New Year, Same Process

It’s been three years since I’ve sold a manuscript. Not that I haven’t been writing them, trust me. I’ve actually written multiple drafts of three books, none of which have gone anywhere, yet. I am hoping that 2018 ushers in change on this front.

This is a post I haven’t wanted to write, but have known I should write. It’s difficult to admit one’s failures and, at least in my mind, I’ve been failing spectacularly for years. Fortunately, I am intelligent enough to know that I’m still okay, that failures do not equal Failure. But some days are easier than others when it comes to squaring up to this idea.

These three years of toil without tangible results have been interesting. I went from being positive about bouncing back to being incredibly humbled by my inability to do so. And yet, I’ve gone on school visits, have attended conferences and signings, all for my previous work and about the craft of writing. Those have all been bittersweet. Because how can I talk about writing, when I have published, but am not currently being published? It’s not as if I’ve produced some juggernaut best-seller, and can therefore, rest on my laurels and say, “Well, I did that.”

Far from it. I have consistently tried to push myself in terms of content and style. I demand more of my storytelling every time I approach a new draft or a revision. If I’m being honest , I’m working harder than I ever have. This is the way it should be. Craftsman know their craft, and can complete the simple steps, simply, but to achieve great status, they must also produce great pieces. I have the audacity to believe that I can and will produce great pieces. Therefore, the toil continues.

In the back of my mind, I know that this is how it is. I’ve read countless posts from other authors about their failed attempts (I think Sarah Dessen has somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 manuscripts that flopped). But because I have only enough time to write one or two books per year, when I flop, the setback is significant.

I do have hope hope for 2018, though. Last week I turned in a revised draft of my WIP, which I believe has a TON of potential. My agent has already read and loved another manuscript of mine, but that work is taking a backseat to this aforementioned WIP. Additionally, I will now return to a project I started this fall, one that is, hands-down, the most fun I have written. I’m sure it will be a disaster and will need to be revised in a multitude of ways, but that is the process.

For anyone out there reading this with an eye towards how publishing works, this is it. I am much more the norm than the outlier. In fact, I’m pretty damn lucky to be in the position I’m in–to have an agent who is still willing to work with me and nurture my talent, even when I’m stalled out.

It may be entirely cliched, but writing is like life: just because what you did the first time worked, doesn’t mean your second attempt will (or third or fourth or fifth). That’s just something that has to be accepted, and which is why I believe a lot of people get started in writing, but cannot see it through. The demands are extreme and the objectives ever-changing. Like I said, just like life.

I promise to return with updates when I have them. Otherwise, know that Monday through Friday, I’m at this desk from 4 am- 6 am, hoping to turn coffee into readable fiction. As always, thank you for reading my work, and for anticipating whatever’s next.

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When Revision Becomes Starting Over

I began my summer vacation last weekend. Yes, I know, you all realize that I’m a teacher and have been on break since the end of June, so what gives?

Since June 16th, when my agent sent me an email tearing my Work In Progress to pieces, I’ve been mulling over the remains, trying to figure out how to repair my story. My conclusion: Rewrite the entire thing.

This is not typical for me. Yes, a first draft is just that, a draft, something that will inherently be rewritten. But pieces of it, or strands of the story. Large segments, yes, but not close to 300 pages’ worth.

Because that’s what happened. In the end, I saved maybe five scenes from the original draft.

Prior to that, I analyzed the story like I was back in college. I created over 30 pages of notes on character motivation, plot structure, theme, and on and on. I researched aspects of the story that needed more detail, and once that was all in place, then I got to work.

Around the end of June, with the expanse of summer fully before me, I closed myself off in my office and wrote, on average, for five hours a day. All brand new material. That may not seem like a lot of work, but creating something out of nothing for five hours is exhausting. Doing so for a month, with characters and a plot that you already tried out once and failed with, is a testament to the endurance necessary for this line of work.

I’m happy about the experience. One, because I had the time to work. Two, because I had to go back and rethink a lot of what I know as a writer. Three, because the story is so much better than the original. Here’s a direct quote from the email I sent to my agent regarding this version: “The story’s disturbing, but it also feels very vulnerable and emotional. I put my heart on my sleeve with this one.”

It is disturbing, in ways I have yet to write (which may shock those of you who have read all my work). But most importantly, it is all of the latter from that quote. I have put myself so far out there with this story that I am terrified of the reaction. Which is exactly where I need to be. If I want to live up to my “fearless” moniker, then I’d better “walk the walk.”

Or more aptly, write the story.

I’ll know if I’ve succeeded at some point. But part of me already knows I have.

 

P.S.

Keep enjoying your summer. I’m preparing events for Press Play and will have a schedule soon. Additionally, if you’d like to pre-order for friends and family who are not in the area, please order direct from Running Press, use Indiebound or Barnes and Noble.

Thanks!

 

How revision looks this time around

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Just because you write one novel doesn’t mean you have a clue about how to write the next one. That’s where I am, having written what I thought was a decent, if not a particularly good novel, which truly stretched my abilities as a writer.

And then I received my agent’s take on said novel.

It wasn’t as awesome as I had thought.

Which is why I haven’t been blogging or on social media as much as I’d like. I’m obsessing over how to get this story to where I want it to be, and fortunately, where my agent believes it can go. Because it is a damn fine story, it’s just a hunk of hell right now.

And obsessing is how I solve most anything. I’ve been reading for pleasure, but mostly for analysis. Remember taking apart stories in school? It’s like that, but to the minute degree, all so I can try to do the same with my characters and my plot, but in my own unique way. Good times.

I also picked up and loved a book on writing that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass was as fulfilling as I had expected, and it suggested to me just the ways in which I needed to go in order to pull my manuscript upright and breathe life into it.

Which means a lot of time thinking about my story while doing other things; emailing myself notes for the next day of writing; re-reading and consulting the fifteen pages of notes I already have on a legal pad; rushing to a piece of paper, dripping from the shower because I’ve had an idea. Yup, I’m in the zone.

And in the first 100 pages I’ve written, possibly 10 of the original have been retained. If this continues, which it seems to be, I’ll have to essentially rewrite the entire 300 + page story. But it will be worth it. Because that’s the one thing I know that is true about revision, whether it’s this involved or not. Seeing your story with fresh eyes should change things. This time around, it’s a gutting.

But you watch, when I’m through, It will be magnificent, and I’ll have the shoddy first attempt and my agent’s appropriate murder of it to thank.

Until then, I’ll keep revising away.

The Hermitage of Revision

I have turned into a hermit. I began revising Tap Out at the end of last month, and since then have done little else. Sure, I’ve gone to work and have been with family and friends, but the story has been in the back of my mind non-stop. I have been with it, alone, and dwelling more than I have done anything else.

Fortunately, I made it through the major edits, and have answered the significant points raised in my editor’s letter. It hasn’t been easy, but that’s in large part due to the fact that I haven’t read this work in months. The story wasn’t new to me, but at times I was surprised by my own writing, for good and for bad. I have stayed locked in my office every morning for as long as time permits, with a notebook of scrawled points to consider, my editor’s letter open for reference, and my mind racing with one questions as my eyes pour over the screen: Does this work?

It’s a difficult question to answer because it all depends on the context. Each stage of world-building and plotting and characterization has its own purpose. What works early on becomes redundant later. Yet, for a story to have adequate resolution (if such is desired) the original points must be returned to by the end, and the change needs to be evident, but not through blunt observations. Finesse is key, and often the one element I lack. I’m working on it.

I mostly write stories about teenagers who’ve messed up, or who live in less-than-ideal circumstances. It’s what I know after having been a teacher for the past decade and having worked with teenagers in various settings ever since my early twenties. I had a relative this weekend ask about where I was with my writing, and I divulged this latest process, most certainly with the pressured speech of someone a little unhinged. He was intrigued and asked if I felt I would always write for teens or would I mature into adult writing. It was kind of a backhanded compliment, but I kept my poise, informing him that I didn’t see my subject matter aging just because I do. He didn’t understand.

And that’s fine. Writing is such a solitary endeavor that I cannot expect someone who doesn’t write to understand. All that matters to me is that my wife continues to be supportive as I space out around friends or ask for a piece of paper while driving so I can write a note about my story. So long as she and my daughters are comfortable with the idea that I am not always present, even when I’m physically there. I’m in my cave, myopically studying the world I’ve created, tumbling the stones of plot and making sure all resonates.

I enjoy the process, the tweaking, the “perfecting” (or however close such is attainable). I don’t like the pressure, not of the deadline, but that in which I put on myself. I want the work done and I want it done now, but most importantly, I want it done right. So it’s good that I’m cloistered with my thoughts. I can work and berate myself and no one else has to bear witness. They don’t need to. The product of the toil will be on shelves soon enough.

Revision Letter

I have been eagerly awaiting my revision letter from Lisa Cheng ever since we agreed to the book deal (can you tell I’m a newb?). I’ve looked forward to the feedback and the opportunity to make my work better. All the revisions Kate McKean has suggested have made Tap Out so much stronger, so I’ve wanted another expert opinion to assist me in taking my writing to the next level.

The letter hit my inbox on Saturday. I cringed. I felt sick. I worried that it would be 25 pages of instances where I thought I was all that, but really, wasn’t. I was afraid that it would point out more faults than I could ever overcome.

Not the case.

I read four pages of thoughtful questions and musings over the way my writing works and what it still has to achieve. The suggestions and questions were so pointed and precise that I felt an instant resonance and a level of comfort I did not expect. I was anticipating crapping myself, but, instead, walked away from my computer, made my daughters dinner, and felt happy.

My wife came home from running errands and I told her the letter had come. She braced herself as if expecting bad news. “And?” she said.

“And I’m going to be all right.”

She un-zippered her coat and sighed. “Thank God. You’re always so worried about perfection.”

I had to laugh because she’s right. If I weren’t so busy with teaching and CrossFit coaching I’d obsess over my writing incessantly. Previously, I’ve achieved such myopia with my work that I’ve made it worse and not better. Writing, like people, needs space, room to breathe, and time to grow.

I have trepidation going into this process, but I also have no doubt that I have grown as a writer since I last read this manuscript. I have faith in Kate and Lisa who have helped me get this far, and who believe that I can go another round. It’s frightening, these expectations, and how they make you question your abilities.

But they’re a blessing. I expect more of myself every day. Why shouldn’t I? Isn’t each day one revision after another, chuck full of novel situations that keep us intrigued?

Now, I’m off to see how I can make my fiction reflect that element of life.