What panics a writer more than the daunting idea of writing a full manuscript to the “Done” stage?
#2 of the 3 stages of a manuscript – for writers who want to actually finish something – and for readers who want to know why writers are crazy.
In recent conversations with writer friends, I’ve described a working mantra that helps me get over my mental impediments and get a manuscript or short story to THE END.
The mantra is: “Done; Right; Good.”
It goes a long way to alleviating some of the stress and hangups of the malady Writophrenia.
What’s the deal with “right”?
What panics a writer more than the daunting idea of writing a full manuscript to the “Done” stage? Worry over getting the book “right” to avoid mistakes and embarrassment.
This may be a vestigial neurosis of our school days, when getting an “A” was the goal. “A” means that everything we did with that paper, test, book report, spelling quiz, etc. was 100% correct – according to someone else’s rules.
So, there’s a “right” way and a “wr0ng” way to do things – including writing your book or short story, right?
WRONG! Well, wrong and right.
First the WRONG:
When I set out to write my first manuscript (still in the drawer, but a great learning experience) I hid it from everyone. I didn’t know if I would be any good at writing or if I would ever get anywhere near finished.
About three months in, when I discovered that I really enjoyed writing and thought what was showing up on the page was decent, I told my wife what I’d really been up to those late nights in the den with the computer on.
She’s a good writer – a career journalist – and her opinion really matters to me. I told her one of my worries was that I didn’t know the rules for writing. In other words, I wanted to make sure I was “doing it right.”
She said, “There are no rules. You just write.”
Great answer for a creative-tempered guy like me. She’s a keeper!
Her words took a load off and freed me up to write the book the best way I could with what I had at the time and get it to Stage 1 – Done. In that sense: No, there is no “wrong” way to write a book. So, I’ve just taken away one of your writophrenic excuses for not proceeding with your manuscript. Sorry.
If you’ve read the post on Stage 1: Done, you know that there are simply no excuses for not sitting down and plowing through to THE END of you manuscript. You’re going to suck at first – we all do – and that’s OK. The first draft may be dreadful (probably won’t be that bad) but at least you’ll have a manuscript, which will distinguish you from [an unscientific] 90% of people who set out to write a book.
Now the RIGHT – the real Right:
There are some legitimate considerations to keep in mind when you hit Stage 2. Here are few:
Is it right for the Genre?
Audiences have expectations. Stories within a given genre have specific elements that must be included. As the author, you are obligated to deliver on the genre promise. Think, for example, of a movie trailer that makes the film look like one thing then you watch it and it’s something else. Bummer, right?
If you’re writing for a specific genre then you’re probably a fan and reader of that type of story. You may or may not be sharply tuned in to the crucial elements. Some of us don’t notice them until we start writing and ask, “Wait. Why isn’t this story working? It should be easy for me to write this stuff!”
But the good news is that many writers and reader/critics have deeply analyzed their genres and have codified the elements in books and articles. Find out what the requirements are and make sure they’re included in your story.
If what you’re writing is not right for the genre you love or your intended audience, then you’ll need to adjust the story or switch genres.
Are the Facts right?
This is a step that blasts many writers out of the process before we even get started on a story – research, research, research, facts, facts, facts! We get so compulsive about it that it destroys our ability to get our first draft done.
WARNING: research can actually be counterproductive when done inefficiently, obsessively, or at the wrong time.
Author Steven Pressfield, in his great books for creatives, “The War of Art” and “Do the Work” sets a limit of 3 books for research before starting your manuscript – no more. This is because the obsession with getting it “right” the first time around blocks our creativity and flow – you know, the part of writing that actually gets the writing done.
Stage 2 is where I start to concern myself with facts, figures, dates, addresses, trash bin colors, etc. Now that I have a finished manuscript to work with, I can go nuts with the facts.
[One caution here: Allow close enough to be good enough. Don’t be lazy – do your very best – but don’t stop a project from going to Stage 3 and ultimately out the door by locking it into a research loop that you never leave. You will make mistakes, but it’s better than having no book to show because of fear of the details.]
Is it right for its Universe?
I borrow the term universe from the comic book world. It means the world, realm, reality that your characters live in and where your story takes place. This may or may not be your fantasy universe where the sky is purple and people walk on their ears. It might be a plastic surgeon’s office or the world’s deepest cavern.
I might want flying attack pigs using voice-activated lasers for my story, but I don’t get to have them if my universe is a realistic 1928 pre-crash Wall Street.
A minor example of this that annoyed me was a book by a writer whose series I really liked. In this murder mystery set in the late-1970’s/early-80’s, a crucial clue to the resolution was a digital date stamp on snapshots taken by one of the characters. I – and the author – are old enough to know that those digital date stamps weren’t common on consumer cameras until the late-80’s at the earliest. It was a huge disappointment to me as a reader and I felt kind of ripped off by the writer’s lack of research.
Wherever your story is set, you need to make sure that your characters act, and your plot progresses, and your technology works, and your wisdom is correct within the rules, limitations, and possibilities of the world you’ve chosen. You’re the writer – it’s your job.
Is the Story Structure right?
This is a topic I’ve been digging into quite a bit with my own writing lately – one, I’ll admit, I haven’t gotten quite right in all of my work yet. I will post more later on story structure because it’s a big and important topic for those of us living with writophrenia.
Simply put, there are classic (and, I suppose, modern) story structures that are standards in the storytelling world – novels, theater, film, TV, oral storytelling, etc. The writer has an obligation to understand the structures they intend to use and apply them properly and completely.
When story structure is ignored due to laziness, ego, inexperience, petulance (all of these affect us creatives), then the reader is left unfulfilled. Don’t complain that no one is buying or reading your books if you don’t fulfill your obligation to them. (Been there, done that.)
Is the Grammar, Punctuation, Sentence Structure, and Vocabulary right – for your style?
Here’s a callback to the “no rules” lesson above. Sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, vocabulary – including slang – should be correct for your style and the universe of the story.
I hear a lot of people say they want to write a book but never could because they weren’t good at grammar in school. Is this just a cover-up for fear or is it a legitimate worry for a creatively minded person? Either way, it doesn’t matter, because in Stage 2, you get to fix it or not fix it based on the needs and nature of the story. Don’t worry about it during the first draft. You’ll get to it now. Further down the road a good editor will have a say in it, too.
I’m tired and I have to get back to work.
So, those are some basics that demonstrate Stage 2: Right. It’s by no means a complete list, but hopefully it’s a starter that can help you proceed. You’re smart, you get the idea.
Now, I have to get back to work on my manuscript. I appreciate getting to burn some time with you – and I’m really starting to enjoy the fact that, for me, getting a break from writing means a different kind of writing. Pretty cool.
Next week we’ll circle the chairs and talk about Stage 3: Good.
Now, here’s the cheese on this Brain Burger.
3 benefits of waiting until Stage 2 to make your manuscript Right:
- No one can tell you it’s wrong – Everheart said so!
- If you’re stupid enough to try writing anyway, you’ll need the extra time to study up.
- You can indeed include flying attack pigs using voice-activated lasers in every first draft – just for fun.
SPREAD THE CONSPIRACY – GET “THE DELPHI DECEPTION: BOOK II OF THE DELPHI TRILOGY” NOW!
THE DELPHI REVELATION: Book III of The Delphi Trilogy available October 2014!