Thursday, February 19, 2015

When I started writing many years ago, I was a seat-of-the-pants writer. I knew how the story would
begin and end, but I didn’t know how I would get there. I would write a scene umpteen times, revising it within an inch of its life before moving on to the next one. I found myself burning out and losing interest by Chapter 3, and I’d start another book, revise, burn out, lose interest again, and repeat the cycle over and over. It wasn’t until I heard the sage advice, “Don’t get it right, get it written,” that I realized I needed a different approach to writing. I decided to write a book without judgment and without revision until I’d finished the first draft. Momentum was key. If I went back to fix an eye color or timing, or even a name that was changed halfway through, I would lose my momentum. My goal was to get to the end without looking back.

That liberated me, and I was finally able to finish a first draft. I’ve written that way ever since. I honestly hate first drafts, but once that’s done, I know that the worst part is over, and the rest is pure creativity and art. I think my second draft is probably the most fun. I dig in at that point, revising and rewriting every line, getting more creative with descriptions and characterization, going deeper into point of view and thinking the way the characters think, and doing more specific research that will help me describe things more accurately. With each draft, the book gets more and more readable, but I don’t consider it publishable until I’ve written it through several times.

Just to be clear, I consider a “draft” to be a version of the book that is vastly different from the version before it. If I’ve just made a few tweaks or corrections, I don’t consider that another draft. My latest book, Twisted Innocence, probably went through seven complete drafts before the book was ready to be in stores. Because I wanted the message of this novel to resonate with readers—the message that God isn’t disgusted with you, that he knows why you’re the way you are, that he still has big plans for you—I didn’t want to risk disappointing them with sloppiness. If they are willing to invest their time in my creation, I need to provide as much excellence as I can.

My husband and I have an agreement that, if I die while working on a first draft, it will be as if that book doesn’t exist. He won’t turn in a first draft to my publisher, because I would be horrified for anyone to see it. Trust me, it’s bad. I’m not all that comfortable with anyone seeing Draft 2 or 3, either. I work in layers, and it’s not until all the layers are stacked on top of each other that my book is finished. No one sees it until that’s done. After that, my editors will suggest changes, and I’ll go in again for at least two more drafts.

I think some people believe that the creative process is something that comes easily, and that writers just open some kind of word valve and the story pours out. It’s not that way with me. For me, writing is extremely hard work, and it never gets easier. Parts of it are very gratifying. A good writing day gives me a sense of well-being like nothing else can. But other parts can be pure drudgery, and a person with a too-short attention span or a poor work ethic will not be able to do it.

I see new writers taking all kinds of shortcuts in the creative process. In these days of easy, inexpensive self-publishing, writers can skip all the vetting that once told us whether our work was ready for the world (or not)—vetting by potential agents, professional editors, publishers, contests, critique groups, etc. Wise writers, traditionally or self-published, take time with each book and embrace ways to have their work professionally vetted.

Terri Blackstock is a New York Times best-seller, with over six million copies sold worldwide. She is the winner of two Carol Awards, a Christian Retailers Choice Award, and a Romantic Times Book Reviews Career Achievement Award, among others. She has had over twenty-five years of success as a novelist. Terri spent the first twelve years of her life traveling in an Air Force family. She lived in nine states and attended the first four years of school in The Netherlands. Because she was a perpetual “new kid,” her imagination became her closest friend. That, she believes, was the biggest factor in her becoming a novelist.

In 1994 Terri was writing romance novels under two pseudonyms for publishers such as HarperCollins, Harlequin, Dell and Silhouette, when a spiritual awakening prompted her to switch gears. At the time, she was reading more suspense than romance, and felt drawn to write thrillers about ordinary people in grave danger. Her newly awakened faith wove its way into the tapestry of her suspense novels, offering hope instead of despair. Her goal is to entertain with page-turning plots, while challenging her readers to think and grow. She hopes to remind them that they’re not alone, and that their trials have a purpose.

Buy link for Twisted Innocence
Learn more about Terri on her website
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  1. Perfect timing for this post. I am working on a second draft of my novel and I'm outlining this time with the hopes of shortening my edit and getting it right the first (second!) time. It is a past/present, two POV novel and I am cutting my present day story line for an entirely different one. Even as I outline and blog, I've noticed my best work comes through layers of words ... coming back again and again to perfect it. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who works this way!
    Can't wait to check out Twisted Innocence.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Tori! Good luck on your rewrite. :-)


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