Friday, May 18, 2012

The Best Part

I had an interesting discussion on Twitter yesterday (yes, it's possible, doubters!) about which part of book-writing is the best. I was extolling the happiness of first-drafting, and was surprised that every single one of the authors I was talking to strongly preferred revising to the blank page.

Which made me think...WHY? (why do different people like different bits, and why am I loving the first draft?)

If there's one thing I've learned over the past few years, it's that not only are no two writers two BOOKS are alike. The process always twists to the needs of the book. For example, the last book was the first time I'd ever written with a playlist, and used the music as part of my creative process. So I know better than to generalize, even for myself.

But for the last book I wrote and the one I'm writing now, I definitely, definitively love the first draft part of writing. Perhaps unreasonably. For these books, it's like I truly am telling the story to myself, so every day a little piece of the puzzle is revealed. Plot points shift, I'm aware of pacing and larger themes, and I have a whole notebook of where-this-needs-to-go and don't-forget-this and these-are-the-threads-you're-balancing-now (currently, 11 threads! Ha!). But day to day, it's all about the story for me. As my friend Linda Grimes has said, it's like an interactive movie.

Also, in the first draft everything still seems POSSIBLE. Not only for the character, but for the book. It can still be genius, with amazing twists and turns. I'm still at the start of the process, so this is all still just me and the page--I know I will have many chances to go over it and get it right, so now I can play and explore and have fun.

I enjoy doing revision too (I am an editor, after all, in my daily life), and later passes where I can strengthen and layer and add better twists and plot developments and setting, and make everything work. But somehow with every draft it seems like my opportunities narrow, a little. I'm working with already existing words and story, and flexing it (or taking it apart and rearranging it) to make it the best I can, but it's not all blank possibility.

But I'm sure I'm forgetting things here, just looking at my own experience with these last two books particularly. I'd really like to hear from you. What is the best part of the process for you? Why?

Please answer in the comments! If we get enough discussion maybe I can do a follow up from the reviser's perspective.


Linda G. said...

I love drafting, of course--well, the first 3/4 anyway. Wrapping things up in the final quarter can sometimes be a challenge.

But I really love revising, too. In fact, I kind of write/revise the whole way. Tweaking and fiddling is fun. And addictive--sometimes it's tough to stop.

Susan Adrian said...

Linder: Yes--that tweaking is really tough to spot. Of course I mentally tweak/edit most things I read, so my own is just more so!

Anonymous said...

For me, the first draft is about DISCOVERY so it's very, very exciting and new (and maybe a little Love Boat). Successive drafts are about CRAFT, which is satisfying in a different way. And each new book teaches you how to write it. My first novel was a roundabout journey that involved ten full drafts, five POVs, two characters that had to go, no COWS (and the cows are the STARS of the final draft :). My next book was six months research, six months to write, revise, submit. Who knows how this new one will go? I love the work no matter how it comes to me, though, so no complaints. Mostly, lots of WAHOOs!

Susan Adrian said...

Rebecca: I totally giggled with the Love Boat reference. And yes, I love all the parts too (good thing we're doing this, huh?). I like your perspective of the two parts as discovery and craft--though of course they're both intertwined, you do have to lean more heavily on one than the other for different parts of the process.

Elizabeth Briggs said...

I think I'm such a perfectionist about my writing that I want my first draft to be AMAZING AND SPARKLY and then when it's not I mope about a bit, then vomit some words on the page, then mope some more. Which is why I like revising better - I read through it and think "Hey this is not as bad as I remember! I can make this work!"

I envy your first draft love. Maybe you can write my first draft for me. Then we can trade or something. Yes, this is an awesome plan.

Sara E. said...

Count me in as liking the first draft the best! It's exiting and exhilirating... and scary as hell at first. Like jumping off a cliff and hoping you'll land. I love the thrill and the possibilities, and the twists that surprise me, and watching the characters come alive.

I like revision too, don't get me wrong. Revisions is when it all comes together, when the plot becomes tight, when I can add cool twists I didn't think of before, when I can cut out the flab and make the book lean and mean. However, it's also when I realize the book is not, and will never be, perfect. And it's when I estimate I'll be done in X months... and it's inevitable at least twice that.

I think the part I like the least about the writing-side of writing is before the first draft though, when there are all these ideas, and I have to pick one to follow, and sometimes none of them seems promising enough to sustain a whole book.

/Sara E.

Ara Burklund said...

My favorite part is getting lost in the story as I first draft it. Revision, I kind of hate, but unfortunately, that doesn't make it any less necessary.

Susan Adrian said...

Liz: Ha! Somehow I don't think it would work very well if we traded. :)

Sara: YES. Exactly how I feel about it. Maybe it's like seeing a child grow up--at first they can be anything, anyone, full of possibilities. As they grow the possibilities narrow into what they actually ARE. Which is great--you love them as they are, absolutely. I love my books as they turn out. But at the beginning they can be amazing. :)

Ara: No, no hatred!! I do get it, though. Sometimes revision can be tough. I like it in a different way, but you definitely have to be willing to get in there and get dirty ripping things apart!