I wrote the first draft of my novel, Sex, Drugs, and Psychiatric Wards, several years ago as part of NaNoWriMo (National Writing Month). The goal of this online community event is to just write a first draft in one month. No editing; just write.
I wrote every day for that month, and I really enjoyed myself. Sometimes, I was on such a high, that it felt like I was playing my keyboard like a piano. When the month was over, I knew that the first draft was going to require a heavy-duty editing. It was your typical “shitty first draft” filled with all kinds of nonsensical writing, typos, tense problems — all of it.
I’ve been a professional editor for about 10 years. But at the time I finished my first draft, I was just too close to it to be able to edit it.
So, about a year later, I hired an editor off of Craigslist to edit it for me.
That was one of the worst mistakes I ever made. I take editing very seriously. And I simply chose the wrong editor. I didn’t do enough background information on her work. I hired her because she had published a novel and she had a nice voice on the phone.
And she messed my novel all up.
She introduced clichés and worse.
I could not bear to look at that draft for another six years or so.
Then, last year, I could not help but notice how the self-publishing industry was taking off. I became a freelance editor of full-length manuscripts, and seeing these hard-working novelists publish their work was very inspiring.
So in the spring of 2011, I attacked my first draft again.
Some parts of editing it and rewriting were fun. I had a great time in creating sordid scenes and making characters do the most extremely inappropriate things I could think of.
But the editing itself was excruciating. Like most editors, I love editing other people’s work, and despise editing my own.
At the time I began editing my novel, I was working as a teacher in South Korea. When I left that job in November, I traveled for four months around Southeast Asia.
And I continued to edit, edit, edit, and edit some more.
I realized that if I didn’t give myself a deadline, I could be at it for years.
This actually happened to a writer I once knew. She had been rewriting and editing her novel for more than 10 years. As far as I know, she still hasn’t published it. As writers, I think we sometimes strive for perfection, and this gets in the way of actually finishing anything.
So I gave myself a deadline. I promised myself that I would finish and publish the novel by March 7, 2012, which was the day before I was set to leave Asia and return to the U.S.
I rewrote and rewrote. I ended up cutting more than 10,000 words from the original draft. The story took on a whole new path. Finally, I emailed the manuscript to two writer friends who were wonderful in their criticism and unanimous as well: They each told me almost exactly the same thing. They pointed out plot holes, inconsistencies, and made suggestions.
I went back and worked some more.
With my self-imposed deadline looming (and the pleasures of Southeast Asia tempting me every day; there are so many beautiful islands and kayaking and snorkeling to do in the Gulf of Thailand), I did the only thing I could think of: I left the island I was staying at, and booked three nights in a cheap Bangkok hotel, the days before my flight was scheduled to leave.
I can’t tell you how many times I woke up in the mornings during those last few weeks in Thailand, looking at the ceiling fan above me, and feeling like Martin Sheen in that hotel room at the beginning of Apocalypse Now.
When I got to my cheap hotel in Bangkok, I basically locked myself in my room. And there I stayed, my eyes glued to my laptop screen.
Those three nights and four days were horrific, I’m sorry to report. I edited and edited some more. I did a line edit. I did a proof. I did another proof. I read it over and over and over again, and every time I found an error, I felt like bashing my head against the wall.
I chain-smoked and drank lots of caffeine. I put in 10-14 hours per day because I was hell-bent on making my deadline. I ventured out of the hotel room only to buy cigarettes. Bangkok smelled. The streets were filthy; the area I was in wasn’t in a typical tourist area, and so there was absolutely nothing to tempt me behind the walls of the cheap hotel.
The night before my flight was scheduled to leave, I finally hit the upload button on Amazon.
I thought I’d feel thrilled and ecstatic.
But I felt only relief.
The next day, in the early hours of the morning, I left Bangkok and headed home. I was exhausted but the relief that flooded throughout my body made it all worth it. I had done it. I had finally finished and published my first novel.
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Guest Post: Eve Lopez, Author of Sex, Drugs and Psychiatric Wards on Finishing Your Novel
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