Thursday, May 20, 2010

Writer's OCD

I am over the moon tonight, and it's not just the double cappuchino. My local writer's group met and I read them the first few pages of the nth version of my first chapter.

(We meet in a coffee shop, and to show my appreciation to the shop I always get a cappuchino and something to eat. I want them to like us and let us keep meeting there. So, you see, I had to have the cappuchino.)

Anyway, some of these poor captive listeners had heard or read previous versions. They liked the current one. They really liked it. Even the ones who don't read fantasy.

I am SO relieved. It would be nice to get on with the book, and my life. I have spent, literally, about a year writing and rewriting the first few chapters. I'll get to a certain point, and then go back and rewrite again.

You know what I'm talking about.

That constant questioning, the insecurity. Do I have a hook? Am I at the right point to begin? Do I introduce the main conflict on the first page? Is there enough description of the setting and the main character? Is there too much description of the setting and/or main character? Do I raise enough story questions to keep the reader interested?

Will they turn the page?

Or do you, my blog readers and fellow writers, not agonize about these things? Do you just write from your heart and your instincts? Do you outline like a busy little outlining bee? Do you write backwards from the ending? Or are you just as obsessed as I am?

Please tell me I'm not the only one with writer's OCD.


  1. Hi,

    I feel sure every writer will have expressed the self same sentiments on doubting they've got it absolutely right. After all, one man's meat another's poison, and worrying about the latter is the bane of every writer.

    I guess I'm lucky because my storylines come to me by way of dreams in the form of a movie. So I know my characters and know their story long before I begin putting it on the laptop. That said, the writing still has to match up to what I've seen, though the characters pretty much dictate over my shoulder where things belong and whether I've set the scene right.

    Am I mad? Who knows! I know I'm obsessed with what ever I'm writing.


  2. You are not alone. When I wrote my first draft I would write and then go back and try to revise the chapter. Eventually my CP said --"Just write it. Then go back and spend time revising. It will be much easier." I knew she was right but it wasn't easy. I finally just wrote the darn thing and now I'm revising like a crazy woman.
    So no you are not crazy...this is normal.
    Good luck!

  3. Not to sound like a naysayer, but when you rework your first chapters over and over, what happens to the middle, or the end? Do you agonize over those as well?

    An agent will look at the first 3 chapters sure, and maybe love them, but if the writing isn't there in chapter 4, well, then, what have you?

    I would write the whole book, finish it without editing another thing and when I was done, set it aside, let it breathe, like wine, and after a few weeks, then I would edit, rewrite.

    If you keep wasting time rewriting the first chapters, you'll never finish the book. And I know you want it to be perfect, but nothing is perfect. Sometimes you have to just let it be 'good enough'.

    And no, you're not crazy, I did this with my first book, agonized over the beginning, and you know what, I had to cut those chapters. All that time and work and energy and boom, they were gone. So learn from my lesson.

  4. Thank you, Francine and Christine. I wish I had your muse, Francine. ;o)

    Anne, I do want all of the chapters to get this much attention! That's part of what's driving me crazy. I've been working on this book little by little for three years now, and I want it to be publishable. I'm not going through all this work just to put it in a drawer. I'm not just going to finish it just so I can say I'm finished, either, though some days that's tempting. So I want every part of it to be as good as I can make it.

    I really want this to be the LAST draft. I have one almost complete draft, and the middle has been rewritten many times as well. I didn't want to write the ending until I was sure I was close to being done. My goal is to have it ready for my beta readers in July, and ready to query in August.

    I'm not quibbling over writing style right now; it's plotting I'm worried about. I haven't outlined this story because I don't know how I even COULD outline it. It would have to be a tree diagram with interlacing branches or something. There are so many characters, and so many twists, it's hard to think of a way to put it on paper. I think as I'm going along, "I probably should have introduced that person earlier," or "This event should have happened sooner" or "I must remember to make this person react this way to X, so that later their response to Y makes sense." And so on. So eventually I end up going back to fix everything because I can't focus on what I'm doing any more.

    As well, in fantasy, there is the world-building aspect. Anything that gets changed anywhere affects the whole book. I have to go back and edit those details for consistency as well.

    I have stopped working on it for months at a time, and even tried very hard to pretend it doesn't exist, but I keep coming back in the end. That's why my profile says I have "a dysfunctional relationship with a very persistent novel."

  5. isn't it nice to know you're not alone?

    i like your description (in your comment) about an tree diagram. that would be my "outline" too. so many twists, turns, reactions, etc. i tried using a timeline, but that kept changing. every time i would finally tape down my sticky notes, i had to move them again or write new sticky notes. the only thing i'm doing to keep track of things is using a calendar so i know what happens when, then i put the date in the MS (which i'll take out later) so i know where i am.

    currently, though, i'm just stuck. not sure if it's an "i'm trying to be perfect" kind of stuck or an "i'm using the wrong pov" stuck or a "this scene doesn't belong here" stuck.

  6. Is this your first novel?

    That's a key question.

    See, my first novel I considered a practice novel. I wrote the first few chapters and kept going until I got to the end. I paid no attention to style or structure or anything else.

    Then I rewrote a few chapters.

    Then I revised. I took it from 120kw to 75kw. Now ~that's~ revision!

    Then I shelved it and haven't looked at it since. The whole point was to FINISH that book.

    My second novel I never could get started. I reached about 100kw and stopped. I was trying too hard.

    The third one, though, I poked over the first few chapters for a while, then chugged out the book, rewrote some parts, revised, and it wasn't bad!

    My fourth book stumped me for a while until I changed the setting and the age of my main character and added a second main character who ended up being my primary focus once I got started. My original MC became a supporting actress while I focused on a guy who was far more interesting than her.

    I'm on my fifth, now, and trudging out the first few chapters. Once I get them right, I'll finish the book in one swipe, rewrite, revise, and then begin the sixth.

    See what I'm doing here? I'm developing my writing ~process~.

    If this is your FIRST novel, finish it, shelve it, and get to the SECOND novel. That one will be a little bit better. Get to your THIRD and FOURTH books, and eventually you'll be out of the doldrums.

    Get your process down.

    - Eric

  7. Agony and joy seem to be two major parts of the writing process, and editing/revision/rewriting process. I want my writing to be good, awesome, excellent, and I know that it doesn't always measure up. But I keep writing anyway. I hope you do too. Tell the agony to step aside for the joy.

  8. Oh, you're definitely not the only one. I suffer from this immensely!

  9. Hi Christine,

    The internet eated my comment.

    In short, no you're not the only one to worry about these things but do not let them take away from the joy of creativity and crafting a novel.

    Feedback from readers is important but you should keep in mind a few things:

    the qualifications of your readers and how you know them (do they read a lot? are they interested in helping you or tearing you down? do they have experience in critiquing fiction? etc)

    how much of the novel they have seen to date since it is difficult to offer meaningful feedback with only one chapter

    do you agree with their comments? As the author, YOU have the ultimate decision making power. If two or three people all indicate that x, y or z doesnt seem to work, then definitely you should consider what they are saying but if it seems that someone is just throwing out advice without any meaningful reason to do so then be wary

    I was impressed with what you submitted and I look forward to seeing more of your work :)

    If you ever want to get together over coffee and talk shop, just drop me a line

    krista, aka message board motivator

  10. Thank you so much K. It was wonderful meeting you last night, and your feedback was very helpful. I'd love to get together some time!

    I'm responding somewhat to comments from readers, but also the overwhelming mass of advice on the Internet regarding plot, structure, pacing, etc.

    Eric, this is my first completed novel. I've given up a couple halfway through. I hear what you are saying, and I've heard it before, but I don't want to shelve this story. What's to say I'd do any better on a totally new one? Why try to something else when I haven't figured this one out yet? And besides, I already have a group of interested followers for my characters on the Internet, via Come In Character. I really, really, really want to get this in print.

    And, you are assuming I have enough ideas for five more books! I just have this one idea at present, so I'm milking it for all it's worth.

  11. Elena ~ That's good to know!
    Tyrean ~ Thanks for the encouragement!

    I'm glad you both stopped by. :o)

  12. I ask all these questions all the time and I'm still rewriting my first page after almost 7 months. I did it again today.

    I think it's good to ask these questions, it will only make your book better in the end!


I apologize for the word verification. I hate it, but the spammers made me do it.