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Sunday, June 21, 2009

What I Learned From First Manuscript Crit - Part II

I gave a list yesterday of the top 12 things I’ve learned from my first manuscript critique and the writing process leading up to it. Please note, while I make reference to historical novels in these posts, what I’ve learned applies to any genre of fiction. But I can only speak for historical novels because that's what I've written. 8-)

Fact 1: I must lay out my project timeline VERY carefully

Now maybe other writers have much more flexible brains then mine (yeah, I’m leaving myself wide open with that comment. 8-) ) But I cannot emphasize enough how crucial it is to me to lay out my project timeline with extreme care. I did not do that well with this novel and what a hindrance it has been!

What I have learned is that my flexibility and available time-dragging opportunities lie in the novel pre-planning stages – whatever outlining and research I’m planning to do. But from the moment I start writing the first pages of that novel until the final re-write is done and submitted, I must be brutal and precise in keeping a writing schedule.

Now I don’t mean brutal as in setting word count goals that are impossible to achieve. But what it does mean is that I must:

Write steadily during a given draft
Not allow too much time between drafts.

Yes, it is absolutely crucial to give yourself breathing room between drafts so you can look at your work with a fresh eye, but I have learned if I take more than a month off between drafts, it stops my momentum cold and getting it started again is like turning a hand crank on an old tractor – slow and painful.

Each author has to determine their own acceptable time limits, but for me, it can be no longer than a month.

This has been one of the most difficult aspects of my novel writing journey.

Fact 2: Crafting A Novel Requires Much Layering And Compartmentalizing

I read somewhere that an author goes through an average of about six drafts per novel from inception to publication. I will have been through my novel six times just to do my initial submission of this project to editors and agents! Guess I’m a slow learner.

There is such complexity in the zillion different details that go into crafting a novel. Yes, all the minutiae of the technical aspects of writing are cumbersome to keep track of and weave in, but primarily I’m referring to tracking plots, subplots, continuity issues, research details, and character details. I think this is the single most difficult thing for me – not so much in the first draft, but in subsequent rewrites. Trying to remember how one change in the story affects the various subplots AND the supporting characters. And quite frankly, sometimes you can end up chasing yourself in circles!

The only way I know to deal with the avalanche of details is by layering them in bit by bit, draft by draft. I wish I was smart enough to just read through my manuscript and fix all story and technical problems in one sweep, but unfortunately, I don’t have the skills to do that. I’d probably scare myself if I did. 8-)

I can only hope that with time and experience it will get a bit better.

Tomorrow we'll move on to the next two items.

Have a blessed day in the Lord!

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