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Your first draft: getting out of your own way

Friday Morning, 32°F and foggy
Listening to ELP, Rondo Pt. 3 at The Lycium

I was hanging out on a writers forum when someone complained about struggling with how to begin their first draft of a novel. “I just can’t get it started. Nothing sounds right.”

The experienced writers were quick to weigh in with  “just write it,” “don’t worry if your first draft is crap,” and Hemmingway’s assertion: “all first drafts are shit.” This is 100% correct. But only helpful if you understand why you need to just write go ahead and write your novel, and what purpose that serves.

The reason we say “just write it” is that if you’re struggling with where to begin, what you really need is to get out of your own way. Quit worrying about whether you’re starting in exactly the right spot, what it sounds like, how it flows or (worst of all) what people are going to think when they read it. If you’re smart, nobody is going to read your first draft. You’re going to revise and polish a second draft (at the very least) before you let another set of eyes on it.

Your first draft is your most important 

Wait, what? Don’t let this fact intimidate you. Your first draft is the most important because without completing it you will never write the second, third, fourth or fifth draft you need to polish your manuscript to the point of publishability. Many if not most authors throw away far more words than they ever publish. This is especially true with the words we write when we’re first starting out as novelists. So get to work on that first draft, and quit worrying about starting in the exact right place (you won’t) or making it perfect right out of the gate (it won’t be).

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Progholm Syndrome

Tuesday Evening, 33°F and foggy
Listening to The Nice, Rondo

Progholm Syndrome … It’s no secret that I have a thing about progressive rock. I tend to go through phases with it, where I will get deep down into a single prog band for days or weeks then I’ll come back out of my prog binge and not listen to another note of prog for weeks.

A few years ago my best friend and I started a really limited Facebook group called Progvember, dedicated to listening to prog during the month of November. For some reason (probably a combination of NaNoWriMo and a disgust hangover from the US presidential election) I neglected Progvember entirely in 2016. I thought I could get away with that. Turns out prog had something to say about that. Uh-uh, Grace. Not so fast. Continue reading

Peeve of the day: the late opener

Monday morning, 20°F with snow flurries
Listening to Tame Impala, Skeleton Tiger

A Bad Beginning

The  late opener story begins with the main character alone and late for work, school, or a date. She has overslept. Curse you, malfunctioning alarm clock/newfangled smartphone! She hurries to get dressed, and rushing about, she stubs her toe. Curse you, secondhand ottoman! She runs her pantyhose. Curse you, patriarchy! She spills her cereal. Curse you, Count Chocula!

While all this is going on, she’s fretting about how disappointed/angry/annoyed her boss/teacher/date is going to be. Or worse, ruminating about her backstory (because it’s just fascinating that she grew up an awkward and bookish only child in Poughkeepsie, but moved to the Big Apple after graduation to pursue her dream of blah blah blah, and if only her stupid boyfriend hadn’t blah blah blah, and back when she was in 10th grade in Mrs. Fitch’s honors English class she should have blah blah blah).

And then, oh, the humanity, her car refuses to start. Curse you, Detroit!  Continue reading

The big-ass Mary Sue

Friday evening, 13°F
Listening to Tame Impala, 41 Mosquitos Flying in Formation

Sometimes I lay awake at night worrying about all of the poor, innocent pixels being inconvenienced by online discussions of what does, or does not, make a Mary Sue character. Many of these conversations revolve around the accused Mary Sue’s looks and talents. I contend that those things alone are not what make up a Mary Sue.

Greg Lake was not a Mary Sue

The one and only Greg Lake of ELP.

Despite what you may have heard, the problem with a Mary Sue isn’t that she’s* precocious, ridiculously beautiful, has remarkable hair, is phenomenally talented, sings like an angel, or is lusted after by all. If those factors alone made a Mary Sue, then the biggest-ass Mary Sue who ever lived was 1971 David Gilmour. Or possibly 1971 Greg Lake. And if you call either of them a Mary Sue, we will surely come to blows, my friend. Continue reading

Why You Should Interview Your Characters

and how to do it.

Thursday evening, 7°F and starry
Listening to ELP, Take a Pebble

Why interview your characters? As a writer, you may find yourself stuck at certain points in your story. Maybe you know that things go from point A to point C, but you can’t figure out what point B looks like. Maybe you know that a certain thing happens but you’re not sure exactly how it happens. Or one of your characters does something that doesn’t add up, and you can’t figure out why.

Here is what not to do. Don’t go to your favorite writers’ group and ask the other members “Why would my character do this?” or “How exactly could this have happened?” or “What’s a plausible reason for my character to say/think X?” While other writers can explain the difference between active and passive voice, or show you how to properly use a semicolon (or mount a silly argument against semicolons)  it’s always better to get your story specifics straight from your characters. Continue reading

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