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My latest book is a huge mess and I don't know how to fix it?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by TheCrystallineEntity, Feb 22, 2017.

  1. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I find this view unhelpful. Part of the learning process includes getting words of wisdom/tricks and tips from those more experienced in the craft. The OP asked a question and we're all trying to help, not tell him/her what to do. If you're not going to listen to others and learn from their experiences and mistakes, if we can't have a discussion without a participant being cosidered bossy, then what do we have left? There's nothing more frustrating than answering someone's question on here and then being told "screw you I do what I want but I asked the question anyway".
    Annoyingkid likes this.
  2. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

    Spending your time inefficiently isn't a good approach to life. I'm just going to say this to you: No one sets out to spend 4+ years on editing their first book only to finish in disgust. You sleepwalk into it because the writer keeps thinking if only I make this change or that change, maybe it'll all come together. Thinking they're one or only a few steps away from bringing it home. And when it unsurprisingly doesn't happen, writers end up despondent. In artistic terms it's called missing the endpoint.

    Maybe because your first half didn't stink, you were able to fairly easily follow the established threads to their end.
  3. Christopher Michael

    Christopher Michael Troubadour


    The difference is, those of us who offered help said for we do things or how things could be done. Then someone offered a "this is the way, walk ye in it" option. THAT is the issue here. Anytime someone says how it MUST BE DONE, they are invariably wrong.
    DragonOfTheAerie likes this.
  4. Every writer is different. Every story is different. There are too many variables for one thing to work for everyone.
    Christopher Michael likes this.
  5. Um...I wasn't disgusted of it. I just knew that it was time to stop once I got so tired of editing it. It is finished; my uncertainty is the only thing keeping me from publishing it [that, and I'm a bit busy at the moment].

    ^Exactly, exactly! Why can't more people understand that???
  6. Annoyingkid

    Annoyingkid Banned

    Except I'm not wrong. You have to take care with the first draft. Either by careful prep work, and/or self editing as you write. Or being careful with what is written in the first place. Rushing into a giant mess of a first draft then untangling it and making the radical changes required in subsequent drafts is a poor use of time. It's easier to turn around a smaller car than a big truck.

    If you disagree, it bothers me not in the least. Your idea of "MUST" is absurd though. There's no gun to anyone's head so chillout, bucko. If the OP wants to ignore the idea of taking care with the first draft and edit for another 4 years, I'm not going to hunt him down and stop him. :p

    Sick of editing it then. As you said.
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    You could try laying out the story in index cards. Sometimes that can help a lot with getting an overhead view of the story arc and where the changes need to be.

    There's nothing that can't be fixed, but if you're spending four years on something, and putting in the effort, and it's still not working, then you need to try something different and get a new way of tackling the problem. Don't let yourself get stuck halfway on the learning curve.
    Christopher Michael likes this.
  8. ^^I actually tend to write the first draft and then untangle it; it's easier to discard things I don't need or save tidbits of story for a later book that way.

    That doesn't mean I'm not happy with my accomplishments, though. I'm just finished with it for now, and working on my new book.
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    This thread is accumulating too many personal pronouns, too many ad hominem statements.

    If you find yourself saying "you are wrong" or "I am right" in any of the numerous forms those statements can take, take a step back, breathe, and re-formulate. We're writers here; that shouldn't be too hard to do. Disagree with a position, a statement, an argument. Don't disagree with the person.

    I try to ask myself these questions:
    1. Is what I *want* to say actually helpful?
    2. Does it speak to the original post?
    3. Am I trying to prove someone else is wrong?
  10. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I understand but that's not how Annoyingkid came across to me. *shrug* I'm not looking for any arguments here, just wanting to point out that it's really not helpful to say "I'll ask a question and then when someone answers, I'll do the exact opposite." It makes me not want to answer those questions, or participate in these forums when I know that I'm not going to be taken seriously. But that's besides the point of the OP so...carry on. :)
    skip.knox likes this.
  11. The way I see it, either you can:

    1. Spend a huge amount of time on the first draft and have little to fix


    2. Dash off the first draft and spend a huge amount of time fixing it.

    (Or any variation on a spectrum between those two.)

    The first approach might save time, true. Problem is, if you write like I do, you can't write that way. I discover what kind of story I'm writing as I write. In my experience there's a lot of things you can only know in hindsight. Planning things out ahead of time is useless for me because I can only find out what the story will be like by writing it.

    Not to mention that, in a second draft, you have a higher vantage point. You can see things from a viewpoint you didn't have while in the thick of the story. You can view the whole story and how its parts fit together. You can't do that if you don't have a story. In my case, I don't even know what my story will be like until it's on the paper, so trying to see the whole story isn't really that helpful.

    I have a lot of stuff to fix, yes, but this is the way I prefer to write. It seems much more natural and organic. Yeah, I do edit as I go, it happens as the story changes and develops, but if I tried to figure out everything in the first draft, I would never write a word. (Trust me. I've tried. I ended up blocked for 2 years. Now I'm like, not doing that again! I regret daily all the time I lost. I've given discovery writing a try in this last book and I like it a lot.)

    All this to show that there's not one way to do things.

    I've tried getting the story right on the first try, I got blocked for two years, now I've accepted that my writing process is exploratory and I must slowly uncover the story I'm writing rather than figure it out ahead of time. Is it messy? Yes. Is it better than not writing anything? Hell yes.
    Penpilot likes this.
  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Too funny. I did discovery writing with Goblins and I vow I'll never do that again.

    We writers are weird.
  13. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    That's precisely why I don't edit while I write. It a waste of time spending hours editing a chapter/paragraph/what ever when I suddenly realise later on in the story that I have to dump that chapter. This isn't just my approach to things. I learned this from listening to interviews from pros, who write for a living.

    Not really. The first 50k I wrote for NaNoWriMo, and it had plenty of things that needed adjusting. Like I said I was able to do it because I understood the structure of the story. It allowed me to understand what I was removing, and it allowed me to organise myself and break down the work into digestible chunks, so I never felt overwhelmed.

    You're not right either. Just because something works for you doesn't mean it works for everyone else.

    I used to edit while I wrote, wanting everything to be oh so perfect before I moved on. Took me forever to write anything, and I rarely finished. The moment I decided to stop editing while I write was when I started to finish things. Combine that with a little education on structure, and suddenly my first drafts became less messy. Ideas became more clear. I think novels will always be a little messy for me just because of their shear size. But when I write short stories, the first draft without editing is always coherent. It may still suck, but it's coherent, and just needs some TLC to make it what I consider good.

    Sure, but what's the point of changing direction when you're not even sure what direction you want to go? Is it better to change direction a hundred times in a small car or to just make one turn in a big truck?

    No writing is ever wasted no matter the outcome. You learn from struggling with it, and if you're happy with what you got, even if it still has issues, then all the better.
  14. psychotick

    psychotick Auror


    Perhaps instead of arguing about who's right and who's wrong (because let's be honest everyone's right and everyone's wrong), we could turn instead to the question asked. How to fix the problem.

    From what I understand from the OP, the basic issue is plot. It doesn't ring true to the author. It also doesn't match up exactly to a previous work. In my view if you have this level of issue, redrafting and editing won't work. The problem is conceptual. And so the first thing you have to do is go back to the drawing board. The drawing board in this case is the story structure / characters / plot / world build.

    My thought would be - and here I speak as a pure pantster / discovery writer - lay out the plot. I don't know whether you're a pantster or a plotter, but here the answer is the same. Go right through the work, set out in chronological order every step that happens in the story, and beside it include character biographies and world build details. Then ask yourself where in this do things not seem to be working?

    You can also, and maybe you should because you may well be too close to your work to see the issues, give the plot to others to go through. Ask them to tell you where they think things don't make sense. To write down questions. (Oh if only the writers had done this for Highlander Two!)

    Next, think about what they give you. (And remember one of the most powerful pieces of advice a beta reader can give you is the simple comment - I don't understand.) Go back to your plot document, and beside it write in changes, so you can see what was and what is. And absolutely as you go through the plot, making your changes, remember to update those changes at all later points in the plot. Otherwise you get continuity errors.

    Then and only then, when everything's nailed down, begin work on the rewrite. Rewrite it from start to finish in chronological order (not like me as I jump from one section to another), and hopefully by the end you will have a story that hangs together. That's when you can finally start thinking about redrafting.

    Finally you can hit the beta reading of the story - but remember to use different beta readers from those who went through the plot. You want fresh eyes.

    Hope that helps.

    Cheers, Greg.
  15. Russ

    Russ Istar

    I don't think there is enough information in the OP to really fix the problems that might be there in the short medium that is an internet thread. That strikes me as a big project.

    This is one route, not the only route.

    Some professional writers do tons of editing as they go.

    Some professional writers just do a super fast first draft (often referred to as the vomit draft) and then go back and intensely edit. One very successful spec fic writer I know suggests his real writing process doesn't start in earnest until after the commit draft is finished.
    Steerpike likes this.
  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Yes, I think that process works for some people. The idea that it will take substantially longer to produce a complete work that way strikes me as an assumption without any real evidence behind it. People write in different ways, none inherently better than the other since what works for the individual writer is what matters. For some writers, rushing somewhat haphazardly through a first draft might lead to a longer overall process; for others it may be the reverse.

    Given the nature of the OP's problem, I see at least two approaches:

    1) start outlining/planning the story at a higher level and work through the issues before committing words to the paper;

    2) push through until you have a complete first draft, and if issues arise that would otherwise stop you in your tracks, ignore them for now and keep going.

    Neither of these is inherently better than the other, and only the OP can determine which approach is likely to be the best for his/her own writing.
  17. Malik

    Malik Auror

    I am a huge proponent of writing the ending, first. Know where you're going. Then get there.

    How does the story end? What's the point you're making? What are you trying to say with the book? Maybe examine that, then write the end, and then figure out how everyone got there from where they are, now.
  18. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    I'm trying that approach for a longer work I am working on. With short stories I tend to just sit down and write, with a vague notion of where the whole thing is going, and I usually get through the first draft in a sitting. That said, the endings do give me difficultly, probably because of the approach. The second to the last story I sold was written that way, and one of the rejections I received for it had a personal comment from the editor saying she liked everything but the ending. Rewrote the ending and it sold on next submission. So it might have been more effective to have written the ending first, as you suggest.
  19. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Ok...but why does "discovery writing" have to mean that you can't edit as you go? And for heaven's sake, all writing is organic. I don't understand why these sorts of discussions typically end up in "my process is organic and perfect and anyone who doesn't do it this way isn't artistic."

    At the cost of getting myself banned, which I most certainly don't want to do, I'm going to take a breath and say that my only intention in answering Crystalline's question was to be helpful. Yes, I outline but loosely. Most of the stuff I make up as I go between plot point to plot point. But...WHO CARES?!??!?!!! No one is right and wrong here! I do agree the OP's problem is structural because there's too much going on in the story. But OP hasn't given us much to go on either, so it's difficult understanding how exactly to help. Perhaps that might be a better way to steer the discussion.
  20. I'm a discovery writer and I edit as I go. So...

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