The ladies who are in the McDaniel workshop classes this semester have a big assignment coming up. By next Sunday night at midnight, we have to turn in Act 2 of our respective WIPs. For me, the good news is, thanks to NaNoWriMo and the fact that I’ve been working on this project forever and a day, I have a completed Act 2 (I am, in fact, close to writing the end of the story.). The bad news is, when I assembled my Act 2 scenes on Saturday, I discovered that I had run a little long. How long? Well, my goal for the Act was 30,000 words. My actual word count currently stands at over 41,500.
You might ask if the length of the act really matters. The truth is, in the first draft, it usually doesn’t. But I am turning this in for review and critique. I’m not worried about a grade, but I do want to get the most out of the critique opportunity that I can, and I know that if there are that many words in Act 2, I have the pacing wrong. I’m probably repeating things unnecessarily. I no doubt have vestiges from previous versions of the story plan that I haven’t yet reconciled to my new plan. And in some places, I’m probably writing ‘the stuff readers tend to skip’, so boring our instructor to tears while she tries to get through this monstrosity of an Act is a very real possibility.
So, if the bad news is that the Girls didn’t know when to shut up when we were writing this, the good news is that my inner editor, who comes out to do clean-up after the Girls have had their fun, knows how to remedy this. It would be ideal if I had time (a few more weeks’ worth) to finish the complete book before going in to prune any individual Acts. But since I’ve been working on subsequent Acts of the book for the past month, I should have time and emotional distance from Act 2 to attack it, if not with the machete that I might use when I get down to a thorough rewrite of the book, at least with a really sharp pair of gardening shears.
The first thing I’ll do to address this isolated Act is the same thing I’ll do when it’s time to rewrite the entire WIP: read the whole thing, every word of it, from beginning to end, in hard copy, with no pen or pencil in hand. That’s to suppress the almost compulsive need to edit my work each and every time I read any part of it. I’ll keep a pile of sticky notes nearby to mark pages and passages that I know I need to rework, but I won’t address a single word – not even typos! – until I’ve read through the whole thing. But those stickies will mark long-winded descriptions or internal monologues, info dumps, repetitive passages, action-deprived scenes, and the parts I think readers might just want to skip.
After a complete read of the Act, I’ll be ready to go to each section marked with a sticky, figure out what the hell went wrong, and come up with a quick and dirty (because I only have a week to do this) plan to fix it. I might decide to address categories of issues. For example, if every time I go into Maddie’s POV everything goes to crap, I might decide to rewrite her entire POV storyline as one entity, ignoring the scenes that fall in between until I’ve completed that task.
More likely, I’ll rewrite in sequential order. There is something about doing it that way that makes the overly-analytical, right-brain focused, uber-organized Virgo in me ridiculously happy. I don’t expect to get Act 2 down to 30k words in a week, and I certainly don’t expect it to be close to its final form. That, my dears, is a process. But I do hope to knock off 5k or so words, address any major inconsistencies, and make it at least a little bit interesting.
When that exercise is out of the way, I’ll return to my regularly scheduled program of letting the Girls run amuck until we finish up the first draft of the rest of the story. And maybe they’ll have a learned a lesson about being overly chatty and running up the word count to ridiculous numbers. But that’s doubtful, so I plan to do this all over again and to an even greater extent, in January.
So for those working on first drafts, how is your WIP going? Do you tend to write too much in your first drafts, or too little? And if you have any tips for keeping overly-chatty muses on point, please share :-).