Nancy: Even Writers Get the Blues

Sad Writer

As we come to the end of 2013, some of the ladies now have finished first drafts of their WIPs from our McDaniel course. I was all set to join them. I had my schedule set – I was to finish writing the final scenes of the book on Saturday, December 28. I had my plan – each and every scene was planned out down to the beats. And I had momentum – each day that I sat down with my schedule and my planned scenes, I completed what I’d set out to accomplish.

Then at some point last week, I just stopped writing. To hell with the schedule and plan. My writing brain went on strike. After some days of disappointment and self-flagellation, I realized I’d forgotten to include a very important part of my own writing rhythm in my schedule. I had forgotten to include time to wallow in the end-of-first-draft blues. This is not to be confused with not knowing how to end the story, or fear of finishing (something I’ll address in a future post). I know because I’ve seen this before, in every manuscript I’ve written. When I’m closing in on the last twenty-five or so pages of a book, I need to take time to say goodbye to  my beloved characters, and to mourn the end of this first phase of our relationship.

Of course this is not the end of my time with these characters.  I’ll be in the world of Eileen, Maddie, and Sarah for at least the next few months, spending long hours and days and weeks in  revisions. But that first rush of discovery, those early days of learning about these characters, their goals and motivations, and the ways they will act under pressure are almost behind me. It’s an important milestone, something akin to watching your kids graduate from high school. You know they will still need you, you will still have much to teach them, and you’ll develop a new and wonderful kind of relationship with them. But you still need time to mourn the passing of an era.

Compared to dealing with a child’s graduation (I think I measured mourning over my daughter’s graduation in years), the time I spend mourning the end of the first draft with my characters is brief. Already, I’m getting excited again about writing those final, all-important climax and resolution scenes. Less than a week after throwing my carefully planned schedule to the wayside, I’m ready to retrieve it, update it, and get back to the business of finishing the stories of my girls. I already have my files cued up to get back to the writing groove first thing tomorrow morning. But for tonight, for just this one last night, I’ll drink a glass of wine in honor of my beloved characters and wallow in the inevitable end of this first leg of our journey together. (And while I’m at it, I’ll wallow in the fact that the Ravens shut themselves out of the playoffs on Sunday. Oh well, at least I will probably watch a few less playoff games and have more time to work on revisions.)

So, fellow writers out there, do you ever wallow in the first draft blues? Do they come at the end of the journey with your characters or at some other point in the process? And have you found anything better than wine or chocolate to chase them away from your keyboard?

10 thoughts on “Nancy: Even Writers Get the Blues

  1. I follow the blog of one writer who definitely gets crazy at the end of her book — I think she’s got those first-draft blues.

    I’ve only finished a first draft during NaNo (and that’s three times). I don’t really get the blues at leaving the characters, but when I see the end in sight, I do tend to follow a pattern. First, I panic, because I don’t have enough words. I slow down, try to think of something else to put in. Sometimes I stop writing altogether. Then, when I stop fooling around, I write, and it tends to finish all of a sudden — I thought I could get at least 5000 words from “here” to the end, and it winds up that everything is wrapped up in 2000 words or less. I feel rushed, I feel that something is missing, but I don’t know how to fix things. I feel guilty, but I feel a little ecstatic at having produced something with a beginning, a middle and an end. (A little ecstatic is a pinpoint burst of intense joy, followed by worries and doodling on the page, followed by another pinpoint burst of intense joy . . . and so on.)

    I love beginnings, I don’t do well at endings. Maybe it’ll take me a million words just to figure out how to take an ending slowly . . . .

    Glad you are coming to grips with your own patterns, and you are ready to finish . . . it gives hope to me. I wish you happy writing!

    • Micki, maybe all those things you feel at the end – rushed, guilty, like something’s missing – are your form of the blues! I think you should feel at least a little ecstatic when you have the beginning, middle, and end. And then you can address everything in revisions. For me, that’s where the ‘real’ writing and hard work begins (which is sad to say when I’ve expended so much time and energy on Draft I…).

  2. Can’t wait for the day! I’m in the middle of my second act (yes still) and have fallen behind the other ladies, most of whom (as you mentioned) have a completed draft. So for me, mourning the end of draft one sounds heavenly…

  3. I think I’m with MIcki. I got a little panicky when I got to the end of my first draft and realized I only had 55Kish words. Not good! Of course, I know there’s a long list of to-do’s for my revisions, which includes adding more scenes, so I’m sure it’ll all work out at the end.

    More than mourning I think I’m feeling overwhelmed. I got the first draft done. Now I have to do revisions. Where to start? I have no idea. An outline is probably a good first step, and now that I have a completed first draft, I can do that, but after that? I guess just knock each thing off my to-do list one at a time, right?

    • I have a feeling the editing process is an evolutionary one, Justine. Starting with a punch list/outline is good, but I’m planning on making some fairly serious revisions once I get to where you are. Lots of layering in to do.

      It’s a process.

      • Much like I feel I write each manuscript slightly differently, I feel like I revise each story differently as well. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m ‘evolving’ as a writer, or just reinventing the wheel each time. I, too, need to come up with my plan of attack for revisions for this one, but I think I’ll save that for the ‘resting period’ of a week or two after I’ve typed ‘The End’ and before I dive into the hard work.

  4. I felt pretty good when I finished the first draft. Then I figured out everything I had to change, and my edit has become a re-write. I grossly under-estimated the amount of work involved and keep thinking I should be going much faster. I can’t wait to get to the end. Again. Argh.

    • I always know I’m in for a lot in rewrites because my first drafts are always messes of epic proportions :-). This time, though, I really do feel like I have better tools to tackle the mess. And post-McDaniel, I’ve also been able to identify the major flaws from a previous mss that I just couldn’t seem to fix, so I plan to revise that this spring as well. At this point, I don’t think I’ll have the thrill of putting a new story on the page until sometime in Summer 2014.

  5. I feel sad when my stories end and my characters stop talking. I think this is partly why so many authors are writing those endless series! Nobody wants to let go of places and people they love, even if they’re imaginary.

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