Saturday, December 31, 2011

Hitting Bottom

I gave up on my debut novel sometime over the summer. I'd written, re-written, queried agents, gotten requests for fulls, but no offers of representation, only scant comments alluding to how nicely it was written (Then, why don't you want it? Arrrghhh!) and brief, sometimes confusing, allusions to what wasn't working. I cut scenes I felt were dragging it down, added scenes to expand on subplots, tightened sentences, and still I had this sinking feeling it wasn't good enough. But like any dejected, and delusional, writer I kept sending it around, until I finally said, Enough!

The only good thing about getting a lot of rejections is that you can spread them all out in front of you and find the patterns. When I did that, it became clear that the thing keeping me from selling was the book's pacing. Only a couple agents actually used that word. They said things like "the forward momentum isn't right" or "not enough is happening to the protagonist to make me care," but in the end, it comes down to the big "P." Yes, even in an upmarket novel like mine about fairly quiet, regular joes, the reader simply has to have a reason to turn the page.

Enter Diane Holmes, an editor with a PhD in Pacing, who miraculously appeared (via a contest on her blog) to grant me an edit of chapter one, with my pacing specifically in mind. It took a couple back-and-forths with Diane before I really "got it." Keep in mind I've been periodically fussing with this book for several years, which makes it pretty hard to see it with fresh eyes and spot the errors.

What happened after that lightbulb went on was both very exhilerating and very, very scary. I realized if I'm truly going to be the master of this book (and not the other way around) I'm going to need to allow all those "crazy" thoughts about plot to turn up on the page instead of just floating around in my head. I'm going to have to be willing to throw my beloved character into many more difficult situations and trust that she'll find her way out. I'm going to have to stop being scared of my book and finally say, on the page, what I'd been meaning to say for the other six drafts.

I couldn't do it by altering what I'd already written. I'm a better writer than I was three years, or even one year ago. I'd had enough of moving things around, cutting and pasting. I sat up awake one night thinking, what did I really have to lose? I'd already given the book up for dead. Most people would put it on the shelf and continue with book two. But I'd had the great fortune to be given a key to how to make book one work. And I simply could not give up on that book.

So I did what any totally insane writer, who loves the process of writing as much as she does admiring the final product, would do. I started over. With a blank page. Now, I didn't throw out the 300 pages I already had, and I have used bits and pieces of the previous draft. But, 75 pages into it today, I'm not surprised to find 90% of the writing is entirely new. I'm creating all sorts of trouble for my character. I'm not quite sure how she'll get out of it yet, but I'm planning that as I go, chapter by chapter.

It's New Year's Eve, and for me, that brings a double-whammy of resolutions because today is also my birthday (it's not a big one, but it's pretty darn close). In the first half of the new year, I will finish writing this book to the best of my ability. I've said this before, but this is the first year I've actually had the confidence to know this book is going to be good. And in the spirit of doing things differently, if no one will take it when I'm done, I'll publish it myself. Then I'll finish book two because book three is already percolating in my brain. 2012 brings a wisdom to recognize which things are out of my hands (publishing trends, agents' taste) and which aren't. Within my control...writing the best damn book I can write.