Where It All Went Wrong

How hard can it be?

Remember that? Yeah. (Nostalgic sigh.) I must admit I was overwhelmed at the thought of reducing the 800K-word tome I’d produced to the manageable 120K draft manuscript recommended by an agent. After only a day or two of lingering freak-out, I took the figurative scissors to my draft and chopped out bits relevant to the main character—Alira—then laid them end-to-end and read it through.

No good. I’d relied too much on that other content to bring sense to Alira’s story in the larger tale. So I added in relevant details until it made sense, tweaking it along the way. In the meantime, a fellow writer had recommended an editor in Texas (Hi Paula!) who could help. I contacted her and worked out an arrangement by which she could give me advice and take me on as a client. When I thought it was ready, I sent her my manuscript.

Needless to say, it was garbage. My characters were flat, their reasons for doing things unclear. Overall, the story had no passion on the page. Those aren’t the exact words Paula used; she was much more diplomatic, much more encouraging. Still, hearing that I’d have to completely rewrite the whole thing was like a blow to the gut. I cried for two days. (Laugh, published writers. You know exactly what I’m talking about.)

When I stopped crying, I started reading. Paula gave me a string of books on the craft of writing, which I’ll talk about in a later post. I read—and learned—all summer, and when I finally put the books down, I picked the pen up. (Figuratively speaking.) I felt supercharged. This time, I’d get it right!

I wrote all through the Fall and Winter, and by late Spring, I had another draft for Paula. All during the few weeks she had My Baby, I filled my hours with things I didn’t normally have time to do, like visit friends, go to the beach, see a movie, spend time with my husband. It was almost like a mini-vacation, back then. (Since then, I’ve learned that a writer never stops writing. If it’s not on one project, it’s on another.)

Finally, Paula was finished. I read through her comments, and rejoiced: No Need to Rewrite!!! The manuscript did, however, require a lot of work. Paula suggested a few more books and resources, which I dutifully explored, then I got back to it. When I “finished” that draft, I enlisted beta-readers (Thanks, Laura! Thanks, Dominique! Thanks, William! Thanks, Hubby!), who gave me their unvarnished opinions and comments. I, too, re-read it and marked up the copy.

By the time I gave it back to Paula the next Spring, I loved the story even more than I had to begin with. All that work, all that focus, all those tears and late nights and lost sleep had resulted in a tighter, more fleshed-out version of my characters and their various worlds. Paula had offered to read the first 100 pages again without further fee, and you better believe I took her up on it.

Her response? It’s ready.

Can you see me happy-dancing all over my office? Can you imagine the squeal of delight? The power is real, my friends. Fiction-writing, along with my characters and the worlds that have blossomed and born fruit in my mind, has shoved its roots so deep in me I may never again leave its stony path.

My point is this: the writing was easy. Making it an acceptable piece of marketable fiction is proving more of a challenge. If a writer wants to make this business their career, it has to be an all-or-nothing approach. Presenters at this year’s writers’ conference all seemed to be pointing out the same theme: this is a business. Agents are looking for new clients, yes; but for every single client slot, there may be hundreds, nay thousands of writers angling for an opening. Every single word I write must shine, or no one will even notice my work. At least, not at first. Even once I make it (as of course, I will), I can’t stop striving for excellence. An old friend used to challenge me whenever I expressed weariness: “What, you’re going to sit back on your laurels? How far do you think that will take you?”

My advice? If you’re a budding writer (as I still am), find an editor, someone who comes recommended or someone you know and trust. Then—and this is the most important part—LISTEN TO WHAT SHE SAYS. Yes, it’s your story. Yes, you get final say. But unless you’ve been in the business a while, she’s likely to know more than you. You’re paying for her service. Stand back and let her do her job.

Don’t forget to keep writing, and never—NEVER—give up!