Those of you who follow me on Instagram will know that I finished my WIP’s outline last week and started my 2nd draft this weekend. To say I’m excited is an understatement—this novel has been over three years in the making, with years of formulating ideas and writing old drafts before I finally honed the specific ideas, setting, plot, and characters. Beyond the excitement, though, beginning the 2nd draft reminded me of an integral part of my writing journey: reconciling myself to my faults.
I’ve written several times about my attempts to plan and write like a character-first writer and how important it was for my own enjoyment and the betterment of my writing to accept that my strengths lie elsewhere. My level of confidence in that area has grown so much over the past few years, and seeing that I’m much more at home in my natural voice and storytelling techniques is encouraging. But I hadn’t realized just how much my “reconciling of faults” had come until I sat down and wrote the new first chapter. Why? Because there’s no better time to realize that my characters don’t immediately show up on the page as I’d like than when I have some fresh, unedited writing to re-read. And a particularly sore spot for me is the protagonist of my WIP, who has never, until recently, come across as I want when I write scenes with her. This could easily become a point of discouragement—it used to, and still attempts to be so. Characterization is so crucial to a good story, and so obvious when it goes awry, that mistakes in that arena can feel as embarrassing as calling a new acquaintance by the wrong name or mistaking a stranger for someone they aren’t. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to completely avoid characterization issues, even when the rest of my writing is good.
I have, however, accepted this flaw. No writer is good at everything, no matter how long they’ve been writing or how successful they are. How can I expect it to be any different for me? It pops up again and again whether I like it or not, and editing characterization, for me, is part of my writing process. One of the most important parts about writing is being realistic about what writing entails: lots of rough drafts, lots of editing, lots of brainstorming, lots of mistakes (sometimes silly ones) that need mended, and lots of time. It’s not just that ignoring that reality is useless—denying how much work it takes to write undermines writing potential. The more I lament the imperfections, or wallow in dissatisfaction or comparison, the longer it takes me to get around to fixing the flaws. It’s only once I accept that flaws will exist at first that I can shift my focus to developing ways to fix them.
Reconciling faults is easier said than done, just like most things in life. But lack of ease doesn’t mean effort shouldn’t be made to improve—improvement is made in small steps, not leaps and bounds, and requires maintenance once it is achieved. I could easily slip back into being unhappy about my characters if I allowed my mindset to shift in that direction, which is why being active in viewing my writing for what it is and what it can be, rather than what it “should be,” is so important. Now when I look at an action or line or dialogue that’s not really what I want, I think “that’s okay, what should be changed? How can I make this match what I see in my mind?” rather than “ugh, I didn’t get this character right again.” See the difference? Both approaches recognize a flaw, but only one of them allows me to do anything to mend it. Why choose to be defeated before you begin?