Monday, September 21, 2009

Finishing That First Draft

I met Trish at an MCRW meeting in 1996.  At that time, I’m pretty sure she had one completed manuscript, a historical romance, and had started a second.  I might have written ten pages.  Since then, we’ve pretty much maintained that ratio though that may be generous to me.  To say I took a long time to complete a first draft would be an understatement.  I made that accomplishment the equivalent to climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or something equally impossible.

In the last few years, I poured over every touchy-feely writing book out there.  I attended and listened to recordings of as many writers’ life and inspire your muse workshops as I could.  I explored every process and trick recommended.  Club 100 was particularly helpful. 

Friends kept telling me that nothing would feel as good or be as helpful as finishing that first draft.  I started several manuscripts and wrote enough pages total for a completed manuscript.  I even got halfway through two different novels.  I just couldn’t seem to get to the end.

I did finally write those two words at approximately 10:30 a.m. on June 22, 2009, and everybody was right.  Nothing has felt better or meant more in terms of my writing.  The trick that finally did it was to go on two different writing retreats with my critique partner Carol Hayes.

In August 2008 Carol and I rented a two-bedroom apartment in Berkeley Springs, WV, for four days and three nights.  While we did hang out, dine at local restaurants, talk shop, explore the town and socialize, we spent the majority of our time writing or brainstorming.  Carol finished a draft of one of her historical romances, and I wrote more than 40 pages.  Both of us were amazed by our output and wanted to make this a regular practice.  Getting away from all other responsibilities and distractions to focus entirely on our writing was very freeing and productive and incredibly fun. 

We returned in June 2009 for another four days/three nights.  This time, we dragged along fellow WRW member Vanessa Lillie and rented a small house.  We all set goals that were ambitious yet realistic as we drove north one Friday afternoon.  I wanted to finish a draft of Honor’s Redemption, my regency-set historical romance.  I wasn’t sure if that was possible, but I really wanted to try.

 I spent the first day re-reading my manuscript and feeling a little overwhelmed by the task in front of me and even lost as to where to begin.   It’s exactly how I started the last retreat, and Carol is a pro at asking the right questions to give me direction and get me going.  I spent a lot of time outlining Saturday morning what needed to be accomplished that weekend and by that night, I started to believe I really could finish a draft before we left Monday.  Sunday night I knew.  I told Carol and Vanessa, who were thrilled, and went to bed with only two scenes remaining to be written the next day.

I woke up Monday morning singing Celine Dion’s song I’ve been waiting forever in my head and quickly sat down to write.  Carol and Vanessa told me to tell them when I started writing the last scene.  I did, and they took photos.  Right after I wrote the end, they came running back into the room to celebrate.  I loved how we were able to make such a solitary moment communal and fun.

It was so awesome!

I can’t overstate what getting to this point meant to me.  To use another cliché, I got the monkey off my back.  I no longer had to feel like a complete fake.  I could face my fellow writers as a peer.  I have a complete draft.  It’s rough.  It’s short.  Stretches are almost purely dialogue, but it has a beginning, middle and end.  There are several arcs including a strong romance, a main storyline, subplots, and character growth for the hero and heroine and secondary characters.  There’s already texture and great historical detail.  Once I revise it, I swear it will sing.

If you are struggling to get to the point to write the end for the first time, I can honestly tell you that nothing will feel better and mean more to your progress as a writer.  You can do it!

I highly recommend these writing retreats to help get you there.  In fact, I’m on another one with Carol and Laura Graham Booth, the third member of our critique group, this weekend.  I’m working on revising Honor’s Redemption because I’m going to enter the Golden Heart Contest for the first time this fall.  I even plan to pay for it as soon as it opens up to commit myself fully to meeting that goal.  Wish me luck!


Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on September 21, 2009 at 10:31 AM said...

I love the photo of you with your hands in the air. That's the feeling of finishing the first book! I think this is an awesome post, since we're all writers here, because it also ties into our health in that you get an enormous mental high when you hit writing milestones, when you accomplish goals. That mental high feeds over into our physical well-being. I know I've had stretches where I wasn't producing much, it would get me down emotionally, and that would manifest itself in me sitting in front of the TV eating junk. Positivity in one aspect of our lives feeds positivity in others.

Good luck with the GH, Michelle! I'm so proud of you.

Anonymous said...

Writing retreats ROCK! Not only did we enjoy ourselves, we helped one another with plot pitfalls and got some serious writing done. (And Michelle didn't hassle me too much for bringing snack foods. Hey, they weren't ALL bad for you!)

Michelle Butler on September 21, 2009 at 7:25 PM said...

Thanks, Trish! It means a lot that you said you are proud. I can't think of anyone I know more disciplined about writing than you.

Writing retreats are awesome, Laura! :) You rocked this weekend. And, you kindly shared your snacks.

Mary on September 22, 2009 at 3:09 PM said...

Congrats Michelle on this awesome achievement! I am so dang on proud of you. I look forward to joining you one day with that finished first draft.

Michelle Butler on September 22, 2009 at 3:42 PM said...

You'll get there, Mary. Hopefully, it won't take you 13 years. :)

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