The 300 page milestone of the first draft of my Homicidal Tendencies novel has been a long time coming. The fine summer weather is only partly to blame.
I’ve also fallen into the trap of trying to perfect the first draft. At least I’m aware of the problem. Part of this issue is caused by character behaviors that change the story. Changes in the current chapter can change both the past and future of the story. The temptation to do some re-writing can be strong. More about this below.
The third hold up is that I want to keep posting articles on my blogs. I’m determined to work out how to become a prolific writer without also becoming a pulp writer. Practice is the only way.
While something seems to have gone off track in the hard slog through the last 50 pages of my first draft, I’ve still learned a few things.
The Story is Alive
Just because a character earns their living as a criminal doesn’t mean they are all bad. Most criminals aren’t full blown sociopaths. And the good characters aren’t saints. People behave in ways that don’t fit the stereotype of the roll they play in life. This is especially true of the important characters in a story. Since even bad people want to feel good about themselves and good people have limits to how far they can be pushed, characters will act in ways that throw off the plot.
As the players act, their character traits become established. Sometimes this means they can’t act in ways that were planned for future chapters. The synopses for those chapters changes and the story will be a little different. Also, some earlier chapters will need to change.
Changes before the current chapter can’t be done in the first draft. It must keep moving forward or it will never get written. It stands to reason that changes in future chapters should be made. Visualizing the new chapters takes time. Conversely, failing to visualize the new chapters causes them to fail for background and context. The only reasonable solution seems to be visualizing as much as possible while continuing to write. It can be brought fully to life in the revisions.
Am I taking too long to write the first draft? There isn’t any time limit. Publishers don’t ask how long it took to write a book. Part of the reason it’s slowing down is because I thought a lot about the story before I began. I was able to picture the entire book in my head and the early writing was fast. As the story has gone ahead, characters have changed, deaths have created job openings filled by new characters, and the plot has changed. Maybe this is why experienced authors say to crank out the first draft at high speed. Careful writing gives one dimensional characters time to become three dimensional and mess up the story.
I’m wondering now if I’ll be happy with this novel. Will I want to skip publishing it and write the next one instead? I’m definitely learning something here and I’m definitely going to take it through to the final draft.
On the side of more technical lessons learned, I’ve continued reading about how to format a manuscript. Formatting guidelines are mostly the same for every publisher. One detail that was bugging me was how to estimate word count. The story on that is clear now. Before word processors, it was common to estimate word count by calculating 250 times the number of pages. Now it is more common to use the word processor word count.
If I go by the word processor word count, I’ll hit 100,000 words at 500 pages double-spaced. I’ve hit about 60,000 words at 300 pages. If a publisher prefers the 250 words per page estimate, I’ll have 125,000 words. If that’s too long for a first novel, there are other publishers.
I’ve written a short article on manuscript formatting and will try to get it posted soon.
The writing experiments are something else. I don’t always learn my lesson. I’m plagued by perfectionism, but I’m working on it. Maybe I should make a big poster saying “Write Faster” or “Revise Faster”. But, I want to be a good writer, one worth reading. There must be some key concept to produce both good and fast. Maybe, write and revise fast, and don’t release a work until it’s also good.
Article by Ivan Izo.