one of those things.) I also wanted it to be practically infinite- it wouldn’t be just cycling through the same handful of prompts every time. And despite all these things, I wanted it to be about as basic as I could make it. Because, as has been manifested many times in many ways, complicated things- mostly in the form of technology- frighten me. (For those of you who hadn’t picked up on that yet, check out any of these posts.)

And what could use randomness and be less complicated than a die? I considered using a d20, but didn’t want to do that much work (see point on basicness), so I stuck with the classic six-sided die. Everybody has a d6 laying around!

If you too would like to make your own random prompt generator, all you need is a die (or dice! You can do as many prompts as you want!), a writing utensil, a piece of paper, and your fantastic brain. And fantastic hands for writing with. And maybe a hard surface to write on as well. Anyway, you get the point. Dice, paper, pen.

Number one through six (or however many faces your die has). Then decide what elements you want your rolls to prompt you on. If you want this to be even simpler, you can do them all about characters, or settings, etc. I wanted to incorporate more than one element, so my list looked something like this:

  1. Object
  2. Inciting Action
  3. Setting
  4. Character
  5. Opening Line
  6. Inciting Action

(This really doesn’t have to be complicated. Skip this step entirely if you’d rather, and just write a bunch of random stuff. Because random!) After you know what topic you want each face of your die to represent, flesh it out a little further.

Think of a prompt regarding each element that is simple enough to make sense in just about every context with which you use it; is broad enough to be open to a variety of interpretations; and has the potential to be different each time it is applied. For example, here’s the generator I came up with:

  1. Walk into the adjoining room. What is the first physical thing you notice? Put this item in a story being used in a nonconventional way.
  2. Look at the newspaper/go to an online news outlet. What is the main headline? Without reading any more of the story, write a story based on this premise.
  3. Text the person you last texted and ask what their favorite show/book was as a kid. Write a story based in that world.
  4. Look out the closest window. What is the first moving thing you notice? Write a story from his/her/its point of view.
  5. Turn on the radio and listen for one complete sentence. Use that line as the first line of a story.
  6. Go into a nearby bathroom or closet. If you knew you would be attacked in one minute, what would you use to defend yourself? Write a story that starts with that preparation.

I guess #2 is kind of Inciting Action/Character/SomethingElseEntirely, depending on what the headline is. But you get the point! Each prompt is designed to have the potential to be different each time, thereby making it (almost?) infinite. But they’re also each simple enough to be broadly applicable (can be used in nearly any situation you would typically find yourself in- might not work as well if you’re camping or in the middle of a global robotic takeover), and widely interpretive (can be understood in a variety of ways, thus adding to the number of possible stories being generated).

So after working all that out, the only thing left to do was to field test it.

I rolled a four! So I turned around in my seat and the first moving thing that I saw was a… raven! Darned things are everywhere! (At least this one wasn’t killing half my flock and then not even eating any of their remains besides just one of the heads. Seriously, raven, that’s creepy.) So I set about writing a short story from the POV of a raven. And here is the totally-unedited-don’t-judge-me-it’s-a-first-draft result! (Yes, I wrote this just before posting, haha. But I like it! Maybe worth cleaning up?)

All in all, this was fun. I don’t know how often I’ll use my little generator, but I felt more creative just after having made the thing. Got the writing juices flowing! Yummy! And most of the time, that’s all I really need. So, good job, writing prompt generator. I’ll keep you.

Let me know in the comments if you whipped up your own writing prompt generator! I’d love to hear about your prompts, or any stories that came of it. Happy writing!

The Virtues and Vices of First Drafts

See this child? This child will be starting kindergarten this fall.  I am terrified.

See this child? This child will be starting kindergarten this fall. I am terrified.

I hate to admit it, but when I met my firstborn child, he was no cherub. He was a chunky little alien child with acne, a neanderthal brow, and a mashed-up head. He was noisy, smelly, slimy, and he had pooped on me (in me?) while being born. (TMI yet?) But he was also gloriously, heart-stoppingly, incandescently beautiful and I knew that the rest of my life would be devoted to seeing him do well in the world.

First drafts are a lot like newborns. You work darned hard to push them out, only to find that, despite being completely lovable, they’re a little ugly and weird, and need a lot more work before they can face the world on their own. That’s the nature of first drafts. As we plow forward into Camp NaNoWriMo here in another couple days (cue panic), here are a few things to keep in mind while looking forward to the end of a month-long labor of love.

It will not be perfect. But it will have massive potential.

I am constantly guilty of the assumption that whatever first draft I schlepp out in a month will be query ready by the end of a week. And I am constantly disappointed. Go figure. First drafts are not final drafts. Heck, so-called final drafts aren’t even usually final drafts. If you do Camp NaNo and then have this lovely little lump of literature lying in your arms, take a deep breath and let it be imperfect for a moment before you pick up that red pen. Marvel at what you’ve created in so short a time, even if it’s hairy and its poop is yellow. You may some day look back and realize you were cooing down at your newborn masterpiece.

It will frustrate you endlessly. But it will also bring you more joy than you thought possible.

Nobody hates my books like I do. But nobody loves them like I do, either. They keep me awake at night, they take directions that veer wildly from The Plan, and I don’t know what to do with them half the time. But writing is like that sometimes. It’s not a clean shot from A to B with a guaranteed agent smiling to greet you at the end. You might feel down sometimes. You might feel like it’ll never get anywhere in life. But you’ll love it anyway. (And, stepping away from the offspring analogy for a moment, you can always scrap it and use it for parts. A good writer, like a good butcher, wastes nothing.)

It will need to change. But those changes can only be considered improvements.

Ah, editing. Writing is rewriting is rewriting is rewriting. But sometimes we don’t want our babybook to grow up. Sometimes we think it’s perfect just the way it is. But it’s not. (See above. It’s not.) Once you accept that, you will cut flowery scenes that you dearly loved. You will tear out the purple prose that sings pointless poetry between the things that actually matter. For every word that you cut out that feels like a piece of your heart is being removed, you will tighten your prose, you will enhance your dialog, you will streamline your story, and you will improve your book.

A first draft is an advent. A step in creation. Not the first step, but certainly not the last. Expect your first draft to be the utter poop that it is, and love it for its foibles. Soon enough, you’ll be ripping those foibles out like a stolen kidney. But you’ll think back with fondness to these early days and you’ll chuckle at how far you’ve both come.