Many, many, many drafts
The Silent Symphony is progressing well. I’ve just finished rewriting Chapter 24 of 33, and I believe that I am on track to finish it (I’m aiming for October because I want to start the next one when NaNoWriMo rolls in).
This is a rewrite – a word which here refers to a heartrending process of restructuring, editing, deleting, writing-whole-new-sections-of-plot-because-the-middle-bit-changed, and so on and so forth. As painful and daunting as this process is, it is unavoidable. Every novelist must rewrite – all of them – prepare yourself for this, this is what writing is.
Droll comments aside, I have realized that rewriting has made me a better writer.
How to become a better writer
Ask an honest writer “How do I become a good writer?” and she/he will say: “By reading and writing a lot”.
They say this because it is the truth – this is the only way. Sure, there are courses and books about writing (I’ve done both) and they help you hone this craft. I would say that these things teach you the rules of the game.
Reading works of fiction and sitting down at a keyboard or with a note pad is where the real stuff comes in.
“Learn the rules like a professional, so you can break them like an artist” – Pablo Picasso
I suggest you follow the sage advise of Neil Gaiman: read outside of your genre. If you’re writing romance fantasy, don’t read other romance fantasy. Read historical fiction, sci-fi, literary fiction – whatever.
If you are exposed to a wide range of genres, you’ll enrich your writing, avoid tropes and trends (it’s never worth chasing these), and find your voice. The latter is particularly difficult. I only found a stable voice half-way through the second draft of my third manuscript (yes, it took years).
Write a lot. Whether you are a plotter or a planner (or both or neither), write. Sit down, download all the thoughts and ideas floating around in your head onto the page. Write several thousand words. Do this every day. Don’t wait for inspiration (it won’t come to you, you must go to it).
How to create inspiration: sit down and write.
This sounds cynical, but it is the only way to do it. Sure, music, films, books, and other forms of art will spark your creativity, but this will fade. Especially if you use this inspiration to just sit and think about writing.
Switch the editor in your head off for an hour or so. Many times, you are stifled by the blank page. Here’s the secret: you can defeat that blankness by filling the page with words. Even if (or especially if) it is nonsense, stupid words. It is easier to fix what is already there.
This is the key. This brings us back to rewriting.
I became a better writer when I rewrote this book. Alright, I rewrote it multiple times (currently on round five), but during the process of doing this I figured things out. I discovered how to create functional metaphors, what makes characters (un)likable, pacing, flow, and so on. Sure, you can read about this stuff, but to discover how to do it by yourself…that makes all the difference.
To learn from your own writing effectively, you need to let go of some delusions. Yes, I know, I’m sorry, but you’re not a creative genius. I’m not saying you should be overly-critical either (that’s a dark hole to fall into). But the point is that you should always remain open-minded – you can always learn to do something better.
Think of it this way: you are getting closer to becoming a creative genius. You are not her/him yet, but if you keep learning, you’ll get another step closer.
This is what I learnt from Symphony. When I wrote the first draft I thought it was the best thing I’ve ever written (it might have been). But, now, looking back across the length of four drafts, I cannot believe how delusional I was.
I discovered the true motivations of characters – resulting in them taking decisions that were different to those I initially planned for.
I discovered the impact some events had on readers and characters – resulting in some things becoming more/less extreme.
The list goes on and on. Your list will be different. You must open yourself up to discovering this.
Ask for help
A beta reader can change your story too. This is an individual or a group that are (preferably) well-read, fall in your target market, and have the time to read your stuff. If you have such people at your disposal, you no longer have to shout into the void. They will tell you whether or not things land or not. If they don’t understand a section (miss a metaphor or cue), don’t correct them, correct your work.
The reader is always right.
In my case, I’ve been very fortunate to have a highly dedicated beta reader. She doesn’t come back with “This was great, just because” or “It was…nice”. She gives detailed feedback on every level (from the emotional to the aesthetic).
As a writer, you are a blind builder. Readers will use this building – play in it, even live in it (if you did it well enough). The beta reader is the building inspector. If she says that the roof is sagging, there would be little use in arguing with her.
Over to you
Are you writing or rewriting a novel? How are you finding it? What are the challenges you face?
Please share below.