A few months ago, I wrote a post about the struggles of living in Las Vegas without a car. The bad news is, I still don’t have a car. But the good news is, you get to hear more about my silly struggles. Yay!
First of all, let me explain, because I’m sure many of you are wondering why a young, intelligent person couldn’t get herself a car within 6 months. Well, the answer is simple, I spent the money I saved and went to New York City. Twice.
I know, I know, I’m sorry okay? I just couldn’t help it! I mean look at this place.
It had been my dream to visit New York City since I was a five year old, especially in the fall season. Actually, I also wanted to visit it during Christmas but I was able to control myself and not go. Well, my account did all the controlling for me… So anyway, I chose to fuel my soul and cross something off my bucket list instead of comfort and crossing something else off my bucket kist. And believe me, I don’t regret it one bit.
I didn’t regret it when an old man pissed his pants while sitting next to me on the bench of the bus stop then got on the bus and took a seat. I didn’t regret it when I spent over a $200 in Uber rides last month because we have that in Las Vegas now and it’s making me lazy. I didn’t regret it when I waited for thirty minutes for the bus to arrive in the dead cold and got sick for two weeks. And I’m not going to regret it now that I feel like a burden to all my friends because they have to pick me up and drop me off whenever we need to go out.
Does it vex me that I have to leave my house at least at hour ahead of time to get anywhere where it would take me 10 minutes to get there with a car? Does it drive me insane that whenever I’m on time the bus arrives early and I miss and then the next bus is late? Does it trouble me that I have to walk home many times because I can get there quicker than if I take a bus? Yes. Yes. And not so much now, but Vegas summer is right around the corner… But the point is, I have a plan. Of course, I had a plan six months ago, so don’t mind me, I may just be back in a few months to tell you how it all went wrong again.
Until then, keep me in your thoughts and prayers whenever you get into your car in the morning and turn your heaters on. Let me be your gentle reminder not to take anything for granted.
Congratulations of finishing your first draft, I know it probably took you a long time and a humongous effort to get here. And if this is your first time, you’re probably asking yourself, what’s next? What do I do now that the first draft is complete? The brief answer of course is edit. But it’s a little more complicated than it sounds.
First, it’s important to note that if you have just finished writing your book, the best thing to do is not to edit at all. Set it aside for a few weeks, let it out of your head completely. It will give you a fresh set of eyes when you get back to it later. The second thing you need to remember is that hard work only just begins now and that editing is a painstaking and redundant process, but, hey, it’s worth it, trust me.
I used to hate editing. In fact, the only novel of mine that I actually got around to editing thoroughly was my last one. I have edited that book over 15 times already, and once with the help of a professional editor. Here’s how I did it—and this is a compilation of advice I read or heard as well as thing I learned along the way.
Before you correct anything, and I mean anything at all, first read your book all the way through. Read it in one sitting if you could—I think I read that one in Stephen King’s On Writing. That way you can pay more attention to the holes in your plot. Make notes of these and correct them on the first round of edits.
On the second round of edits, I like to pay attention to characterization. Do any of my characters speak or act differently than they are supposed to? Did I mention that one character’s eyes are green then changed it to blue?
Look out for discrepancies like that. Keep a journal of your character’s descriptions and refer to it whenever that characters shows on the page.
On the third round, you can start paying closer attention to sentence structure and the flow of words. It’s a good idea to pay attention to the tone as well. Often times, our tone of writing reflects our mood on certain days. So if you were writing a murder mystery on a joyous day, you may detect—and the reader sure will—a change in tonality. The third round of edits is a good time to fix that.
It’s a good idea to have a trusted friend to read your work and share their opinions with you. Having someone who would critique your story, its structure, flow, characterization, plot, and spot those evasive typos will be very helpful to make your book much more presentable and professional when time comes for you to submit it.
The next round of edits can be mainly concerned with grammar and typos. Although, many writers suggest to do a full grammar and typo edits after every edit. So, for example, after the first edit where you only fixed plot holes, do a round of edits for typos.
It’s a good idea to let the book sit for a few days between every round of edits. I know it seems like the editing process is going to take too long that way, but that will only make it so much better. I actually found out that the editing process takes much longer than the writing process. With my latest novel it took me only thirty days to finish the first draft, but I have been editing this book for almost a year now. I have edited that book over a dozen times and I still feel that I have more things to fix.
To help me feel more confident about my writing, I hired a friend and a professional editor, Esther Newton, to give me an honest and professional critique. I recommend her, and the idea of hiring a professional editor to any writer. Don’t worry about the cost. It’s an investment in your career.
Final pieces of advice. Be ruthless and objective. Don’t think of the book as your own. Think that it belongs to a complete stranger. Don’t be afraid of the words “Cut” and “Delete”, in editing, they could be your best friends. Also, now that you actually finished your book, you can worry about what people would think of it. Read it out loud and imagine the reaction of your most judgmental family member as you utter every sentence. This could be bad, depending on how dysfunctional your family is. But generally, it would help you cut a ton of clichés you weren’t even aware of before.
Reading out loud is a good idea anyway, especially when it comes to dialogue. It will helps you hear the character’s voice clearer, and therefore adjust any discrepancies. Also, it will help make your characters sound more authentic.
There will be a time, however, when you’ll need to stop editing and trust that this is your finished project. Well, until an agent picks it up and suggests a few changes, then an editor picks it up and suggests a few of their own. But until then, enjoy the process and all that you will learn from it. Personally, I felt that editing my book helped me learn more about becoming a better writer than writing the book did.
What are some pieces of advice you can share about editing a novel?
Photos aren’t mine unless otherwise stated.
Just throwing some lighthearted, writer-related humor your way. How is everybody doing today? Follow me on Twitter: @MissBenison
As I mentioned in earlier posts, I recently managed to write a novel in one month. To this day, it surprises me. Before that, it used to take me three to six months to write 50K words. The first draft of that novel was completed at 78K. Every night I would go to bed both satisfied and incredulous about the progress I was making. And now I want to share my process with you.
- The Story
Say what you will about prolific writers, but they can’t get anything done before they find their story. Here’s a little anecdote about mine. I was lying sleepless in bed at 2:00 a.m., I had finished writing a novel a few days before, and I was homesick and plunging into depression when a tiny idea for a twitter post came to mind. It was simple and funny and I was about to post it when another thought struck me: “What if this thing is worth money?”
So I started taking notes and, needless to say, I lost sleep over that idea. The next day, I wrote a bit about it thinking that it would be a nice short story. It proved to have more substance, and I thought that I could turn it into a short story collection. But once I hit 3,000 words and it seemed that the story was far from over, I realized that the short tale was bound to become a novel. And a couple of chapters later, the novel became a book series. Obviously, I was very excited about this, which brings me to the second point.
- The Passion
A few thousand words into the book, it became clear to me that the world I was creating was very similar to the one I lived in. The idea was so organic to me and it fed off of parts of my life I was afraid to talk about. Which reminds me, that was a time when I tried to write my memoir. Yeah, I don’t know if you remember me talking about those, but I failed to finish them. Too much pain. When I translated that pain into fiction, however, words flowed, worlds were created, and pain began to heal.
This book gave me a reason to wake up in the morning and kept me up at night. I had to stop myself from writing because I wanted to conserve my energy for the next day. There was a time when I finished my writing day when my main character was in an uncomfortable situation and spent the rest of my evening blaming myself for leaving him there. It was the most passionate I had ever been about anything. But passion alone is not enough.
- The Commitment
Now we can start talking numbers. Once I realized that I was writing a novel, I noticed that I was writing a considerable number of words every day. I always thought that 2,000 words a day was ideal. But I noticed that I was writing much more. So I bumped my daily goal to 3,000. I wasn’t set out to finishing the book in one month. Honestly, I had skipped too many NaNoWriMo‘s because I didn’t want the pressure. Nevertheless, the prospect was exciting. So I made a schedule comfortable for me.
Everyday, I would wake up around 7:00 a.m., make coffee and start writing. I would get hungry around 9:00 and have breakfast then carry on with writing. By 12:00 a.m. most day, I had a 2,000 words written. I took a break for an hour or two, made lunch and sometimes extended my break for a few more hours to read or take notes. Then, I wrote some more until I reached 3,000 words. Then, I stopped.
On average, I was finishing a chapter every two or three days. I started on December 4th, and by January 4th, I was done. It was not easy, even though I make it sound such. But it made me happy which made it easier for me to commit. I had to give up a lot of things for the sake of finishing the project sooner. I stopped going to the gym for instance, I stopped watching TV because I had no more time, I even started reading less because by the time I was done writing I was too exhausted to do anything else. My schedule was brutal, and I managed to stick to it most days. But there were certain days when I wasn’t as lucky, which brings me to the next point.
- The Break
One thing people forget to learn about commitment is learning when to stop. And I’m not just talking about breaks within the day. Yes, somewhere along the way, I had created for myself an invisible, nagging boss with a strict deadline. Yes, I was enjoying writing and the task was not arduous at all. Yes, after getting used to it, 3,000 words a day became normal to me. However, I had my days as well. I stayed at home for an entire month, hands on keyboard, eyes on screen, mind occupied with people and places. Albeit those places and people provided me with an escape and solace; sometimes, however, I needed my break from them too. So I took it.
On the days I felt I had no energy or desire to write, I didn’t. This may not sound like the best idea, but when I was averaging 18K week, I let myself get away with writing no more than 200 words on certain days. There was a day when I wrote only 50 words. I had received some emotional news on that day that rendered me useless.
On days I took breaks, I went to the gym. I would advise other writers to stay active more often than I did, go out in nature and find a quiet place where they can reflect and relax without being too distracted. Also, I didn’t punish myself on the next day and I didn’t put pressure on myself to compensate for the words I haven’t written. For example, if I wrote 2,000 words on one day, I did not force myself to write 4,000 on the next. I simply stuck to my 3,000 words-a-day goal.
- The Focus
With this project, I took it day by day. Every night when I was done, I would praise myself for writing what I wrote and think about what would happen next. When a plot point revealed itself to me, I rejoiced. I was obsessed with the project. When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about the characters, what they were doing and what would happen to them next in that book and in other books to come.
This was a prophylactic measure I didn’t know I was taking against writer’s block. When I was constantly thinking about the story, I knew exactly what to write the next day, and the only thing that I needed was to focus. Social media was banned. So was anything else distracting. Reaching me over the phone became impossible, having a conversation with me before 9:00 p.m. was out of the question. I was immersed in the story all day, every day. And it was the only way I could’ve finished it.
- The End
Another thing I did to keep me motivated was to reward myself. Sure the biggest reward came when I finished the book, but between every 25K I found myself rejoicing and allowed myself some room to celebrate. I actually didn’t realize that I was going to finish the book on the day I finished it. I thought it would take me a few more days but the story came to an end and surprised even me. It brought me to tears. The book made me cry many times actually but this was one of the most tearful moments. It was as though all of a sudden, all the efforts and emotions culminated and boiled inside my heart. I couldn’t fight the tears then. But surely after that I was fine and dried my cheeks with pizza and wine, metaphorically of course.
I know that it is very difficult for people who have jobs and responsibilities to follow this formula. I was fortunate enough to be unemployed at that time. Believe me, a book a month is not an average for me; I’ve been working on the sequel for that book for months and I still haven’t hit 20K. I’m sure, however, that if I followed that same formula and had the same levels of focus and dedication that I will be able to finish this new novel within an approximate time frame.
The first draft of my book was done at 78K. I knew the journey was far from over, but a major part of it was. Not only was this book the one I finished fastest, it was also the only one I edited and the one I’m most proud of now. I am happy to have shared this story with you and can only hope that one day a random reader will feel for this book a fraction of the emotion and passion I’ve put into it.
What was the fastest it ever took you to write a novel? And do you think that if you followed my method that you could finish your novel quicker?
[Photos aren’t mine unless otherwise mentioned]
For those of you who do not know me, allow me to introduce myself. I’m a 25 year-old girl, born in Ukraine, raised in Lebanon and currently live in the United States. It’s amazing how I ended up here, incredulous even. A major event pushed me to go, but a series of minor, seemingly inconsequential incidents made it all possible. I couldn’t be more proud of where I am today. After all, since the age of seven, it has been my dream to come to the States and become a writer. I’m living my lifelong dream, or getting there. But things were not easy for me even after I got here.
I came to the US with very little savings, I didn’t know anybody, and had no paying job. I faced challenged with my paperwork, I was homesick, I had no friends, and above all else, I was living in a very tight apartment in a bad neighborhood. But in spite of all that, I was able to write. I wrote a novel start to finish (amongst other things). And here’s how I did it.
1. Let My Decision Ignite Me
Before I moved to the US, I had a nice, private space set up for writing: a wooden desk facing the window, a comfortable chair, organized drawers and the company of furry, purring creatures. When I moved here, it was nothing like that. The room was messy, I had no privacy, the foldable table hurt my knees so I had to get rid of it, the chair hurt my behind so I had to resort to sitting on the bed, and I couldn’t even open the windows for fear that somebody would break into the apartment if they saw a laptop.
They say that every success begins with a decision to try. This is something I always keep in mind whenever I face a new challenge or embark on a new journey. Needless to say, I was living outside my comfort zone. But I knew that if I didn’t write, if I didn’t at least try, then I would have come all the way across the world for nothing. So the decision was made.
2. I Made a Plan to Guide Me
To be honest, I’m not much of a planner. I never make detailed plans, merely guidelines, and my plans change all the time. So in this case, I also found a compromise between strictness and complete chaos. I made a schedule. I allotted time for writing, gym, food, breaks and set a time to stop writing and just enjoy the rest of my day. There was a daily word-count goal and I reached it most of the time. But I will talk about the steps I took to finishing a novel in one month in a later post.
3. I Let My Passion Drive Me
A decision and a plan are nothing without action. And taking action is demanding, especially when you have to do it on daily or weekly basis. No matter how much you try to change the way you write, the place you write, and the things you’re writing about, there will be a time when you’ll feel stuck in the routine. And nothing gets you out of the routine like the passion to do whatever it is you’re doing.
Fortunately for me, the book I was working on was very dear to my heart—and still is. It was the first thing I thought about when I opened my eyes and the last thing on my mind before I went to bed. So when I started writing early in the morning, I found it difficult to stop. Even when I was exhausted, even when I was stymied, the story was always on my mind. If not writing, I was taking notes, thinking up characters—and characters’ demises. My passion for my book overshadowed all the distress I was going through. And before I knew it, the book was done.
4. I Let My Discomfort Fuel Me
The good thing about discomfort is that it makes us appreciate the things we take for granted. I didn’t have much, but I had more at one point in my life and I thought that I’d never lose it. Now, I know better than to take anything for granted, even the light of day or the freshness of air; it could all be gone in any second. Things can change but then again can we.
Instead of reminiscing over my lovely desk and furry buddies, I started looking ahead to how I wanted my life to be. My goal was to get out of that situation, to start climbing back up after a hard fall. I was not going to let my circumstances decide my output. Instead, I was going to let my output change my circumstances.
5. I Stayed Focused on the Destination
Let’s compare the road to success to the actual road. You can walk the road, crawl, hop on one leg, jog, run, zigzag or even slide sideways, but no matter what you will be doing two things: moving your legs and using your head. And eventually you will realize that all those fancy methods are a waste of time.
Driven by passion and fueled by ordeals, all was left for me was to do the legwork and finish the book. So I sat in a little corner, on an uncomfortable chair, amongst the chaos, in the heat, surrounded by my notebooks and thoughts and I wrote. And when I wrote, all my surroundings faded, all the ghosts of tragedy found the light, and all that was left was the sound of my fingertips dancing on the keyboard.
As you noticed, I used automotive analogies to headline the steps I took, which should tell you that I am still desperately craving a car—more about that soon. Stay tuned for my future posts, I will be talking about my writing experience during a time when I was depressed; I will also tell you how I wrote a novel in 30 days.
I hope my post helped those of you who are trying to write during a tough time. And let’s face it, does life really ever give us a break? What advice do you give fellow writers to help them find motivation?