I got feedback from my test readers this past weekend on Book 2 of Glitch. The feedback was largely positive – the characters, the story, the setting, they’re all doing their jobs, and I’m now firmly in editing territory with the next draft. This success was particularly sweet because it was so hard won. I completed the first draft of Book 2 back at the end of June of this year. Alpha readers universally hated it. (They were mostly very tactful about it, and my fragile creative ego is grateful). Since then I’ve written four more drafts, most of which were complete from-the-ground-up rewrites, meaning that in the past six months, I’d essentially written five books. If each of those drafts had been for unique books, I’d have drafted the entire first series by now, which is simultaneously encouraging, and depressing.
I learned a lot from churning out that many drafts, but one lesson in particular stands out to me. It was the biggest shift I made between writing drafts 2 – 4, and draft 5, which finally worked. The change was simply this: I stopped trying to save the “good bits”.
What I mean by “good bits” is the handful of things the alpha readers did like in the earlier drafts, and the moments of inspiration that struck outside of the actual drafting process while I was in the shower, or doing the dishes. I don’t know if it works the same way for other creative fields, but other writers out there know exactly what I’m talking about, and also probably have notebooks filled with that kind of stuff.
Confession: I don’t consider myself a particularly funny or emotional person. When I manage to write something that’s genuinely funny or gut-wrenching, that’s a big deal for me. Here’s a second confession: deep down inside, I’m afraid I don’t have any more where that came from. I have the sense that those moments of emotional connection between the reader and the pages are all I’ve got, so I hoard them. I shoehorn them into later drafts, or pressure scenes in a particular direction to set up for that one really clever piece of dialogue. The result is a story built of cool moments stitched crudely together like Frankenstein’s monster. My test readers know it’s not working and instinctively, so do I, even if I’m too reluctant to change it.
The big change in this most recent draft is that I stopped trying to save the good parts. I knew my characters, and what they wanted, and drove them ruthlessly into the ground trying to get it. It was the tabletop rpg equivalent of “play to find out what happens”. I lost so many good moments, and I mourn their passing, but it was worth it. The story works now. It’s finally something I can be proud to share.
If you’ve got any “aha!” moments, or things you’ve learned from a string of bad drafts, I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a message on social media, or leave a comment below. Good luck in your own writing!