Doing The Story Justice

Some time ago, I realized writers spend more time editing and revising than we do laying out the initial story. That’s no surprise to those of you who have been at this a few years. If you’re just starting out, well, now you know.

Finishing the first draft is an incredible feeling. Wow. I wrote a novel. Woo hoo! Happy dances and high fives all around.

I don’t mean to burst anyone’s bubble who hasn’t gotten there yet. By all means, celebrate when you do. But now’s when the real work begins.

The REAL work starts now?

That’s right. You’re nowhere near ready to publish. Hey, if you’re Stephen King or another good writer and have somehow stumbled onto this post, one round of rewrites after you get your beta reader comments may be all you need. But most readers, like me, haven’t reached that level yet. We need multiple drafts, multiple reviews, and multiple rewrites.

For me, part of the repeated revision process is the desire to create a well-written book. I don’t want to be embarrassed by critical reviews pointing out all kinds of weaknesses—poorly developed characters, lame plot with multiple holes, passive voice, inconsistent POV, and so on.

But more importantly, I want to do the stories justice. I think the major plot ideas behind both my major WIPs are good ones. The Muse gave me wonderful stories to write about. I know they could be awesome books. In my mind, the main characters are interesting and approachable. I think readers could relate to them. But I have to bring that out in my writing.

Frankly, anyone can have a great idea for a novel. And most people, if they put their minds to it, could write one. But that doesn’t mean the book would be good. Many would-be writers couldn’t handle the work involved in getting the story right. That’s one reason everyone doesn’t write novels.

Can I do it? After several rounds of revisions, will I have a novel that is entertaining and well-written? I refuse to fall into the trap of revising forever and never publishing my books. That’s pointless. But when I decide to publish, will I have done the stories justice? Will I reach the point where I can honestly and accurately answer that question with a yes? I’ll only know the answer when the books are out there and I see if an audience develops. It’s a daunting thought.

How about you, fellow writers? What drives your editing and revision and keeps you sticking with your stories?

Recent Awards

This last week I was graced with three blog awards: Kreativ Blogger, Thanks for Blogging, and Ask Me Anything, by Kate Policani, Wally Tomosky, and KindredSpirit23, respectively. My modest nature is putting up some resistance in accepting these. It doesn’t think every second or third post should be an award acceptance—even though the “Ask Me Anything” award is newly created by KindredSpirit23 and I was one of the first “awardees.” That is an amazing compliment that my mind cannot fully comprehend.

I want to thank the three bloggers who nominated me, and I do graciously accept. But I need some time before I can do another award post. I want to provide some “serious” content for a while. Okay, as serious as I can be. I’m not going to turn the blog into an instructional series on writing or archaeology. But I don’t want my blog getting arrogant, as Sweet Mother would say.

“SMAP”

American Airlines seems to be making a lot of comments these days, be it mail, letters, or scam. Maybe they’ll sue the “smappers” for libel?

And “the mob” may be getting into the “smap” business. “Numbers Wolansky” wanted to comment on my “When the Going Gets Tough” post. Maybe he thought it referred to old-time gangsters?

I CAN Do This

As many of you know, I’ve had two manuscripts out with beta readers recently. Last week, I got comments back on my novel Death Out of Time from 4amWriter, aka Limebirdkate. I cannot believe how lucky I was to have someone as talented as her go through the manuscript. Kate could teach a Master Class in Beta Reading.

Am I going to gush because she told me how good it was? Nope. Before getting to my main point, I’ll briefly gush because she pointed out how much work it still needs.

Confused? No need to be. This wasn’t a final draft. It was only a second. And since I haven’t been at this anywhere near as long as someone like Stephen King, I knew there was a lot of work ahead. I knew some things weren’t working as they should. I knew my main characters needed revision. And there were other things I suspected. Kate caught every single point that concerned me—and a lot more. If we’re going to publish good, well-written books, we need that kind of feedback on the work-in-progress.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve been going through all the stages of feedback grief that Kourtney Heintz covered so well in a recent post. That’s what writers do. Actually, that’s what we all do when someone else critiques our efforts. Show me someone who claims constructive criticism doesn’t sting just the tiniest bit, and I’ll show you someone being just the tiniest bit dishonest.

But there’s something in these experiences that makes me think maybe I can do this—that maybe I can write a successful novel. (And by successful I mean an enjoyable, interesting story that some number of people beyond close family and friends would like to read. Monetary success is a whole other unpredictable beast.)

You see, ten years ago, or even five, a beta reader’s comments would have been more than I could bear. No matter how carefully someone constructed his critique, no matter how supportive he was that I was on the right track, I might have tucked the manuscript in a dark corner of a closet and never touched it again. I might have quit writing. At best I would have quit hoping that anyone else would want to read my work.

But that isn’t happening today. I’ve been going over Kate’s comments, absorbing them and thinking about how to address them to improve the story. And the ideas are flowing. They’re not necessarily all good. I have to think through how each would affect the entire story. I’ll throw some of them away. But they are flowing.  And I’ll think of more. And that means I’m moving forward. I’m not quitting.

And no one ever wrote and published a novel by quitting. We can’t succeed at anything by giving up before we’ve reached our goal.

Maybe this is a late burst of maturation and confidence in my life. Or maybe nothing creative ever took such hold of my imagination before. But whatever it is, I’m rolling up my shirt sleeves and getting down to the business of rethinking and rewriting. Draft 3 will be better. It won’t be the end. But I’ll be a few steps closer to writing a good story.

Maybe I can do this.

Have you surprised yourself by sticking to something you didn’t think you could do? Or kept going when others thought you would just give up or fail?

A Spammy Smile for the Day

I really enjoyed this thread, please keep posting info like this.” — Just a nice comment on my Fun With Spam post, right? What made me smile was the “name” of the commenter—Poopyface Monger. It sounds like someone’s five-year-old came up with that one. 🙂

Do Real Readers Read Unpublished Writer Blogs?

Psst. Over here. I mean you, real person—not that spambot in the corner, or the SEO guru sneaking into the room, or the flamer, or the troll, or whatever insider term I haven’t heard yet. I mean those of you who enjoy picking up or downloading books and reading them.

Can you help? You see, there’s a lot of blogging advice out there for unpublished writers like me—what we should blog, how to network, how often to blog, how to drive traffic to our blogs, how to establish our unique brand.

Here’s the kicker, though.

As we all work on the next great American novel or create the newest Harry Potter wannabe or try to launch the zombie-probing alien vampires who channel Jane Austen craze, we read all of this advice. And it says we have to build an audience before we even publish a book.

I thought YOU packed the probe. And wasn't Gortz supposed to bring "Pride and Prejudice?"

Does that make sense to you? Isn’t that like saying a band has to have an audience before it performs in public in order to get a recording deal? But every agent and editor and writing magazine and book tells us we must do this.

So we suck it up and start a blog (along with Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and other time sucks social networking devices). A lot of us are here at WordPress. And you know what? We find each other.

Unpublished writers are good at finding each other’s blogs. And we follow each other and support one another as we try to finish our works, edit them, rewrite them, polish them, and hopefully make our way out of the slush pile and into a world where we can call ourselves published authors. Don’t get me wrong. That’s great.

But experience and blogging advice articles tell me many of us are bad at attracting readers—real people who read books and might someday read ours if we get them published.

Oops. That’s, um, like one of the main reasons we’re supposed to blog, right? To attract a reading audience?

So what do we do? We obsess think about this. We read blogging advice articles. We write posts about it. We make sage comments on each other’s posts. We ask what we should do.

But most of us don’t have good solutions. Well, maybe they are good, but they don’t often work. Why? Because most readers don’t have all day to read blogs. It’s hard to attract real readers to a writer’s blog unless the reader already likes that writer’s works. So unless you’re friend or family to an unpublished writer, that means you visit blogs of your favorite published authors when you have time. For the rest of us, it’s a chicken-and-egg thing or a Catch-22.

This wasn’t a problem for writers like Stephen King, Sue Grafton, or even a relative newcomer like J.K. Rowling. They were all successful authors before anyone even invented the idea of a blog. When they started blogging or any other social networking, hey, guess what? The audience was already waiting in the theater—stamping the floor and chanting their names.

What am I getting at, you ask? Well, you see, I’d love to get your ideas on how to improve unpublished writer blogs. What would interest you? Would you skim or ignore posts about writing hints or writer’s block but stick around for samples of a book-in-progress that sounded interesting? What would you like to know about the writer?

Sigh. But here’s the problem, of course. How many of you are even reading this post?