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I'm working through my chapter 1 for about the 5th time. As a generality, I love my story and characters, all of them, even the psychotic ones.

But, it is becoming more and more of a slog to make through chapter 1. I plan to do about 12 rounds of edits, each one geared towards a different aspect (character voice, one edit. Grammar, one edit. Consistency of elements, one edit. etc).

Chapter 1 has had the most work done on it, because I am in writing groups. It is probably the objectively best written chapter so far, but I am beginning to hate being anywhere 'in' it. I'm sick of it!

Question: Is it normal to feel like your writing (Chapter 1, in this case) is getting worse (more boring, tedious, and awful), even if it may be objectively improving?

(should I be discouraged? I am discouraged. Please tell me this experience is normal. And not a sign that the whole thing is actually garbage.)

  • Oh yeah, that happens all the time with me. Which is why I resort to making my mom read the drafts I write so I don't end up deleting all my work out of annoyance. – Aspen the Artist and Author Oct 4 '17 at 21:24
  • please don't do that – Aspen the Artist and Author Oct 4 '17 at 21:33
  • Just e-mail it to me so I can review it – Aspen the Artist and Author Oct 4 '17 at 21:46
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    Reading what I have wrote even once usually makes me hate it. – The Mattbat999 Oct 4 '17 at 22:33
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    The better question is: Who doesn't hates his/her writing? – Mephistopheles Oct 5 '17 at 12:39
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I think this is what separates the pros from the amateurs and the unpublished from the published. Writing is hard. Getting it right can take a huge amount of work and many writers report being royally sick of a book by the time they have finished it, or even by the time they have finished the first draft.

I am certainly at that stage with my big non-fiction book on structured writing. I hate the sight of it. But my editor keeps sending me notes, and keeps pointing out weaknesses, so I have to go back into it and slog it out and make it better. And my editor tells me my edits are making it better, and I know they are making it better too, once he forces me to look at the hateful thing for what seems like the five thousandth time.

But that is what the pros do. They keep working on it even after it stops being fun, because, for them, it is not simply the fun of creating that matters, it is the satisfaction of having created something good. The final push from meh to good is often a weary slog. That's probably why there is so little really good stuff. Most people stop when it stops being fun.

The other thing that the pros can do is that they can tell the difference between hating something because it is bad and hating it because they are sick of looking at it. That's harder for me with fiction than with non fiction. Sometimes I just have to put a MS in a drawer for a while before I can tell the difference.

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Don't do it.

You shouldn't be doing something in writing that isn't at least tolerable. You need a different style of writing.

I say that as a writer that has gone over a three page scene THIRTY times, but I found it tolerable, and I was crafting something critical. It was not mechanistic. I don't worry about grammar, or voice. I do worry about consistency.

But I hear stories and voices and, like a hiccup in a song, I can feel when something isn't perfect, when dialogue is wrong, when action isn't natural, so I read and fiddle until it sounds right. The cadence of speech is right, the time of exposition is right.

When I write I am a narrator and an actor, a story teller. I care about clarity, not grammar. I care about creating an immersive scene without drowning the reader in too much detail. I care about sustaining attention by sustaining the chain of conflicts.

When your story sounds right to you, put it away for a week. Let your short and mid term memory systems fade it out, so they aren't providing any inadvertent help to the printed word. THEN read it again, and if there are problems, fix them. Do it again. It won't take 12 cycles of editing.

Work in a way that you enjoy 75% of the time, and can tolerate the other 25%. Writing can be your job without dreading sitting down to work.

  • Thank you - It sounds like we have different approaches, but i appreciate your comments. You sound more like an artist! I am definitely more of a technicist. :-) The idea of a hiccup is a good one and I will keep that in mind. – DPT Oct 5 '17 at 13:31
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    I am a PhD computer scientist with work in mathematics (my Master's) statistics, AI and engineering. I actually do see writing as a metaphorical program or machine, devising a way to evoke certain states of mind in the reader as the tale progresses. I analyze writing like taking apart a program or machine. That said, perfectly correct grammar doesn't sell a book! The imagined story and characters do. The machinery is only there to ensure nothing intrudes on the scene as out of place, unclear, or inconsistent. When you can do a cold read and nothing breaks your reverie, you are done writing it. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Oct 5 '17 at 13:47
  • Wow! that is all supercool. I bet your corpus callosum is impressive. :-) You sound very integrated across hemispheres. – DPT Oct 5 '17 at 13:56
  • Great answer. This just encouraged me to re-read my work, which I've been putting off for too long. – storbror Oct 7 '17 at 13:51
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Hating your work can be a bad sign. But since you like your characters and your plot, there must be something else wrong other than the work stinks. So, yes, it's possible to read your words too much - sort of.

Chapter 1 is your most important chapter in terms of getting published. Agents and publishers will typically only read a few pages before taking you seriously or sending a form letter. Of any chapter, this MUST get the most attention.

Your plan of twelve drafts with a separate function of each sounds too disciplined to me, but to each their own. Twelve drafts is not too many. In fact, It's common in a large writers' group since everyone starts with chapter 1 and few make it beyond 5 or 6. I think you're hating it because of the way you're going about it. When you hyperfocus on individual words and lines, you miss the main point of writing fiction; namely, to tell a story you think is cool. It won't always be fun, especially if it's your job or as a student - not unlike any other assignment.

A way to stop hating on it is to distance yourself from the minutiae. Consider that eventually you need forward motion. How about now? Try finishing the first 10 chapters before going back to chapter 1. You'll see tweaks need to be made to fit everything into place. The protagonist and plot have to be spot-on to engage your readers. The closer you get to the end, the better idea you'll have of the beginning.

Take a step away, work ahead, and come back to the beginning when it's fresh and needs an update. The way you're approaching it would make anyone frustrated. Consider how life would be as a writer before word processors.

  • thank you Stu! The entire thing is written, I'm working through edit #1 which is to tighten everything up (I am left brained, sounds like you are right brained!) but got stuck on chapter 1 - Perhaps because of the writing group deadlines. Disciplined editing is important to me as I hate investing time in someone's stories to discover plot holes and inconsistencies. But - perhaps it is just a sign of how novice I am, focusing on the mechanics. – DPT Oct 5 '17 at 13:34
  • I tidied up my answer before I saw your comment. ... Having a draft is key. Congratulations. Agents will tell you the first chapter has to be pretty much ready to rock; otherwise, you're wasting your time. Keep at it and don't give up! – Stu W Oct 5 '17 at 14:25
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It's very possible, and probably quite common, to rework something so much that you end up unable to stand it. Sometimes it's a temporary feeling that doesn't have any larger meaning, except take a break and work on something else for a little while.

Sometimes it means a part is done, don't work on it any more. There's a reason a number of great directors claim to never have watched their own movies again after release. Sometimes that's the work's own way of telling you it is time to leave it alone and/or send it off into the world.

On the other hand, it could also be that Chapter 1 was just a place you had to work through to get to the rest of the book. Maybe you should just drop it, and start in with Chapter 2 or 3. If your work isn't coming alive until later, why keep earlier? That work you put into won't be wasted, it made the rest of the book possible. But the reader doesn't necessarily need to see the scaffolding.

  • I actually like Chapter 1 again this morning. :-) I trimmed out more words, but I am past the fat and into the meat now, so I will indeed move on. Thank you Chris. – DPT Oct 5 '17 at 18:28

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