5 More Things to Do After Finishing Your First Draft

Sometime ago, I shared a list of five things you could do after finishing your first draft and while waiting to get started on revisions. That list was by no means comprehensive, so here are five more things that are necessary to writing but often get left in the background when writing is front and center.

5 More Things to Do After the First Draft

1. Organize Those Writing Files

I can hear the groans already!

Groan all you want, but writing files need to be organized just like other things and there’s no better time to organize files than while a manuscript is cooling off.

Paper Clips - ColorfulOne thing you might consider is creating a scene database for all those random and/or unused scenes. I’ve spent too much time trying to find something I know exists but that is hidden even from keyword searches. So I started a scene database that includes a scene title or description, the story it’s attached to (if any), where it’s filed, and the opening line.

My database is in Excel, but you can use whatever spreadsheet program you prefer. If you happen to have a good database program, go ahead and use that, instead.

2. Research

Research Book in LibrarySomething that bogs down my novel writing is finding out I don’t know enough about something. Be it trains, the Appalachians, or night vision goggles, there inevitably comes a point in every story when I realize I don’t know enough to write about a particular subject with authority.

I’ve learned is to make a note and keep writing. Do the research later.

“Later” may be the time between finishing the first draft and getting started on the second. Whether online, in a library or taking an expert to coffee, there is no better time for research than the down time between manuscript drafts. Having fresh—and accurate—information at your fingertips when you start revisions will help determine where you need to make corrections.

It may also spark new and interesting ideas.

3. Get Better Acquainted With Your Characters

You’ve now spent days, weeks, months (dare I say years?) with your main characters. You’ve given them things to do and decisions to make and they’ve successfully reached the end of the story.

2015-05-06 FriendsBut what do you really know about them?

Now might be the ideal time to get to know them better. Sit down in the location of your choice (or their choice perhaps). Ask them a few questions. Let them ramble or rant or whatever they care to do.

A lot of writers have a list of 100 questions to ask their characters. Others advocate just hanging out with fictional characters. James Scott Bell suggests a character voice journal in his book Revision And Self-Editing (Write Great Fiction).

Whatever method you choose can be a great way to get into a character’s head and learn their voice so clearly it shines in the novel.

And who knows what interesting tidbits might come to light that will help support that sagging middle (your novel’s; not yours!)

4. Introduce Yourself to New Characters

Whether or not you have another story in mind, it never hurts to introduce yourself to new characters.

They can be based on people you know or would like to know.

They can be totally made up.

They might appear in a dream one night (don’t laugh, it happens!).

You don’t have to do the 100 question survey with them, but let them tell you about something interesting that happened to them or about a dream or fear.

If you have an interesting or quirky minor character in your story, give them a little time in the limelight. See what happens. You might be surprised.

5. Timed Writings

2015-03-03 TimeOne of the things I do when I have a little free writing time or when I’m blocked is do a few timed writings. I recommend the free app FocusWriter (read my reveiw).

Timed writings can be about anything or nothing at all. As I write this, I’m in the process of writing daily observations as timed writings, but I’ve also been getting acquainted with characters, writing random scenes, and working on stories.

Or do a little free writing. A favorite topic. A favorite sense. A favorite color. Choose something and write for ten or twenty minutes. No editing allowed. Don’t worry about quality. Just write. So what if most of it will never see the light of day? The goal is to put words on paper and to hone your skills and your mind for revision work.

There are other ways to make use of free writing time. What do you do between the first draft and second?

Things That May Be Blocking Your Writing, Part 2

Sometime ago I wrote about things that may be blocking your writing. I started out intending to list ten things because, well, I’ve had to deal with at least that many writing blocks.

But I got up to number six and hit the thousand-word mark, so I decided to reduce my original list to five and call it good.

But those other things also deserved mention. So here’s my follow up.

Things That May Be Blocking Your Writing, Part 2

6. Too much advice

Let me make it clear that learning from others who are ahead of you in the writing journey is one of the best ways to learn new skills and avoid pitfalls.

You can, of course, do it your own way, but be aware that it will cost you time and effort. Why? Because you’re likely to make a lot of the same mistakes others before you have made.

Seeking—and listening to—the advice of others is quite simply a case of learning by example rather than by experience.

Here’s the secret. You can’t use every method used by every writer and accomplish anything. It simply is not possible.

One writer espouses outlining and another writer blasts it. You can’t have it both ways. Somewhere in the middle, yes. But both ways? No.

Yes, you need to read books that help you write better stories. But you also need to know how to find what works for you and what doesn’t. Then you need to learn how to throw out what doesn’t work.

7. Trying Too Many Things

When you find something that works, stick with it. This has been my big problem over the years. If one type of story planning works, then another type might work better. I’ve fallen into the habit of trying everything I read about. The end result is that I haven’t stuck with anything long enough to find out how well it works—or doesn’t work.

Learn from my mistakes and don’t do that!

8. Too Little Knowledge of Your Writing Self

Do you remember a couple of posts I wrote a month or two ago? I described what to do when you’ve lost your first writing love and followed up with post asking who you’re writing for.

I wrote those posts because I’d forgotten my writing self. Why I was writing. Who I was writing for. The purpose behind all the words.

Part of that equation is knowing when and how you write best. Reams have been written about both subjects, so all I’ll say here is that it’s important to know what part of the day you’re most productive and how you write best—what type of writer you are.

Of course the obvious two categories are pre-planner and pantser, but there are other categories, as well.

It’s important to understand how your mind works because knowing that allows you to sort through all the how-to information and more quickly find the material that works for you. Read what fits your writing personality and discard what doesn’t. It helps you avoid too much advice.

But it also helps you know what methods of process to avoid.

I love planning. I can write pages of summary and characterization, but it blocks the writing of novels because once I’ve written all those pages of summary and whatever else, my mind thinks the story has been told. The net result? The novel comes to a screeching halt.

If you’re a pantser by nature (which I appear to be), don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to pre-plan just because other writers do.

That works both ways, by the way. The key is to know how you work best. Then you can ignore the things that don’t complement or advance that writing process.

9. Too Many Ideas

The problem here isn’t just the ideas. We all know new ideas are good things. They’re the fertile soil from which new stories sprout and grow.

But if you’re in the middle of a first draft, the last thing you want is a new idea popping up and laying claim to your attention.

You can’t keep that from happening. But to keep those new ideas from taking over the current project, you do need a strategy for dealing with them.

The best strategy for me is to take a little time to summarize the idea. A few words or a few lines to describe the thought either in a digital document or on an index card.

I’m also doing a timed writing challenge this year, so I sometimes use those timed writings to develop a persistent idea a little more fully.

Also setting aside time each week for dedicated idea generation is a good way to nip rampant ideas in the bud.

10. Too Much Life

This was suggested by a reader and she called it displacement. As in having to move and having no place to write.

I know all about that, having moved several states 14 years ago and having endured a two-week cold a couple of weeks ago. In both cases, the only thing to do was take care of the matters at hand.

There is, unfortunately, no solution to this problem. There comes a time in every writer’s life when circumstances take priority and everything else is either tended on a reduced scale or set aside altogether.

The best advice I can give you is to tell you that these circumstances are quite often temporary. Moves are completed. Colds heal. Kids grow up and start families of their own. Don’t stress over the days (weeks, months, or years) you can’t write. Do what you can and prepare for the day when things change and you can write more.

That concludes part two of this no doubt ongoing saga. Which block do you have the most trouble with? What other things would you add to the list?

Working Through Fear in 4 Steps

Every writer faces hurdles. They are a fact of life. Many factors play into the writing life.

Imagination.

Creativity.

The ability to say what you mean in interesting and understandable ways.

But there is one thing that surpasses all of the skill and talent in the world. A friend of mine calls it stick-to-it-ivity. Without it, you’re just a well-intentioned and talented wannabe.

There’s definitely a lot of stick-to-it-ivity involved in writing but there’s more to most writing problems than not being able to stick with something.

In a word…

Fear

Working Through Fear in 4 Steps

Fear comes in many forms. Some of them are obvious.

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of backlash
  • Fear of rejection or negative feedback
  • Fear of not being up to the task
  • Fear of looking stupid, silly, (insert your own)

Other fears are more subtle. So subtle we may not recognize them for what they really are.

  • Fear of success
  • Fear of having to write the next novel if the first does well
  • Fear of living without the safety net of a “real job”

Each of these fears are just as legitimate and potentially debilitating as the fears in the previous list. If you suffer from the fear of being successful or of writing a successful novel and having to write a second successful novel, you’re just as likely to give up on writing as you would be if you were afraid of failure or ridicule or anything else on the first list.

What’s a Writer to Do?

Approaching the Hurdle

Face your fear. Go right up to it and look it in the eye.

The first step is recognizing and acknowledging your personal terror. Look it in the eye and face it down.

It won’t be easy. Quite likely, it may take some time to overcome. You will probably have to call on the support of your writing friends, but that’s all right because they’ve probably already been there.

Or maybe they’re facing their own fearsome hurdle at the moment and you can help each other.

Hurdle Beginning Jump

Take the first step toward overcoming your fear. Be prepared to work with fear for a while.

Next, take the first step in overcoming your hurdle. What is that? Just getting started.

Don’t wait for the fear to go away because it probably won’t. You may need to resign yourself to working in fear for a while. The true mark of courage isn’t a total lack of fear; it’s acknowledging the fear and moving forward anyway.

Hurdle Landing

Once you’ve started, keep going. Do the next hard thing. Write the next word. Or the next book.

After that, it’s a matter of putting one foot ahead of the other. Writing the next word or page or chapter. Doing the next hard thing. Following through.

I can tell you from personal experience that this isn’t a once-done-and-over battle. You will get better at facing down whatever fear keeps you from writing, but there will also be times when it’s a daily battle. Sometimes hourly.

Hurdle Success

You may never leave fear behind, but imagine the thrill of victory each time you overcome it!

And even if you do overcome whatever fear is standing in your path right now, there will be another.

I guarantee it.

That’s. Just. Life.

But successfully dealing with whatever fear lies in your path is a great motivator to keep going. To try again, whether it’s a new battle or the same old foe.

The best tool–the only tool–I have for facing down personal fears is to turn it over to God. I can’t overcome fear on my own. No matter how determined I am, sooner or later, the fear comes creeping in like smoke under a door and before I know it, I’m breathing its deadly fumes again. Turning it over to a power greater than I frees me to write or do whatever task needs to be done.

Most of the time, the knowledge that it’s no longer up to me to battle fear and  do whatever I need to do is all that’s needed to get me started.

Keeping me from getting started seems to be fear’s most secure stronghold, so that’s the moment when fear is best defeated.

Maybe it’s the same for you.

Don’t let the fear win.

Why Failure Is Awesome

2016-05-18 happy dance joyHow do you feel about failure?

I grew up believing that failure was not an option. You had to do stuff right the first time, every time, and it was better to do nothing at all, rather than try and fail. An attitude like this is obviously a massive road block for anyone who wants to be an author. There’s a lot to learn–from the actual writing of the books to the marketing that sells them. What to do about failure?

2016-05-18 Why Failure Is Awesome

Embracing Your Mistakes

2016-05-18 happy joy stars successFortunately for me, I didn’t truly believe in my heart of hearts that failure was a bad thing. Honestly, how realistic is it that you’ll be able to do everything perfectly the first time? Everybody does it wrong the first time. Well, nearly everybody. We can’t all be Nancy Drew, after all.

And in case you hadn’t noticed, failure is hard-wired into the success process. We try, we fail, we try again. That’s just how it works! And those who don’t try again are those who don’t reap the top successes.

But most importantly, I saw from my life experiences that I learned more from my mistakes than I did from my triumphs. Once I knew how to do something wrong, it was easier to figure out how to do it right.

Am I the only one who feels this way? Far from it! Read the inspiring stories from these other authors who also embraced the process of failure.

What Author-Publishers Can Learn from Their Mistakes

by Samantha Warren on the Alliance of Independent Authors website

Samantha had unexpected initial success, raking in $12,000 off an ad on Pixel of Ink. But, by her own admission, she took it for granted and didn’t continue her promotion efforts. Was she devastated? No! She picked herself up and tried again. Read more!

The Two BEST Reasons to Fail as a Writer

by Marcy McKay on The Write Practice

The creative process can involve trial-and-error, too, as Marcy McKay says in this post. “My books feel more like I’m assembling a jigsaw puzzle without the box top showing the final photo.” Who else can relate? (Raising hand!)

McKay draws examples from the book Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. Catmull clearly embraces failure, as well. “Stop panicking that you’re doing it all wrong,” McKay says. “You’re not. Keep writing.” She gives two excellent reasons why you should fail. Read more!

Building a Business One F*** Up at a Time

featuring JB Glossinger on the Self Publishing Podcast 

2016-05-18 happy joy laugh smileI’ve included this one for those of you who prefer audio. (Though if you couldn’t tell from the title, I should advise you that there is explicit language!) Glossinger works for an hour every day, then plays golf. How did he get there? One failure at a time. From the show notes: “What’s the ratio of failure to success? 90/10: can you guess which is which?” Listen Now!

 

Now you tell us: How do you feel about failure? Do you feel any better about it now that you’ve seen a number of authors who actively embrace it?