Power Through Three First Drafts

2016-05-11 book write writing magnifying glassYou’re doing it. You’re writing your first novel. You’re determined to make the reality as shining as the concept. So you fret over every word. Every character. Every plot point. You pelt your writer’s groups with questions, begging for advice. You go back a hundred times and change everything. And you end up laboring for five years over your first book.

Writers who are still early in their journey tend to get hung up on their first books. They’re not quite sure yet what they’re doing, and they’re devastated when the story that ends up on paper isn’t as epic as the way it existed in their mind. What’s going wrong?

2016-05-11 Power Through Three First Drafts

First Draft Sucks

2016-05-11 typewriter writing write keyboardPart of what’s so hard about being a writer is that, before your epic story becomes reality, you have to write this monstrous thing called first draft. And when you’ve never written a book before, first draft is daunting. Terrifying. First draft sucks. And it doesn’t matter if it’s your first book or your twentieth. First draft is not about writing epic fiction. It’s about puking your ideas out onto paper.

I don’t know why first drafts have to be so horrible, but they are for the vast majority of authors. So if this is your first novel, the easiest thing you can do is accept that your first attempt at writing your epic story is going to fall far short of your visions for it.

So, should you fret over every word, character, and plot point? No. You should accept that first draft sucks and puke it up onto paper. You can iron out each and every one of those horrible problems in subsequent drafts.

Three First Drafts

2016-05-11 three books writing write four books pen readingBut how can you swallow your fears of your finished book being as terrible as your first draft? Here’s an idea. Power through your first book. Write every day. Don’t look back. Don’t ask yourself whether the writing is worth a darn.

Then write a completely different book. Power through it. Write every day. Don’t look back. Don’t ask yourself whether the writing is worth a darn.

Then write another one.

By this time, you’ll probably realize that first draft simply sucks. And that’s okay, because it’s meant to.

THEN go back and rewrite your first book. Polish it up all pretty. Submit it to your critique group. Give it to trusted friends and family. Offer it to beta readers. And when you’ve re-written it a dozen times, hire an editor.

Then publish it.

Then go back and do the same with your second book. Then your third.

This, Too, Shall Pass

2015-06-08 WriterBy this time, here’s what I think you’ll have learned: First draft is a brief, passing thing. Everything you wrote in first draft can be upturned in second, third, or fourth. Nothing is set in stone until the ink has dried on the page.

While you’re writing first draft, and you’re tempted to halt and submit a life-and-death question to your writing group–STOP. Guess what? It does not matter. Why? Because it’s first draft! You should be writing crap. Absolute crap. Eventually you’ll realize that first draft really doesn’t matter. It’s only the final draft that needs to read well.


Releasing Your Potential

2016-05-04 soaring, high, top, mountain, potentialAre you putting unnecessary limits on your own potential? I certainly was.

During second draft of my work-in-progress, I was only editing one scene a day. I felt mentally exhausted after just one scene, but progress seemed too slow. So I asked myself, could I edit two? How was I going to double my output?

2016-05-04 Releasing Your Potential


Parkinson’s Rule

2015-06-17 Clock fleur de lisA book I read recently, Self-Made Success by Shaan Patel, talked about a phenomenon known as Parkinson’s Rule. It basically says that the time it takes you to finish a task morphs to fit the amount of time you give it. Got a week to write a chapter? It’ll take you a week. Got a day? It’ll take you a day.

In wanting to edit two scenes a day instead of one, I was basically working with a variant of Parkinson’s Rule. Got a scene to edit today? It’ll take me a day. Got two scenes to edit today? It’ll still take me just a day.

Creating a Mental Model

2016-05-04 daydream, mountain, challenge, high, top, lake, clouds, man, personBy the end of editing just one scene, I felt mentally drained. I’d invested myself in that scene, and my mind wasn’t ready to move on to a new POV, a new character, a new set of problems. But darn it, I wanted to edit two scenes a day.

So what did I do? I used a tactic I learned about in another book, Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg. I created a mental model–a picture in my mind of what was going to happen. I told myself that when I finished the first scene, I was going to allow myself up to a few minutes to simply breathe and detach from that scene. Then, without getting up from my sofa (where I often write), I was going to dive right into the next scene.

How Well This Worked

2016-05-04 bike, bicycle, race, fast, run, challengeOn every day that I edited my work-in-progress, I successfully completed two scenes per day. In fact, on one day, I edited nine.

Nine? How did that happen? Actually, it wasn’t that hard. By the end of a scene, I saw that I still had time available on the clock. I would then visualize my mental model: me taking a breather, then charging into the next scene. And before I knew it, I’d gotten through nine scenes in a single sitting.

Are you bottling up your own potential? Could Parkinson’s Law and mental models help you double your output, or better?

Making the Most of a Story Critique

A Guest Post by Tal Valante

2015-06-08 EditThe first critique I got for my first novel is memorable. That is to say, I don’t remember a word of it, but I do remember feeling like a combination of being punched in the gut, hollowed out, and going up in flames, all while people insulted the newborn baby in my arms.

Come to think about it, my second critique felt the same way.

Today, at over dozens of critiques from a wide variety of professional editors, I’ve grown quite a thick skin. Here’s what I would have said to myself that long time ago.

2016-05-02 Making the Most of a Story Critique

Start Small

For your first few critiques, don’t engage a roomful of professional editors and agents (as in a convention round-table critique). Unless you have extra-thick skin, that’s a sure recipe for a crash and burn.

Choose a professional editor who has your trust and respect but doesn’t terrify you. Start out over email. It’s one thing to receive a written critique, it’s quite another to receive it face to face where you have to master your expression and body language (and, occasionally, tears).

On the other hand, don’t start so small that your critique giver isn’t a professional editor. From unprofessional editors or agents, expect to receive varied and often contradicting feedback, based on their personal preferences more than on a solid understanding of the art and market.

Cool Off

2015-05-27 book pagesWhen you first get your critique, you’re likely to have a gut reaction to it. Ignore it. Overcome it. Read the critique once and then put it aside, for days or even weeks, until you’re no longer obsessed with it. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t read, consider, or so-help-you-the-heavens start working on the critique while your emotions run hot.

Once you can read the critique without feeling shortness of breath or proneness to cursing, you can start working on it.

Go on Record

After you’ve cooled off, take note as you sort through the critique. Next to each critique point, mark down how you feel about it: does it chime with you? Are you unsure about it? Do you instinctively object? Do you object for a solid reason?

These marks will help you when the time comes to consider each remark and how you should treat it.

Sort and Evaluate

2015-11-11a paper pile buried under paperwork stacks pagesEven a good critique is not the Bible. You can choose what to take from it, and you can leave the rest untouched. Trust your own writing instincts.

Go over your notes and decide which critique points you want to follow up on. Skip the ones you objected to for a solid reason. The only thing to watch out for is your ego. If you object to a critique point just because it’s a critique (e.g., “My writing is perfectly fine and he’s wrong about everything”), think twice about it. Also, go back to step 2 and cool off some more.

Identify and Improve

Once you know which points you want to act on, start working on them methodically, one by one. Highlight in your work all the text that refers to a certain point. Then think how you can alter that text, add to it, or remove some of it in order to best achieve the result you want.

Be judicial in your editing. For small comments on your text, don’t go rewriting half your novel. For deeper issues, don’t go proof-editing. Match the nature of the required change to the nature of the critique comment.

And in all the changes that you make, make sure you’re true to yourself and your voice.

Embrace the critiquing process. Repeat to yourself: “I love critiques. I eat critiques for breakfast. Critiques help me make my writing great.”

And above all, stay calm and keep writing!

About the author:

Tal ValanteTal Valante is a writer, an editor, and the founder of Re:Fiction, the center for fiction writers of all types. If you need a professional, free critique of your work, apply to Re:Fiction’s editing scholarships, and take your writing to the next level.

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About Her Website: 

Tal Valante, ReFictionRe:Fiction is all about helping fiction writers shine at their craft by providing inspiration, articles about writing skills and the author’s lifestyle, and free editing scholarships. Do you write fiction? Explore our resources to get better, get published, and get read!

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Daydreaming Run Amok


2016-04-27 daydreaming woman bubbles floating happy green blueOne of the top reasons why I struggle with time management and productivity is because my mind wanders way too easily. I’m never thinking about what I should be thinking about–a.k.a., whatever project is right in front of me at the moment. I daydream! So … assuming you want to quit daydreaming … is there a way to curb it enough to get the work done?

2016-04-27 Daydreaming Run Amok

A Brain Run Out of Control

2016-04-27 raining light sad dramatic intense dark circleI talk to myself. Let’s just be honest about that up front. (Then again, don’t most authors talk to themselves?) There’s a conversation going on inside my head at all times, and there’s never any knowing where the conversation will go next. My brain runs out of control! And it’s so much easier to just follow my brain wherever it may lead, rather than try to curb it and focus on things like writing blog posts or the next book.

Radio Silence

2016-04-27 woman happy flowers colorfulBut there was once–for the first time ever–when I had the experience of complete radio silence in my head. It came after several hours of being so dazed that I truly had nothing to say. It wasn’t a distressed dazed, but a peaceful dazed, because something unexpectedly good had happened. When I sat down to my writing after that, I got twice as much work done in half my usual time.

Getting in Control of Your Mind

2016-04-27 coffee woman happy smile peaceful quiet redMore recently, I read an excellent book (Self-Made Success by Shaan Patel) in which the author talked about gaining control of your own mind. “Try to become a third-party, objective observer of the thoughts that occur in your mind,” Patel wrote. This idea really struck me. I don’t have to be carried about by the changing tides of my thoughts! All I have to do is stop and think about my thinking.

My usual habit is to jump into my pile of work and tear away at it until it’s done, without stopping to ask myself what I’m doing. This never quite works, because I end up daydreaming. Instead, a better way to start the work day may be to simply sit quietly and let my mind wind down for at least a few minutes. Get in control of my thoughts.

Then start writing.

What about you? Do you daydream when you should be working on something? What do you do to curb it?