The Three Dirty Birds talking about the First Read-Through after you’ve finished your draft, and how to make it work for you (instead of cower under the bed like it does to Kitty.)
Zoe: I have a reallyreallyreallyreally hard time not making changes while I’m doing the first read through. I do it on paper, and I just can’t not have a pen in my hand.
Kate: Mine are all electronic. I kill enough trees in the dayjob. (It’s a constant joke about the death of the old growth forest, though it’s not really a joke.)
Ana: Hah, whenever we get useless paper copies of anything in class my best friend goes ‘I can’t believe trees died for this.”
Zoe: I’m at the computer 18 hours a day. When I get to print a manuscript out and take it to a comfy chair, it’s a treat. (Mr. Rider does complain, however, that I don’t print on both sides of the pages when I hand him his draft.)
Kate: Someday, I will have a printer that will automatically double-side stuff. That is my goal.
Zoe: I’ve tried doing the read-through on a Kindle, but since my pen doesn’t write on the screen, it’s just an exercise in frustration.
Ana: I actually like reading on my kindle for that reason. I can’t scribble in the margins. … I still highlight things.
Zoe: I’ll give up the read-through if I have a bunch of little things nagging at me I can’t fix.
Kate: I really didn’t ‘get’ his preparation phase, where you make a book cover and put blurbs on it. I don’t know, there’s a strong Calvinist streak where I grew up–maybe that’s what makes it fit like a pair of wornout socks wrinkling in my boots, but the idea makes me cringe.
Zoe: I guess it works for him, but I don’t really feel like sitting around making up pretend glowing review blurbs (unless I’m joking around). I do work on the actual book description copy in preparation, though. It helps me make sure I know the throughline and helps me see where the book does and doesn’t match up to it.
Kate: I like to do that too, and to work on the synopsis. I’ll catch stuff doing the synopsis that I don’t catch in revision. I think, because I’m not looking to change the story, just distill it, so I read it differently.
Zoe: Yes! It’s so easy to see if something doesn’t work in the synopsis—when you get stuck and start to spin your wheels about how to get this part in, it usually points to a story problem.
Ana: That’s why I’m always terrified of working on the synopsis. Scared of finding plot problems when I think I’m done!
Zoe: (I’d rather find them when I think I’m done than have a reviewer tell the world about them later!)
Ana: While I agree with that, it doesn’t change the fact that I dread finding plot holes. (Though I’d rather find them myself than have others point them out.)
Kate: It always leads to more work.
Zoe: Yeah, it’s like going for a physical—you’re scared they’ll find something wrong, but if they do, it’ll be good that they caught it (hopefully) early.
Kate: Exactly. So much harder fixing big things after you send it to the editor. (And way more embarrassing!)
Zoe: Bell talks about summarizing (writing a synopsis) in the Analyze section of this chapter (after you finish the read-through). He suggests actually writing several—playing around with the plot points and viewpoints and stuff.
Kate: That’s something I do beforehand, sometimes. Kind of a brainstorming exercise. And then the story turns out to be nothing like what I came up with. ☺
Zoe: I may try it after the read-through of this WIP, playing what-if with quick summaries (though it’s something I do in my head during revision anyway, and it’s led to some great changes).
Ana: The what-if exercise usually leads to my major rewrites. Especially those that go ‘What if there were another character? What if this character actually wanted something different?’
Zoe: Bell talks about The Mess Factor—what to do if your manuscript is a big fat mess. He says it’s more common with pantsers, but I find it happens whether I thought I knew what I was doing ahead of time or not. It can be really frustrating—even to the point of feeling demoralizing at times, when you have this story you want to work, and the manuscript just doesn’t, and you have no idea how to make it work.
Kate: Oddly, I don’t feel my final draft is ever a mess, but that may be because I jump around in the story and am always tweaking. There’s generally a point where it feels like a mess, about halfway to three-quarters through, but then it gradually tidies itself up until I’m done and it’s all pretty. (or mostly pretty–there’s still some editing left to do, after all). But it’s nice to see my ping-ponging between projects validated.
Zoe: Every draft of Man Made Murder was an unworkable mess until finally the last one. And the last one shares only the basic premise and a scene and a half with any of the other drafts. I hope I never go through that again. But yes, ping-ponging helped. It at least made me feel like I was accomplishing something on other projects in between new terrible drafts of MMM.
Ana: Usually, my first drafts are messes. Then my second draft is still a mess, but a mess that I can work on.
Zoe: It’s pretty amazing, though, when you get to the final draft and you’re like, “Oh my God. It all worked out! It’s actually okay!”
Ana: Especially when you’re a pantser -coughs-
Kate: I love that feeling when you look at it, and the snarls are all (mostly) gone, and the edges are nice, and it you just want to sit and pet it for a while, because it’s cute like a baby platypus.
Zoe: Mine aren’t so much cute, but… Most of the frustration, especially in the first draft, is the gulf between what’s in my head and what’s going down on the page. I’m satisfied when I get to a draft that makes me go, “Hey, this idea actually turned out better than what was in my head.”
Ana: Oh yes, that’s a beautiful feeling!
Zoe: That’s what I reach for. I figure if I can keep pulling that off, I’m a success on a personal level, whether I make it as a success in the rest of the world or not.
Kate: But that’s the starting point, isn’t it? You have to be happy with it, because if you aren’t, no one will.
Zoe: It’s definitely why I can’t get to the end of the first draft, polish it up, and call it done. I haven’t stretched if I’ve done that, and if I haven’t stretched, I haven’t achieved the personal satisfaction I need to keep doing this, year after year. “Done” is what I accomplish when I wash dishes or finish a dayjob project. With the precious free time that I hoard for my writing, I need to challenge myself more. I need to make it worth not spending time with my husband or the good books I want to read or whatever else I could be doing. When I die from lack of exercise, I want to be like, “Yeah…but it was worth it.”
Ana: I’m sure you’d be exercising all the time if you weren’t so busy writing!
Zoe: I did used to exercise when I wasn’t writing. (I was thrilled to have an excuse to give it up.)
Kate: Lol. Exercise time is brainstorming time for me. Got a plot problem? Hop on the treadmill. Trying to figure out how to get a character to do something you need them to do so the plot works? Go clean the barn. Burn calories, solve problems, all at the same time.
Ana: I love thinking through my plot while skating. Can’t do it right now, though. Roads are covered in snow.
Zoe: I can’t brainstorm when I exercise. My brain goes all cranky. I could probably do it on a leisurely walk in nice weather…but I live on a mountain. There are no leisurely walks. I daydream about living in a flat city. Or at least flat-ish.
Kate: But then where would you put your pool table? You need space for that puppy.
Zoe: Yeah, but I don’t need space for a dining table, and really…everything but the bed and the desk are negotiable. I could get by with a pool table, a twin sized mattress, a desk, and my writing couch. Mr. Rider might feel a bit left out though.
Kate: Mr. Rider might make you give up the pool table. (He’s smart enough to be sure you keep the desk. I wouldn’t come between Zoe and her desk.)
Zoe: Mr. Rider won’t leave the mountain, so he doesn’t have to worry about it. I just need to get rich enough to afford an apartment away from home. For my health! So I can walk and bike! I have thought about renting a place in the nearby city for like a week a year, for a personal writing retreat where I can stroll and eat croissants and then pound away at the keyboard in my little rented room.
Ana: I like the part about the croissants.
Zoe: Chocolate croissants.
Ana: Of course.
Zoe: Someday. I really get a lot of writing done in hotel rooms, when I’m alone. (And so I’m looking forward to World Horror Con in May. And my hotel room.)