I had a conversation with my beta, a while back; she proposed that for this new story I’m writing, I save a copy of every draft so I can go back and see the entire process from the first draft to ready-to-post.
I think it’s a good idea. I thought it would be interesting to document the process in writing as well.
Well, interesting is a matter of perspective, and it is mostly for my benefit. But, maybe some of you woud like to follow along, see how I go about writing my stories, my thought process during different stages, how I approach each draft and the many emotional ups and downs that come with writing a 100K+ story.
At this stage, I’d like to point out that, even if you’re someone who enjoys my stories, it’s ok if you don’t give a shit.
These are not intended as pity posts; I enjoy sharing this process, but I don’t want anyone to feel obliged to read these or make encouraging comments.
I appreciate your cheers and excitement, but the mental struggles or second-guessing of myself I talk about in these updates are struggles I go though with every story I write, and they’re part of the creation process.
So, feel free to carry on with your business and come back in a year or so when this story is finished.
Months in Progress: 2,5
Word Count: 20.699
Estimated Final Word Count: 120K (ish)
Named Characters: 4
State-of-Mind: Finally, we’re getting somewhere!
Currently Researching: Root Stocks, Grafting, Californian inheritance laws, dynasty trusts, Aromatherapy, California Ranch architecture, Biodiversity, soil regeneration, organic farming, repressed childhood trauma, nightmares, DUCKS, Anatolian Sheepdogs.
Number of references photos on my Pinterest: 84
Currently yelling at myself: For fuck’s sake, woman! You’ve been researching this shit for hours. No one, no one, cares if the number of hypothetical, invisible employees at this fictional place isn’t realistic. No one gives a fuck. Stop doing pointless research and write the fucking story.
Things I’m obsessing over: A duck called Hugo. What? He says his name is Hugo! The horrific exploitation of undocumented California farmworkers. Jensen wearing oversized silver rings. A retired therapist who, I think, might be a super important character but have no idea how to get into the story. BAMF Jared. Convincing BAMF Jared he should have a beard.
Reference photos I’m obsessing over:
I’ve finally, finally hit 20K on my new story. I say finally because, fuck, it was a struggle. To date, I think I’ve written four different drafts. I’ve written, re-written, and re-rewritten the same 10-15K over and over during the past two-and-a-half months.
Writing is really hard. Starting a new story is even harder; I forget how much mental and emotional energy goes into creating the foundation of a story, especially when I start a new story back-to-back after posting one.
I tend to remember that smooth, slightly jubilant feeling when the story feels impeccably polished (it never quite is, but it feels like it), and I’m so intuned with my characters—writing them is so easy because I know them inside out.
It’s hard starting a new story when I’m still in the middle of that inspired feeling because I forget what it looked like before I did all that polishing.
Before the second, third, fourth, and fifth draft, before edits, re-writes, tens of thousands of deleted words, and countless notes, discussions, and edits with and by my beta.
By that point, I’ve thoroughly repressed how much the first draft sucked.
And, because I’ve repressed it, looking at those first fumbling 20K in a new story, before I have everything figured out, know my characters, what’s going on, why I’m even writing the story, feels like I somehow regressed as a writer—one day I’m painting a complex landscape the next stick figures.
I hate every single word; it feels like someone else wrote them. Which, of course, someone else didn’t. I did. And it sucks.
Thankfully, this is my fourth long-form story; Fucking Kodiak, Alaska was roughly 70K, Phoenix, 110K, Newport 130K – by now, I’m starting to recognize the process, and I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer, how my brain works.
When I started writing fanfic 15(ish) years ago, I didn’t understand the psychology; whenever I reached a hurdle like this one, I’d stop and abandon the story, sometimes for months. It took me two years to write JADE, a 30K story, because every time I reached a difficult place or doubted myself, I stopped.
Today, I’m more attuned to my creative process; I know I’ll hit these bumps in the road where my brain hates every word—it’s just growing pains, part of the process. It’s hard and frustrating to be in that place but, now I know how to deal with it.
My plan of action when I feel like this is:
- Write through it
I’ve learned that, for me, the best way to get though this feeling is to write through it. Theres’ no point waiting around for inspiration to hit; the only way I’ll get there is to write until it feels better.
I think what was blocking me this time was that I had two versions of the story and the main characters in my head, and I’d written both. The solution was to write and re-write until I found a way to merge both those versions into one story. Once I got to that point, things started to come together, and it got easier.
The writing is still shit but, now I can look at it objectively and think: it’s the first draft—it’s supposed to be shit—it’ll get better.
2. Ask for help
I never trust my own judgment when I feel like this. At this stage, I’m unable to objectively look at my writing and say if it’s good or bad; I need help. Fortunately for me, I have a great beta who works with me throughout the whole process.
We’ve worked together on my last four stories. By now, I know she won’t lie and that she’s invested in me writing the best story possible. I know that she’ll push me to do that, even if that means telling me something sucks or doesn’t work.
Well, I said: it sucks. She said: it’s having an identity crisis. That’s wasn’t just a smooth thing to say to a writer two steps away from a meltdown; it was also a really good observation.
If I could go back to 2005, the year I started writing fanfiction, and give myself one piece of advice, I’d tell myself to learn how to accept critique, advice, and input on my stories a lot sooner than I did.
Learning how to accept constructive criticism without being offended, or becoming defensive, has been invaluable in my growth and evolution as a writer.
Well, that’s where I’m at now. I’ve passed 20K, and I’ve finally written my way though a stubborn block.
I’m starting to see the basic outlines of the story, the larger plot points and twists, and two or three supporting characters are starting to take shape in my head. The only thing that’s a little worrying is that, out of those three, one is a duck and the other a dog, or possibly several dogs…
To Be Continued
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