The Read-Through

I finished the rough draft of my first Science-Fiction novel, Rifted, a few days ago. I was ridiculously happy to finish the novel (my fourth, by the way!) and celebrate another Draft Day. I started the novel on November 1, the first day of NaNoWriMo, and finished my 108,100 word draft EXACTLY 100 days later on February 8.

A novel in 100 days. I think that’s pretty cool.

But the thing is, my novel isn’t done yet. In fact, it’s far from complete. At this point, I would be embarrassed to let another human being read it.

When I finish a novel, I set it aside for a few days. Then, I begin my first read-through. For me, this is where some of the hardest work happens. My first reading of a rough draft is always a close reading. I look at the content and craft hard enough to burn a hole in my computer screen. I cut and rewrite. I tear things apart. Sometimes I rebuild, and sometimes I let the pieces lie.

I tend to slip a lot of passive verbs into my rough draft. And that’s okay. In the rough draft, my main goal is to get the story out of my head and shove it onto a workable medium. The rough draft it where I let myself be creative more than correct. Sometimes the result isn’t pretty. Not yet, anyway. That’s why we authors revise. The purpose of the revision process is to find, flag, and fix those pesky passive verbs, overuse of participles, and other bad habits of writer craft.

(I have a lot of bad habits of writer craft).

My first read-through is always painfully slow. I flag sentences in a chapter. Then, I go back and examine every sentence I’ve flagged. I consider how to fix the problem, whether it’s clarity, content, or craft. It requires me to think about the words I’ve chosen and how I’ve used them.

Sometimes I come across larger issues. I’ve said before that one of the most difficult lessons to learn about the revision process is nothing is sacred. I don’t care how great a scene is. If it doesn’t work for the story, it has to go.

Check out this post to see what I mean.

By the time this read-through is done, I will probably have cut somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 words. But I’ll likely have written an additional 20k to 30k words. Maybe more. I’ll heartlessly chop out the scenes that don’t work, and lovingly embellish the scenes that do. I’ll work until I think it’s perfect.

But I know it won’t be perfect yet.

I’ll set my new first draft aside for a few days. I’ll probably ask a few people to proof it for me. I’ll see what they find and make those corrections. After that, I’ll print it off (paper, I know, but it seriously helps me to have a hard copy) and go through the draft again.

Revise. Set aside. Repeat. Eventually, it’ll be ready.

I’ve finished another rough draft, and that’s awesome. It’s an accomplishment. Draft Day is always worth a little celebration. But it’s only the beginning. Now, the hard work begins.

Christopher

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Forced Labor

I just finished a week of forced labor, locked in a basement, alone. I had no way to contact anyone. My mind groped in the semi-darkness of fluorescent lights, struggling for words. At times I stared blankly at bare cement block walls, or the single glass of water allowed to me, desperately trying to figure out what to do next.

Occasionally, the sound of laughter found its way through the floorboards, or piped its way through the vents and duct work, reminding me that life still existed above my dungeon-home. But for me, there was no way to ascend without being forced back. My captor thwarted every attempt at escape. She wanted results from the task at which she set me.

So, like a good prisoner, I complied.

You see, my wife made me take a vacation.

Actually, it was a stay-cation. And it was a really, really good week. I needed time away from the hectic craziness that working as a pastor can be. Honestly, I haven’t taken time for myself – just for me – in years.

My wife demanded that I do it. She knew I needed to deflate the bubble of stress building up inside of me. Advent and Christmas had been incredibly busy. A string of funerals during that time had given me double duty for preaching for some of those weeks. (It takes time to craft a sermon. Mine are typically around 1,800 words). I hardly had any time for my novel writing which, as my creative outlet, is my personal therapy.

I needed a break. Big time.

So my wife, Joy, made me take a week off, a Monday through Sunday, so I could focus on writing.

Joy made rules for me during my vacation. No smartphone (she kept it so I wouldn’t be tempted). No email (my inboxes are entirely out of control). No social media (I have about a hundred unchecked notifications on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Yikes!).

I was to drive our kids to school, go into our basement with a cup of coffee, boot up my computer, and write.

So I did. I poured myself into my Sci-Fi novel, Rifted, and I wrote. I got roughly 17,000 words written over the course of the week.

(I probably could have gotten more than 17k words, but the house fire on Monday put a bit of a kink in things. The fan in the hood over the stove decided to go out with a flame. Yeah. Fire department and all that).

The off-the-grid time I was able to take for myself and my novel allowed me to focus. I worked through some difficult parts of my novel. I took a closer look at the structure and made decisions about some things I need to do to improve it. And now I’m looking at the end of the story. It’s within sight. My current word count is 91,035 words. As soon as I’m done hammering out the rough, I know exactly what I need to do for the revisions. I’ve got a plan, and it feels good.

I also read another YA fantasy book just for fun. I like to read other stuff when I’ve finished my own writing for the day.

All in all, it was time well spent. Maybe invested is a better word. I got more words down than any week during NaNoWriMo, which is when this novel began. I feel refreshed. My novel is taking shape. Life is good (Even with a partially burned kitchen!).

But none of it would have happened without my wife taking me aside and saying, “You know what? You need a vacation. You need to spend time writing so you can relax. This is what you’re going to do…

So I owe a big THANK YOU to Joy. Thanks for making me take time. Thanks for encouraging the writer in me by imprisoning me in our basement. Thanks for forcing me to labor at something I need. You’re amazing, and I love you.

Christopher