Okay, so you’ve printed your newborn, placed it in a lovely binder, hugged it, read it through (completely) with magic purple pen in hand . . . and had the following response:
a) Wow! I love this!
b) Wow! This is terrible!
c) No one will ever publish/read/enjoy this. I’m a hack.
d) I should not have quit my day job.
e) All of the above
Loving, hating, smiling, laughing, cringing, crying and especially combinations thereof are all natural responses to your new work. Heck, they are even natural responses three drafts into your work. But do know this – every day you sit down to work on your manuscript you make it a little bit better.
But, how to start? What next?
As I’ve said, unfortunately I can’t work on my NaNo story yet due to a strict deadline for Ruins of Noe. But I’ll tell you what I will do once I read my newborn, because I always start a rewrite the same way.
This is a story about . . .
I am a firm believer in timed and spontaneous writing exercises. For both poetry and prose and for various reasons.
For narrative fiction, it aids in the thinking/brainstorming process. It’s where ideas can be explored, baked, fertilized, broken in half, put into beakers, shaken and stirred with no pressure, because it’s just writing exercises. And within those exercises lie the answers. Trust me. You need to get out of your head.
This is a story about . . . is my fallback exercise. I use it when I start a new project, start a new edit of said project, or if I haven’t written in a while. It’s dependable. It’s simple. It opens me up.
I have been using timed writing exercises since Mr. Bedecarre made us write them in my 8th grade journalism class. This is a story about I owe to Jack Remick, Bob Ray, and Geof Miller who made us do this exercise countless times in the University of Washington Screenwriting program (thanks, guys!).
So, having just read your story from start to finish, grab your notebook (I always use one notebook per story), set your timer for 5 minutes, and HAND WRITE – I repeat, HAND WRITE – starting with the line This is a story about . . . (do not stop, edit, cross out – heck, you don’t even need punctuation, just dump)
When the timer stops, go to the center of that exercise, pull out the middle line, use that for your next start line, and write for 7 minutes this time. Repeat for 10 minutes.
Now go back with a highlighter or another colour pen and mark the things that make sense to you.
There are many, many more fabulous writing exercises you could do to prepare, but let’s just say you can now start your rewrite and I’ll post some of these exercises along the way.
Turn to page one of your binder (i.e. printed version of your newborn) and page one of word document and begin.
(up next: what to do when you don’t know how to fix something)