By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy
There's a lot of advice and support on how first drafts are supposed to be messy. It's just a brain dump onto the page, and after we get the story down we can figure out how to make it "perfect."
I wholeheartedly agree with that, but just because we've gotten one draft done, doesn't mean we can perfect it in a single round of edits. Most drafts take several passed before they're ready, and trying to be "perfect" while you're still figuring out how a story works puts undue pressure on a writer.
Truth is, a novel will take as many drafts as it needs. For some novels (and writers) that might be one, for others it might be twenty. No drafting process goes exactly the same every time, and it's unrealistic (and unfair) for us to think so.
If you're faced with a novel that needs multiple drafts to get right, don't feel bad about it, or feel like you've failed in some way. You haven't. Some novels just take more time than others.
I like to call these novels late bloomers.
They often start out ugly, stumble along and can't really figure out who they are or where they fit. They make us doubt their worth, we try to change them or force them to fit what we think they ought to be. Then one day, the right pieces fall into place and everything works. The novel becomes beautiful, rich and vibrant, and everything we always knew it could be.
How can you tell if you have a late bloomer novel?
You love the idea, and you refuse to give up on it just because something isn't working yet.
A late bloomer novel resonate with you on a deep level. It's often the book of your heart and you know if you can just get it done right, it will be an amazing book. Trust that instinct.
You have a nagging suspicion you're still missing something important about the story.
Odds are you're right, and your subconscious is working like mad to figure out what. Sometimes you need to step back and let a manuscript sit for a while until you find that missing piece that makes the novel work.
You sometimes want to set it on fire, but you still go back and work on it after that urge has passed.
You hate it. You love it. It makes you cry. But you can't shake it and you refuse to give up on it.
You're trying to force it to be what you think it is vs what it actually is.
Some late blooming novels know exactly what they want to be if we'd only listen. Maybe you don't think you can write in that genre or for that age group, or maybe you always thought it was about X character instead of Y character, but something you don't want to let go of is what's holding the novel back. Embrace the core of that story and see where it leads you.
If you truly feel a novel is worth and the pain and frustration, you might have a late bloomer that's worth that pain and frustration. Believe in yourself, believe in the story, and enjoy the beauty when it's finally ready for the sun.
Do you have (or have written) a late blooming novel?
Looking for more tips on revising or planning your novel? Check out my book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions!
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She is also a contributor at Pub(lishing) Crawl, and Writers in the Storm.
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If you can count the one that sat in my drawer for thirty years, then yes!
Thanks again, Janice.
That's a late bloomer for sure. Most welcome, thanks for having me :)
YOU ARE SO RIGHT! I've lost count on how many rounds I've done on both my novels. The first, well into the 100's... sounds insane, but that was my first and I had SOOOO much to learn. The second is around 50 or so. and I know once I finish my current WIP it will be less. As we learn and hone our craft the rewrites do get less. But, I can't imagine any less that twenty or so. It's amazing how typos, missing words, spelling errors, and tense issues creep into a manuscript...
I probably did that many drafts on my first novel, too. I called it my starter novel, lol. I've had novels that fell out of my head onto the page and needed very little rewriting, and ones that I rewrote dozens of times. Crazy process, writing :) But fun.
Great post, and it reminds me of the dilemma we often face when writing....how can I make this better, or what should I say here? I work with a group of ladies who review each others' work every week, and I get such great ideas from having a sounding board.
Fantastic post! I do have a late blooming novel. It's been through so many revisions, I've lost count. And I still don't have it perfect yet!
Crit groups and beta readers are worth their weight in gold. I'd be lost without mine :)
Thanks! It'll get there :) Though to be honest, I'm not sure we ever get it perfect. I still wish I could edit my published novels "one more time" hehe. But almost perfect works.
I can't even really remember when I started the novel I just re-started, but I was definitely in high school, so 10-years on this blooming.
Haven't had a late blooming one, but there have been a few after editing so many times I just didn't want to look at them anymore lol
I have had a few that needed so many edits and rewrites I almost had given up on it. I have a friend who writes such excellent first drafts that I sometimes feel inadequate.
My debut novel came from an idea I'd had almost ten years before I wrote it, so good things can come from those. ;)
LOL those happen, too. I don't know about you, but I think every novel I write goes through that stage. Some more than others. There's a sliding scale on "sick of it" all the way to "burn it and scatter the ashes"
Ooo that's rough, but try not to compare yourself to other writers (that way lies madness!). Maybe your friend is good at clean first drafts, but you no doubt excel at stuff that makes *them* envious :) It all balances in the end.
Some just take a long time to develop. I believe I am working on one of those right now.
I love the phrase "late blooming novel". Oh I sure did have one. It was my second novel and I was trying for a huge epic and my skills weren't up to the task. It sat for nearly 20 years before a good editor helped me see how to pare it down.
Yeah, I know a lot about this topic! I have a couple of them. One is finally opening up for me, and I hope to have it done this year (after a couple of years' work). The other one has been with me for more than 20 years. I still think it's a good idea, but I think it's waiting for me to gain some more skill and experience to tell it properly. I'm growing into it!
Those late bloomers should become wonderful works of art, since we've had lots of practice with them by the time they're published.
Thank you, Janice. My current WIP is a late bloomer. It's my 6th, and I truly believe once I discover the missing elements it'll be a worthy piece of art. Happy writing.
Realizing it goes a long way toward making it easier :)
I have one of those I'm STILL waiting to bloom. One day...one day. I think it's like that rare orchid that blooms once a century.
Grats! Hopefully you'll get the second one done before too long as well.
They really should :) It's only fair.
Fingers crossed you find that piece soon :)
All of my works are late bloomers, but no one around me seems to think that's a good thing. I've even lost critique partners over it. Writing and critiquing in stages is apparently a no no. Oh well, at least I know now that I'm not the only one who write several drafts to get a story right.
I'm so sorry to hear that :( That's not the norm for all crit groups, so keep looking for people who work like you. One of my crit buddies and I exchange rough drafts all the time. Those kind of crit partners are out there :)
Thanks for the encouragement. I'll keep looking.
I'm pretty sure all my all of my story are late bloomers. I don't know how many edits I have to go through before they're in good enough shape for my crit partners to see. As long as the story continues to get better, that's all that matters.
Thanks for the post, Janice.
Let's see...my current 80K word paranormal suspense was once a 150K paranormal mystery and before that it was a 110K Sci Fi romance... Yup, I think it qualifies.
Oh, boy, I have one. There are about 200,000 words of disconnected scenes that are probably boiling down to a trilogy. I've hammered out the "first draft" (ha!) of the first book. It's probably the 17th draft in reality, but it's more coherent than the previous ones, with an actual, y'know, beginning, middle and end. Your book, Janice, helped me a ton with structure and most of my plot points - right now I've just got this one area that is making me tear my hair out. Sigh. It's really nice to know others go through this too!
I forgot to mention I've been working on this off and on for oh, 22 years...
Just what I needed to read as I continue revising my current wip which may not qualify as a 'late blooming novel,' but it sure exhibits all the characteristics of being a truly messy draft I can't leave alone! Thank you for these encouraging words. Beth http://bethcamp2.blogspot.com
In the context of writing, I always refer to myself as a "late bloomer", so now I'm wondering, can a "late bloomer writer" have a "late bloomer novel"? I'd probably be about 100 years old by then... mmm, but that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing?
I like transferring that title to my work, too. It seems easier to bear. Well, that's probably because I have a few of those mss that have buds, but absolutely no blooms yet.
I needed this post today. Been procrastinating on editing my (extremely sloppy) first draft of the first novel I'm actually trying to do something with... each time I start to step closer to it I get hit with uncertainty and fear about it. I worry that I'm going to do these edits and it's going to be wrong. Most recently it's the question of if I'm starting in the write place.... but really, I just need to edit it -- put it together a bit more, and then see how it feels. If it doesn't work, then I can do it again. And again, and again if necessary. Thank you.
I'm glad to have a name for my "late bloomer"! My sequel has been a train wreck for almost two years now. It's been such a pain that I wrote, revised and published a completely unrelated novel while beating the sequel to death. The good news is that those magical plot pieces are finally starting to fall into place. The manuscript itself is still ugly, but at least I'm finally listening to my characters and we're almost in the same universe now. ;)
Thanks for sharing this post. I always love your advice Janice, especially when its all about stepping back, take a deep breath, think about it and move on. Why is that so hard to remember sometimes?
Check, check, and check. Each point you made is on the spot for me in my present WIP. I've been working on it for 2 years. I cannot let it go. At this point, it is again tucked away from my sight, but unfortunately not from my brain, I keep writing and re writing it in my head. Maybe the late bloomer will actually bud when the winter weather is gone and spring sunshine gives it energy to blossom. Thanks so much for this inspiring post.!
That's a great attitude to have, Ken. And very true.
I'd say it does :)
Oh good, I'm so glad. And we do all go through it at some point, so you are not alone. I worked on my starter novel for 19 years myself, and one day I think I can actually get it to work. One day!
Ugly novels are second cousins to late bloomers, so you might have one of those -grin-. Messy creatures, and they fight you every step of the way. My second novel was one of those. Just dig in your heels and hang on, lol.
It's possible, though let's hope you get it done a little sooner than that so you can enjoy it ;)
I've found that just changing how I look at or refer to things helps me deal with them. For example, I don't get writer's block, I get stuck. Stuck you can work yourself out of. Blocked feels more insurmountable. A late bloomer will get there eventually.
Glad you found it then! Sometimes we just need to write through the chaff to find the gems. If I may mix a metaphor, hehe.
I think because writing is so personal, and we put so much of ourselves into it. Stepping back feels like failure, even when it's not. The creative process can come in bursts, and there's nothing wrong with that. But we feel like we need to put our butt in the chair and write write write and it'll all work out. Sometimes, the best thing we can do it walk away and do something else for a while, like you did.
Most welcome, and fingers crossed for you that spring brings a lot of blossoms :)
Terrific post, Janice -- wholeheartedly agree! --Dario
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