Tag Archives: First draft

The Joy of Teaching

I recently had an incredible experience—guiding my six-year-old as he wrote his first story. I abandoned my Ph.D. track partially because my time as a T.A. in World History 101 convinced me I despised teaching, but helping my child discover the joy of storytelling was truly amazing. And a lot of hard work, for both of us.

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This journey began when I saw a post about the PBS Kids Writers Contest. I just knew my precocious kindergartner would latch onto a project like that, and he did. I took dictation as he spun an imaginative tale about his stuffed orca coming to life as a real whale. In no time, he had a complete story—or so he thought. But as every writer knows, that’s just the beginning.

The first thing I taught him was the concept of the first draft and that every story you read has been through several rounds of editing and rewriting. His face fell, but he wanted this story to be good. We used worksheets from the PBS website to break down his story structure. His story naturally had a good beginning, middle and end, but the worksheets helped him find ways to strengthen the final problem and resolution for a more satisfying ending.

He still wasn’t done, though. His story was now over 500 words, and the contest limit was 200. That meant he had to do a lot of cutting. We went through every sentence, talking about whether that sentence contributed to the story he’d outlined on the worksheets. He especially hated cutting the paragraph about his little brother’s stuffed seal, but he recognized that it wasn’t really part of the story. We searched for anything that was unnecessary or repetitive until the story was finally under the limit.

There was still plenty of work to do since the contest called for illustrations and Mean Mommy made him write his story out by hand (not required for the contest, but I wanted him to practice his handwriting), but for this post I want to focus on just the writing process. What really struck me was how similar this was to the way I craft a story. Whether it’s a full-length novel or a 200-word children’s story, many of the ideas and processes remain the same.

My child and I both invested many hours in this project, but it was time well spent. It was wonderful sharing something I love with my child. I ordered a hardcover version of his story for myself, and I’m going to treasure that book—and the memories of the time we spent together—forever.

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Oh, and in case you’re wondering, his entry took first place in the kindergarten category for our region and also received an honorable mention (second place) in another contest for 6-11-year-olds sponsored by the Springfield-Greene County Library. I can’t wait to see what he writes next!

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Does Editing Kill your Creativity?

I’m closing in on the end of my manuscript, with just five or six thousand words yet to write. I am SO excited about that! And even though I haven’t quite made it to the end yet, I’m already starting to look back at the process that got me here, comparing my methods with those of other writers I know.

I love to read my friends’ blogs—I learn so much about how different people approach the challenges of writing that way. I recall one friend in particular, Sheila McClune, writing about her difficulties switching between “writer head” and “editor head.” Once she stopped working on her first draft to go back and edit, she had a terrible time beginning to write again. That internal editor just wouldn’t shut up and let her create.

One would think I would have learned from her experience and avoided editing until I had a completed draft in hand. But no.

From the very beginning, I’ve been obsessively editing and seeking feedback to help me identify my personal foibles. Some chapters have already been through multiple rounds of revision and more than a dozen beta readers. I know writers who would cringe at the idea of letting so many cooks spoil the broth.

So was it a mistake? I don’t think so. As long as you get to your goal, it’s all good, right? No doubt I could have completed a first draft more quickly, but since this is my first attempt at a novel, I was on the steep part of the learning curve. Having that ongoing feedback helped me identify mistakes early on, and my writing improved immensely because of it. I may eat these words in a few months, but I’m hoping that means I’ll have less of a mess to clean up when I officially enter the revision stage.

The biggest thing I have learned is that every writer is different, and no single approach works for everyone. So how about you? Do you edit as you go or wait until your first draft is finished? I’d love to hear your experiences!

Slaying the Demons

January’s over, and so is the JANO 2013 Writing Challenge sponsored by Sleuths’ Ink Mystery Writers. How did I do? Well, that’s a matter of perspective. Isn’t it always?

I wrote more than 20,000 new words—my biggest writing month ever, by far.

I worked through a sticky plot problem, researched the Egyptian underworld, outlined a whole series of new obstacles for my young heroes and spent a lot of time imagining scenes for the final act—all necessary steps for me before I’m ready to actually write.

Since JANO wanted us to submit our first pages, I faced my fear of coming up with a compelling opening and wrote a first page—which placed third in the Best First Page competition.

I also wrote a 100-word story description that won the prize for Best Blurb.

All in all, I’d say January was an outstanding month for my writing. And yet, technically, I failed.

Like National Novel Writing Month, NaNo for short, the goal of JANO was to produce 50,000 words in one month. As the challenge began, people offered advice on how to produce so many words so quickly—don’t think, don’t edit, don’t research, just write something even if it’s bad, use more words than you need to beef up your word count, etc.

Now there are as many ways to produce a manuscript as there are writers, and I know this method works beautifully for many people. This is the antithesis of how I write, however. I plot everything out carefully ahead of time. I research during every stage of my story planning, then research some more. I don’t begin writing until the scene is playing out in vivid detail in my head. I edit as I write, removing unnecessary words when I spot them. You get the idea.

So does a speed-writing challenge like JANO have any value for a slow-and-careful writer like myself? You bet! True, I will probably never “win” NaNo or JANO, but who cares? I’m 20,000 words closer to my goal of producing a publication-worthy manuscript. JANO helped me do that by giving me ammunition against my twin demons of Perfectionism and Procrastination.

Every writer—every human, for that matter—has their demons, and right now, those are mine. Don’t get me wrong, I procrastinated plenty. (Just look at my Twitter following—it ballooned from under a hundred to more than eight hundred in January. Not a terrible use of time, but writing my book would have been better.) But JANO gave me a reason to write the best story I’m capable of, even if it’s not perfect, and to do it right now. That was enough to help me have my best writing month ever.

So now that JANO’s over, how do I use these lessons moving forward? Obviously, I need deadlines and accountability—those are the weapons I need to fight my demons. JANO provided that for a few weeks, but what now? Oh, lovely critique partners, I think I have a job for you!