Monday, June 4, 2018

Comparing Your Writing... to Yourself

As writers, we are constantly comparing our work to others despite being told time and time again to not do it. Comparing an early draft to someone's published book probably isn't the best ego boost, especially considering the amount of edits a published book has been through.
So when I jokingly said to a writing buddy that I was going to open up a first draft and take a look, I never expected it to be a great experience. I honestly didn't know what I would find. But what I ended up with was shocking... the biggest ego boost I didn't know that I needed.

While comparing your work to others usually has a negative impact, there is one comparison that I highly recommend you make... a comparison to yourself.
And why did this comparison work? It's a good measure of how things are going, how you're progressing as a writer. Go ahead and look back at old manuscripts or even first drafts of your current work in progress and see how things have changed. Some things you can look for:
  • Have you learned something?
  • How has your writing grown and evolved?
  • How is your worldbuilding?
  • How is your voice?
  • How's your grammar?
  • How's your plot?
  • How's your character development?
Looking at all of these items with respect to prior works can really show you how far you've come as a writer.

Take for example my first draft of the project I'm currently editing.
Note: This dates all the way back to February 2012, so try not to cringe too hard.

“Come on Kaya. Ladies first.” Troy grinned and held out the radio wave generator to me.

I rolled my eyes. “I’ll just watch for now.” Harlow’s friends are such idiots. I can’t believe they are doing this. If it weren’t for Lydia and her crush on Troy, I never would have agreed to come into the woods with my boyfriend and the goons he calls friends. The things I do for my best friend.

“You sure Kaya? It’s such a rush!” Troy waved the small box my face.

I shivered despite the blazing bonfire in front of us. “No I’m good thanks.” Ghosting was the dumbest thing kids did — the ultimate game of chicken. Harlow and his friends liked to see how long they could disrupt their tracker signal before they freaked out. If your tracker goes offline for more than five minutes, they dispatch the authorities to your last known location to check it out, hence the rush.
All right I'll spare you more than a couple paragraphs, because let's be honest, this is a complete mess. But it's a first draft so that's okay. Let's spot the issues.

  1. I started with dialogue. This isn't always bad, but can be problematic because we don't know who is speaking or what their voice is.
  2. There's a verb tense change.
  3. The voice needs some work.
  4. We don't know much about the main character off the bat or why we should follow her. Even worse we seem to know more about her friends than her.
  5. The world is a little confusing
  6. And holy info dump batman!
I'm sure I could go on and on about all the issues in this first draft, but that's why we edit.
Now let's take a look at my current draft.

Note: This is 11 major drafts and 6 years later.

    We were going to get caught. No question about it. Masking your tracker signal got you a date with the authorities at best, and at worst… I didn’t want to think about it. I wasn’t lucky enough to get away with this. I was never that lucky.

    Troy grinned and held out the radio wave generator. “Come on, Kaya. You know you want to.” The black box flirted with me like a bad boy, half thrill ride, half arrest warrant.

    I shook my head. The buzz from falling off the tracker grid—pure silence and vision devoid of popups and apps—wasn’t worth the risk of losing control. If the authorities showed up, brain probing us to check our chips for glitches would be the least of our problems.

    Troy waved the box in my face. “You sure? It’s such a rush!”

    I shivered despite the bonfire blazing in front of us. “I’m good. I don’t need a record.”

    “Wasn’t it just Yom Kippur or something? You should be good on the sin front for a while.”

    “That’s not how it works, jackass.”

    That little box was trouble. Worse than Pandora’s. My muscles tensed. At least if I refused to disrupt my tracker signal, I wouldn’t have to lie about breaking the law.

    Trekking into the woods at the edge of town to watch everyone attempt to beat the record for longest signal disruption was insanity. Why couldn’t we hang out at the fly-in theater instead? Anything other than pursuing a one-way ticket to tracker juvie.

    But they loved the thrill of tempting fate—the ultimate game of chicken. At best, they had about five minutes of interrupted tracker signals before the network alerted the authorities.

    I leaned into Harlow, and he put his arm around me. He’d never ditch me. But most of his friends wouldn’t hesitate to use me as authority bait if the agents showed up. Not if—when.

Let's dive into this draft a little deeper. The first thing you'll notice is the  core of the scene has stayed very much the same, but so much has improved around the outer shell. And the coverage of what is there has greatly expanded.

  1. There's no more random verb tense changes
  2. The language is so much stronger and more engaging.
  3. Information is sprinkled throughout in an interesting way rather than dumped in one or two paragraphs.
  4. We get a sense of who the main character is, what she wants/fears and what's at stake.
  5. We get a sneak peek into this world, but it's not fully flushed out yet (there's more to come as the reader continues on)
  6. And the voice? Well I'd say it's vastly improved. What do you think?

At any rate, I think you can see between the drafts that I've grown as a writer. And this exercise made me realize how far I've come. So if you have some time, I highly recommend you pull out an old first draft and compare it to a more recent one and see how far you've come. It might just be the writing boost you've been looking for.

And if you do this exercise let me know how it goes. Hopefully it helped you as much as it helped me.

Happy Writing!

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