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I’ve been working on the first 500 words of my YA novel in preparation for the writer’s roundtable critique day at the Winter SCBWI conference Jan 27-29. These two pages have taken up over a week of my writing life.
I wasn’t unhappy with my beginning. It was the umpteenth version of it. And it garnered requests for the full. But no offers of representation.
No harm in trying something new since I’d have a day’s worth of captive audience at the conference.
But I really liked that beginning. It was the best beginning I’d written to date.
So I thought, let’s make it more YA-ey. Let’s talk about the clicks in high school.
I warmed to the idea and reworked the first two pages. I got deeper into my protagonist’s head. Her voice came through so much more. I didn’t say she’s an outsider, but I showed it.
I was super excited after 2 days of laboring over my words.
And then I read it to my dad.
Then he says, “I’m not connecting with it. Too kiddish.”
Okay that was what I was going for. But it gives me pause.
I read it to mom.
She says, “I hate it.”
Double pause. Maybe I did something wrong.
Wasted two days going down the wrong path.
So the next day, I thought about it. Didn’t touch the keyboard. Read a paper version.
Since the book isn’t really about high school, it was not a good idea to open with high school clicks.
But that left me with zero ideas of how to revise it.
I ruminated over it for a day. Then I decided to focus on the mystery. Play it up more. And I changed the opening again. But this time when I got stuck, I pulled stuff out of the bad revision. Because even though the concept didn’t work, the execution rocked.
There were some beautiful lines there. Cool ideas I could tweak. So I leveraged the first rewrite to get to the second.
Then I read the new one to my mom.
She says, “I love it.”
My beta reader read both and said he loved the new one best, although the first one was well written. And he could see how the first version gave birth to the second.
I kinda knew I was going down the wrong road with the clicks, but I didn’t have another idea. However, movement always feels better than inertia. Even when you’re going the wrong way. Rather than sit in my car thinking about where to go, I followed it to the end.
And it led me to a better idea. The idea I would run with and keep.
Every time you toss out an idea and lose several pages of work and lambaste yourself for wasting time, keep in mind that tossed out idea might have been the only way to get to the next idea. The one that was for keeps.
- Wear the same clothes two days in a row without being out all night or crashing at someone else’s house.
- Prefer cable TV to clubbing/going out with friends
- Be okay with not following trends. Yeah, I like my bootcut jeans and I’m sticking with them
- Think all the new music sounds like something I heard before
- Prefer my dog to most people
- Fall out of love with love
- Not fret over my hair being crazy
- Go out with my underwear inside out because I just wasn’t paying attention when I got dressed
When you write “The End” it really is the beginning of the next phase with the manuscript. You aren’t saying goodbye. You’re saying hello to 3-4 months of revising.
And as I wrote “The End” I knew the first 5 chapters would need major revisions. Because the story went in a different direction than I originally pictured. Shit.
I also had agent, editor, and contest feedback on the first 50-80 pages that I now had to incorporate.
I didn’t want to change anything until I knew where the story ended up.
Today had been rough going. Because I had to change a few things, which lead to 1000 new words being drafted. And rearranging of scenes. And earlier revelations of stuff.
I think it’s coming along, but I dreaded it this morning. When I sat down, knowing I had to add a couple new scenes. I cringed. Revising I like, redrafting is more of a challenge. Because new words take so many rounds to revise.
But they were needed. So I’ll probably spend the rest of this week on this chapter. Which has now become two chapters. But I think it’s necessary. I think it helps the story. Lord I hope so.
It’s amazing how a few tweaks can ripple and require new scenes.
Gotta admit, writing is pretty cool. One of the few things where you get to the end and can fix the beginning.
So I’m having a major dilemma over the beginning of my book. I think it comes down to two different ways to start a book. I’ve gotten feedback that the story is well set up and feedback that I should start with the major turning point in the book and make ch.1-6 backstory.
Here’s the problem with starting at the major turning point for me. I like to progress with a story. I like to meet the characters and invest in them having the story unfold along with getting to know them. I want to care before the big event happens. And I have beta readers who completely agree with this. Who love the setup. And I have people who have told me the beginning is too slow and to jump ahead.
I’ve tried to imagine the jumping ahead. Honestly I have. But I can’t do it. It feels like it’s not my story then. It’s not the story I want to write. But I’m really frustrated because I don’t want to be pigheaded and refuse to try something. But I also don’t want to go against every instinct I have.
This has happened before and I usually go with a majority rules thing. But it seems pretty evenly split. Which makes me think this is one of those times where it’s a different view on how a book should be structured. Neither is right nor wrong. But each will appeal to different people.
I personally love the idea of an adventure–a quest. And I guess that comes through in my writing. I like things set up and built up. Others prefer to get right into the big cataclysm in the story. But I wanted to show life before to illustrate how much the world changes by the end of the book. I wanted to show character development.
So I’m left wondering if my point is getting across? And I guess it isn’t to everyone. But that is what happens. People read themselves into books. People have different tastes. And sometimes you have to go with your gut and see where it leads you.
word count: 59,437
I am currently reading Secondhand Spirits by Juliet Blackwell. Her protagonist runs a vintage clothes shop and is a witch. It’s a fun read so far. It has an amazing line about how changing clothes is a magical experience. I totally agree with her. When I slip into a silk dress, I feel a different side of myself emerging. I’m more flirty and fun. When I throw on my jeans and tank tops, I tend to act like I’m still in college. Throw me in a suit, and I’m corporate Kour.
After my workout tonight, I took a nice bath and slid into my satin bathrobe. I puttered around the kitchen throwing the asparagus into the pot to boil, but feeling way more gorgeous than I ever felt in my gym clothes. Now I’m sitting here in a baby doll top and gauchos hovering between relaxed and work mode.
I remember back in college, my bff and I would spend hours laying out my clothes for the week coordinating accessories, shoes, and handbags. We even coordinated my nail polish. Each day felt so full of possibilities. I had to be dressed to meet them. Nowadays, I throw on a T-shirt and jeans or a tank top and jeans, grab my hoodie, and go. I pretty much put 10 to 15 minutes max into my outfits.
Unless I’m doing something fun. Then I like to play with my closet. The cool thing about having more time on your hands is you get to think about these things.
Like why did I stop putting effort in? Honest answer: I gained weight after my spine surgery and it’s been a struggle to take it off. Not because I don’t work out, I do. But because I’m an emotional eater. Every time I’m stressed or hurt or upset I use sweets to make me feel better. I tried this experiment in April and May, where every time I would reach for food, I worked on the novels. That went really well and I lost 10 pounds… until I pinched a nerve in my neck from all the typing. Now I’m working on moderation in typing and eating and exercising… let’s see how this goes.
How much time do you spend picking out your outfit? When was the last time you went all out to put together the perfect outfit?
PS–I know I missed a blog post on Tuesday, so there will be a Saturday blog this week to make up for it!
So you’ve written your novel, you’ve done some revising and you’ve shown it to a few people. But you find the more people you show it to, the more feedback you receive. This should be a good thing. After all beta readers are there to tell you where your story needs work. But how many beta readers can you manage at one time?
Recently, I got feedback from two amazing published authors (as part of The Do The Right Thing for Nashville auctions). I poured over all their comments and implemented 98% of them. I felt really good but then I came back from the conference where I was told to change the setting from college to boarding school. This of course necessitated a lot of rewrites. And now, I’m struggling to implement the suggestions from the conference and my newest beta readers.
I think the problem is I’m losing my confidence. Every beta reader has something else that bothers them, something else that isn’t working for them, something I need to fix. But all these fixes are moving me away from my polished version. I’ve added a new scene in the first 10 pages, it feels rough. The other scenes have been revised hundreds of times and I don’t know how to bring this one up to par.
I know feedback is a great thing, and I’m really grateful to have it. But suddenly I can’t differentiate what works and what doesn’t. Generally, if 2 to 3 people point out the same thing, I know I have to look at it and work on. But sometimes one person is pointing out certain things and the other people aren’t. Who do I go with there? Maybe I’m just putting too much pressure on myself. LOL. I have been known to do that.
Rachelle Gardner had a great post on how to deal with contradictory feedback. I enjoyed reading it and it helped give me some perspective.
How much feedback you feel you need? Can you ever have too much feedback? How do you deal with the times when you don’t know what to add, what to delete, and what to revise?
Today, I woke up with a greater appreciation of the Now. I only have two weeks left at my company. And suddenly the morning commute isn’t something I dread. I think whenever there’s an end in sight you can appreciate the now. In a weird way, I feel like a huge weight had been lifted off my chest. Suddenly, my whole world is wide open again.
This summer may be the best summer my life. I get to spend time with the people I love, to devote hours of every day to writing, to read to my hearts content, and suddenly a restructuring turned into a dream come true. Maybe, I’m just looking on the bright side.
Because the loss of income, frankly, sucks. I’m also going to miss some of my coworkers. Three years is a long time to spend with people. Finding a new job in this economy–not going to be easy. Probably going to have to give up my apartment in Manhattan this fall. So there you have it, those of the negatives.
Strolling up Wall Street, something I’ve done a million times, takes on new meaning. Everything feels more important that it did a few days ago. The funny thing is you never ever appreciate what you have until you’re in danger of losing it. But you also find out who your true friends are. And I owe a huge thanks to: Brett, my dad, my mom, Oliver, Zach, and Lily for being there, listening, and helping me see that everything could be okay.
Tell me about your experiences that gave you a new appreciation for the Now…
Did you ever read a draft of something you wrote and feel vaguely unhappy with it? Like an outfit that doesn’t work but you can’t say what isn’t working. Worse still, every time you try to pinpoint the source of the problem, it escapes your grasp. So you couldn’t say something is wrong, but in your gut you feel it isn’t right? So you jot down a note with a broad indicator like: not flowing, awkward, character feels weird.
You hope that on the next read through, these words will trigger something in your mind and you’ll be able to explain what is wrong and fix it.
Inevitably, when I walk away and start doing something else, a tiny part of my mind keeps mulling it over. Until Eureka! I know exactly what I don’t like/what is wrong with the passage.
Then the revisions come fast and furious. Like someone else is guiding my hand. Suddenly I know with utmost certainty what doesn’t belong and what needs to be fixed. I slap myself in the forehead for not seeing it sooner. New word choices, better sentence structure, cut redundancies.
In the end, I feel extremely satisfied with my work. Exhausted from working hard, I lay on the couch to watch tv until sleep became an absolute necessity.
Does it take you a while to identify what is not working in your writing? How do you handle the revision process?
If you’re asking this question, it probably ended a long time ago and you were just holding on because it hurts to say goodbye and let things go. Harsh? Yup. Valid? Probably.
I was looking through photo albums of the past 15 years and I’ve known some awesome people. I’ve had some deep meaningful friendships that I thought would sustain me for decades and I’ve had convenient friendships that I never expected to survive more than a few months. Most of the time, I was dead wrong in my predictions.
Unfortunately, relationships don’t come with expiration dates. We never know who will stay and who will leave. Who will evolve into someone we no longer care about. Who will surprise us with loyalty and depth we never expected.
I see pictures of people whose names I no longer know. Their faces are familiar and I can feel remnants of the emotions I felt for them, but I cannot tell you who they were or why they mattered. Because time marches on. So if people do not move forward with us, they tend to fade away over time.
A few days ago, I got an email from someone I still loved. We had been close friends in college and he always held a special place in my life. But he told me he determined that allocating time to me was a waste and he needed to build friendships where he lived, not with someone he didn’t see since he moved half way around the world. It stung.
Look, we all may think these things about efficiency and time allocation, but to say it to someone is rather cruel and shows a complete lack of feeling for that person. So I left. I ended what remained of a once beautiful friendship. My only regret is I should have walked away sooner. I held on and now I have these terrible memories of a person I have come to dislike. If I had let go and never tried to reach out, the past could have remained untainted. We could have had our unspoiled beautiful memories.
The simple fact is people change. We grow together or we grow apart. We love and we laugh and sometimes it stops. We can’t go back. We can’t make it work. Then comes the hardest part. Letting go. Like any death, it’s a blow. But it’s kinder to walk away with good memories than to linger and become bitter.
Sometimes, things need to be allowed to end. Standing in the middle of the road refusing to get out of the way is a bad idea. Like that old Bonny Raitt song says, “I can’t make you love me if you don’t. You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t.”
How do you let go of old friends and people you loved?