“Kenneth” is the working title to my latest short story (the project I submitted yesterday). I spent so much time in the last month thinking about it, writing it, re-writing it that it’s hard to let go.
Seems like a great time to write about the lessons learned. An experienced writer might find these incredibly obvious, and frankly they are, but there’s something about actually making mistakes and learning from them that hammers the point home in a way that reading will never do.
I’m expecting other would be writers will read this and also fail to learn, make the same mistakes and go “Ah! Now I know” as well.
It’s the cycle of life.
So, without further ado, here’s some lessons I’ve learned:
1) Give yourself time to edit: I wrote and re-wrote this damn story four times, and that’s not counting cutting scenes and writing others. I likely wrote 20 to 30 thousand words to end up with my final six thousand. Those six thousand words were re-written right down to the wire. Unfortunately, this left me only a few hours on the final deadline day to do any editting. My sick daughter cut those few hours down to maybe 2.
Repeat after me: This is not enough time. You can’t catch all of your mistakes in one or two re-reads.
2) Give your alpha (or beta) reader time to read: Following on the heels of #1 above, writing this thing all the way down to the wire meant that my wife (who is always the first to read my stuff) had no time to read it before I submitted the story. She loved it, but found several points that I could have “fixed” had she had the chance to read it earlier. Discussing it a few hours after I sent the story in, I cringed hearing about several mistakes that I failed to catch myself.
3) No matter what, rushing causes stupid mistakes: I couldn’t find the submission guidelines. I had net connection problems. When the kind publisher asked that I resend my submission as an attachment I sent it…without any contact information in the file. Yikes. I had to resend a new copy hoping that I wouldn’t be too annoying. I’m slightly sick just thinking about it. Lesson learned. I’m such a noob.
4) Caffeine helps me write: I wasted too many evenings because of either a bad day or lack of energy. It’s too easy to just say “I’ll do it tomorrow” and crash on the couch. It was also very easy to skip my morning writing after a bad night. It’s been a rough month. I wouldn’t do it everyday, but just a little caffeine rush after the baby goes to sleep did wonders on my word count.
5) Plans or pants? Outline or write by the seat of your pants? I’ve always been a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of writer and always drag my feet when doing outlines. That said, I think it’s telling that my NaNoWriMo victories were well outlined ahead of time and my failures were not. This time I discovered a happy compromise. I do better just sitting down and pounding out a whole story, without planning, then reading it and scrapping it. I write up a much better outline once I have that first run through and I can see on paper what works. I have to just pound out something, I don’t seem to do well writing from an outline cold yet on a re-write I do 100% with a detailed outline.
My major issues come down to procrastination. Once I overcome procrastination I’ll do ok. I still need that threat of that deadline to kick my ass into the basement office to do battle with the blank screen. I seem to do my best work under some pressure. I’m going to try and figure out a way to either change that, or pressure myself in such a way as to leave myself time before a deadline. Setting my OWN deadlines doesn’t seem to work so far.
I’ll work at it.