Word choice is so important but I don’t like to get too hung up about it the first time. Okay, I lie. I do obsess but I know I shouldn’t. Why? Well, chances are I’m going to cut my first few chapters anyway. My plots never really get going until chapter three.
Why do I get so stuck in those early chapters? Fear? Because I want everyone to love my book and thus me so much? Because it’s much easier to procrastinate on one sentence then to actually have to go through and finish a manuscript? Because polishing feels safer than finding my voice? I think a whole blog post or many could be around why I (and probably many writers out there) spend so long on the early chapters when it makes no sense. I’m not going to do that today because I don’t want too feel badly. It’s Friday and I have a funeral to go to.
But when I finally let go and get to the end, then re-read my first draft, here’s what I do. If I get bored or impatient, I take out my pruning shears and whack off chunks of offending text. With my current WIP, I just chopped off sixty pages because the inciting incident wasn’t happening until page 80ish. Ouch and also—ah, relief.
I actually kept the first five pages and then the next sixty—gone! If you get too attached to your words during the first draft, it can be especially daunting to prune away your text later, even when it doesn’t serve your story. To preserve my ego, I have a file called the title of my WIP plus the suffix junk next to it. Yes, it’s like a junk drawer in my desk (I have a few of those). Anyway, I kid myself that I will go back and rescue all those little darlings and sprinkle them back into the text. Of course, I’m only lying to myself. If one or two make it back in, I’m lucky. But I have those files on my computer and makes me feel better and braver.
Let’s face it. During the writing process of a first draft, it can be also hard to see where to cut. But don’t despair. If you put the manuscript down for a few weeks or more, you’ll be able to see the slow spots. And that’s where critique partners can help too.
As you write a first draft, my advice would be to plow on through to the end, but go ahead and mark words or phrases that appear tired or generic as placeholders; you can go back and change them later. Here are some examples of typical placeholders, expressions, verbs, or nouns:
Nod—sure sometimes people nod but not all of the time. Sometimes when I read my WIP my characters are acting like those little bobble headed dolls people stick in their windshields. Just nodding every single time that they are in agreement with someone.
Smile—sure, characters need to smile. But if you’ve noted that a character is smiling you don’t need to keep on reminding us. And just what kind of smile? Is it a smirk? Are they beaming? Grinning? Leering? Try to be specific.
Walk—Sure characters need to move from one room to another, but how do they walk? Do they shuffle? lollygag? Slink? Lope? Bounce? Clonk? There is so much you can say about a subject via the verb you select.
Meanwhile, keep writing!