Tough Decisions, or, I’m Not a Quitter–Honest!

Being a writer means making lots of choices. Why did¬†Uncle Melvin kill off Cousin Carl? How will Detective Haskins discover the killer? Why did Sarah run off with Luigi? And on and on…

One of the toughest things about being a writer is knowing when to quit. Not necessarily for the day, but when is the story done. Or when it’s not done, and there’s nothing you can do at this point in your life to make it done.

by Astroboy_71

I’m facing one of those times right now.

For the last 6 1/2 years, I’ve been working on a novel project. It’s had a lot of names, but right now, it’s “Homebody”. This novel predates my children being born, and the two main characters actually predate my marriage.

Over the last year or so, I’ve struggled with the book. I’m on like the 7th draft or some crazy thing, and I keep feeling like I’m circling around when it could be considered done, but just not quite there. Those who have read it say the same thing. But I can’t figure out what’s wrong with it, not now at least. For a while, I thought it was done: I submitted it to agents, and have received a few nice, even encouraging replies, but nothing that would have me thinking I’m almost there.

In a last-ditch effort, I asked Texas Momma (aka Linda Yezak) to take a look at it this spring. Between all her battles, she read a few chapters, but life happened and she had to return it, mostly unread, but with a few very helpful suggestions.

Then, last week, I got that niggling feeling again, like it was time to let it go.

I’ve had that feeling off and on for a while. I’m not sure why, but after it came back stronger than ever, I decided I’d e-mail Texas Momma about it. Even though I asked, I wasn’t quite prepared for the blunt reply:

“Give up on Homebody. Save the personalities for another book, if you’d like, but I’d quit on it.”

My stomach clenched reading those words. This book has become so much a part of my identity the last several years. How can I just give it up? It’s almost like abandoning one of my children at the grocery store.

One thing you should learn early on as a writer is to kill your darlings. In other words, that turn of phrase you think is so clever, or that scene that you love but doesn’t necessarily fit with the rest of the book. Perhaps it’s the same way with this book–it’s become my darling in many ways.

When I first started it, I was a completely different person than I am today. I had different goals, different aspirations, different worries. And, writing… and rewriting Homebody was cathartic in many ways. In the past six years, I’ve started work on several other projects, most of which I’ve finished, one or two I haven’t for whatever reason–my creative juices ran out, I lost interest, etc.

Homebody wasn’t the first novel I wrote. No, that disgraceful thing happened back in my teens. I pray it never again sees the light of day. A couple more came in between, both before and after a hiatus in my last semester of college into the first year of married life. Perhaps Homebody is that transition for me–the one I needed to get out, but isn’t yet worthy of being published. Perhaps the next one or two books I’ve got on my plate will be it. I hope so.

For now, I must say goodbye to this story. Thank you for helping me grow as a writer. I’m sorry I had to use you to do it, that you never reached your full potential, that I wasn’t the writer you needed me to be. Just know that even though you will remain on my flash drive, and I may never open you again, you’ve been valuable. I will always have fond memories of writing you.

As for my characters, Amanda O’Flannigan and Richard “Rick” Pierce, I think they’ll be around again. Almost as soon as I made the decision that it was time to cut it loose, I got a new idea which would be perfectly suited (I think) for them. And, Homebody definitely allowed me to come up with a great deal of back-story for these two. I hope it comes to fruition, mostly because I love both of these characters dearly. I’m not quite ready to quit on them, even if I have to quit on one of their stories.

For the time being, I’m going to get back to work on “Reprisal”. I’m mid-way through the 3rd draft, and it’s lingered far too long as I’ve had two children, done NaNo, and tried to get that OTHER book done. I’ll try to post monthly reports, even if they’re brief, on how that’s going. Once I’ve completed the 3rd draft, I’m going to go back to my 2009 NaNo project, “Beyond Dead”. It’s very short–just barely over the 50K minimum to win NaNo, and ideally I’d prefer it around 80K. That’s a lot of words to add! But, one thing at a time.

If you’re a writer, how do you gauge when it’s time to cut a story loose permanently and stop working on it? Have you ever had to do it? Did you mourn for the story and/or characters as I feel I’m doing a bit of now?

Happy trails,

A Punch In the Gut

Everyone needs a punch in the gut once in a while. Whether it’s physical or mental, something that brings you back to reality is never a bad thing.

I got my own slap in the face last week. I was lamenting (okay, I was whining) to a writer friend that even though I’d “improved” my query, and done some tweaking to my first pages of my novel, that I was still only getting form rejections to the agents I was sending to.

She offered to take a look at my query (both old and newly revised) as well as my first five pages.

Now, this writer friend is kinda like my Texas momma, and I’ve told her so on several occasions. We laugh and joke, and I know without a doubt that if we ever have the chance to meet, after the initial awkwardness, we’d have the same relationship offline as we do on.

So when the first line of her reply was, “Get out the rifle, you’re gonna wanna shoot me”, my heart sank.

What do you mean my story isn’t ready yet? Really? I’ve been querying and making a fool of myself–again?

Basically, in all my editing, I’ve managed to leave some B.I.G. beginner errors in my novel… which is probably why I’m not getting any nibbles.

Seeing as my TX Momma is published, and works as an editorial assist to a small press AND her lit agent, I’m inclined to take her advice.

So, here’s to hunkering down–again–and doing another MAJOR pass on “Homebody”… and hopefully, I’ll get it right this time.

Until next time,

Liberty

Writing Lessons from the Movies: "The Band Wagon"

As writers, we all know the kind of story we want to write. As well we should! If we don’t know, then what are we doing with an open Word document in front of us, trying to string words together? Having a vision for our story is important.

In the 1950s musical classic The Band Wagon, we get a great lesson about not letting go of that vision, nor allowing someone to so skew your story that it’s barely recognizable when they’re through with it.

If you’re not familiar with the movie, here’s a brief run-down. Tony Hunter (Fred Astaire) is a washed-up movie actor in the twilight of his career, looking to go back to his Broadway roots and return to the stage. His friends, playwrights Lester and Lily Martin (Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray), have what they feel is the perfect vehicle, and persuade him to return to New York City. Upon Tony’s arrival, they take him to meet the person who they want to direct their venture, Jeffrey Cordova (James Buchanan).

Fred Astaire & Cyd Charise “Dancing in the Dark”
Picture from Wikipedia

Cordova, however, has a very different plan for Les & Lily’s upbeat musical, turning it into a musical drama that doesn’t leave the audience with a smile on their face. The show is a flop.

As the cast is commiserating and saying their goodbyes, Tony takes things into his own hands, tells Cordova that they’re going to revamp and take things back to the original show the Martin’s had planned. When they do this, The Band Wagon becomes a hit.

You can probably tell where I’m headed with this (hey, you’re smart!) but the important lesson for us writers is this: don’t let others tinker with your story unless you’re sure about the changes they’re suggesting, if it really, truly improves things. Take everything your crit partners say and look at it thoroughly and with a cautious eye. Don’t just take their suggestions as gospel truth.

When you get notes back from critters, agents, or editors (though mostly, the critters), take things in, try to see what they’re saying, then let it steep in your brain for a while. I’ve gotten some of my best ideas when I let things sit rather than making the jump into editing immediately. I’ll start thinking about one point, mull over possible changes, then sometimes, particularly if it’s major, I’ll call up the critter or meet them for coffee and have a brainstorming session. I actually have one critter from my local writer’s group that we do this nearly every time I see him. He’ll walk me to my car and we’ll stand there and talk and brainstorm.

Some of my best ideas come while we’re talking. I make a mental note, or, lately, pull up the voice recorder on my phone and make some notes as I’m driving home.

Just remember: keep in mind the vision you’ve got for your book. Not everyone is going to be pulling for you–or even see what you can see in your book’s rough form.

My question for you: Have you ever received constructive criticism from someone where their vision for your book was polar opposite from yours? If so, how did you handle it? Did it end up being helpful?

Until next time,

P.S. My good friend and sometimes guest blogger Linda Yezak’s novel is out on Kindle! When I bought it on Thursday, it was $0.99! I don’t know if it’s still that low, but I’d urge you to go buy Give the Lady a Ride. It would make her happy. — LS