So Close To The Project You're Stupid

Editing your own writing is hard.

Having just found out about this really awesome new blogging contest, I'd like to thank my latest writing hero, by paying her tribute. Do the same to your inspiration, muse, you name it, by following the contest rules hosted by Shelli at Market my Words: PAY IT FORWARD CONTEST.

So here is my story;

There used to be a time when I thought I would never be satisfied with what I wrote. I know differently now. When a piece is ready, I feel it. I won't settle either. I refuse to rush it. I have no time frame, and no boss breathing down my neck, telling me to hurry. I know good writing when I see it, and if I'm not seeing it in my own work, there is a problem.

The trouble is; what's the problem? Make sense? This close to a project, day in and day out, you get stupid. You KNOW something isn't right, yet can't see the culprit.

It took two years to find the problem haunting me, forget the solution. To be fair, I did keep writing, but each new book had the same problem I couldn't identify. Just a nag in the back of my mind that I wasn't on the right track.

First, I tried to pull myself away from the piece and imagined it was someone else's work. I'm good at finding fault in others, after all. Yet, nope, nothing. It was fine, but I could do better. I listened to every nagging voice in me and fixed those problems. It was an improvement, but still...

I needed to reeducate/refresh myself with the written world. So, I read books about voice, style, rhythm, balance.... I attended every workshop in our area, which turned out to be one. It was fun, but that was about it. Still, all this new information enlightened me, and I found new things to fix that made my work stronger.

The result? An entire rewrite. I deleted half my work, rearranged it in a new order. I felt like a genius on crack. Did it work? I liked the new rhythm, it had balance between the romance and the action. It was a fun read with incredible voice.

Yet, there was still A Problem. What?

I wrote a query, in case that sparked something. Yeah, the query took 36 tries. All different, yet they all sucked. Clearly, I had issues. So, again I tore it to pieces, studied it. Came up with nothing. Not-a.

I have no writing group in my area, and my beta readers didn't see a problem. Yet... Something BIG bugged me. I just couldn't put my finger on what. So, I did what anyone would do. I clutched my work tighter and vowed no one would read it until I found the evil thing that had me obsessed.

Not once did I consider shelving it. Yet, I'd shelved other manuscripts over the years. This one had potential. It was good, it just wasn't ready.

I needed professional help.

I turned to my peers; on-line writing groups, on-line contests, sharing first chapters with others (even if I was queasy the entire time, I mean, these were strangers I was trusting with my baby). Still, I was desperate. In the process, I somehow ended up blogging. Yup, here I am!

I got confusing feedback too; I was starting the story too soon, not soon enough. I was deep in the action, and it was confusing. I was over explaining and needed more action. Argh. This was only the prologue I was sharing. A prologue! Who put this much effort into a prologue? This should have been my first clue, but by this time I was so close to the project, I was just that stupid.

Finally, someone pointed it out. My new hero, Lydia Sharp, hosted a contest where everyone received a free critique. Wow. I was happy to be alive that day. There's no way I can ever pay her back. Her advice was dead on. I doubt she has any idea how brilliant she is. So what was her magical advice?

Ask yourself, why did I choose this character to tell this story?

So I did. I asked it in my sleep, in the tub, while I pounded my head into the pages, my fist into the computer screen. She only saw the first 500 words of my prologue. She had no context for asking me this, yet she hinted at a problem with my choice of character. And when I looked at it through her eyes, yeah, there was a problem. I quickly checked the rest of the manuscript, but it didn't have this problem. Why was my prologue character refusing to share her incredible story? WHY?

And it hit me in the dead of the night.

I was starting inside a character's head who I didn't want anyone to really meet for another five books. She was a plot twist. Why? WHY would I do THAT? WHY for the love of all things written would I make a mistake that bizarre and not pick up on it for two years?

Here's why-- I was blinded by the entire project. I forgot to look at each book as its own life force. I was so worried about bringing the series together, I forgot it would bring itself together. I felt like an idiot. Why did I think I could write?

So, after the pity party, I scrapped my prologue from each book, and rewrote them from the hero's POV for that novel. WOW. I mean, HOLY !\$#\ WOW. That was the problem. The series still ties together, but the voice is consistent in each book. Plus, they stand alone! When I bring in my secret character, she can introduce herself properly.

Now it's ready for people to read, even better, the query wrote itself.

Laughing at your own stupidity is easy. Editing is hard. Knowing who to ask for help is harder. Repaying them, is impossible. Thank you Lydia. My God, THANK YOU.


Lydia Sharp said...

This made me teary-eyed. Thank you so much for sharing your struggles. Many of us can relate to this-- being too close to a project to see how to fix it. My very first novel has been through more rewrites than anything I've written before or since. And I refuse to give up on it. There is just something about those characters and that story that refuses to let go of me.
I'm so glad that something I said gave you the lightbulb moment you needed. And I'm glad you mentioned how writing a query letter is connected to whether or not the manuscript is truly ready. When the story is ready, the query letter practically writes itself! Live and learn, right? ;)

Laurel said...

I love a happy ending :)

Deborah Burns said...

Great post!

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

good for you that you did it - most would quit and start something else. Thanks for stopping by :)

HowLynnTime said...

Wow...that is an great post. I have had a ton of books I did give up on, but each one was a lesson. Some, I could go back and fix now, but new voices call. I feel the same way about friends reading. It is not worth it because they want to be your friend. My favorite English teacher used to give me an A but saturate every page with red. She read everything I wrote to the class.(never used names for the ones she would let us hear) I kinda got my feelings in a snit because C papers had so much less correcting than I did. How could they have less to fix? She just smiled and said think about it.
Red ink is saying You are worth fixing.
I am so happy for you that you found your Red Ink person. I miss mine terribly.

Lisa said...

Hi, I stopped by from Shelli's blog because I liked your pitch. Good luck!

WritingNut said...

Aw.. I'm so glad you were able to figure out what you needed to do. It's wonderful when it hits you, isn't it? Lydia is amazing! :)

Richard said...

Being objective about our own work is hard to do. We absolutely need others to read our work in progress. The sooner the better. Even before you've written chapter two. The sooner the questioning begins, the sooner the answers will come.

Anonymous said...

Little darlings are awfully good at looking cute and then kicking us in the solar plexus when we're not looking...