I’ve read all your comments over the weekend on my last post on giving yourself permission to be bad.
I was interested to read Vennessa’s comment:
Ditto. I also work as an editor, and I find it extremely difficult to just write without “perfecting” as I go. My brain is constantly analyzing and looking for ways to improve what I have already written.
For instance, my wip is currently at 50,000 words and I am struggling to move it forward because I know there are some major character motivation issues at the start. I “need” to go back and perfect those before I can progress. That requires some major deletion and rewritting.
I worked for two and a half years on my first novel. Then I went to a writing conference and met a new friend and we wound up exchanging critiques on our manuscripts. And something he said convinced me that my manuscript was hopelessly flawed.
So I walked away from it.
That’s right, I quit that novel. I don’t believe in continuing work on a novel that I’ve lost confidence in. It feels too much like a writing exercise, and I don’t do writing exercises.
I started work the next day on a new novel. Same setting, somewhat different characters, somewhat different storyline. But it was a novel I had confidence in.
That lasted about 4 months, before I realized that one was hopeless too.
So I abandoned that one and started a new one. I actually finished that one. It was a good story idea and not too badly executed. I never sold it, but it was enough to get me an agent and give me some hope that I could finish a novel.
Then I worked on novels 4 and 5 and abandoned both.
Novel #6 was the first one I sold.
One of you noted that this writing game is scary because you only succeed if you have real talent, and how do you know if you have real talent? You only know that if you succeed.
That is very true, and I can’t say that I ever “knew” I was going to get published. However, I always thought I had talent, and as the years went by, writers I respected told me I had talent. So I made up my mind that I was going to act as if I was going to get published, and that meant writing my best work.
By that, I mean, writing my first draft (with permission to be bad), and then editing it and taking in in for critique and then learning what worked and what didn’t. Repeat every month for ten years.
Honestly, that was a traumatic ten years. I have a friend who took TWENTY-SIX YEARS to get published. I have other friends who did it in two years. That’s what makes this writing game so nerve-wracking. You don’t know if you’re on the two-year path or the ten-year path or the twenty-six year path.
What you do know is that you have a compulsion to write and you’re going to keep at it until they bury you or publish you.
Tami Meyers says
If they don’t publish me before they bury me I’m taking my computer with me!!!
Maybe I’m on the right track since I’ve started my wip four times with different characters and/or timeline.
Like us our characters have a past, present and future. How do you know when to begin the story? I always start each story at least three to five times before settling on a “time” that feels right.
Hi Vanessa and Tami
I wrote my novel originally as an autobiographical thesis (it is a true story) but then decided it would be better as a novel based on a true story. I’m finding it difficult to change from the true story (ok, with some little lies) to fiction. I am completely altering all the relationships but the core of the story will remain true. I don’t know if I sm making things difficult for myself, considering it is a first novel.
Has anyone done this before and, if so, how did you do it?
There’s actually more to my wip story. Although I am currently at just over 50,000 words, this is not the first draft.
I completed a 150,000 word first draft some years back, received some wonderful, encouraging feedback from a couple of friends, then met a freelance editor who offered to take a look at it. Her comments made me realize that I knew absolutely nothing about writing. I then set out on a seven year mission to learn all I could about the craft.
I scrapped that first draft. I kept the characters and the storyline, changed the setting, and am now rewriting it from scratch.
This baby refuses to remain silent. Whenever I get to the point where I can’t stand the story, I switch to another idea, but I always come back to this one. It keeps on whimpering, begging to be written.
Needless to say, I have a folder of partially written wips. One day I might actually complete another one.
Debra, I don’t really have any advice, since I’ve never tried to accomplish what you are. What is causing you the most problem at this stage?
My newly discovered aid to finishing a WIP is to find a writing friend who can encourage you to keep writing when you fall off the wave, remind you that you have permission to be bad on the first draft when you angst over bad writing, and act as a sounding board when you need to talk through stalls in your story. I would never have been able to finish my first draft if it weren’t for my writing buddy–and she uses me as much as I use her. It’s a partnership.
Regarding where to start the story, that is a problem I have as well. I discovered that finishing the WIP does help you figure out where the best beginning is because then you can tailor the beginning to fit the end. However, that said, I have to change the start point in my WIP, and that has caused some major plot rearrangements that have really upset my cart and stalled my second draft. I know the new start is necessary, but I’m being to lose heart with how hard it is to reroute the entire book from a new beginning and still keep so much of what I’ve already written.
Pam Halter says
Randy is so right. We learn with each story we write. If we are connected with other writers via a crit group, workshops or conferences, we’ll continue to get better. As a Christian writer, I also believe it will happen when God determines it will. But I also have my part to do.
My first two books were picked up after only 2 rejections (children’s picture books.) That was in 1998 (released in 2001) and I’m still waiting to sell my next children’s book. But in the meantime, I’ve been selling devos, articles, contributing to book compliations and taking editing jobs for children’s books. I’ve been learning to write for middle grade and YA. I’ve discovered networking and blogging. I continue to attend workshops and conferences when I can. I believe with all my heart that my time is coming. I just need to hang in there and work hard while I wait.
Out of curiosity, what are ways or warnings that might alert us a WIP is fatally flawed and should be abandoned? Is there ever a specific thing or consensus of opinion, or is it just one of those gut feels?
What specifically made you let those go?
ML Eqatin says
My writing depends on honest friends. That means they are not new friends, but old, tried ones who know that I want truth, not praise. No fast formula for this; it comes only from years demonstrating that you can accept crud with grace.
I appreciate the time they put into going over my stuff, knowing it isn’t very polished yet, that I will kick ideas around and likely ruin the ending for them. I have four friends in particular who read my genre and know what the other recent books of this type are like, and have informed opinions on why they sell. One of them is my daughter.
Get some friends like that. Whether you get published or not, relationships are a WIP that will always pay dividends.
Enjoy the ride! -MLE
Carrie Stuart Parks says
My first novel was sort of a (badly written) Da Vinci Code involving Mormons. It was based on real history with some fictionalized parts–and did include the real quote of Joseph Smith:
“whether I ascend to heaven or descend to hell, or go to any other place.
And if we go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it.
Where this people are, there is good society.
What do we care where we are, if the society be good?”
(-Joseph Smith, June 23, 1843, History of the Church, Published by the LDS, Volume 5 Page 517)
Fatally flawed? I figured I’d get my house burned down….
My goodness! Do any of you ever sleep?
At my level, Sophomore, I am getting alot of good out of “Plot and Structure” by James Scott Bell and “Techniques of the Selling Writer” by Dwight V. Swain.
Thanks, Randy, for letting us in on some of your writing journey. It was a real encouragement me to me. I’ve finished three novels (none published) and just abandoned the one I’ve been working on since January–actually abandoned it and then abandoned the re-write. 40,000 words, dumped. Doing that made me feel quite the failure, but I keep teling myself it took courage to abandon what a story that evidently has such fatal flaws.
Thanks for the encouragement to actually believe it!
Isn’t there a saying about controversy being the best way to stir up free publicity?
Karla Akins says
The most I’ve gotten published so far is 10,000 words in books that are collections of historical “dramatized” biographies for children.
As for editing — I do the seat of the pants type writing then I “warm up” by editing my “yesterday’s” work and then try to do a couple thousand more words or so.
Since Randy’s been “my teacher,” (since the release of Fiction 201,) I am learning how to make my outlines first (my character sketches, etc.) before I start writing. I also recently downloaded the Avenir software which I’m trying to learn my way around. There’s another software out there that is more expensive, and I’m considering trying that one.
Anyway, I am trying to be more methodical to see if this will help me be more effective. It isn’t my favorite way of writing, but I have learned that the more I write for publishers and editors, the more it’s not as romantic and creative as I thought it would be.
I’m still confused about MRUs, but that’s not Randy’s fault, that’s my brain’s fault. I tend to be too literal. I will get it eventually.
One thing I also do for fun each year is the nanowrimo.org competition. If you need an exercise in crappy writing without worrying about editing, this competition is great fun. I have written six crappy novels so far. 🙂 I guess I’m on my way.
Carrie Stuart Parks says
Hey Josh, I live in Idaho…do you know how many Mormons live in Idaho??? More than Utah.
…….they know where I live……….
Jannie Ernst says
Sigh of relief! Reading all of your comments here, I feel so much more normal. I agree, if they bury me before I have my novel published, I’m taking my computer with me. I don’t care which path I’m on, but if it is the 26-year one, so be it! I will not stop trying. I simply can’t.
I almost wish it were as simple as doing a course, passing it, and getting the job. But it isn’t. They studying never stops. The job is never guaranteed. To the outsider, this is not a wise path to take. But how can a writer be anything else?
Randy, thank you for your encouragement. All of you, thanks for being my friends on my 26-year path.
Doraine Bennett says
I, too, would like to know how you know when a work is fatally flawed. I wondered if you finished all those early works, Randy.Thanks for the honesty. I chunked this first novel once already, thinking it was fatally flawed, but it keeps climbing out of the garbage bin. Not sure whether to keep beating it back down there or not.
Mischelle Creager says
Like you my first story was autobiographical. It followed my life just in a different setting—a woman loses her self-worth as a wife and mother because of tragedies within the family. The story was OK, but as I learned to write a novel(as opposed to telling a story), the main character took over (six years into working on it) and it became her story. The problem was I had tried to stay with my life story line too closely. Once I learned more of the craft of writing, I was able to re-arrange or cut out parts. Some of the things that were important in my life didn’t work with my character. The core story is still the same—overcoming a skewed perception of self-worth—but it no longer parallels the events of my life.
Hope this helps.
I finished one fataly flawed novel and have three half way finished ones (plan to finish. My problem is wanting to perfect my chapters before I move on, but I’m learning to finish. In fact, I finished and turned in a novella for an anthology project and gave myself permission to be bad. Of course, I perfected those first three chapters.:)
Maybe that’s my problem. I spend so much time perfecting the first three chapters to submit to an editor or contest that it’s hard to get out of that editing habit.
Peg Phifer says
I find it next to impossible to turn off that internal editor. I’ll agonize over finding the “perfect” word or a “singing” phrase that it stalls everything – including the creative flow of what I actually need to be writing. *sigh*
The closest I came was last November when I participated in the NaNoWriMo challenge: 50,000 words in 30 days. I managed 50,105, therefore, I “won” and have the certificate to prove it.
It was frustrating fun, and I am now in the process of rewriting it so it makes sense. 🙂 But I’m like Gina. I entered 25 pages of this manuscript into ACFW’s Genesis contest, but I made the mistake of almost editing it to death. It didn’t final, and when I got the score sheets back, the main objection was that it came across “stilted.” Ouch. So much for perfection.
But I ain’t givin’ up!
New to Randy’s blog, but not new to hanging around the internet for Christian writing fellowship.
Randy, how did you find time with family and work to pursue your craft so much? I’m in the situation of doing one job to pay the bills, but wanting to do a different job eventually and trying to find a way there.
Carrie – I remember you from faith in fiction as PoliceArtist (I was JediQB). Still in southeast Idaho, and we still have more Mormons! Keep up the good work!
Thanks again Randy.
Constance Gilbert says
I am not a fiction writer (yet?), but I faithfully read this post and glean many gems. I feel encouraged, but at 63 I better be on that 2 year track. 🙂
Without a doubt I know God has called me to write. I leave the timing to Him: to get His words through my writing to the right person(s) at the right time.
A few months ago I learned that some of my devotionals and articles were not meant to be published. When I was reminded of a touchy incident, I didn’t want to write about it. Thankfully, I did; and I ended up sharing it with another writer. I was amazed 2 weeks later when she told that my story not only did touched her life but it impacted her family’s as well- the ripple effect is known only to God.
It is when God allows me a tiny peek at His plan AND when published writers share & encourage me that I joyful put HOKBOC. My thanks to you, Randy, & your friends.
Remember that each of us sees the underside of our life’s tapestry with all the mess, the knots , the tangles, but God created the design. Someday He will reveal its beauty to each of us!
Persevere through those threaded knots of editing and through the tangles of developing your best writing for Him! For each of you can touch a life that I cannot reach… I can touch a life that you cannot…
Yep, let’s persevere together.
Wow, Randy! You’re blog is great! Really hopping!
I love what you say about the road we all walk in this publishing game: “What you do know is that you have a compulsion to write and you’re going to keep at it until they bury you or publish you.” The perfect image of a true writer. 🙂
Now working on my fourth and fifth novel both, I can say, in my experience the reasons I felt an ms was flawed and left it for another were character issues or plot knots. I know my first two novels (the first two books in a trilogy) are fatally flawed in the plot department and chosing the wrong POV character. I will need to go back and fully rewrite from page one to fix them. Not something I relish thinking about.
My third try was not something I felt passionate about, I was just writing it to please CBA (needless to say it flopped). Now with #4 and #5 I don’t know what to expect. I’m almost done with #4 and hope to start marketing it in the fall to ABA pubs, but it could bomb, who knows. I know I have talent, but I don’t know if I have enough yet. I guess we’ll see. 😀
I say, just keep writing and don’t give up. Practice is never a waste of time.
Carly Brown says
I just got two of the books that Randy suggested reading. I am eagerly waiting for the time to read them, The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman and the second Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain.
It has been just a short time ago that I have found the time and desire to write, and I am having FUN at it. Really!!! Just a few short years ago, if I were to suggest a book to a friend, I would never know the author, that was then, this is now. I have found a new-found respect fot the published author. I hope and pray that one day I too will become one. I am working on the 26 year plan. I am a slow learner.
I find the editing process interesting. When I just write an e-mail to a friend, I find that I reread what I wrote and will edit it, and I find that what I end up with much easier to read for myself, and the flow is much loser than when I first wrote the e-mail. That makes me feel like a “real” writer.
I was read about an published author, and if I could remember his name, you would know him. He said that he would write the first day, edit the second day and write and then edit on the 4th day. Interesting, and he would, as I recall write at least 5,000 words a day. Wow Wow!!!
I was confused regarding WIP, does it mean Work in Progress?
Thank you Randy, for providing this venue. I have learned so much, and look forward to reading and learning much, much more.
Doraine Bennett Says: I, too, would like to know how you know when a work is fatally flawed.
It seems I’m not the person to ask. 🙂 I have this “gotta MAKE it work” attitude. I don’t like giving up, or letting a piece of fiction born from my imagination get the better of me.
Is there really such a thing as a fatally flawed wip? I have trouble grasping that concept.
An idea can be flawed in many ways: unclear characters, weak plot, etc.
But if we dig deep enough into our characters or plot, surely it can be resurrected.
I think the major reason writers give up on a particular idea is simply a lack of passion. If the story doesn’t grip you, as the writer, how will it grip the reader?
I think I’m rambling . . .
John Warren says
I was reading through a list of quotes I have saved on my computer and one of them caught my eye.
“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”
bonne friesen says
Vennessa, I have to agree with you. The execution may be fatally flawed in any one of a thousand ways, but the seed of the idea…. Well, it’s a seed. Given the proper conditions, it’s going to bloom, right?
I think the only truly fatally flawed idea is one that as a writer we lose interest in.
Don’t get me wrong, I can see walking away from a huge amount of writing that isn’t working. It’s the right thing to do. And it’s probably best if you then start a new project.
But seeds are funny. They’ll wait and wait for the right season to come alive. And to extend the horticultural metaphor just a little longer, you might end up with sweet peas instead of the roses you thought you were planting. The novel incarnates in a different way than you first thought. So be it.
I have lots of seeds on my shelf that I play with from time to time, and the editing process really does make them better. Especially when I’m not married to the ideas as they were first formed, but I’m open to letting them grow.
Talk about rambling…
Patrick Hudson says
I am only 10,000 (ish) words into my first novel. I am not sure as to what will happen with it. I have noticed that I have made very intimate connections with my characters. I have no shame saying that because I am sure that others of you can relate. I feel like it is a novel with good substance and I think it wont have “fatal” flaws, but I am sure it has flaws and even if it is not practical, this blog has given me the desire to edit it until it is good…but it could turn into 10 novels over 10 or 26 or maybe 2 years.
Sally Ferguson says
I am hooked on that phrase of “You don’t know if you’re on the two-year path or the ten-year path.” That’s why I’m not sure what level I’m at. I think I’m a senior but then seem to be a freshman again, skipping everything between! Don’t you wish there were clear-cut answers for writers?!
Stephanie Jefferson says
Reading the blog and comments come at a really good time for me. Staying motivated is difficult for me because I am so used to things coming fairly easily. Not a genius by any means, but when I get feedback to correct something I’ve not gotten right I’m good at correcting it. In writing there appears to be little feedback, only rejection. My critique group is helpful, but how do I know what to accept or reject? This is confusing and discouraging.