A few of people lately have expressed interest in just how I’ve gone from idea to the draft that is fast approaching, if not finished, at least the midpoint that I’ll start sending around to agents and possibly editors.
When I started writing, I had no ideas for stories. How I miss those naive halcyon days. My current backlog for the things I actually want to work on is 7 over years of full-time work. Anyway. I didn’t know what I wanted to write about, but I had heard the adage “write what you know”. And I knew what it’s like to be a sister. Hence, the start of this novel. That started out as a literary fiction piece, but soon turned into a ghost story that pivoted into a space opera. Let’s face it, I’m a genre girl through and through. Since then there have been several iterations that never quite made sense.
I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it here, but I like to say I do self-defensive plotting. Someone recommended Lisa Cron’s Story Genius to me and it really worked for me. Since then, I’ve found out that it just really works for me to state clearly in writing what I’m trying to achieve with a piece, no matter the length. And beyond that, I’ve found that only planning out five or so scenes ahead on a novel keeps me in that happy place of having something to shoot for but letting the details of how I get there change as I write.
Last August, some people from my Clarion class, plus a few others, rebooted the Blue Heaven novel workshop model. Through the workshop, I got 8 different takes on my first fifty pages and two different takes on the full novel. The feedback I got, especially for the fulls, was wonderful. Wonderful in terms of directly actionable, not necessarily the kind where “everything’s great, just send it off”. I got mostly positive feedback, but also a lot of things that I needed to fix.
One of the things that was wrong in the previous draft was that one of the POVs was not working. So all of those scenes needed to be rewritten as well as a few others. There was one scene that needed to be removed entirely. So that was the first thing I did; the big structural things.
This has been the most painful part of the process so far. It’s that moment where you come face to face with the fact that what was perfect in your head is not perfect on the page. This is also the moment I realized just how much work there was still to be done. But on the other hand, there were quite a few moments of “hey, this is actually pretty good” thrown in there, which helped keep me going.
This is where I fixed all the things that I found were wrong in the previous phase. It is mostly boring, tedious work, but it needed to be done. It does help a lot when in the previous phase I made detailed notes on all the things that needed to to be changed and at least some of the ways they needed to be changed. Making decisions is what takes a long time at this stage, so it makes it easier and faster to just go through these notes one by one if there’s some kind of idea of what exactly needs to be done.
Recently, I came across this amazing thing by Dr. Wicked, the force behind Write or Die, something I have definitely talked about many a time. This amazing thing? editMinion, a tool to help you recognize possible bad writing on a sentence level. It marks passive sentences, weak verbs, adverbs, and clichés. Other things, too, but those are the ones I continually have problems with. It’s not easy to get rid of all of those, and sometimes you don’t even want to. But as long as that’s my conscious choice and not something I’m doing out of habit, I’m good with that. So I run the entire manuscript through editMinion and edit accordingly.
This is the stage I honestly dislike the most. I read the entire thing out loud. Usually, by this point, I’ve gone through the entire manuscript several times and I think it’s more or less as good as I can make it without someone who does not live in my brain giving me feedback. I’m done and I just want to get it out the door. But, frankly, it is a crucial step that I disregard at my peril. Invariably when I do it, I always find typos, awkward sentences, and unfinished thoughts just laying about all over the manuscript. Which means that when I don’t do it, those are still there in the manuscript for other people to find.
Revisit the readers
This is what’s next. I need to reach out to a few people who read the first draft and see if they’d be willing to read it now that it’s better and shinier. After that, it’s another round of edits, depending on the feedback I get. If the feedback is all positive or relatively minor complaints, it’s time to start querying. But that’s another matter altogether.
After I deal with whatever comments I get from this second round of readers, I’ll start querying this book with agents. Hopefully, someone good will want to represent me and manages to sell my not-so-little book (in its current form it’s about 500 pages) to a publishing company. It’s likely that the agent will want to me to make revisions based on their comments. If they do sell it, the editor who buys it, is likely to want to make some more revisions. And after those are all done, which can take several rounds, it’s time for copy edits.
So, basically, I need to learn to stop worrying and love the revision.