First Draft

I want to make my first draft perfect, but that's impossible.

So I try to make it decent, so it will be easy to fix later or for beta readers to find the flaws. But that's impossible too. I don't know what "decent" is.

So I try to write something interesting, so beta readers will like it and (hopefully) put more effort into making it better. But every beta reader likes different things.

Anyway, that's just a different kind of perfect.

So I try to write the best first draft that I can write at this moment. But I don't know what that is. I always doubt if what I wrote is my best, then I delete it and have to start over.

So I settle for just writing a first draft. I can worry about all that other stuff later.

(Honestly, I usually get stuck on paragraph 2. How do you approach first drafts?)

Why Haven't You Self-Published Yet?

A couple weeks ago, blog reader Lexi left this comment:
I'm interested in why you guys aren't self-publishing.

It needn't stop you querying agents, if you're set on that. Meanwhile, you could be making money from your writing, and if you do well enough, agents may approach you. Win/win approach.
 It's a totally valid question, and I answered briefly in the comments, but I thought it deserved a bit more explanation.

Understand, of course, that this is just why I haven't self-published yet. I can't speak for anybody else.

(1) I still believe I can make it traditionally. I got zero requests for my first novel. The next novel got five requests -- it was rejected, but three of those agents said they wanted to see revisions and/or my next novel. This round (which is really a revision of the second novel), I've already gotten significantly more interest than last time.

That tells me I'm getting better and leads me to believe I will continue to do so. Until I hit a wall (like where the statistics are no longer going up), I'll still believe I can do it.

(2) Self-publishing is still, statistically, a lot of work for not a lot of gain. I have no doubt the numbers have increased since I ran through them a few months ago, but I haven't seen a lot to encourage me. I'm still not convinced that self-publishing should be more than my last resort.

(3) Pursuing traditional publishing stretches me. I talked about this a couple of years ago, when self-publishing still wasn't quite legit. I think one of the reasons for the growth curve of (1) above is that I've actively gotten feedback and tried to get better. I might still do that if I self-published, but I know myself. More likely I'd revise less and sacrifice quality for churning out novels.

(4) Poor sales on a self-published novel could affect my chances of getting traditionally published. At least according to Rachelle Gardner. I'm inclined to agree with her. For me, making a little money now isn't worth killing the dream. Speaking of which...

(5) Self-publishing isn't my dream. I once had a friend who tried to shoot the moon on every round of Hearts. He lost points most of the time, but he won overall (and won big). But he didn't change his strategy even when I started sacrificing points just to take him down. When I asked him why he kept doing it, he said, "The game's just not fun otherwise."

I kinda liked that.

Traditional publishing is changing, we all know that. But it hasn't actually changed yet. It's still here and larger than life, and so is my dream. So I'm going to keep shooting and see what I can hit.

Besides, what's the worst that could happen?

For you, have you self-published or are you still shooting for traditional? Tell us why in the comments.

Ideas and French Cooking

(Remixed from an old post. Hm, that's kind of appropriate, actually.)

Madeleine L'Engle once wrote a book called Walking on Water. It's an interesting look at how faith and art overlap. In fact, to hear L'Engle tell it, the two are far more intertwined than most people realize. I'd strongly recommend this book for artists who are Christian, but I think it has something to say to non-Christian artists and Christian non-artists as well.

This post isn't about faith though. There was a passage about how L'Engle turned ideas into stories. Her method, it turns out, is a lot like mine, though she describes it much more eloquently:

When I start working on a book, which is usually several years and several books before I start to write it, I am somewhat like a French peasant cook. There are several pots on the back of the stove, and as I go by during the day's work, I drop a carrot in one, an onion in another, a chunk of meat in another. When it comes time to prepare the meal, I take the pot which is most nearly full and bring it to the front of the stove.

So it is with writing. There are several pots on those back burners. An idea for a scene goes into one, a character into another, a description of a tree in the fog into another. When it comes time to write, I bring forward the pot which has the most in it. The dropping in of ideas is sometimes quite conscious; sometimes it happens without my realizing it. I look and something has been added which is just what I need, but I don't remember when it was added.

When it is time to start work, I look at everything in the pot, sort, arrange, think about character and story line. Most of this part of the work is done consciously, but then there comes a moment of unself-consciousness, of letting go and serving the work.

Unique isn't the Same as Good

One thing I love about So You Think You Can Dance is how similar the audition process is to querying a novel. It's got everything: the people who are okay but just not strong enough, the wackos who may or may not have stepped into the wrong theater, the ones who think they're awesome but aren't, the dancers who are good enough for Vegas (I'd call that a full request), and the very very few who make it all the way to the Top 20.

Much like agents, the judges say they're looking for uniqueness, something that stands out from the average dancer. Unfortunately this has resulted in folks coming in on stilts and roller skates, dressed in drag or weird unitards made by someone's mother. Yes, these are unique, and they do stand out, but not in the way the auditionees hoped.

The writing equivalent might be a query written in first person, a literary graphic novel about a man trapped in a white room, or a query about unicorn/bovine romance written in verse. Unique, maybe. But totally weird and not what most people are looking for.

So don't use gimmicks to make your work stand out. Learn the craft, get critiqued, and write the best dang novel you can. Then let it stand out for itself. Remember:

Just because you are unique does not mean you are useful.

Plan a Novel 4: Outlining and (sigh) Pantsing

There is a very, very fine line between plotters and pantsers (i.e. those who write "by the seat of their pants").* At some point, everyone has to just buckle down and make up a bunch of crap. The primary difference between these two extremes of writers is that when pantsers wing it they end up with a draft, while plotters end up with an outline.

Both of them still have a lot of work to do.

* For the record, I hate the term pantser. It reminds me of Jr. High and a desire to wear too-tight belts for "security reasons." But since I'm not a panster, and since I've never heard a better a term for them, that's the one we're rolling with.

Anyway, this is where my method starts to look like pantsing (gah, seriously, there's GOT to be a better term). I chose the idea, figured out the major plot points, fleshed it out (and worked through all the sticking points), now I'm ready to congeal my notes and outlines into Something I Can Write From.

For me, that's a chapter outline, but don't worry, the chapters come last.

I do a lot of bouncing between documents, but always revolving around my outline. Sometimes I'll jump out and write a quick doc (I think better typing random lists in a text or Word doc, but that's just me) on some aspect of world history or character backstory, or maybe a single character arc, action scene, or point of motivation. Once I've figured it out, I'll jump back into my outline, add the necessary details, and move on.

For example, in my current WIP I had to come up with a whole game to revolve a third of the plot around. I wrote a doc outlining every scene dealing with the main romance (or what passes for romance, anyway; there were only 7 mini-scenes). I brainstormed two or three docs to figure out the tactics of the climactic siege (I may have gone overboard there, it was kinda fun).

I also cheat. Technically a plotter is supposed to plan the whole thing ahead of time before they write, right? Well, I have a Word doc for those scenes I just have to get out of my head right now. I don't go into great detail with any of them. Often it reads like a crappy screenplay -- a little stage direction and a lot of dialog. Heck, sometimes the "scene" is one clever line (or what I think is clever at the time).

But writing it in its own document helps shut up my inner editor and frees me to use it or not when the time comes.

So you see, even the staunchest plotter can end up leaving gaps, writing things out of order, and making stuff up as I go. But I don't think it matters how you put together a novel, so long as you end up with a novel at the end.

What about you? Where are you on the spectrum of plotter to pantser? And what the heck can we call it other than pantsing? Please!

Three Things to Remember About Rejection

Have I talked about rejection enough? No? Good, I'm glad you agree (geez, you'd think I was querying a novel or something).

So that first post had some practical tips on what to do once rejection hits. But my the problem is, in that moment you realize what you're reading is a rejection, you don't actually feel like doing any of those things. There's no easy way around this, much as I'd like to think there could be. It just fricking hurts.

But after having gone through it so many times, I find myself repeating some of the same things. Sometimes they even help.
  1. The pain will go away. No matter how many times I've been rejected, no matter how much it hurt or how strongly I believed I would never get over it, I always did. I'm pretty sure that means I always will.
  2. It's not you, it's them. Rejection doesn't mean you suck. (I mean, it could, but you can't know that from a single form letter, and certainly if it was a manuscript that was rejected, it means the agent/editor saw something they liked.) The only thing you can know from a rejection is that it wasn't right for them.
  3. It's the internet's fault. Turn it off. The rejection isn't the internet's fault, but sometimes it makes the pain last longer. All those happy people retweeting new book covers and happy things their agent did that day. I love these people, but right after I get rejected is not the time I want to celebrate with them.
Is there anything you tell yourself when you get a rejection? Seriously, I want tips!