Rewrites, Edits, and Beta-Readers – An Update

Most of you probably know that I recently finished the first draft of my New Adult Urban Fantasy Adventure Novel. As of right now, I’m also about 1/4 of the way through the rewrite for Draft 2. This project has taken a lot more time than I thought it was going to need, but I’ve learned so much from it, that I wouldn’t trade the last few months for anything. You see, I’ve written a book in the past. I’ve even tried to convince myself that I was editing it, when I was really just slapping it around and calling myself horrible names. This book, though, has been a very, very different experience.

It started as a wriggly thought-worm in the back of my head years and years ago. I kept telling myself, or anyone that cornered me about my writing, that this was the project I was working on. Up until about October of this year, though, working on it meant ignoring the thought that kept creeping into my brain space in favor of eating something cooked in a microwave and crying myself to sleep during a marathon viewing of Castle.

When October came around, and I saw NaNoWriMo on the horizon, I started to get a panicky feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t know for sure what I was going to do. I knew I had to try to put something together. I failed in 2012, and it felt like shit after the victory of 2011. I didn’t want to get kicked in the balls by my own self-doubt again. I needed a game plan. The problem was, I was still transitioning into a new life, thousands of miles from my home town, friends, and the majority of my family. My brain was pretty much exhausted and unwilling to create something easy.

In my intense desperation, I turned to that old, stale, abused idea.

The Tale of Draft 1

I spent most of October fleshing out characters and putting together a rudimentary storyline. The storyline was ultimately the difference between a finished draft and hiding from society in a pile of my own shame. I know there are a metric dick-ton of writers out there that hate the idea of using an outline, preferring to just sit down and write at their computers until they have the finished draft.

This is what I learned about outlining from this book:

If the writer is telling you they don’t outline, they are a dirty, fucking liar.

I refuse to believe that even the truly great writers get everything exactly right on the first pass. I’ve read a lot of books that were pushed to me after draft one. The author thought they were complete. The author was wrong. First drafts are often called “Brain Vomit” or some other iteration of that idea for a reason. That said, I want to tell you a little about how my outlining process works.

I didn’t sit down and crate a document that said:

  1. Chapter 1
  1. Scene 1
  1. Blah, blah blah
  • Scene 2
  1. Blah Blah Blah
  • Chapter 2
  1. Scene 1…
  2. etc.

I started writing a really basic draft 0.5 of the book. What I wrote came out more along the lines of:

Chapter 1 —

Terry and Gabriel are at the broken bridge. Gabriel performs a cleansing ritual while Terry watches. Terry talks to the lake hag, then fights with Carrie. After Gabriel finishes the cleansing, they leave.

This is the actual Chapter 1 entry for my book. I was trying to make an outline that was just scene-by-scene. It didn’t end up being that, though.

Somewhere around chapter 12, the short descriptions became more like Wikipedia entries for each chapter. They were 300-500 words.

By Chapter 20, I was more or less writing really crappy half-chapters, which is to say that I was writing the chapters with no description and in the wrong tense, but they were in the 1000 word range.1

I suppose in a way, you could say that my outline became a half-draft that way. I think of it as an outline anyway. Very little of the actual wording from those early summaries made it into the first draft, and even less is left in draft 2.

My point is that it wasn’t a mechanical, dry process. Sure, there are writers that start with the point-by-point. There are writers that start with a forced first draft.

That first draft is still their outline for draft 2, draft 3, draft 4, and so on.

This system gave me a finished storyline following the cause and effect chain from top to bottom. If you wanted to read it it would read something like the world’s second shittiest 15,000 word novella. There is no writing as bad as Christian Humber Reloaded, a fact that I take enormous comfort and solace in.

I wrote the outline, and most of draft 1 on my Kindle Fire using xWriter Pro.  When it was, well, about 85% done, I imported those files into Scrivener and finished up. I hit my 50,000 words easily by the end of November, but I didn’t actually finish draft 1 of the book until earlier this month. I think there is an important lesson there, as well. 50,000 words took 4 weeks to write, the last 25,000 took six.

No wonder draft 2 is taking so much work.

Beta Readers

I exported draft 1 as rtf and pdf files and sent them to my beta readers. That would be my dad, brother, aunt and former RoomLord. My aunt was the first one to finish reading draft 1, bless her soul. My dad finished last night. My brother and RoomLord haven’t even started reading it to my knowledge. They’re probably the best off of the group. Since they hadn’t started reading yet, they ended up getting a copy of draft 1.5 (draft 1 with the draft 2 changes I’ve already done).

My dad finished reading draft 1, and his comments are spawning this blog post. Well, that and procrastination, of course. You didn’t think I’d become some sort of productive adult from one book, did you?

My dad had some really great points about the plot of my book. He really enjoyed the characters and the story, but I had made a classic “Gary Stew” mistake with the protagonist that left the ending feeling less satisfying than it should have been. Part of it was things I’d already noticed and had in my notes to correct. Part of it was completely new to me. Both were really good points, though.

That’s what beta-readers are for, ultimately. They’re not proof-readers. Well, unless they’re also proof-readers.

My dad gave me a total of four notes, but they were huge notes. My aunt gave me 2 small notes. It’s a lot easier to work her notes in draft 2, but those little changes will make the final project a lot better, I think. I hope. If not, screw it. I did my best there.

Draft 2 –

Some authors write a clean first draft. I have a suspicion that it is a learned skill. My first draft is dirty, dirty, dirty. This means that my draft 2 is basically a rewrite, and I’m okay with that. I have some good ideas on what to focus on in the actual writing, and my own voice is coming through much more clearly than it was in draft 1. I understand the tone of the story better now.

Those are all artistic flares that have less to do with the technical aspect of writing than most draft 2 gets. I don’t know if it means I’m going to need a draft 3 or not, yet. Last night I printed off draft 1.5 and listened to Kindle’s text-to-speech read it out loud while I followed along on my page. I had a lot of technical mistakes and polish, but not as much as I thought I would (in the sections that are fully draft 2). I might not need as big a rewrite for draft 3. That’s an exciting feeling.

Also, It gave me a sense that maybe, just maybe, I’m okay at this writing thing. It wasn’t as suck as I thought it was going to be. That’s a big win in my mind.

So, anyway, a huge THANK YOU to my beta-readers for their input so far. I hope that I’m not driving them insane just yet.

I better get back to work now. I’ve got 3/4 of a book to rewrite, you know. There are people waiting on it.

Would you like updates on the book’s progress? Want a chance to get your hands on a review copy? Maybe you’d just like to hear from me weekly? Then go here!


1 – Side Note: Something I learned about myself – I didn’t set out to do it by any means, but it turns out I tend to write chapters in at around 1850 words. Just a thing I noticed. It doesn’t mean anything. Carry on.