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Frustration With Rough Draft

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Hey, guys.  I wasn’t sure if this was the right place to put this, but here we go.

I’m struggling with the first draft of my YA novel.  I keep wanting to go back and edit, the writing is becoming boring, and despite my efforts, my writing comes off as fast-paced.  I don’t know how to slow it down.  Heck, I don’t even know how to properly describe scenes and places for the reader to imagine.  It’s hard to word barf and is a bit frustrating.

Does anyone have any suggestions?
#1 - December 19, 2018, 06:42 AM

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Hi Lauren,

I think we all have been there!

My advice would be to make yourself finish the draft. Push through to the end. You learn something in writing each novel you complete.

Then decide if it is a story you want to continue to work on/revise/etc. If it is, begin the art of revision!

If it is not, then it is not for nothing; it is simply practice before you write your next novel. :)
#2 - December 19, 2018, 08:05 AM
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Finding a critique group or critique partner might help you.  After you complete your draft, that is. 
#3 - December 19, 2018, 08:18 AM
Karen B. Jones

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Hi Lauren

Step 1: Breathe

I'm fairly certain frustration is a part of the writing process. Over-editing one line for two hours is certainlyfar too common for me :grin

Step 2: Step back

That could mean taking a short break, working on something else, taking another approach (e.g. having the computer read it for you), getting feedback from a 3rd party or validating your structure (e.g. does each chapter have a strong beat, do all the actions and dialogue move the story forward, etc.)

Or take a book you've enjoyed and compare their descriptive scenes to your own. Why does that book work or yours perhaps not?

Step 3: Find the root of the problem

Figure out the cause and not symptom. I find that when I can't fix pacing or the writing stops connecting with me, it's usually because there is something I'm not seeing.

I struggled with one story for a year before I realized my MC's attitude was the problem. She was acting contrite when she was actually fearful. I assumed her behaviour and her reasons for the behaviour were the same, and they weren't.  It wasn't a big change, but it changed the story considerably.

If your writing is too fast-paced, perhaps the issue is that you're blunting your character's emotional response. It's a common problem (for me anyway). It's not enough to surround the MC with zombie dust bunnies. Put us there. Make us sense it -- physically and emotionally.

Step 4: Change your approach

Focus on a section rather than the whole book. Don't worry about how it connects to the rest (other than making little notes) until later. What does that one scene need? Sometimes that means dropping hints earlier or changing a response later, but that's neither here no there in the moment. How can you make that one moment sing?

Or (my favourite), work backwards. I often realize that I've forgotten things, contradicted myself or altered attributes of characters. I seldom write a book from the start. I usually start with scenes and see if I can construct something.
#4 - December 19, 2018, 08:26 AM
« Last Edit: December 19, 2018, 08:28 AM by David Wright »

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Thanks, y’all.  This is very helpful.
#5 - December 19, 2018, 09:21 AM

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Frustration is a big part of the process. It's even a helpful part of the process because it inspires you to reach higher. I find it helpful to write some goals for my writing--what I aspire to in my writing for that day: poetic imagery, snappy dialogue, sensory description, etc. A first draft is mostly getting the ideas down. It's not going to be great. It's like making cake batter--it's only the first step in creating a beautiful cake, but without the finished batter you don't have a base to create a beautiful 3 tiered cake.
#6 - December 19, 2018, 10:07 AM
Rebecca Langston-George
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The predominant belief out there now is that a first draft MUST be written fast, it MUST be absolutely horrible, and you MUST not edit until you reach the end.

But none of that is Law. You can write the first draft however you want. Make sure you're not being peer-pressured (even just in your own mind) into a way that doesn't work for you.

I'd recommend finding a method that makes you feel you are practicing your craft in the way that works best for you and gives you pleasure. If you want to draft slow, you can. If knowing that what you've already written is  :poop paralyzes you so you can't move forward, go back and revise. Who knows, you may discover a better plot point, without which you would have fast-drafted 200 wasted pages. If word-barfing isn't your method, you don't have to do it. You have no one to please but yourself in this.

On the other hand, some aspects just can't be done well enough in a first draft. That's what revision's for. So if you know, for example, that the pacing is off, you might let that be something that waits for later. For now, congratulate yourself that you've already identified that problem.
#7 - December 19, 2018, 12:59 PM
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Setting a daily word-count goal works for me sometimes during the rough draft stage, but it's super hard not to go back and edit yesterday's words every day... :shoveldirt
#8 - December 19, 2018, 03:06 PM
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What everyone^ said.
And to that I add, It gets better with practice. Really.

Somewhere, you will find within you a way to turn off that "spoiler." That's the voice that tells you you're doing a lousy job.  :gaah Everyone manages this aspect differently. Then you get the job done.  :yeah
With subsequent novels you get better at all aspects. (Full disclosure, my typos haven't receded. But all the rest is so much better.  :grin3)
#9 - December 19, 2018, 05:35 PM
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Marcia's post reminded me that "first draft" means different things to different people. I find it really helpful to first edit yesterday's writing before I begin writing each day, so about 25% of my writing time each day is devoted to editing/rewriting yesterday's writing. It's a process that works for me. I still consider the finished product a first draft even though it's had a lot of edits along the way to the first draft finish line. Maybe you can experiment with different methods until one feels right.
#10 - December 19, 2018, 05:43 PM
Rebecca Langston-George
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Sometimes we forget to give ourselves a break. I don't expect a first draft, or a fifteenth draft, to be perfect. I do expect it to give me the bones my story needs. I write scenes without enough detail and then my critique group tells me where they're confused and I fix it. Or they tell me the same thing again. So give yourself a break. Lower your expectations for this draft. Know that mistakes can be fixed most of the time.

And no work is wasted. Even if this story isn't viable in the long run. You may find a scene that works in another story. You may write something else about one or more of the characters. You may have spotted an issue in your writing that you can work on.

One more thing. Know why you are writing this particular story. That way, you keep the heart in it. Good luck.
#11 - December 19, 2018, 06:25 PM
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I'm chiming in late, but you have received excellent advice. You will have to experiment with what works for you. Nonfiction is easy for me because the story is already there and I'm just choosing how and which bits to tell. First fiction drafts are hard for me. There are too many possibilities. I usually have to outline the bones of the story, bits of dialogue, scenes. I don't even call this the first draft because it's such a mess and I have a relationship with numbers and first doesn't feel right. I call it an exploratory draft, because it's a lot like exploratory surgery--you're looking to find the problem... 

Go ahead and embrace the frustration and uncertainty. If it's a story you love and believe in, you'll keep coming back to it and over several drafts, it'll be something good, because in the meantime, you will also hone your craft with deliberate exercises. I'm a little leery of sharing a story that's in the formative stage. I like to figure out what it is I am trying to say before I show it to someone else. I share my work after I've made it the best I can. If I'm confused about something during the drafting stage, I'll talk to a trusted writer friend.

Happy writing!
#12 - January 14, 2019, 06:03 AM
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Thanks, Vijaya, and everybody else as well!  Very good points.  I definitely don’t like doing things from point A to point B.  I was that kid who would read the beginning of a book, then the end, and then the middle.  So I think I’m going to try just writing scenes sticking out in my brain for now, like throwing clay on the pottery wheel.  Thanks for the help!
#13 - January 14, 2019, 06:40 AM

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