Friday, September 25, 2009

Cover art and how to finish a book

By Heather Justesen

First, you may have noticed my new book cover in the column on
the side, but in case you didn't, or haven't seen it on my regular blog, or my website, or Facebook profile or any of the multitude of forums I belong to (I'm not at all excited, in case you couldn't tell), here it is.

Last week I received an email from a friend who is an aspiring writer. I've read the first three chapters of her book, so I know the girl can seriously write so I was surprised when she asked me this:

Okay, I'm feeling totally overwhelmed. How do you keep at a book when it seems like you're looking at a decade of work?

The problem? She kept going back to revise the previous chapters instead of focusing on getting the book written to the end. So this is what I told her.

I’m going to give you an assignment. Write the book—you are NOT allowed to go back and edit ANYTHING. If you realize in chapter 22 that you need to go back and change something in chapter 6 then make a note and keep plowing on (unless you’re going to add a scene, that is permissible. Editing the scenes around it while you’re at it is not). If you edit each chapter into perfection before you allow yourself to keep writing, it won’t get finished. This is your first draft—you’re going to have to rewrite it anyway to add or arrange for things you don’t know are going to happen yet. Wait until later, then edit the whole thing at once when it’s DONE.

The book I’m working on now I’ve worked on a chapter at a time. I take the chapter to critique, mark their notes on it, then keep writing. I haven’t made any significant changes to it, or read it through, just made notes on the text. When I finish getting the whole thing through my critique group, I’ll go back and do my editing. And I can see piles of things that I did wrong, or that I should tweak to reflect the direction my book is going now, but I don’t give myself permission to work on those until the last chapter is written, or the end will never get finished.

Try it and see what happens. It’s too easy to get distracted with everything you did wrong earlier in the book and let that stop you from moving forward. It’s much easier to fix the book when it’s done, even though I know that seems daunting. Trust me, I hate doing full edits, especially when there’s a significant amount of reworking that has to be done. I drag my feet and procrastinate for months. I’ve looked at piles of manuscript that are covered in red ink and think it’s going to take me FOREVER to fix all of the problems my friends pointed out. Strangely, it’s never as bad as my mind makes it out to be. Usually, I finish it much faster and less painfully than I expected.

Go for it!

Yesterday at the Book Academy conference at UVU Brandon Sanderson was a key note speaker. He spoke about the ten things he had to learn before he got published. (If anyone got the title for #4, please let me know, I seem to have missed that slide). During the speech he talked about the difference between discovery writers (AKA seat-of-your-pants or 'pantsers') which he referred to as multi-drafters, verses single-drafters or plotters. He talked about the different methods, and how he uses different ones for different books, and--here's my point (yes, I do have one). He said multidrafters often have trouble finishing books because they don't have the ending planned, while single-drafters (a mis-nomer, of course, because even those who plot excessively have to edit their first drafts and revise--and they HATE to revise) tend to have trouble in the middle (and now I know why I struggle so much when I'm 60% done).

Understanding what kind of writer you are can help you avoid the pitfalls of never finishing your books so you don't have 13 on your hard drive that are nearly done (again, using me as an example. Well, 13 may not be exact, I haven't counted lately). Whatever your tendency, figure out what's holding you back and get the book finished. As Nora Roberts is commonly quoted: "You can't fix a blank page."


Sheila said...

Great blog Heather! You have some wonderful advice here. I especially like the last quote about how you can't fix a blank page.

BTW,#4 in Brandon's presentation was..."It's Still Good to Pay Attention to the Market." I did not get #2...can you tell me what #2 was?