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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Don't Point Your Fun At Me!

You don't need to be a good writer to have a good book.

Really, you don't.

I watched someone in our crit group anguish and panic over his first chapter. At every meeting he's brought in the same chapter, slightly reworked. He wants to be perfect. He wants that opening line to sear the soul with white hot fire. He wants the impossible.

It's a nice thought. A cute idea. And if I ever find the block-head who bragged about writing the perfect book in one draft I will take them out back and flog them with a wet noodle.

I know. I know. It's hard to understand. Back in school who didn't write a few papers in just a single draft? Wasn't that the entire point of essay questions in blue books? Didn't we all learn to cram months of research into a marathon writing session three hours before the final paper was due?

But stories are not the same beast. They're not even slightly related to essays. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it's true.

Fiction is something that must be written in layers. One draft for the bones, one draft for the muscles and skin, one draft for a brush off, and then the editing begins.


Editing is what separates the best tale, the ones that sweep you of your feet and bring you to a magical new place, from the ones that rightfully deserved to be burned at the next solstice bonfire.

Editing is what keeps this from happening:
"Evan pointed his fun and Roger."
"Evan pointed his gun at Roger." Makes so much more sense! Do you know how long it took me to catch that typo? Four drafts, and five beta-readers. I read FUN as GUN dozens, if not hundreds, of times.

It took me another two drafts and two more beta-readers to catch a spot in the opening chapter where I had "stain" instead of "satin".

I'm not saying I'm perfect by a long shot. But do you really think anyone has a perfect draft on the first go? I don't. I have serious doubts about whether or not anyone can edit in isolation. I know some people claim they don't need help, but I've never seen proof they were right.

So don't despair when your draft isn't perfect. Don't stop writing to scrub that first line until it shines. Write the drafts. Flesh the story out. Edit as best you can. And then GET HELP. Find a beta-reader or two, hire an editor, join a writing group. Ask someone else to look over the work for you.

Writing is a creative force. Like a hurricane in blows the debris around and makes an unholy mess that will leave you in years. Editing is what turns the disaster into a masterpiece. Edit well.


  1. It's a newbie author's mistake to try to write that perfect first draft in one sitting(so to speak) and get past that accursed first chapter.

    When I first started writing my current WIP, I too rewrote and rewrote the first chapter maybe six or seven times. Then someone slapped me in the face with a reality stick and said, "You'll never finish the book if you don't forget editing and start writing."

    And I'm glad I listened because you're right. No first draft will ever be perfect. Even after my half a dozen first chapter edits, I realize that my overall story has changed. Even if I thought I made the first chapter "perfect" it'll have to be edited again anyway!

    So, bravo! Hopefully you'll be the one armed with the stick this time, smacking the reality into people.

    A good writer is a great editor.

  2. This is a stellar post, great advice.

  3. Heck, I don't even know how a story really starts until I've gone all the way through once and written the ending. ;)

  4. Lindsay, I'm with you. There's usually something that pops up at the end that changes how I need to open the book. In some cases, there's something in book 3 that makes me change something in book 1, but only when dealing with time travel.

    >.< Time travel is complicated (but still fun to write).