Thursday, June 17, 2021

What I Learned From This "Final" Draft


Most authors will tell you no two books are written the same way. While there are always many similarities, process evolves as the author matures, more or less time is available, and deadlines approach. I’m a big believer that continued success at anything depends on a well-defined, well-conceived, and repeatable process, so I’m always looking for ways to refine mine.


Last week I finished the final draft of the seventh Penns River novel. (More on that “final draft” business later.) I’ve learned a lot.


Scrivener is a big help. I use little of its functionality, but its assistance with notetaking and outline maintenance is a huge timesaver.


An experiment from the previous book—retyping the first draft instead of editing it—works well. It’s far easier to leave your darlings along the side of the road than it is to kill them.


I’ve always printed out a draft and read it aloud as part of the process. My vision issues make that more of a challenge, so having Word read chapters aloud while I follow along allows me to focus on listening, which catches a lot of things I might otherwise have missed. I still “proofread” each chapter aloud for The Beloved Spouse™ as the final check.


If a sentence or paragraph isn’t working no matter what I try, maybe it doesn’t belong. I cut it, let Word read the surrounding text again, and see if I miss it.


Now that I’m retired and my schedule is much more fluid, I’ve learned I don’t need a routine to write effectively. I sit down when I have time, or when I feel like it, and I write. No need to ease into it. My subconscious is always working on the work(s) in progress; tapping into that shouldn’t require a lot of effort. I rest transparently for a bit if need be. I think watching Jonathan Mayberry grab bits of writing time at a C3 conference implanted the idea without me realizing it at the time. This also makes it a lot easier for me to have concurrent ongoing projects.


Last but not least, I keep my mind open for ways to improve. Three-quarters of the way through what I fully intended to be the final draft, I began a re-read of James Ellroy’s Blood’s a Rover. Just a few nights’ reading convinced me my narrative and descriptions were too wordy. I’m not talking about trimming things to Ellroy’s level of staccato, but dialog is my strength, so I need to get to the next bit quick as I can. In my universe, narrative’s job is to move the story, not paint beautiful sentences. Readers can’t envision exactly what I see in my head, so I only need to give them enough to paint their own pictures; everything else is superfluous. More detailed descriptions are useful to me in early drafts, but the reader has little or no use for them.


So it wasn’t the final draft after all. I’ll leave it sit a few weeks while I do a read-through of the Western, then take a vacation. When I get back I’ll do what I’m referring to as the Ellroy Draft, then it will be done.


I hope. I have lots of other stuff I want to get to.


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