I finished a draft of my novel a couple months ago, and at the time, I wanted to write a blog about how awesome it was to be done with the book. But I didn’t, and I guess it was because I knew I wasn’t actually done with the book.
On Thursday, I finished workshopping through the end of the book with my writing group. It was sad — it’s been a long time! About 18 months, actually. Somewhere in the last couple of months I realized that I would call that final workshopping “The End.” And it did feel like that. Certainly I won’t be asking for any more feedback on it. Now I’m going to go through and edit based on the last 3-4 chapters worth of notes, and then I’ll go back through the whole draft and revise — did I get every piece of revision done that I wanted to get done? Is it for reals done, or have I just stopped working on it? It seems a little like that’s how books get completed — you just stop working on them. But, one more run-through seems right.
I did send out some queries to agents, seventeen to be exact, in late April. I heard back from all the ones that said they always respond, except one… So, I guess they may still respond. Who knows. I got one request for additional materials, but they (very politely) rejected it, though they said some nice things. That was nice of them. The one agent that requested additional material was also the one agent I sent a semi-personal query to. I even made a joke, which I actually hesitated to do — writing is serious! We must be very serious about this!!
I have mixed feelings about that approach… I now have to wonder if I got that request just because I was accidentally charming, and I don’t know if making a personal connection in this process is actually the right thing to do. I get that leveraging relationships and contacts is generally a necessary thing in any kind of selection-sorting process. But then again, isn’t that the idea of an agent? That they’re the personal advocate of an author and their work? I think I just talked a non-topic in a full circle.
So, other than that I have been writing-related busy, by my standards. I wrote some stories and I read a bunch of books. I’ve filled up my note bucket with story ideas, some of which sound interesting enough to be actual stories or books. After even a little work on a query for the novel, I’ve started to really look at how stories seem in a very tightly-summarized format. I think that if a story doesn’t sound really awesome in one sentence, it might not be a very good story.
I was talking to a friend who’s worried about the general plot and direction of her novel and I went through this whole one-sentence exercise with her, where I distilled about a dozen well-known stories to one sentence. And, yep, they all still sounded pretty awesome — or, it was still easy to see how someone would think they could be awesome stories. I guess this is just that same old “elevator pitch” advice you can read anywhere. Maybe I’m just saying that I understand that old “elevator pitch” advice now.
But this has had a positive effect on my writing for sure. I used to be very precious about ideas, and maybe not surprisingly, I wrote proportionately few stories — if every story is precious, then I would take as much time with each until they felt right. But you know what? Not every story needs to be told. I’m realizing that I might need to write those stories, but I shouldn’t assume that they’re for public consumption, and I should just move on when I know they aren’t going to be submittable. I guess I’m saying that I’ve been both more experimental in my writing and less concerned with the outcome.
There’s been a TON of writing advice I’ve heard that I never really understood, but I feel like I’m starting to understand some of that stuff. Everything I wrote initially, being precious, needed feedback from someone. I guess that’s pretty normal for people when they’re starting out. But I’m not sure I even want feedback on some of the things I’m working on. Some of this stuff is just never going to be good, and no amount of revision or feedback is going to change that. I once heard an editor say, “Don’t reject yourself, submit and let me do that.” No, I’m not sure I agree with that anymore.
I’ve had friends say, “Oh, what I’m working on isn’t ready for readers yet.” I used to think that sounded crazy! I totally get it now, and I realize that I just wasn’t very good at knowing when something was ready for external feedback. In hindsight, when I was initially getting feedback on the novel, I can now see that I did that too soon, and I got a lot of wobbly feedback, because the novel wasn’t ready for feedback.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about what kind of stories I want to write. The novel is epic fantasy, but do I really want to write that kind of story? I don’t know… The reason I wrote in that genre really just started with me saying, “Yeah, I could probs write an epic fantasy.” But I think that was a pretty flawed assumption. People that write in that genre (and probably any genre) really really really care about writing in that genre. I really don’t, and I think it probably shows. I definitely don’t go very deep into the corners of the genre that the best writers in that genre do. I’m maybe a little dismissive of those elements, actually.
I’ve been wondering how much I want to write in genre at all, actually. I’ve been thinking that it’s far too easy for me to let those stories degenerate into lots of sword and sorcery stuff, or into guns-a-blazing murderfests — because that’s the kind of stuff I read when I mostly read genre, which, like most people who love genre, was when I was actually pretty young. I have all of these presumptions about what a story “like that” looks and sounds and feels like, and I think it shows. I definitely see that in my novel. “This is what a novel like this sounds like,” my book seems to say…
So, I’ve been reading a lot, but I haven’t felt very excited to write long opinion-y blogs about those books. The one thing I’ll say is that very little of what I’ve been reading has been SF/F, and what has been SF/F, has been on the “literary” side of that spectrum — which is its own funny distinction that plenty of other people have written about.
I’m pretty excited about where I’m at with writing, though. I feel like I know a little more about what I want to write, how to write it, and what I think that writing needs to do. That feels great!
Everyone is right when they say it takes years to become a decent writer. I’ve been working on it for years and I’m only now beginning to see how that might happen for me.