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.

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!

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!

No Substitution

So a good friend of mine recently read my heavily revised first chapter and the cover letter I hope to send out.  She seemed genuinely pleased by my writing, and made some excellent notes on the manuscript pages. However, before we could talk about the chapter, she first wanted to talk about the cover letter. At the bottom of her marked up copy she wrote:

“This is too formal, too resume-y. Be Richard in it! He [meaning the agent] can’t hear you in this.”

I knew what she meant, but I explained there was a lot of pressure for me on the cover letters. Since my book features LGBT characters, and is not YA, a lot of the decent book agents out there have no interest in it. It’s a great story, but most agents want to be in love with the book. I understand this, it makes it easy for them to sell it, so my friend wanted me to explain who would love me book. Fortunately, she didn’t just ask this question. Rather, while sitting in an abandoned bar near the train station she pulled out a survey she had prepared, and interviewed me about my book.

The questions were pretty vague,  but I liked the exercise of being interviewed about my book. I treated it like she was a potential agent, and so I pitched her my book. What is clear to me is that I am better at pitching in person. It’s probably because I’m an actor, so it is super easy for me to show someone how excited I am about my book.

I’ve taken several days to really think about it, and I think she is very right. My cover letter is accurate, but not thrilling. So now I am going to revise it, so that any agent will hear me in it.

In addition, I’ve decided that after I tinker a bit more with the first chapter, it is time for me to just start querying. When it has gotten to the point that I can’t tell whether my original or new material is better, I think it means I am finally ready to submit. I’d need to work with an editor to take it to the next level. If no agent wants me, I can hire one, and then self-publish. Hopefully, someone will want it though!