If there’s one thing all writers agree on, it’s that writing is TOUGH. The road to publication twists and dips as we learn the craft, hone our abilities, create stories we’re passionate about, fight discouragement, educate ourselves about the industry…and then start the process all over again as we realize there’s room to improve. But you know what? If you are like me, you wouldn’t have it any other way.
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There are books on the process of writing a novel. Entire websites are dedicated to the subject. And none of them suggest doing it the way I’m about to demonstrate.
As I move through the process, the reason for that will become abundantly clear. In fact, multiple reasons for avoiding my novel way of writing a novel will flash like neon warnings.
But did that stop me?
And it begins
I’ve been working on a short story project since March. I’ve alluded to it several times in posts here or updates on Facebook.
However, even though I have a signed contract, I was sworn to secrecy. It was my Top Secret project.
As I pen these words, I still haven’t been given the go ahead to announce the project or my participation therein. What was supposed to have an October 2015 publishing date has been pushed back to February 2016.
The repercussions of a story I wrote specifically to submit to this secret project ring like aftershocks in my writing world.
It all began with a line from an email:
“Last, but not least, the publisher is curious as to whether you’d be interested in developing The Demon Was Me into a full novel! (Way to go, Sharon!)”
In a world where I sent queries into the depths of cyberspace, pleading for a chance to send my fully written, revised, edited and proofed novel for their reading enjoyment, that simple sentence knocked me for a loop.
And there were expectations
I would have been crazy to shrug off this opportunity. So, I sent a cautious reply to my editor.
And the email correspondence continued for another week.
What the publisher wanted, however, wasn’t a novel – or even the outline of a story. These were the specifications for what she wanted:
“To retain threads of time, theme, characters in the short story and throw out ideas that can be explored further” in a novel-length work.
Does anyone go about building a story this way?
Isn’t the seed usually for a premise or concept, or maybe a character or problem?
And there were plenty of lee lines hanging around in my short story. In fact, my main character had something like a heavenly directive given to him in the resolution of the 9000-word experience (otherwise known as short fiction).
So, rather than outlining his complete story, I was supposed to brainstorm possibilities for what happened afterward.
Yeah, I scribbled out three full notebook pages without pause.
But how can I organize these tidbits into something compelling enough to convince this publisher she wants the story?
The initial deadline to share my visions of where the story might go (after it ends in the short story bought and to-be-published) was given.
“The publisher would love to have a 10-point outline from you by October 1.”
I have an idea factory inside my brain. Every fiction writer I know has something similar. The slightest thing becomes a seed for a full-blown tale.
The same was true for the universe I imagined in detail as the setting of this short story.
So the scribbles continued. First, I guessed I had enough for a four-book series. On closer thought, I condensed it into a trilogy.
But the stakes and the ticking clock needed for the first installment still seemed a little week.
And wait! Am I even supposed to be planning this stuff?
The ten points that are due …the clock is ticking on that…don’t have to outline a complete story.
Shouldn’t I have sighed with relief? Instead, frustration mounted.
I seriously didn’t know how to pitch on incomplete story idea. Should I focus on a few premises? Let the publisher take her pick?
And brainstorming sessions
Those original three handwritten pages were a drop in the bucket.
I expanded the 500-word history I’d written for my setting into a nearly 3000-word history. I laid out the different sub-sections of the war-torn country. I gave each of them inhabitants and a governing style and leaders.
Now there were people for my hero to meet on his journey.
And so I filled more notebook pages with descriptions of the people and their problems. I listed possible conflicts that would arise when my hero encountered those systems.
And it still looks like a trilogy in the making or one FAT novel (not the preference for YA readers).
But I didn’t know what to include in the requested outline. So I called on my fabulous editor.
When it was all said and done, written down in sparkling clean fashion and emailed to the publisher, the waiting began.
Sometimes it feels like writing is more about waiting than it is about transcribing pretty words on a page to form cool adventures.
Are you writing a novel? If you’re nodding yes, don’t follow this plan. Seriously.
Hello, reader. Welcome to the world of Sharon Lee Hughson, author of romance, young adult fantasy and women’s fiction.
I got side-tracked by Facebook when I sat down to write this post. It was a sad day when someone told me I had to join Facebook and start building an online presence.
I was comforted by this thought:
I decided to scan the images on Google for awhile and see if that would light the creative fire inside me. The truth is, I just needed to follow Louis L’amour’s advice:
Genius! I decided to use a bunch of these cool writer quotes and weave a post about what it’s like to be a writer. Isn’t that what all the readers wonder? If so, check out this post by author Jody Hedlund. A writer’s world might not be exactly like you think it is.
I immediately clicked on the quote that gives me permission to spend hours each day reading fiction books:
I adore reading. Not only does it get me out of rainy Oregon, but it crank-starts my own muse.
Then I came across this next meme. It explains exactly why I start a new project by writing the first scene and then the last scene.
I didn’t say they never changed. Most of the time, my beginning is the most rewritten, revised and edited part of every story I write.
Which is why this little quote jumped off the page at me:
Sure, you can call it genius as long as you don’t discount the hours of blood, sweat, tears, moods, frustration, and fears that motivated it.
And then there’s the idea that we like to live in a fantasy world. Ever wonder why? And it isn’t just because they know us there – or because it’s more fun there (even if both are true). How about because it’s a world of mulligans?
When I need encouragement to fight my way forward through another round of edits, and rejection letters keep filling my inbox, I remind myself:
Imagine that. I’ve typed several hundred words. What once was a blank blog post is now filled with life and color. It gives my lips reason to smile. So I do.
Because, no matter what else happens, one of my favorite Nelson Mandela quotes always rings true:
I sat. I wrote. What more is there to a writer’s world?
By the time you read this post, it will have been four weeks since I mailed out my queries for Doomsday Dragons.
The first week after they were gone, I was still combing through the manuscript. I read it aloud. Strengthened the sentences with stronger verbs and more precise nouns and descriptors. Tried to polish it to a sparkling gem.
Then I closed the Scrivener file and moved on to a different project.
What? Did I check my email every ten minutes looking for manuscript requests?
Not really. But I didn’t need to.
Shock of all shockers, I had answers to some of the queries in the very first week.
In fact, within six days, three agents responded with “no thanks.” I was impressed by this because all of them requested between four to eight weeks to get through their queries.
One of these only allowed query letters. Their only taste of my story came from the query description. Obviously, they weren’t impressed by dragons.
The others? I guessed they also probably weren’t piqued by a dragon story. It takes a very specific sort of person to imbibe the myth and fire.
The fourth response was a notice of an undeliverable mail. So even though I checked all the links and double-checked all the email addresses, one of the agencies was no longer receiving mail at the address they advertised on their website.
Four of twelve responses within one week. Not too shabby.
Except they all amounted to 100 percent rejection.
There were just as many who made no promise to even respond to every query.
Of the twelve, four of them said that hearing nothing after a certain time frame would be equal to a “no thank you” email.
The surprise? The amount of time given before drawing this conclusion ranged from two weeks to twelve weeks.
Talk about holding out hope.
Or maybe it would be more accurate to assume dashed hopes. And then if an email magically appears, it can only be good news.
People I Pitched
Of course, the two people I pitched my idea to at the writer’s conference will get the full 90 to 120 days before I begin to assume the worst.
At least they’ll respond.
I hope they’ll remember me favorably enough to offer advice if they decide the project isn’t for them. Don’t I deserve at least that much?
The Rest of the Pack
That leaves only two out of twelve agencies that will still respond to me sometime during this lengthy waiting period.
Fortunately, I’m not holding my breath.
I’m not sitting on my hands or biting my nails.
I’m following the professional writer’s prescription for winning this waiting game: write something new.
In fact, I had to polish a novella that’s coming out in a month or two and deliver it to an editor. Then I nibbled on the idea for another short story.
And, of course, the women’s fiction novel I’d begun writing while waiting for the last of the beta edits on Doomsday Dragon still needed finishing.
The best way to insure a watched pot boils is to walk away.
In writing terms: write something else without constantly checking your in-box.
What about you? What are your tricks for making waiting bearable? Please share. Not that any of us our impatient or anything…