Monday, November 25, 2013

Ira Glass on Writing: the Pep Talk Remix (feat. Revisions)

I'm in the heart of Revisions City and it's nuts. Half of this weekend I've wanted to chuck this draft, and the other half I've been like WAIT SUCH A GREAT IDEA

Welcome to writing, amirite?

So today I'm pep talking, because I need a little reminder that there is light at the end of the scene-shifting reviso-tunnel. Maybe you do, too. If so, pull up a chair and grab a chocolaty holiday beverage, because this is about to get real. *cracks knuckles, grabs mic and turntables*

I know most of us have probably seen this great thing Ira Glass said, but if you haven't, have a gander below:

This is probably my favorite thing that anyone has ever said about writing. What I also love about this quote is that is pretty much perfectly gets my feels on the revisions process. With a few word substitutions, we have --voila ici-- a revisions pep talk. *disco ball and strobe lights engage* 

For the first couple of drafts, it's just not that good. 
There are some people out there who are capable of producing clean first drafts. But for the life of me, I am not one of them. I'm tempted to believe that these people are unicorns because the drafting process to me is just so much ceremonial bloodletting that it's hard to believe that a whole draft could come out okay. I like unicorns and would love to someday metamorphose into one; I'm just not there right now.

Because right now, all I can see is the gap between where this draft is and where it needs to be, and it's daunting.

There's a reason why NaNoWriMo tells you not to be afraid of things sucking. Sometimes it's got to suck so that you can see where the piece as a whole is going. This happens in math a lot too-- something you have to play around with the whole problem and it gets really ugly before you get that golden idea, that strategy that lets you solve it.

So, don't sweat the sucky parts. You'll figure them out eventually.

We know our manuscript doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this.
 It happens to everyone. Even Ira Glass. The verve, the magical kaiju bone powder, the ambrosia, the essential lightning is gone, its switch is flicked off. We are the overly enthusiastic buffaloes-on-trampolines of the world, and it's just Not Happening.

A very wise CP of mine has said that each draft is ruled by a certain part of you. The first draft is the gut draft-- you want the emotional punch and swing, you set up the schematics for the roller coaster ride you plan to take your reader on. The second draft you write with your head. You make sure that things make sense, you correct your goofy spelling errors, and you solidify characters. The third draft you write with your heart. Here you marry the emotional gut-punch to the cerebral awesomeness that you added in during draft mach two.

Let draft uno do its thing. Fix the weirdo stuff in the brain draft, and then tie everything up with the heart draft. Just know that no one expects you to nail it 100% the first time through.

And if you're just starting on a first draft or you're still feeling this in revisions, you gotta know it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. 
Writing advice can be all over the place. Some people will tell you to do one thing, others tell you to do the opposite. Ultimately, it's about being familiar with whatever you're doing, feeling comfortable enough with your tools as a creator of stuff, and using them to their best advantage. And you get that level of comfort by working on a draft a whole lot. 

So, go do that. 

Maybe you want to write impressive fanfiction stories to work on character development without the weight of creating a world that works on your shoulders. Maybe you want to chill with some poetry and work on how words interlace. Maybe you want to map out your world. Whatever it's going to take for you to have a better handle on your work, go for it.

The more you do it, the better you get.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish a chapter, or every month you nail a revision, or whatever works for you. Hold yourself accountable and finish things.
It's not going to be pretty. In fact, it's probably going to get uglier before it gets better. But still, you've gotta keep moving.

You're a writer, and you write. You're not an okay-let's-go-oops-wait-giving-up-now-er. You write, so figure out how to work writing into your schedule. Maybe every day works for you and you love waking up early. Maybe it really really does not work for you, but you find that when you have five or six dedicated hours, you rock it. Whatever. Somehow, write.

It's only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap and your manuscript will be as good as that vision of it you have in your head. 
We humans are fallible. And that's okay. If I can make something better each time I pass through the manuscript, then awesome. It's better than it was before.

Sometimes it's going to get 75% better. Sometimes it'll be a measly 38% or even only 6% if it's an off day. Sometimes you're going to rock it and a scene is going to be 100% more awesome than it was. But hey, all these things are great. Why? Because in some way, large or small, your draft is getting better-- it's incrementally inching towards the place you want it to be. So don't knock yourself if it's slow going, even though it's wicked tempting, even if you only change like three words because you haven't figured out totally where your characters are going.

You made something better, even if it was small. Your draft is better for it, and closer to where it needs to be. Give yourself a pat on the back (and eat some chocolate, dude, because that is never not sage life advice).

It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take a while.

It feels like it is literally one of my CPs weekly duties to gchat me telling me it takes as long as it takes for this revision. (Related: if you're reading this, hi you are a saint.)

And you know what? As much as I give myself grief for being the slowest of the slow with respect to pulling this mega-zord of a manuscript together, I know when it's done it's going to be pretty cool. And I know that when your drafts are done, gentle readers, they too will kick much ass. Because, as Ira Glass says:

You've just gotta fight to fight your way through.

When Alex Yuschik isn't writing her next YA novel, she's working on someone else's as an intern at Entangled Publishing. She writes about lock picks, ghosts, the abandoned places in cities, and how not to strike bargains with stars. Between sneaking in time to game and rocking out to indie music, Alex spends the rest of her free time working towards her PhD in mathematics. You know, as one does.

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