On First Drafts & Letting Go

Item 1: Congratulations to Petra at Safari Poet who won my Witchy Sisters Prize Pack! And stay tuned – in January I’ll be giving away my last two ARCS, along with some other much-coveted galleys (*cough* BITTERBLUE *cough*).

Item 2: I’m going to do another round of BW swag mailings, so if you’d like some bookmarks and stickers, email me with your address at cahillwitch (at) gmail (dot) com. I will send them out after the holidays!

I promised a book two process post and I totally never did it! Whoops. The thing is, I was a little overwhelmed by book two. Writing a sequel under contract and with at three-month deadline is a different beast. It feels less like play, more like work. It doesn’t feel as though it’s just mine – it’s for my editor, and for readers, some of whom are already reading BORN WICKED and having Opinions about it (as they should, but I do read reviews and I do have resulting Feelings). It’s hard not to feel scared that I will disappoint someone. I probably will. No book pleases everyone. But that is a deeply unhelpful piece of reality to consider while I’m writing.

It still had its joyful moments. I love my Cahill girls. I love Finn and Sachi and Rory. I love some of the new characters I’m introducing. I loved writing the ending, which The Playwright termed “brutal and awesome.” I got chills from some of the confrontations between Cate and Maura. But it was harder to get into the proper writing head-space, where I’m totally consumed by the words. This was the first time I wrote with a semi-detailed outline; I had a five-page outline, carefully hashed out by Editor Ari and me. When I was really stuck, it was almost always because I was trying to adhere to the outline, and it was wrong; I was trying to force the characters to do something contrived. It was nice to have signposts, though. Drafting has its exhilarating moments but I prefer revision. Drafting is for trying to nail down the shape of the thing, without being worried about the words being the right words. But I really want the words to be the right ones. I like fiddling with them. It makes it hard to keep going forward, when I’d love to go back and edit instead.

I wrote a few thousand words, a few days a week, in September and October. I used Write or Die when I felt myself getting bogged down in perfectionism. I am not a fast writer; it’s very rare that I can pound out 1000 words in an hour. 500 is more my speed, if that. I write a scene, then go back and smooth it over. When I start writing for the day, I’ll usually reread the last thing I wrote, editing a little for flow and word choice, to get back into the voice.

In November, when I got back from my trip to CA, I had roughly half the ms done. I started writing 2-3000 words a day, almost every day. Instead of looking up things, I left brackets around information I needed to research. (My CP Katie was really amused by the sentence “She plucked a <red berry> from the <red berry bush>.” It was holly, guys. But I wasn’t sure!) As I got toward the end, it was increasingly easy because all I could think about was the book. I’d write until 3 or 4 in the morning, then lie awake in bed for another hour or two, mind spinning. I got a big wall calendar and borrowed Erin Bow’s method of rewarding herself for every 1000 words with a sticker (I had the cutest owl stickers, a gift from The Playwright). Freedom and Write or Die weren’t really necessary anymore. I finished the book two days before my deadline, then spent two nights rereading it and editing. I turned it in very early on Friday, December 2. Deadline achieved!

Amazing Editor Ari called me that Monday to say she loved lots of things about it. She thanked me for writing such a great draft. I was deeply relieved. I spent a week reading and marathoning HART OF DIXIE and REVENGE and answering blog interview questions and doing all my Christmas cards.

And then last week, I got my edit letter. I read it and we talked. We talked more. The Playwright and I talked. Ari and Genius Assistant Paula talked. I knew there were some logic holes, but I thought maybe it was just me, being dim and not having time to fix it. But we couldn’t figure out how to fix it. The more we talked, the more I realized the book was broken. There are, I think, people who might patch it up and let it go fluttering out into the world anyway. I don’t blame them, because realizing that I need to rewrite ¾ of the manuscript from scratch is a really hard thing. (That brutal-awesome ending? That stays.)

I’ll be honest. I’m excited now, inspired by the new outline, but at first tears were shed. At first, I felt made of failsauce and suck. I felt like I was throwing out something I’d worked my ass off to write. I felt like a disappointment. But slowly, as I redid my outline and brainstormed with Editor Ari and The Playwright and my wonderful CPs, I realized that we wouldn’t be able to do draft two if draft one didn’t exist. And draft two has the potential to be kind of amazing, I think. I hope.

The stakes are going to be scarier; the tension is going to be higher; the characters and world-bulding are going to go deeper. I want Book Two to be totally AMAZING. Better than BORN WICKED. I want to do justice to Cate and her sisters and Finn and the rest. I want readers to love it in all its complicated, bittersweet sequel glory. It is going to be really hard work, and I am probably going to whine about it sometimes, and January is going to be effing insane, but rewriting this book is the Right Thing To Do.

I feel a little vulnerable posting all of this, but I know that I’m not the only person struggling with a second book. There are lots of us, past and present and future.

Like I said, second books are strange beasts. I am not finished with mine yet. But I think it may be totally worth it.

2 Responses

  1. Veronica Rossi

    Jess! We need to skype or something. I mean… We could definitely talk.

    Thank you for sharing this. I know your book two will be amazing – because you are such a talented, brilliant writer. Hugs to you- V

  2. I am SO glad I stumbled upon your blog this morning! I'm relieved to know that i'm not the only one in this situation. I'm currently working on my sequel and it sure doesnt feel like fun most of the times…:( I'm struggling a lot, but reading your post gave me that boost of courage and reassurance that I needed! I thought I was the only one going through all of this… Thank you!

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