Yesterday marked the fifth anniversary of the day I first sat down at the computer and began writing my first novel. I don’t know how many writers keep track of such an anniversary, but it’s in my nature to do something like that.
And I tend to be reflective when anniversaries arise. So now that I’ve spent five years on this journey, what have I experienced? And where am I heading?
The Journey Began
There was some great fun the first couple of years. I watched the words flow onto the screen, often unaware of what was happening in the story until I read it myself. To see this creativity coming from my mind was so different from anything I’d done before. It was invigorating.
And I wanted to do it right. I bought books about writing. I subscribed to Writer’s Digest. I learned that the compliments and high marks I’d received in school for my writing were nice, but not enough. Still, I was confident I’d have the two manuscripts whipped into shape in no time. In early 2011, not even two years after I started Summer at the Crossroads, I queried the manuscript.
There were no bites. I knew this was a difficult story to describe, and I realized it might be unmarketable as a first book. So I switched to the other manuscript, Death Out of Time, a straightforward time-travel story. I continued to read about writing and believed I was on the right track with this second story.
Much as I dreaded social media, my research showed that if I was serious about finding an audience, I had to put myself out there. So on 31 October 2011 I bit the bullet and launched this blog. It took time to build an audience. I wasn’t one to dive into other blogs and start commenting on and “liking” every post I read. But eventually I was accepted into this amazing part of the blogosphere.
The Journey Continued
I’ve made some wonderful friends here. And some of them have become invaluable beta readers, too. Before that time, everyone who had read Summer at the Crossroads and Death Out of Time was a friend, family member, or friend of a family member. As I finished up drafts of Death Out of Time and what I believed was a better version of Summer at the Crossroads, those betas provided tremendous insights and priceless comments.
And I learned a difficult lesson. I had been overly confident about my writing skills.
Don’t get me wrong. There were things I had done right. My story ideas were interesting. I had some good descriptions of places and past events. Dialogue was realistic and moved the story forward (for the most part). The main characters had the potential to hold a reader’s interest.
But there were major problems. The stories were full of information dumps, extraneous information that also misled readers, repetitive information and details, relationships that didn’t work, vagueness/deception when I aimed for subtlety/mystery, shifting POV, too much emphasis on minor characters, too many minor characters, contrived events, scenes that didn’t advance the story or work as I hoped, too much “tell,” and characters who showed no growth. The stories also lacked tension and conflict.
That’s a lot of room for improvement. And I’ve made strides in some areas. I’m careful now not to slip into omniscient POV. I’ve slashed the number of both supporting and minor characters and the amount of time spent with them. I’m more likely to recognize “tells” and rework them into “shows.”
I still fall short on three important levels, though.
1) I haven’t demonstrated that I can turn interesting ideas into interesting stories. The reality is good ideas are everywhere. Anyone can come up with at least one. The talent and skill lie in converting those ideas into gripping stories that hold a reader’s attention and won’t let go from Page One to The End. Meghan Bode has come closest to this goal, but even her adventures wouldn’t meet the modern criteria for a story. I doubt any editor would take them on as they stand, even if I took away the serialized format.
2) I haven’t figured out how to make the characters more distinctive, believable, and flawed. I need to do this if readers are going to care about the people in the stories. Because if readers don’t care, they won’t keep reading unless they’re compiling the supporting evidence for a scathing review. Thanks to my betas, neither Summer nor Death was subjected to that particular fate.
3) I don’t know if the rebuilds have enough tension and conflict. I’ve tried to “up the ante,” but I question my ability to know if I’m succeeding or not. Even if I have the right ingredients, will my presentation do them justice?
What Will The Next Five Years Bring?
The honest answer is:
I don’t know.
Frankly, when I wrote the poll for last week’s post, my vote likely would’ve been for “Forget this book! It only works in the author’s head.” I had recently re-read the various comments on the last draft of Summer at the Crossroads, and they were sobering. It’s good that I’m not bringing over much from that earlier version because I wouldn’t improve the story or characters enough if I did.
For the foreseeable future, though, I’ll continue this rebuild as best I can. No other stories demand to be written. Madeleine O’Brien isn’t pressing me to solve that “death out of time.” Meghan Bode isn’t talking about a novel or even another blog-based adventure. No new characters have introduced themselves. If anything like that happens, I might shelve Crossroads and change gears—unless the Crossroads gang decides to let the ideas fly. Last November, I’d hoped to have a revised draft of Death Out of Time done by sometime in May. That isn’t going to happen.
Beyond that, I don’t know. I can’t rule out the possibility that I could stop writing. I miss the fun of those first days. Yes, much of it was from blissful ignorance of everything I was doing wrong. But now I worry so much about my previous mistakes and shortcomings that I’ve lost the ability to simply enjoy writing the first draft of a new story, to watch in wonder as the characters and their adventures unfold. If I can’t find that joy again, might I one day close the Scrivener files and walk away? But I’m going to keep working on the writing. I just have to find a better way to approach it.
As For The Next Five Months
Things are shaping up to be very busy from May through at least September on the home and work fronts. And I need to focus on finding that better approach to writing. So it’s time for a blogging break. I plan to visit your blogs when I can, but posting must bow to my sanity’s needs. Once or twice a month will be all I can manage. Other bloggers have done it without losing their audiences, and I hope you would all welcome me back, too.
Honestly, a break might do wonders to refresh my Muse and to help me figure out how I’d like the blog to go forward. The last thing I want is to drive you away by focusing on my self-doubt and lack of confidence issues. And yet I’ve already seen a number of long-time visitors drop away. I understand. When I started blogging, I promised not to use this outlet as a therapist’s couch, and I should keep my word. So my next post will be sometime in May. And I hope I’ll see you then.
I hope your creative endeavors are finding more success as the year progresses.