You’ve invested in yourself as a writer. You’ve carved out the time to write, you’ve made it through the blocks, and you’ve set boundaries with people in your life (including yourself). You’ve come to view yourself as a writer, and you have a stack of pages in front of you: your completed first draft. Now what?
Finishing the first draft of a book is a glorious feeling, and after accomplishing this feat, many people aren’t sure what to do next. They think the writing process is behind them because they’ve churned out a draft. The next seemingly logical step is editing, which, in most people’s minds is fine-tuning and polishing, a more late-stage level of editing. Jumping from first draft completion to this stage of editing means missing some very important steps.
Sometimes people confuse revising with editing. As Ernest Hemingway once said, “The only real writing is rewriting.”
Rewriting and revision work hand-in-hand and need your attention —in stages— BEFORE you get to the editing.
To create a foundational understanding, for now, think of revision as rewriting: big-picture, broad brushstroke changes to the manuscript. Think of editing as fine-tuning. (Note: There is an early stage of editing called Developmental Editing, which is also about big-picture changes. No wonder it gets confusing! Keep reading…)
If you have a first draft manuscript in hand, here are my recommendations about how to move forward.
Do something special. Buy yourself a few of those titles waiting on your reading list. Eat some high-end chocolate. Take yourself on a date or go out with your friends or your significant other and have a fancy cocktail or a glass of very fine wine. Take a day trip or a weekend trip to your favorite spot to relax and rejuvenate. Honor your accomplishment. This will satisfy the part of your brain that responds to reward and it will help you move to the next important step.
#2 Forget about the book. For now.
You’ve put your brain and your discipline through a gauntlet, so give them a break. Read (unless that makes you think of your own book). Binge watch a TV show you put on hold so you could finish your book. Daydream. Meditate. Bake. Draw. Paint. Crochet. Build model cars. Make candles. Walk around your neighborhood and snap photos. Clean house. Catch up on filing. Whatever it takes to give your brain a break from thinking about the book. This will “scrub” your brain, in a way, so you can come back to your draft with a fresh perspective when it’s time to edit and revise. Give this stage at least two weeks.
#3 Discern the difference between revising and editing.
As Amy Lowell writes in her book, John Keats, “Revising is the act of improving what has been unconsciously done.”
So, what does that mean?
The first draft of your book is like throwing clay onto a potter’s wheel. There’s likely some kind of structure and organization going on, but the goal of the first draft is to get all the parts and pieces of the story or idea onto the page so you know what you have to work with. Terry Pratchett says, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
After you’ve told yourself the story, after you’ve stepped inside the subjective milieu of your story world and the minds of the characters within it, it’s time to step outside and take a more objective view of your manuscript (and why #2 is so important).
It’s time to revise and rewrite.
Revising/rewriting is about cutting sections (killing your darlings), adding sections (achieving clarity and filling in gaps), and moving things around (creating a smooth flow between all the story’s parts, all the book’s sections).
Think top-down. Think hierarchy. Think structure to scene to syntax. This will mean reading your manuscript a few times to address each level of the process. (Details about this in #4 below.) Trying to do it all at once will create frustration and overwhelm.
#4 Complete your own developmental edit
You could take your first draft to a professional editor, but the more polished you can make your manuscript, the better. Not only will you probably get better, more in-depth, feedback, you’ll probably also save yourself some money. (The ability to focus on a clean manuscript allows for more precise reading and commenting. A clean draft could also take an editor less time.)
The development edit is an aerial view of your manuscript. I recommend doing your developmental edit in stages.
Read through your manuscript, paying attention to the following. (You may want to parse these out and focus on only one at a time to avoid confusion and overwhelm.)
Structure – Does the structure of the manuscript provide readers with the proper framework to take in the story or information provided?
Organization – Are the parts of the manuscript presented in an order that offer a clear unfolding of the story or information?
Gaps in plot and storytelling – Are the reasons for the behaviors and actions of the characters, especially the protagonist, clear to readers? Does the protagonist’s deepest desire inform the plot and story?
Story arc – Does the story take readers through a natural progression of beginning / middle / end and show a resolution of some kind?
Character development – Do the characters have a synchronous relationship with the story arc? That is, do they help drive it and, in turn, are they influenced by it? Do they, especially the protagonist, experience a transformation of some kind?
Tone – Is your overall tone, word choice, and syntax in line with your intention and audience?
Complete your rewrite and revisions. Implement the cutting, adding, and moving mentioned in #3 above.
Complete another read-through and edit at the scene level, noting the following.
How each scene is structured, how it works on its own. (Each scene should also have a beginning / middle / end.)
How each scene moves the overarching story forward.
How dialogue (if there is any) informs the reader and moves the story forward.
How characters are characterized through speech, movement, and action.
You may need to repeat #4, #5, and #6 a few times before submitting your manuscript to a professional editor.
And you DO want to get a professional editor involved in your manuscript. More on this in the next blog post…
In the meantime, as always, I’m sending you mad writing mojo…
I meet so many people who say they want to write a book, or at the very least, have a regular writing practice. Yet, they struggle to make it happen. Creating, developing, and maintaining a writing practice take intention and attention. Making a few tweaks to your thinking might make all the difference.
Think of it as an investment in yourself.
In my workshops and classes and when working with clients, I always say that honoring our impulse to write and create is an act of self-love.
I believe that impulse to create is our life force wanting to move and flow, and when we stifle it, we experience dis-ease on mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual levels.
So, how do you invest in yourself?
Privilege your writing practice in your mind.
Make it as important to your day as all the responsibilities you make time for on a regular basis. Instead of thinking I’ll get to my writing after I’ve taken care of X, Y, and Z, think I’m going to write XX days each week (for XX hours or XX pages).
Give it space in your day, on your calendar, and in your home.
Mark it on your calendar and treat it with the same respect you would a doctor’s appointment for yourself, for one of your kids, or for your pet. Or for a meeting at work. You’d remember it, you’d plan the rest of your day around it, and you’d show up for it.
If you aren’t able to designate a spot in your home as your private, personal writing space where no one else is allowed, find a time when the people you live with are out of the house or asleep. If you really want to write, you can give up an hour or two of TV or social media a few days each week.
Get a new writer’s notebook.
Think of this notebook as a place for you to jot down your ideas and thoughts—about your writing—that drift in and out of your brain as you go about your day, as you’re drifting off to sleep, or when you first wake up in the morning. If you’re a journaler, you can keep doing that, but in a separate notebook. A writer’s notebook and a journal are two different things.
Let people who are close to you know that you’ve made a decision to privilege your writing. Tell them what you need from them to make it happen. Time? Space? Quiet? Respect?
As Annie Proulx has said, “Reading is the finest teacher of how to write.” Read books in the same vein as the one you want to write. Read books that are different from the one you want to write. Read short fiction. Read non-fiction. Read novels. Read poetry. There’s something to learn from them all.
View yourself as a writer.
Instead of seeing yourself as a parent or an employee at a company or organization who wants to write, see yourself as a writer who happens to also be a parent and/or work another job. And if you’ve yet to be published, it doesn’t make you less legit than people who have been published. If it helps, use a mantra. Say I am a writer over and over in your thoughts throughout the day. Or writing is not a luxury. Or writing is an act of self-love. You’ll start to believe it.
So much of the act of writing—the act of getting the words on the page—is all in the mind. When we can think about writing differently, we can show up for it and give the creative impulse inside us the respect it deserves.
What can you do to move your writing practice further up your list of “Important Things To Do”?
I’ll be 62 the end of June this year. That means I’ve been eaten, chewed up, swallowed, digested, and pushed out the other side of my second Saturn return. I know… not a pleasant visual. Why didn’t she use the metaphor of the cocoon to chrysalis to butterfly? all the self-helpers and chronic, oppressive positive-ists are wondering.
Because I don’t feel all that beautiful.
Calm down. I’m not talking about my physical packaging. (I still look pretty damn good—and not just “for my age.”) Nor do I hate myself or have self-worth issues. I like to shoot from the hip, call it like I see it, as the cliché’s go. Read: I prefer to not live my life in denial. (Did you know that not acknowledging ALL of our states of being is actually BAD for us? Face it, embrace it, and let it run its course… That’s what I live by.)
I’m talking about my sense of vitality. I’m not feeling all shiny and new and ready to kick the ass of the world. Because that isn’t how transformation works.
Transformation comes in slow—usually painful—stages.
I talk about “magic” a lot in relation to writing, but I also quickly follow that up with the word “alchemy,” the “rough magic” of writing. The process of turning lead into to gold. It’s difficult, it’s long, and it’s messy.
And so is the Saturn return.
Saturn, the planet of structure, responsibility, and ambition (to name but a few)—aka The Great Teacher—returns to the position it held at the moment of our birth every 29.5 years. So, around 58–59, we get to experience the dismantling and rebuilding of the Self. Yet again.
The thing about the Saturn return is that it isn’t a once and done, drive-through, one-stop-shop, kind of deal. There’s the ramp up (at least a year+ before it) and there’s the ramp down (at least a year+ after it).
So, this means that the last five to six years for me have been trying, to say the least. I truly do feel like I’ve been eaten, digested, and pushed out in a different form. And I feel more like my chosen metaphor than a beautiful butterfly.
I’m not ready to flap my lovely wings to flit around the garden or lilt on subtle stirs of air. I don’t even have wings… Instead, I’m lying somewhere on a hot sidewalk or chilling under a bush, waiting for this process to finish itself, enduring and observing the decomposition, the death of my old self, waiting to see where the re-morphing of me takes me.
While the last six years have been hard (and I’m more than ready for a change of pace), my second Saturn return wasn’t as disorienting as my first one when I went through the alchemical process of a dark night of the soul, brought on by the unearthing of repressed memories of abuse, brought on by writing the first draft of my novel, Miranda’s Garden (yay for the rough magic of writing!).
The first one took me down to such dark places, I honestly didn’t know whether or not I was going to survive. Fortunately, I had three little people who needed me, so I persisted and found a way… And oh yeah… I had them all just prior to and during the onslaught of my first Saturn return (27, 30, 32), which means while I’ve been going through my second Saturn return, they’ve all been going through their first.
I don’t mind saying that these last six years have been a special kind of hell. Sure, there’ve been bright spots – I always look for those (See? Calm down.) But damn. What the hell?
This may sound whacky, but it could be that the rough ride of my second Saturn return started clear back in early 2012 (the year I turned 55) when I had a falling out with my mom that resulted in an estrangement that remains to this day, all while I had a horribly bad and scary chest/throat thing that went on way longer than it ought to have. And then half-way through my 56th year, at the end of 2013, I lost the teaching I had and was provided the opportunity (Hah, again, see?) to finally think about how I might be able to create an entrepreneurial life. It’s taken this long for me to get where I am.
And where is that?
Honestly, I’m still not fully supporting myself with my business, and in fact, I’m in a bit of a revenue slump due to a much-needed redirect – a pivot, as they say – and then COVID. But it’s all good and well. I discovered I don’t LOVE coaching. At least not the way I’d been doing it, the way I’d been taught to do it, the way other people do it.
I’ve learned a lot, though, and I’m clear about my direction. At least for now. And my vision for my future hasn’t changed. I haven’t given up on the dream.
My second Saturn return has, once again, kicked my ass up around my ears (as my late grandma would have said) and left me, at times, questioning the purpose of life more than I like, wondering how the hell long this part of my story might last, thinking, at times, that maybe living to be at least 100 (a goal of mine) isn’t such a hot idea, after all.
But… I’m here, and I’ve made it this far. Because I’m like a Goddamn magical sorcerer cat (think Pluto, Cheshire Cat, Maurice, Demeter), and with all my lives and my ability to land on my tired feet over and over and over again and keep on believing even though I’ve been beyond exhausted deep down in my soul, thinking about what lies around the corner of 62 is the bright, sparkly thing that keeps my chin up for now.
As I look back over the past several years, some highlights come to mind.
Sold most of my belongings, left Portland, and hit the road to house sit for an indeterminate amount of time.
Got hired to teach online for PSU just before I left town. (Still doing this…)
Lived in Bonney Lake, WA for six months, took care of a big house and lawn/garden and a cool black kitty named Chai. Started creating content for my business and understanding my Writing Through the Body™ concept.
Went down to Truckee, CA, to house sit another big house and FIVE rescue kitties. Loved it so much, I decided to “stay.” Lived in a cabin on Donner Lake, basked in my ability to hike and snowshoe right outside my door. Had a very short, confusing, tumultuous relationship. In addition to teaching online, cleaned vacation homes for a living. Continued to figure what on earth I was doing with my business.
Fled Truckee (after the tumultuous relationship ended and couldn’t take working for the people I was working for any longer) and came back to Portland believing it would be a better place to grow my business before I retreat to the woods again to live out the rest of my days.
Lived with my daughter in her studio apartment (Fun), fled to an artists’ community (quadruple Fun), got a copywriting job.
To get the eff out of the artists’ community, fled to a downtown apartment attached to a property manager job (Funnest of all the Funs and damn near finished off my soul all together).
Undertook the “entrepreneurial” life. Hired coaches, attended networking events, joined networking groups. Tried things, fumbled, failed, redirected, and kept going (I’m still doing this… but less so). Started making money from the biz. Yay. Got laid off from the copywriting job.
Racked up a bunch of debt. (If coaching were an item on a menu it would have $$$$.)
Was “forced” into retirement due a clerical error at PSU but am able to still teach four classes each year. And so, I am…
Got a rescue kitten. Named her Iris after the flower and the goddess. I’m obsessed with her and love her immensely. She is one of the biggest and brightest highlights of these past many years.
Got a call after being on a four-year wait list for an apartment in the Pearl District in downtown Portland where I currently reside. For now.
Made and unmade friends, found the fakes, reveled in my introverted isolation and my ability to be a content and totally self-contained entity.
All the while… managing a chronic illness that I only started to wrap my brain around and understand, guess when… when my Saturn return began.
To say it’s been a wild, soul-tiring ride is putting it mildly. When I think about The Great Teacher’s (Saturn’s) mission—to turn lead to gold—and to think about the process that needs to happen to make that a reality, it makes sense that the dismantling and rebuilding of my identity has been so exhausting.
But here I am on the other side now.
This tired, worn out human is not done with the transformation just yet. I’ll be serving as my own fertilizer and growing a garden, of sorts. That house in the woods, the thriving business. And writing. Regularly, consistently, and well.
It’s all close. I can tell. And I couldn’t be more ready.
Which brings us back to the title of this unedited and ramble-y interior monologue…
That the corona virus pandemic made it appearance as the second bookend of my second Saturn Return journey is not lost on me. While I am regaining my balance after these rough six+ years so I can create the life I want for this last leg of my journey, the rest of the world is being reshuffled and restructured.
It gives me an all-bets-are-off feeling, like the playing field has been leveled, and I’m left with an uncompromising belief that the future I see for myself will happen.
A thriving business, which includes a consistent writing practice, and the house in the woods where I and my animals can live and thrive in nature. (There’s a cat buddy in Iris’s future, along with a hedgehog, a teacup pig, and a bird of some sort). Goals.
I have work to do, so I need to sign off. I just had to write this. Thanks for reading, and wherever you are in your cosmic journey of life, I hope you’re able to go with the flow, embrace and honor all the feelings, and be willing to hold on to your dreams or make new ones.
Stay safe and well. And as always, sending you mad writing mojo…