Learning From My Mistakes

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Installation_des_Chevaux_de_Marly_aux_Champs-Élysées_1794As I’ve mentioned, the novel I’ve been working on for a year and a half now is out with betas yet again. (Someday maybe I’ll get it right.) While waiting for the jury to come back, I’m working on a second book in the same world. I am determined not to repeat the mistakes of the first. The ones that have me still needing to revise after 5 drafts. I can’t do that again. Not only is it demoralizing, it’s a waste of time.

When I started that one, I didn’t have writing buddies, or Critique Partners, to be more respectful of them. Now I do. Mostly we sit around in a chat room talking nonsense, but we’re all eager to brainstorm when one of us needs a sounding board. A few in the group are sticklers about logic and this is my big weakness. I’m all about story, as in, the tale parts, but solidifying a novel’s logical underpinnings…not my strong suit. At all. But the stories I’m writing fuse disparate mythologies and beliefs, so it’s imperative I have logical reasons behind the character’s actions.

The basic storyline has already been established by the previous book, so this time, once I’d written a few chapters to get to know my characters, I decided to pre-write a query letter, to see if I could “sell” the story. Everything went swimmingly until I got to the stakes. What was at stake for my main character? Um…well…she could…she might…CRUD. It seemed like her choices were all easy and wins for her. BLARG!! That does not a novel make.

So I went begging to my peeps, and after one brainstorming session, I thought I had it nailed. I moved on from the query and wrote a synopsis. I was thrilled with the outcome. I posted it in the chat room for the others to look at and one of the most logic-minded of our group started pecking holes in it until it was a ragged mess.

In my previous life, the one where I’d never completed a novel, I would have quit in frustration. But now that I’ve done it once, not well, but done it nonetheless, I wanted to buckle down. I know how much easier it will be to write this thing if I don’t have to go back and rebuild the logical scaffolding. I need a sturdy skeleton.

I went back to work, bouncing ideas and what-ifs, hammering, re-jiggering, and when I came up with something that felt right, I let the others have at it. And…lo! They couldn’t find holes. Yes, there are choices to be made—I can go wood or iron, bolts or welds—but those are just options. The story makes sense, stands up. There are reasons. Sound ones, ones that will survive the length of the novel and not shift under the weight of the story as happened in my first book.

I have scaffolding. Solid scaffolding.

For a storyteller this has been hard for me to grasp. Doesn’t the skeleton just come along for the ride? You can’t see it, after all. Isn’t it just…there in any entertaining story? The answer is a resounding NO. It must be built, and carefully, ahead of time if a writer wants to avoid endless draft hell.

So now I’m off and running. Moving forward having learned something about myself and my process, having recognized my Achilles heel. Having been challenged and come out, grinning, on the other side.

For my money, there’s not a better feeling to ride into a new project.

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One thought on “Learning From My Mistakes

  1. The insights you’ve gained about your own writing weren’t easy to come by, which makes your determination that much more impressive, Elaine. Your story is inspiring, and a little scary to me, because I’m not yet at that place and still harbor doubts about my abilities to build a foundation before doing the work. I write, then fix, write, fix, write. . . you know how that goes.

    So when I see you doing it, really and truly doing it, and seeing your efforts paying off, I think there might be hope for me yet.

    Thank you for sharing your experience, and so eloquently. I tend to say that about your writing, don’t I?

    xo kk

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