Don’t Take Your Writing So Seriously

I spent four years perfecting my novel. The first draft of THE MANSION was 35,988 words. Then I ran out of plot. The characters would encounter a monster, defeat a monster, wash, rinse, repeat. Pretty boring.

LESSON #1: Have some sort of outline so you know where you’re going. Otherwise, you’ll run out of gas.

The second draft of THE MANSION was 63,239 words. I didn’t run out of a plot this time. I told a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. And I wrote it backwards.

I created a notebook full of sticky notes, one sticky note per scene. I proceeded to write the last scene first, working my way to the first scene over a four month period.

It was terrible. The plot was dry; the characters, lifeless. Things made sense, but even I, the author, didn’t care. My novel was nothing more than a bunch of events with no consequences.

LESSON #2: Outlining is important, but if you stick to it like a robot, your novel will read like a robot wrote it. 

The third draft of THE MANSION was 105,731 words. With every draft, I increased my word count by 30,000 to 40,000 words. This isn’t counting the rewrites I did within the chapters of each draft. I’m amazed I didn’t give up after that atrocious second draft.

I thought to myself, “Well, this stinks, but the climax is kinda cool.” For some odd reason, I decided to embark on a third draft, restructuring the entire book around the climax.

During the climatic showdown between the hero and villain, the antagonist gave a moving monologue about his desire for revenge. Okay, it wasn’t much of a start, but I felt it had some thematic potential. What if the hero also had a lust for revenge, and throughout the course of the story, learned a lesson that the villain had not?

LESSON #3: Make sure your story means something to you. Simple, but easy to forget.

The final word count of THE MANSION is 85,353. I spent the next two years rewriting scene after scene. I had a general outline, but no rigid blueprint like my second draft.

Before I started a new chapter, I would write a short summary of said chapter. If something positive happened at the beginning, something negative would happen at the end. If the chapter starts with Mark escaping a prison, it would end with a monster capturing his friend. You get the idea. This, in my mind, created an engaging narrative flow. Positive, then negative, then positive, and so on. Up and down, like an emotional roller coaster.

I started the first draft in January 2009 and finished the final draft June 2012. Faith helped me edit the beast, cutting out some unnecessary action scenes and whatnot. It’s safe to say I wrote over 300,000 words for this book.

So was it worth it? In hindsight, I look at my old writing and can say without bias, it’s not a strong story. Despite my gargantuan plotting effort, some things still don’t make sense. Yes, there’s a climatic battle scene, but the path to get there is muddled.

But I finished it. That was worth it.

Maybe if I wasn’t so picky, I could’ve published two mediocre books by the time it took me to write one slightly less mediocre book. Who knows?

LESSON #4: Don’t be afraid of failure and just write.

I don’t regret a misspelled word or faulty plot point. I do regret being so burnt out from writing that I stopped for a few years. Between 2014 to 2018, I published an occasional blog, but never worked on anything serious. I told myself I would write a feature-length screenplay, but kept getting discouraged because I didn’t want spend another four years on something that wasn’t a masterpiece.

So dumb. So, so dumb.

In the end, I’m proud of my novel. It’s not perfect, but it’s mine. I finished it. I FINISHED IT. Gosh, why is this catharsis coming four years after the fact?

Alright, enough reminiscing. Time to start something new.

Josh out.

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