Now is Not the Time to Tinker (Seasons of the River writing diary #1)

I was writing the first draft of Seasons of the River (working title) from very early January to late June of 2022.

I had only a very general idea of the plot and character arcs. I knew where the story starts and where it ends, I had a rough idea of certain plot points that occur between A and Z, I knew where I wanted to take certain characters and where they should be at the end. As for everything else, which was, well, 98% of the book to be, I figured that out during those six months.

For the most part, writing Seasons of the River was hardcore discovery writing: seeing where the story and characters take me as I write. There were weeks where I’d write thousands of words, there were weeks where I’d write maybe a hundred total. There were times where I could see the path ahead so clearly, and there were weeks where I’d wonder what the heck was supposed to happen next.

And there were moments of deep, dark dread that I was way in over my head, that what I’d outlined was in fact material for three novels and not one, that I was on my way to submitting a 500k+ monster that my publisher would look at and say “no way we are publishing this”.

I didn’t and they haven’t. Yet.

I can’t talk about any details of the plot and characters, but there’s someting I wanted to say.

The moment I finished the draft, I immediately sent it off to my editor for two reasons: one, I just wanted to be done with the damn thing for the time being and not have to think about it for at least a few weeks, and two, I did not want to give myself the opportunity to start fiddling and tinkering.

Your first draft is absolutely not where you’re supposed to tinker or fiddle. That comes later, much, much later. You think you should maybe go back now and add details about the MC’s hair color or the weather in the fifth chapter or change the kind of wine your characters were drinking in chapter seventeen – write down a note and leave it for later. If you start doing those things now, while the entire text is in a very raw state, you’ll be focusing on adjusting individual strands of hair while there’s still actual flesh, organs and even bones to add to your creation and the skin is still nowhere to be seen.

So don’t do it. Send it to your editor, or if you don’t want to do that just yet – many writers actually prefer sending their second or third draft – send it to your alpha or beta readers or just lock it in a proverbial drawer and don’t look at it for at least a week. Let your mind and body relax, recover your energy, clear your head.

It’s not easy for me. If I’m doing a project, be it writing or translating or conrunning, I have a tendency to bury myself in work and not stop until I’m fatigued. I’ve had to lifehack myself and build discipline to make myself take regular breaks, to divide work into daily and weekly chunks and not go over those self-imposed limits. Because burnout isn’t fun, be it in the middle of a project or just after it’s done – you don’t really enjoy having accomplished something if you’re kinda empty inside and all you want to do is lie on your bed and scroll your social media, completely unfocused on what is actually on the screen.

And so, the moment I finished writing the first, rough draft – putting down all that happens in the novel from start to finish, writing down the story that will, over the course of editing and revisions become a novel – I catapulted it at my editor and said “Here, you deal with it for a while”.

And she is doing so and once she is done I’ll get her first round of comments, after which I’ll get down to revising the first draft, turning it into the second.

But that is for another post…

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