Earlier this year, I finished drafting my manuscript. It was a long process to finish that first draft, mainly because I went through many uncompleted drafts as I ironed out the plot. I also used to be a really slow writer. However, after discovering a way to write more, I was able to finish the second part of the manuscript (and in less time than it took to write the first part). If you’re interested, I do have a blog post about how I did this:
My two main projects have moved from the drafting stage into the editing stage. This isn’t my first rodeo with editing, and between other projects I’ve edited and these two pieces, I’ve learned a lot about how to edit my own work.
Anyway, I was actually really surprised when I finished my first draft. I opened my manuscript one day and wrote a sentence (literally one sentence) and stopped to think what should come next in the story. And that’s when it hit me that I was at the natural end of the manuscript. What a shock. I hadn’t expected that when I’d opened the document to write that day.
But enough backstory. Here’s what I learned.
1. Sometimes I Just Have to Write
Aside learning how to write faster, I learned that sometimes (most times) I need to suck it up and write. My manuscript wasn’t going to write itself. It was hard at first. But once I got into a groove, I could pump out the words and get the darn thing down on paper (digital paper, that is). This might be obvious to some, but it really changed my approach to writing.
I also learned that I should be willing to ignore my inner critic. I have a rather vocal inner critic who likes to stop ideas while they are still half-formed. However, the idea might not actually look like a good idea while it is half-formed, so in order to find out if something will work in my piece, I actually have to write the idea in.
2. Character Backstory Is Important (and sometimes that means writing it out)
I don’t always know a character’s backstory when I begin writing a story. However, as I work on the story, most (if not all) of the main and side characters end up with a backstory. In regards my manuscript, I unexpectedly ended up writing a rather hefty side-story of backstory for the main character.
I don’t have any current plans on using these scenes in the final version of the manuscript, but I did discover that there is merit in actually writing out some of the backstory—some of the highlights for instance.
While I’m on the topic of backstory, I also learned how important backstory is for side characters. Backstory made writing about a character so much easier since it gave me a better understanding of who the character was.
3. Sometimes Characters End Up Being More Important Than Planned
Especially near the beginning of my manuscript, I would introduce a character off-handedly for a few lines of dialogue and only one scene and that character would later evolve into one of the more prominent side characters, garnering a backstory and becoming a significant influence on the main character.
This has made me realize how important other characters are for the main character’s growth. Side characters drive the MC’s actions and can push him in the right or wrong direction.
Side characters also can make the story more or less realistic. Stories with more developed side characters make it easier for the reader to suspend their disbelief by creating a world that feels like each person has a life and a personality.
I used to worry that having more fleshed out side characters would overshadow the main character. But now, I think that developed side characters help propel the MC along his arc.
Flaws are one of the important aspects to develop in a character. And also can be tricky to get right. So, here’s what I have found works.
4. Some Things Just Need to be Left Until Editing
I’m a perfectionist, so I often have to remind myself that my first draft will not be perfect. But there’s something freeing about saying, “I’ll just leave that until editing.”
Then, I can focus on just pumping out that first draft. That’s what’s initially important: Getting the idea fleshed out on paper. I can fix anything in editing, but I don’t need to get caught up with that right away.
I am now in the editing stage of my manuscript, and while in the past, I have found myself rolling my eyes at all of the things that I left until editing, I also often appreciate that I have a place to begin editing. It gives me an initial direction to go with revisions.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Delete
I got to a point in my manuscript where I realized I had written myself into a corner. If I kept down the path I was writing, my main character wasn’t going to be able to complete his arc. I went back through what I had written and discovered that to get to the root of the problem, I was going to have to delete 1,300 words.
1,300 seemed like a lot. Of course, it could be worse, and in the scheme of things, it wasn’t that much to delete. But it was still 1,300 words of hard work that was going to be erased.
But, the story is so much better because I deleted that section. I was able to get the narrative back on track and have the MC continue on his arc.
In hindsight, those words weren’t a waste, though. They told me that I needed to take the story in a slightly different direction for that section. Those words ultimately got the story to its state of a finished first draft.
6. Keep Prior Drafts
Anytime I’ve changed my mind about a character, a story section, or anything else, I’ve tried to keep my previous materials.
I also do this when editing, and it allows me to not worry about permanently erasing work that I might have a use for later.
The idea behind this is that if I change my mind about the direction I’m taking the story in or if I get to a point later in the story where I have a use for scene or an idea that I originally didn’t use, I still have those materials to use.
7. If you want something easy, then quit
Finally, I learned that if I wanted something easier to do, then I shouldn’t be writing. Part of why I enjoy writing so much is that it’s a challenge.
But since I want to write, I don’t quit. I have to remind myself to sit down and type. Just write.
Let me know something you’ve learned as a writer. And share this post with any writers you know. (it helps the blog out)