Tag Archives: first drafts

First Drafts, Revisions, and Rainbow Flamingos

A couple weeks ago I finished the first draft of METAPHOR FOR MURDER, the third book in my Mystery Writer’s mysteries.

Here are the final, first draft stats:

Total words: 59,173

Total hours: 54

Total writing days: 24

Average words per hour: 1,096

Total pages: 210

I learn — or relearn — something with each manuscript I write. Two things got my attention this time.

One, I should have gone back to read pertinent parts of FICTION CAN BE MURDER to reacquaint myself with some characters I hadn’t seen in awhile. I took too much of my writing time trying to remember the nuance of some of my people. It bogged me down and zapped my momentum.

Two, my vision for the final showdown was weak. And this actually happens all too often. I think, because the story is so much in my head that I expect I know the blocking of the scene better than I really do. I need to take more time with the minutiae of important scenes like this. Again, it slowed me way down and annoyed me.

Now I’m well into the revision stage. This is where I fill in all the blanks I left. When I’m writing the first draft, instead of going backward to find and fix something I’ve already written, I leave notes to myself … He should have called her at some point during the day …… check the timeline, should it be dark yet?

I also write some fairly boring sentences, with a lot of bland or repetitive words, passive verbs, and incomplete description.

If I can’t immediately come up with the right words, I use placeholders like —

I was dug in like a [     ]

She made [frustration noises]

[Describe the room, mentioning the worn spot in the carpet]

Then during Phase Two, when I make that first revision pass-through, I know I have to plug those holes or look up some minor research question right away. I have to stop and determine what Peter O’Drool’s squeaky toy is going to look like (rainbow-colored plush flamingo, for those of you playing along at home). I have to look up potentillas to remind myself what color their flowers are (yellow). I have to decide on all the questions those toddlers are going to ask before I move on (so … many … questions!).

Even though it slows me down in Phase Two.

But by the time I get all that done through the entire manuscript, I get to go back to page one, this time grounding the reader in the story using all the senses, adding layers of theme and emotion, making the funny bits funnier, the mystery bits more mysterious, the clues more hidden or maybe more visible, the writing more vibrant.

It sounds like work, but what do they say about doing a job you love? You’ll never work a day in your life.

Remind me of this when I’m in full-fledged tantrum mode, hating both my book and myself.

Do you keep statistics on your progress for anything? Do you find it as comforting and as fascinating as I find my stats? Do you think it keeps you on track or otherwise benefits you? I also track my weight first thing every morning and I know that keeps me a bit more honest with my food choices during the day.

Bouchercon, the Universe, and Me

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you’ve perhaps already heard some of my unbelievable story.

But I wanted to give you a bit of background, as well as document for myself this weird, weird coincidence. I have another wild story about being sued and landing on 20/20 which I also had to document because every time I told it, I thought, “That’s crazy! Must have been a dream.”

At any rate, in the last few months, I kind of lost my writing mojo. Sales on BANANA BAMBOOZLE and MARSHMALLOW MAYHEM had tanked and I couldn’t get any new reviews (C’mon! Three reviews? Not cool.), I was struggling with the writing of my new manuscript, but why bother because sales are bad, my marketing isn’t working, why bother to market, who has time to market because I’m trying to write this ridiculously bad book, I suck, what am I thinking, I should get a real job, or maybe just sit on the couch all day and drink.

You may have heard this conversation in your own head once or twice.

Around this time, I was lucky to get the fantastic opportunity to be on the ground floor of starting a new Sisters in Crime chapter here in Colorado. So I stepped away from the half-finished manuscript completely and did other things instead.

I dove into my new Programming duties for SinC-CO.

Becky Clark 9 4x6 300dpiI shopped for my mother-of-the-bride dress. And watched some football.

I gave myself a pedicure and flossed my teeth.

I got my Lazy Squirrel Purses store on Etsy open for business. (And made my first sale! Squee!) spine

 

Then a month or so ago, I picked up that half-finished manuscript and read it. And it wasn’t completely horrible. My eyes didn’t even bleed. So I started working on it again, and actually began to have some fun.

But as any of you creative types know, once you stare into the abyss of crushing self-doubt like that, you always kind of see it out of the corner of your eye. One false step and you’re whooshed right back in.

Fast forward to yesterday. At about noon, I typed THE END on the first draft of the new manuscript. Yippee!

After a bit of celebratory facebooking and back patting, I went back to my to-do list, one item of which was to sign up for Bouchercon 2016. I got that all squared away, then called the hotel for reservations.

I was on the phone with the Marriott in New Orleans or wherever the reservation place was. Tessa, my lovely representative, was having all kinds of glitchy computer problems so I was on the phone for awhile. We had ample opportunity to chat. She asked what Bouchercon was and I told her it was for readers and writers of mysteries and thrillers and such.

She said, “I love mysteries. I have a lot of favorites. I read something by … what was her name … I’m pretty sure it was Clark, like you. Banana something.”

Heart stopping pause on my end. “Bamboozle?”

“Yes! I loved it. And there’s a Marshmallow one coming out soon. I can’t wait to read it.”

“Um, it’s already out. I wrote both of those.”

We both fan-squealed, although technically, I might have shrieked.

WHAT. ARE. THE. ODDS???

The moral of the story, Best Beloved, is that we don’t have any idea who we touch — or when, or how, or even why — with our writing. I don’t quite understand the machinations, but yesterday, the Universe decided to let me have a peek behind that curtain.

Tomorrow it might be your turn, so never, ever quit. And always, always stay at the Marriott.

Lawnmower in My Living Room

I read an interview with Khaled Hosseini in Time Magazine. He’s best known for the haunting ‘The Kite Runner’ in 2003, but he was discussing his new novel ‘And The Mountains Echoed.’

One of the things he said really hit home with me. “My first drafts are always rather flat and disappointing. It’s a little bit like when you move into a home. You haul all your stuff and shove it in the house; the things you need are there, but it looks horrible and doesn’t feel like a home at all. The subsequent draft is about saying, OK, this couch belongs here. Let’s get rid of this painting. Let’s put the armoire here.”

I love that analogy and it comes at a good time for me as I’ve just moved a new set of characters into their new home.

There are problems with the analogy, however. For one thing, with your household goods, you see them all at a glance, making it easy to survey your treasures and (re)arrange them. The couch gets too much sun there … try the other wall. Put the torchiere in the corner. Let’s try standing the coffee table on all four legs instead of propped against the wall. Ah, much better.

Second, and more importantly, you knew what belonged in the living room. You didn’t stick a bed in the corner, pile the flatware on a bookcase, and park the lawnmower under the picture window.

This is what my work-in-progress feels like to me right now. A lawnmower in the living room. I know it doesn’t belong there, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what to do with it.

Do I shine it up all sparkly and leave it there? Do I move it to the bedroom? Do I even need a lawnmower? Should I push it into the garage and set it on fire? Should I abandon it on the curb and pray some kind soul hauls it away for me?

Third, when you bought your new house, you knew what you needed. Four bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, 2-car garage, fenced yard for the kids and dog. Easy peasy.

My characters’ house has eighteen rooms, no bathrooms, three kitchens and a bedazzled heliport. Plus a lawnmower in the living room.

Anyone want to help me move?