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The Moment of Surrender

I [used to] pride myself on how well I could take criticism. My work used to be posted on FictionPress for all the world to see, and sometimes it felt like all the world did see it. Many reviews glowed, but others critiqued. I like to think that early on I built up a tough skin to criticism, but those reviews were coming from ‘anonymous’, people I’ve never met. It’s totally different when critiques come from friends.

That’s been a lesson I’ve learned over the past two years I’ve been with Let The Words Flow. For the first time I had experienced, industry-knowledgeable writers judging my work. The usual tricks didn’t work with them. Instead they shattered my blinders and showed me how to see my work for what it really was.

And I did not like it.

At first.

For example, the zombie story. It was finished, I was in love with it, thought it was beautiful and scary and compelling, etc. Off it went to the first CP. Oh yes, I assured her, it’s in great shape. I write really clean first drafts. I just have a question about one scene at the end. Take your time.

My CP came back with constructive criticism along the lines of: You have too many flashbacks, and it detracts from the story. I think you started in the wrong place. I think your characterization of these race relations was offensive.

And I thought she was wrong, wrong, wrong.

We had to have the flashbacks to make the reader care about this character. If we don’t know this character’s background she might as well just be Susie Cheerleader! Everyone’s always yelling about starting with action, so that’s what I did! I feel like this viewpoint is realistic and edgy, and I don’t want to censor myself because I’m white and ‘shouldn’t’ write across different races. Clearly people don’t get me. They don’t get what I’m trying to do. This is a character-study, not a paperback action book like that one piece of nonsense I saw in the bookstore the other day.

But I’ve read enough blogs and articles to know that a reaction like this is irrational. I read the in-text comments, and then the larger summaried stuff started to make sense.

Oh, I realized. She was right.

My CP’s suggestions really would make my book stronger. They really would help hold reader attention. I really did have to make these changes, even if I loved the book as it is. And this is what they mean by kill your darlings.

There’s a moment of surrender when you realize that you really will do anything to make your project a masterpiece. You will cut entire plot lines, characters, favorite scenes. You will change names and love interests and motivations. And you will do it for the story you love, because you want to one day share it with the world, because you really can retain the essence of the struggle, even if the details change to let that struggle shine through more clearly.

Recently Susan Dennard posted about ‘one book to rule them all’, and the concept was this: If you were only allowed to write and publish one book in your life, what would it be? What is your ultimate story?

And for me, the answer is Nameless. My first love, my baby. The story I’ve had with me for seven and a half years and I’m still ripping it apart at the seams and stitching it back up. I wrote the sleeping beauty story and the zombie story this year just to give myself some space from that project so I could recharge to tackle it again. And I think I’m finally ready.

I’m working on a new outline [again], tearing out all but the first third of the book and starting over. By now the characters and plots are like figures in a game of chess. I know how all the pieces move, but I’m still struggling with getting the moves in the right order to win the game. But with every draft I get closer.

My big moment of surrender came last year when my agent suggested rewriting the trilogy into a single book. At first, I cried. I felt hopeless, misunderstood. But fifteen minutes later, I got it. My agent was absolutely right. That was my first realization that I would do anything to publish this book. I cut 400,000 words down to 100,000. I cut beloved characters and scenes. To make it stronger.

That’s the moment I think about whenever I have to swallow a jagged little pill. Will these suggestions really make the book stronger? Will it improve the story, even if it hurts me? Do I have the strength to confront my flaws and correct them?

I surrender.

 

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Rewrite Approved (mostly) and My Response to Your Book Recs

My shrewd and insightful CP katzhang looked through the ending’s rewrite and dealt me this shocking news:

It did not suck.

Amazed, I went back and looked through the 33,000 words I had either edited or [mostly] rewritten from scratch. To my great surprise and happiness, she was right. Somehow, in the days between when I turned it over to her and when she judged it as worthy, the manuscript had transformed into something that even I was excited to read again.

How the heck does that happen? Lesson learned: Perspective is everything.

I ended up adding another chapter to complete Carowyn’s character arc (do you guys know who Carowyn is?) and redid the final chapter to give it more of a bang, and we’ll see if Kat can work her magical transformation from bad to good writing again merely by deeming it acceptable :-)

Then, as I explained to a lovely young woman who emailed me to express her impatience in receiving the published work, I will send it to three additional CPs for their feedback (two of whom have never read any drafts of the story ever, which you will come to learn is one of the most valuable characteristics of a trusted CP), then to my agent.

If she approves we can begin to construct the submissions list. :D

As for all this time I have between making edits, true to my word I’ve been reading, reading, reading. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet gotten to any of your awesome recommendations. For a very good reason.

Her name is Patricia A. McKillip, and I was introduced to her by my friend sjmaas. More specifically, Sarah recommended ALPHABET OF THORN and then I read IN THE FORESTS OF SERRE (and am now finishing up OD MAGIC).

So here’s my recommendation back to you: Go now, now, NOW and read ALPHABET OF THORN (though I think I preferred IN THE FORESTS OF SERRE, though it won’t be for everyone).

Patricia’s way of fantasy writing is itself magical. I haven’t felt so transfixed by a book in years. Just get a load of this sentence:

“…the woman who had, for an instant, reached into the prince to hold his own heart in her hand like a sweet, ripe pear.”

Her writing is all like that. I’m a sucker for metaphor and simile, but how could you not appreciate the beauty of that imagery?

Thank you again to everyone for your recommendations! I’ll be referencing back to your comments for months to come.

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Editing Instinct – Do You Have One?

I finished editing Apostasy mid last week, and brought it down by 20,000 words. I decided to give another read-through to the Poetess’s perspectives to make sure I got everything right.

I have been surprised by the quality of work in some parts, and disturbed by how much I hate other parts. Some bits of the book are like a piece of a painting that has been re-painted so often I’m not sure it’ll ever look smooth again.

Overall, it’s a much better book, but I’m still worried about my agent’s reaction. The point of this process was to hand her a product so finished that she only has to give one round of edits for it. That pressure is making me second-guess my decision to keep a lot of the sub-plots, but I also kind of decided that I’m not going to cut anything that works and that I also like. If my agent feels it needs to go, then by I’ll means I’ll take it out, but I don’t want to remove something she might have said it was okay to keep, you know?

So I was wondering… when I’m editing, if I read a bit that makes me get that sinking feeling in my stomach, I know it needs some work. But how do YOU identify when something needs to get cut? Is it purely a logical decision, or do you have a physical indicator like me?

Thanks to everyone for your feedback on my last two entries. The discussions were great!

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Agent Talk –> Revisions!

EDIT: ANTEBELLUM is now known as NAMELESS

I know, I know, I should have been updating as I went, but I spent all weekend immersed in my own fantasy world, and I’m just rising up out of it now:

On Friday I had a 45-minute update talk with my agent! Antebellum is still out with 3 publishers, and it’s going out to a 4th soon for YA. After that the strategy is to switch to Adult publishers. Very exciting there.

I’m shelving Go Look There for now. We decided that I needed to be published a few times before we can approach such a complicated an unique project. Plus, it needs to be longer and more developed, and I already have a feeling that’s going to take me several years of kicking around in the back of my head before I know the right direction to go.

And, the third big thing…. APOSTASY EDITS!!!

Apostasy is the book after Antebellum; the second in the trilogy/quartet (there’s an idea for a prequel but I haven’t written it yet). Apostasy was actually my readers’ favorite when it was posted on FictionPress. It takes the characters of Antebellum and gives them an action and intrigue-based plot, along with temptations and a surprise ending. :D It also takes place almost entirely in the East Hall, which is far more beautiful and technologically advanced than the North Hall, where Antebellum took place, so that’s major fun there. Finally, we get to use phones and computers!

But, Apostasy was a huge baby, at 128,000 words. Now, that’s not as bad as some writers I know (a friend of mine recently confessed she had an unedited novel at 300,000 words!!!), but still way too long. Antebellum barely breaks 85,000, so I need Apostasy to be closer in size.

The other thing is… I put off editing Apostasy for a year. Which is very disappointing, I know. Believe me, I felt guilty. But it was just such a mess towards the middle that I simply couldn’t confront it. Until, of course, I had to. My agent said that I needed to get it in very presentable shape in case someone wanted to see it.

Actually, last summer I was really getting into it, and I had created beautiful chapters in one character’s perspective, but then I suffered a hard drive crash! After I got a new hard drive, I could barely look at the story again, knowing that I had lost bits that were so beautiful. But, I worked through it and got all of those perspectives edited. Wonderful. Great. Now on to the other perspective, the one I didn’t like so much…

Yeah, so I didn’t start working on that one until a month or so ago. And the day I finally picked it up was the day that Chris told me he didn’t want to get married. So down it got put again, until a few weeks ago when I did a final read-through, making minor edits but mostly just giving up and re-familiarizing myself with the story.

So that’s where I was when I had a talk with my agent on Friday. I had re-read through and fixed some logistical errors, but it was still a no-go. And, guilt-induced, I promised I would get it to her as quickly as possible.

Cue frantic editing. But at least the guilt gave me the motivation to get a move on this time! I am proud to say that I have come down 12,000 words already and I still have a huge chunk left to get through, so it’s sure to come down more!

I also isolated about 150 pages that I absolutely hated, pulled them into a separate document, and have been going through and giving them a complete re-write, which includes condensing the plot and removing 2 very superfluous sex scenes :-) (to the disappointment of several of my Twitter followers).

So, that’s where I’m at. Falling deep into the Apostasy world every night and beautifying my characters/plot. With frequent breaks to check on Twitter and respond to Let The Words Flow Emails.

So tell me: Do you hate editing or love it?