As I start writing a new book (and what a proclamation!) I struggle with how to proceed. To my previous point, at first there is a period where I wonder – am I writing a new book? This might be just a chapter or two and that’s it. But 17,000 words and six chapters in, I think, just about, though I still hesitate, to say I am working on a new book.
And how to work on it?
Last fall I started it by workshopping the first two chapters at a Sackett Street Writers class in Park Slope. Especially in the early draft stages, I have come to crave feedback from writers only. In that class, I found just what I needed: clear critique guidelines and feedback from fellow writers who know the struggle, the horror, the joy of writing. After reading two writing selections before class, we come prepared with typed notes, and then all give feedback along with the teacher. The thing is, in this situation, after getting feedback, I love to edit. I love to tinker, erase, expand, meddle. And so I did. From October until January of this year I wrote, rewrote, put it away, watched 60 Minutes and too many episodes of 48 Hours, read lots of books, and rewrote again. I signed up for another class with the same teacher that starts in March and planned on working on the next few chapters there. In the meantime, I sent the revised three chapters to my teacher to take a peek before class began.
Then I remembered something my teacher said. And saw one of those silly quote things on Facebook. Here it is.
Check out Johnny Boy’s rec there in #2. WRITE FREELY AND AS RAPIDLY AS POSSIBLE…REWRITE IN PROCESS IS USUALLY FOUND TO BE AN EXCUSE FOR NOT GOING ON. I wrote that in caps because it was how I received it when I read it. LOUD AND CLEAR. Now, my teacher had said similar things to me. Keep going. Get a draft down. Edit later. Get to the end. Jen, can you hear me? Hello?
Having been in writers groups, I have seen other writers do this very thing – keep writing, bring in new material each time, and rarely revising. I think a part of me thought, sorry to be so frank, but that it was lazy. Now, I’m feeling differently.
First off, the beginning of a book is a beast. Often when I work on projects for BookHive, this is what the beta readers point out: that the first ten pages didn’t hook them. It’s damn hard to write a clear, evocative beginning that provides enough character/world building, while not spoon feeding/info dumping the reader. Beyond the first ten pages, you are introducing other characters, further asking the central question of the book, trying to hook, hook, hook your readers. The whole book will need to be rewritten many times, but I would argue the beginning is something very critical which might take more attention.
Also, as a sometimes unaware perfectionist, when I get notes, I RUN for the red pen. Fix, tinker, meddle, until I edit myself into a hole which I can’t escape. I started to wonder, will I get beyond chapter three? Will I? Is this a book? Or just 35 pages?
Something happened after I read the Steinbeck wisdom and remembered my teacher’s advice. In regards to the heavily revised first three chapters which I sent to my teacher, I told her mostly that I wanted her to be up to speed on my progress for the start of class. So she would know the changes I had made when I presented chapter four. Beyond that, I was going to hold the notes, and keep going. But…could I really keep my own promise and not edit?
I did. Actually, I didn’t feel like editing the first three chapters. She brought up lots of good points, many which I will address. But I really do need to keep going, to know who the hell my characters end up becoming. Then I’ll be ready to look at the beginning, piece through the chapters of the whole thing, see what needs to be fixed. I think, for me, it was knowing that editing that much early on really wasn’t that helpful after all.
I’m on chapter six now, and just wrote four new pages tonight. I had a hope/dream/goal to finish a first draft of the whole bloody thing by July. Back when I was editing the first 35 pages relentlessly, I wondered if I would finish the draft by July. I started to seriously doubt it. Now, pushing through, I think there’s a chance I just might.
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Jennifer Bowen, QueenBee (more fun than CEO) of BookHive is a lover of writing, research, cooking, her husband, and her cat Miu Miu.