The Magic Formula

I went to my monthly meeting of the Central Florida Romance Writers. A lovely author who writes as Blair Bancroft gave a workshop on The Wise Author’s Approach to Writing a Book. I gleaned several nuggets of wisdom from the talk, but one thing that really stood out to me is that I still have a lot of work to do on this journey to becoming a successful author.

When the presenter was taking questions, I asked her to repeat what she had said about plots having a flow to them. Well, what I actually said was more like: “You mentioned earlier the different points that an author should hit, like the black moment and so forth. Can you list them again so I can write them down?”

The presenter reiterated how she is not a fan of hard and fast rules for structuring a novel, that we have to do what works for us. The discussion was picked up and the chapter president mentioned Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. She mentioned we have to be prepared to write really crappy first drafts.

I know this. I’ve know this a long time. I’ve had my well noted copy of Bird by Bird for about ten years. I saw Anne Lamott on BookTV discussing writing and immediately went out to purchase her much lauded book on the subject of writing. I devoured the pages of this book in much the same way I had The Art of Fiction. But there’s just something…unsettling about writing a crappy first draft to me.

I’m still struggling with first draft perfectionist syndrome. I want to get it just right before it gets to the page, and it slows me down considerably. I was able to put the perfectionism aside and write Delivering Justice. I tweaked and reworked and polished it to a streak free shine before sending it out into the world–twice. It was roundly rejected both times. The perfectionist in me wants to say that I tried the fast and crappy first draft way and it didn’t work, so I should go back to the way I like to do things, but that way hasn’t worked well for me, either. Nothing ever gets finished. Sigh.

Lately I’ve been focusing on entering a few contests for some feedback on my work. I hate working in a vacuum and feeling like I am groping in the dark, trying to get a hand on something solid. I want to know if I’m moving in the right direction. I have about eight months left before my 30th birthday and my deadline to secure a publishing contract/self-publish a book. I’m wondering if I have it in me to even get close to that now. It seemed perfectly doable when I set the goal. Now I am not so sure. Perhaps I need to expand to other publishers or getting an agent. I’m in deep thought about this.

What tips do you have for getting over my crappy first draft phobia?

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One thought on “The Magic Formula

  1. Your blog post reads as if you took the words right out of my head, except that I’m a lot older than you.

    About the phoba, what I do is I open up a word document and start the blank page with sentences like the following:

    “This is a crappy rough draft. The purpose of this ugly draft is just to get the ideas down. This is not about being perfect, this is about discovering your focus. So my story is about this girl who is a trouble maker and she meets up with this guy at a rest stop who accidently brushed against her when they passed in the isle. She turned around and grabbed him by the elbow to make him face her and when she did she saw that he was sobbing…” PS this is not a real story. I’m just using this as an example so you might be able to see that the words just started to flow. It’s about getting the idea down and the overall plot. It works. Give it a try. The warning is that once you stop for the day. You may lose your mojo. So you have to start fresh each day but don’t go back and re-read what you wrote because it’ll be crap. You’re just going to start again where you left off and continue trying to discover your story/plot/focus. Another tip: You’ll find that you’ll spontaneously come up with lines that you love. When that happens underline them or bold them so you can go back later and pluck them out. One last thing: At this stage I don’t even worry about punctuation or paragraph breaks. I just type. I consider this ‘stream of conscousness’ writing. Think of it as “telling” yourself an interesting story. Don’t worry about any rules. Just start rambling until you think to yourself, okay, I see where this is going. I like this. When you get to the point at the end of the story where you discover what your conclusion is, then you can go back and use the crappy draft as a framework to keep you in line.

    Good luck.

    Well wishes for HHW first page. Mine is iffy but it is a wonderful learning experience.

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