Worrying, Waiting, & Writing

This image is by the artist Kibbitzer (Kibbi) on Deviant Art

This image is by the artist Kibbitzer (Kibbi) on Deviant Art

The resubmission process is not as easy as I thought.

Last year, my agent submitted me to three presses. Each one of them saw something of value in it, and offered me some feedback about what aspects of the novel they had issues with. The idea being that if I fixed some of these things, they would review the revised manuscript which might lead to an offer for publication. 

I took a lot of time and care to substantially alter and rework my manuscript, and now that I’ve finished  I’m on “resubmission” with the three editors/presses who gave me feedback. What I have to do now is wait. When I was on submission the first time, I was nervous but also confident. After all, my manuscript had been good enough to get an agent, and I had glowing reviews from my critique partner and beta readers. The editors could have simply rejected my work, but thought it was good enough to give me feedback on. It felt like they wanted to publish my work, but it just wasn’t quite there.

So now that I’ve worked so hard to revise my manuscript, I’m surprised that I find being on resubmission a lot more difficult than the original submission period. I’ve tried hard to figure why this is, and ultimately it comes down to fear. Resubmission is my second & last chance for my novel to be acquired/published by these presses. I fear that they will read it and find my manuscript ultimately unworthy. This concept is scary not just because I truly want my manuscript to be published, but also because it makes me worry about who I am as a writer. I fear that I am somehow in a literary “uncanny valley” as a writer, meaning that my skills/stories are good enough for consideration, but ultimately unworthy of publication. This fear has made it much harder to write something new.

I’ve asked a lot of writers what they do to cope when on submission/resubmission, and the answer I see the most is:

“Work on something else and hope that it distracts you enough from the idea of waiting.”

So I set out to work on something else, but have been plagued by doubt. I know all writers struggle with this. I certainly did when writing my first novel, and even more so when revising/rewriting it. My process in writing a first draft generally requires me to accept that a first draft is about finding the bones of the story. This translates to accepting that the beginning will likely be completely rewritten (saving the plot points and nothing else) and the rest of it will be heavily rewritten. A lot of my first draft writing has me writing scenes that I need to write to get to know my characters better, but are ultimately cut because they are not necessary. A character could talk endlessly about being an outcast in high school, but you could simply reduce this to a single phrase in a conversation. Something like “Sorry, I’m just used to eating alone.” That tells you everything you need to know, and avoid long ambling exposition.

I used to hate this about my process, but I have learned over the past few years that it’s pointless to fight it. I’ve tried to be better about writing work that requires less editing, but ultimately it makes it much harder for me to complete a story. If I think of my novel as building a bridge, and I choose to build it slowly and steadily out of huge stones that once placed cannot be removed, then I run into big problems when I find myself  at a dead end. Whereas if my first draft is just the basic framework which can be altered easily, then I can make sure that those huge stones are in the right place when I edit/rewrite/ and revise.

This is definitely not the fastest way to write a good novel, but it’s what works for me. The issue I have now is, I worry whether the bridges I build are good enough for other people to walk/drive on. Whether they will be able to be used by the masses, or if I’m simply building them for myself. What if my bridges aren’t good enough? Should apply my craft to something else? A true artist is said to be compelled to make/compose whatever art calls to them even if no one else saw it. I perform and sing without an audience often, and I write stuff that no one sees (nor should). For me there is no difference, because they all focus on one thing: Telling a story. I can’t imagine a life where I didn’t tell stories. But stories require an audience, just like theatre.  While novels can certainly exist without anyone but the author reading it, that’s not why I write. My goal in writing is to not only craft and create an excellent story, but also to share it with the world. For that reason, publication means a lot to me, and that is the reason that idea of resubmission being my second & last chance is much more nerve wracking.

My hope is that by blogging about this, I’ll remember that publication is the final step for my first novel. It’s an important one, but I shouldn’t let that stop me from taking the first step with my second. I’ve got other stories that need to be told, and that should be my focus for now.

Advertisements

The Revision Project – Day 8

time_1080

So this editing thing has definitely been a journey! The good news: I roughly on track. The bad news: It’s not from editing everyday. Rather I seem to find time every 2-3 days to do a decent chunk. Now that I’m through combing my opening for tiny flaws the more substantial edits have come forth. Many of my edits found numerous ways to ask me to do one thing: “Be less subtle.” As a person, I’m not subtle at all. As an author, I was trying to be a bit more nuanced. The request to really just be bold, is a dangerous one for me. Fortunately, I’ve been good at remembering I’m not a lone in this. I’ve sent small snippets of things to various readers, who are familiar with the original story, to see if these slight changes made a big difference.  Today I started weaving in a new character. While this is definitely something I’m nervous about, I’ve also really enjoyed it. I’m finding that if I’m struggling to edit a moment, the answer is not to spend an hour on it. The answer is to rewrite it. I usually think of rewrites as this thing you do when you just accept that what you’ve got on the page is broken. So I try really hard to see if I can simply fix stuff before rewriting it. I’m learning now to try a rewrite earlier. To trust that new words, covering the same beats and moments, can still be infused with the same magic that made the original passable. Only there is a high likelihood it will be even better.

Total pages edited: 65-70 (depending on which version of the MS)

The Revision Project – Day 1

man writing in journal1

So today was the first day of my editing project. I made it though the first 25 pages. This involved some fine tuning of sentences, some modifying things for consistency (things from the various drafts conflicted, and needed to be removed), cutting some stuff, and writing a tiny bit. For the most part I felt like I accomplished a lot, but I think I also need to remember that I should avoid spending an hour brainstorming multiple versions of the same sentence. Still, it was nice that the beginning didn’t need a whole lot of work. I think I need to create a better system for time management. Tomorrow I plan to do work for an hour, then take a 10 minute break. We’ll see how that goes!

Pages edited: 25/339 = 7.35% complete

Accountability for Phase 2

fully edited MS

Pictured above is my fully noted manuscript. It took 6 weeks for me to read and notate my novel (I didn’t spend each hour/day on it, but it took me that long to start the project and finish it) which is really too long. I’m allowing myself to feel less bad about this, as there was plenty of stuff going on in the past 6 weeks to keep me busy, but phase 2 of this editing/revising/rewriting process cannot be allowed to linger on. As a result, I realize I need to be accountable to someone/something about actually doing this. Therefore, I intend to blog everyday, regardless of progress made, to post before the world what what I did each day. This process will officially start on October 5th (a week from today) as I have a big commitment to perform for the NJVLA bi-annual fundraiser this week.

My goal this week is to get a head start, cleaning up the beginning, and just settling into the whole process. My main issues with this have been:

1. There is no good/satisfying way to chart progress in editing/revising/rewriting. It’s not like doing a first draft where word count can give you an idea. So instead of charting it out, I’m simply creating a goal. A minimum of 10 pages a day with a desire to do roughly 25 pages a day. My novel, when printed, is 339 pages long. So this would mean if I only did the minimum, I could get it done is just over a month. This brings me to my second issue/struggling point.

2. As I’ve not officially been offered a publication deal, I’ve got no deadline. I was encouraged to take as much time as I needed, which is the worst thing to say to someone like me. I need a deadline, I work best when there is something driving me. So I’m setting one for myself. Taking into account I’m likely to stumble a bit, I am giving myself 40 days (it worked for Noah right!) to do the edits on this thing. So that would mean I should be done with Phase 2 by November 12th, 2013. That seems OVERLY generous. However, I am trying to create achievable goals, so that’s my date!

3. A third, more elusive, problem I’ve been having is that no one has seemed to care if I get this thing done. Friends assumed, like me, that getting an agent meant that I was no longer alone in this. It’s true, I’m not, but my agent is a busy man. He’s got other clients, and he can’t do much more than tell me me work on my novel. I’m thankful for his infinite patience and belief in me. Whenever I feel like my career as a writer was a silly dream or a fluke, I remember my agent wouldn’t have signed me if I wasn’t doing something right. Also the 20+ people who read and loved THE ROLE, would have put it down if it wasn’t good. Editors wouldn’t have bothered to give feedback or offered to re-read a revised manuscript, if they didn’t see something in me/my writing/my story. So it’s silly of me to complain no one cared. They care, but they can’t do anything more with my novel, until I revise it. So I’ve decided to stop looking out for something to motivate me, and look within. As I finished the last few pages of my novel,  I was touched by how good it is. I was also mortified by the problems that exist with it. There are some balance problems, a few dialogue rough spots, and a section that is kind of a slog to get through. It’s a good story, but with a bit more work, it will be great. However, I can’t expect others to revise the book for me, much like every other step in this process, the bulk of the writing has to be done by me. I’m fortunate to now have editors, an agent, other writers, and friends who can help me when I need it, but I can’t ask for help until I begin.

So those are my problems, and my potential solutions.

Time for me to once again put my fingers on the keyboard again, and get writing! Stay tuned for daily updates on the process!

What Binds Us – A Review

What Binds Us - cover

Until a few weeks ago, I rarely read books labeled as “romance” novels, because I tend to think of them as books featuring a wild haired maiden who stows away on a pirate ship, poses as a cabin boy, and ends up with the captain after a big sword fight. Lately, I’ve read a few books labeled as “romance” specifically “Male/Male Romance” and been happily surprised by the fact that they are generally stories with a lot of passion as well as depth. Of the few I’ve read, I felt that “What Binds Us” deserved a full review.

When I asked for a recommendation my request was a novel with these factors: LGBT, Romance, Contemporary, without a lot of erotica elements. Based on this criteria, “What Binds Us” by Larry Benjamin was recommended to me by Rhonda Helms. It was perhaps the most perfect recommendation based on that criteria I could have ever imagined. Here is a brief outline about the story:

In 1977 with Thomas-Edward (whom is thankfully mainly referred to as T or Thomas throughout), a young man who falls in love with Donovan “Dondi” Whyte, his college roommate, whose beauty seems only to be matched by his familial wealth. The two men have a relationship, but, as with most wealthy/handsome characters, Thomas-Edward is found lacking, but the two remain friends. As T mourns the loss of this romance, and struggles to maintain a friendship with Dondi he finds his true love in Matthew, the brother of his roommate. The story continues past the “Happily Ever After” exploring the pains and struggles of caring for a loved one who eventually succumbs to AIDS, which was heartfelt, but felt like an odd way to resolve what was initially set-up to be more of a  love triangle story. This is probably because I feel like I’ve read/seen a lot of movies about AIDS in the 80’s. However, because we had come to love the characters so much for the first 2\3rds of the book it was very interesting to read. I was especially fond of the fact that there was never a moment of doubt in T’s love with Matthew. This, I felt, was an excellent departure from the conventional love triangles that are so popular in today’s market. I can imagine no reader being on “Team Dondi.” No one with a heart would think T would be happier with him than Matthew.

While the story was very important (the synopsis above is a sketch at best, the story spans many years and features many unforgettable characters not mentioned) what was truly breathtaking about this books was the prose. I am so jealous of Larry Benjamin’s way with words. I especially loved it when he’d spend 3 paragraphs or a page and a half to share a small story, a memory, that felt like a brief aside or footnote. Many of those were some of my favorite parts, because they gave you a real level of intimacy with the character, breaking deep into their mind and experiences. Later down the narrative road, you could feel the emotions coursing through the characters, because you knew them so well.  Benjamin’s skill with description (his art history minor really shows) is also truly breathtaking. For the most part the dialogue was good, and Benjamin excels in giving even ancillary characters truly unique voice. I never once asked “who’s talking?”

I think that I mainly enjoyed that this “romance” novel was more about “love” than anything else. The title says it all. Love is “what binds us.” and while physical love is a big portion of that, it is not as big as the rest. The use of sex in the novel was handled thoughtfully, taking us through both college sex as well as the sex lives of people who are happily coupled ( as well as unhappily).

This book proved to me, once again, that romance novels have more to them than sex and love. Many of them tell stories of whole lives, and the fleeting as well as unforgettable moments of love, loss, and everything inbetween. This novel is a superb read, and the perfect gift for anyone who thinks romance novels only feature maidens on pirate ships!

The Importance of reading for writers

Young-man-reading-a-book-001

BHE (for new readers BHE stands for “Best Husband Ever”) recent gave me a great book called “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” by Mason Currey. It is a novel that tells you about process famous artists had when creating their art. Reading about the process of others, made me think about my own.

When I was writing “The Role” my process followed this structure:

7:00-7:30 a.m.             Wake up

7:30 – 9:00 a.m.          Free time

9:00-10:00 a.m.           Read a piece of fiction in the POV and tense of my novel. (1st person, present tense)

10:00 a.m. – ????         Write a minimum of 1,500 words.

2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.  Take a walk (or do Pilates if it is raining)

3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.  If I hadn’t finished my work count I would write to that. If I had met it and was mentally exhausted I would consider this free time.

Understanding and accepting my process is still something I am doing, but there is one aspect of my process I wanted to highlight today.

Reading.

Reading others really helped me in structure, plotting, and just generally making my story feel like a novel. You can learn a lot from excellent authors by engaging with their stories in a critical way. While I usually just enjoy novels that take me on a journey, examining how their writing swept me away was one of the best lessons I ever learned.

So if you are struggling in your writing I suggest you read an old favorite and examine why it is an a favorite of yours. Try and inject some of that magic into your manuscript.

LGBT Book Review – “Social Skills”

Social Skills

I’ve been trying to read more of my genre lately, so I downloaded a lot of sample chapters on my Kindle. One of them was for the novel “Social Skills” by Sara Alva. I was intrigued that so many reviewers on Amazon and GoodReads kept saying that this was basically a really good version of a “Nerd\Jock Romance.” That so many reviewers harped on this made me believe I wasn’t going to get past the first few pages. Predominately because I wasn’t interested in reading another one of those books. Fortunately, while I would say the main lovers in Social Skills are informed by those stereotypes, neither totally adhere to them.

Connor has nerd qualities, in that he is smart and socially awkward, but his social anxiety isn’t simply a result of being a nerd. It stems from a lot of things. He is also a college freshman, who is short (and insecure about it), closeted, and living in non-freshman dorm. Even the best of us would be/were awkward at that age given that set of circumstances. As for Jared, he is barely a jock. He’s just a conventionally attractive guy who plays sports. Sure he’s on the football team, but he’s not scoring winning touchdowns, he’s warming the bench.

What Sara Alva has managed to do beautifully is write characters who feel much more real than the stereotypes mentioned in the reviews. Perhaps  this is why the book is lauded as being a really excellent version of a Nerd/Jock Romance. I would say it is a romance that takes place in college. Sara Alva’s ability to write about college was actually the reason I bought the book. Unlike so many novels, which pretend college is just a harder version of high school, I felt like Sara really represented the college experience in a realistic way.  I adored that the students complained about the distance and time it took to see one another, because I had the same complaints when I was in college. My college friends and I laugh that we ever thought a 15 minute walk across campus was a burden, now that we travel several hours and hundreds of miles to see one another.

There is a lot more about college she gets right, but I won’t bore you with further examples. The novel is a short and enjoyable read. I encourage you to pick it up, and see for yourself. I think Sara Alva is definitely an author to watch for in the future.

Past Self and Future Self

past self future self

So the cool thing is…I’m working on something new. With a few fulls hanging out with agents, I decided to stop tinkering with my old novel, and work on other things in my life. One of those is a new novel. I’m once again not really working with an outline, which doesn’t seem to be a problem yet. My first chapter is definitely faster paced than my old one. Of course the new project is YA, so that might be why.

Anyway, my issue so far is this. When I wrote my first novel, I basically wrote to put down the bones of a story. The goal was to just see if I could write a full-length novel, that had a beginning, middle and end. Once I was about 1\3rd through the novel, my ability to write improved a lot. Partially because I wrote everyday, and therefore was in better “writing” shape (my waistline however…well let’s not talk about that!) the other thing that was different was that I knew the characters and the world I was writing in much better. So it was easier to write chapters that felt more fleshed out. I was so so ecstatic when I wrote my ending, and I thought I’d be able to do a quick revision and send it out to agents.

BOY WAS I WRONG!

My first draft was a story with a beginning, middle and end. It had great characters, wonderful moments, and a killer ending. The problem was….the beginning was a wreck. It was crude and poorly written. I despaired, wondering if the entire novel was actually like this. I flipped 100 pages into the novel, and soon saw that it was well crafted and much better than what I had started with. So I went to work heavily revising my first 100 pages. It wasn’t easy. I was angry with my past self for leaving my current self to deal with this mess. I swore never to do this again.

Funny thing? After writing only 2,000 words I can see I’m doing it again. Now it is better written than the first novel, but it is still crude. The character’s are definitely interesting, but I’ve not spent enough time with them to really get a feel for exactly how they feel and sound. It’s almost feels like they are in an opera where they play an exaggerated version of themselves. I am sure that, much like the last time, I will be able to better wield my keystrokes to turn these operatic icons into characters you can connect to on a true and personal level.

So to my future self I must say this: I know the beginning is rough, but you know these people so much better than me. So don’t be mad at me for not doing them justice. Just remember, without me, you’d never know them at all. Together, you and our even further future self will hopefully be able to bring our new found friends and enemies into the hearts of our readers.

Rewriting vs. Revising

So it has been a long time since I blogged. Part of the reason is dealing with my job (I had a lot of great paid work come in, which is now sadly going away) I also have been at a standstill with my novel. All of the agents I queried rejected me. I’m not shocked by this, I expected it to happen. It is easy to expect the worst, that way you won’t be disappointed. But there was a silver lining. Due to the great reaction of my friends, family, and fans I was able to get some critical feedback from the agent Linda Epstein.

Linda is the kind of agent I want, because she is interested in representing the type of material I write. It is very rare to find someone to represent such a niche market, so I was hoping she was going to read my first five pages and ask me for more. Sadly, she did not. She pretty much hated my first five pages. I was wounded very deeply by this, but she made something clear to me.

I needed to step away, and come back much later. I felt that there was something wrong with my opening, but I had no idea what it was. I revised and revised and revised, but nothing seemed to work. When I opened up Linda’s comments a month later, I saw the answer clearly. I couldn’t fix what was there, because it wasn’t workable. The opening didn’t really have the same tone as my piece. It was trying very hard, and instead of coming off as sophisticated it came across as clunky and desperate. So I decided not to remodel, but tear down and start basically from scratch. The only thing I kept was the basic plot point (Main characters is reunited with a friend who offers to change his life for good)

I’m happy to report it worked. The new opening does everything I wished the old one did. It introduces one of the major characters up front, instead of waiting several chapters. It also moves at the pace of the rest of the novel, which is nice.

Now I’m at the stage of “Okay, I like this new open. If I want to keep it, I need to do something similar to the next few chapters.” So of course now I wonder whether I want to do that.

Click here to read the new opening!

Submitted

 

So I have officially submitted my first few query letters. The feeling is that of exhaustive anticipation. Especially since some of the query letters were sent to agents who are known for quick and speedy replies (most of them rejections). Still, if I’m going to get rejected, I’d rather have it done quickly.

The thing I mainly wanted to discuss was why I wanted to query. As I said in the last post, I could not go on tinkering with my manuscript. It is a strong one, but I understand that with an editor it could be stronger. The issue is, I need an editor. I need someone who will read some variation on a phrase and tell me “yes, this minor tweak makes this section stronger.” etc. I feel like that is the signal that it is time to start querying. I can’t really look at my novel for very long, as I am sick of tinkering with it. Now, if some agent and editor want me, I’ll be tinker all they want! But, I need to get that agent/editor first.

Thankfully, I have been blessed by an abundance of extra contract work this week. In addition, I interviewed for a temp agency who is hoping to place people with title examination experience. So there are things out on the horizon that I am hopeful about.

While I like my query letter, I really do feel I am better at pitching my novel in person. I wish I could do what the character Jo does in “Little Women.” I enjoy the musical version of that portion the best. Click here to hear it!

« Older entries