Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sometimes You Have to Laugh

I had to laugh at myself this morning. While reading my manuscript, I came to a spot where I pulled away and thought: What the...?! Now, how did that happen? Then, after I remembered the chain of events, I shook my head and started laughing.

As some of you already know, writing a novel is an evolutionary process. It's a living and growing organism that changes from what you originally thought to what finally forms as the finished project. For those who walk the line without a net (i.e., the non-outliners) writing is a day-to-day path of discovery. Even for those who use a net, the process can sometimes generate a burst of creativity and step off the line. Either way, writing a first draft often leaves an open door, allowing for errors in sentences and plots and scene structures.

As for me, I'm an outliner. I like to make notes and sketch out scenes ahead of time so I know where I'm going. Still, there were points while writing the novel when I had to backtrack and write in additional information. While reading my manuscript this morning, I encountered one such moment where the backtracking didn't work out so well. My protaganist was on a long-distance phone call with a witness when suddenly the writing appeared like the two were side-by-side, looking each other in the eye. Thinking back, I know how it happened. I had a new thought, liked it, and then retraced my steps to add the new information through the dialogue, only to forget which scene I was in, the one where they were on the phone or the one (later in the story) where they were actually sitting at a table in a restaurant.

It's at a moment like this when I am so thankful for the revision process. Ernest Hemingway has been reported as saying, "All first drafts are shit." Going through my manuscript, I have seen plenty of opportunities to clear out the muck. Do I need to chastise myself? Probably, but not too much. After all, it is only the first draft. Now is the time to fix the dumb stuff; and like I mentioned in my last post, my first attempt at a novel certainly shows the need for improvement.

At least I can laugh.

How about you? Did you have moments while reading your first draft where you found yourself laughing? Or maybe you cried instead?

Other News:

While reading through the manuscript, I've been making notes regarding the need for research. Already, I've asked around to visit with certain people and their areas of work. Some scenes demand my physical presence so that I can write the details correctly. When readers finish with my novel, I want them to say, "So that's what west Texas looks like."

Until next time...


  1. Stephen, my first drafts make me want to cry. But I'm ok with that. I like knowing that it's a process. Part of the fun is seeing what I've written develop.


  2. I'll admit, my mistakes (and there are many) were embarrassing at first.

    How could I do that? I can only imagine what my reader must think of me now!

    But then, like you've mentioned, I had to accept it's a process, and writing in flurry in order to keep the juices flowing allows for all those mistakes.

  3. I don't make mistakes, didn't you read my blog post.

    mistakes are creative chances to make an awesome piece of art

    yes I think writing is art, it is a creative thing one must get out

  4. I'm still looking forward to talking with your husband on that one, Paige. :)

    I totally agree with you on the writing is art issue. For me, writing is something I need to do. Not that I have to, like I'm possessed and can't control myself (though some people might argue otherwise), writing is something I'm passionately drawn to.

  5. Papa does cut to the chase, does he not?

    I'm so bad about just letting the writing flow. I'm forever worrying over a word, dialog, scene, making little notes about where I want this to go eventually. It makes revision all the more disappointing because I'll say to myself "geeze, I worked on that FOREVER." (I tend to use words other than "geeze" but I can't find my censor button at the moment).

    Keep plucking that chicken.


  6. John,

    By the "Papa" reference, I assume you mean Hemingway. And yes, his comment does cut to the chase. Looking at all the errors in my manuscript, I couldn't agree with him more.

    I also tend to edit like you. Which is why so many of my short stories have never made it out the door. Frustrating, isn't it?

  7. SydneyJ22985 said: "You can from the outside the United States comment on a flower or a butterfly, but you can not comment on a person..."


    In the United States, we believe in freedom of speech, and that belief has no boundaries. Comment as you please, but just avoid the profane.

  8. I don't know that I've ever laughed or cried over manuscript blunders, but I do have a manuscript that was lost, and man am I glad it is. It was my first novel written around the age of 18 and was a dreadful fantasy, not even good enough to be considered a Tolkien rip off. I can only hope it is rotting away in a landfill somewhere. Please God, may it never resurface. Then I just might cry.

  9. Lucky you, Jon. I often find that I am frustrated, and sometimes I have to laugh, at all the mistakes in first drafts.