I had already suspected that my recent novel, one that I had been working on for the last six months, had a problem – or more specifically – problems. After spending hours and hours within the spaces of the story, I was concerned that I had lost my impartiality. So when I decided ask my editor her opinion on the subject, I was hoping for a very detached and frank perspective.
No, I wouldn’t have minded if she had said “You have an immediate bestseller and I’d want to buy it right now,” but that wasn’t the answer I received. Instead, what she told me loud and clear was that what I had managed to produce amounted to a big, hot mess.
I had received her comments in an e-mail a couple of days after I sent her my draft and while I wasn’t expecting, “it’s perfect, don’t change one word,” it was a real bucket of cold water when I got back page after page of notes.
I could have taken the time to create a wonderful defense – this is why my manuscript is the way it is, and it will all make sense later. However, what I tried hard to do was to listen to the suggestions that were being given and try and get where she was coming from.
I’d spent half a year on the book and it was very difficult not to become very attached to each and every word within. But when I was able to see the book through my editor’s eyes, well it became very easy to understand what didn’t work and why. I want to love it, to be proud of what I had written. But more than that I want my editor and the young readers whom I wrote it for to love it too. It doesn’t really matter why I chose to do this or that, if it doesn’t work, I need to come up with a new way to tell the story. Instead of trying to over describe every nook and cranny, if it didn’t gel with the story, I kicked it to the curb.
Not that that is an easy decision to make. But I’ve spent so long on this version, I have to make it work. It’s funny how many times I catch myself saying this even when, with each rewrite, it gets clunkier and increasingly awkward.
What I need to do, and I eventually did do, was to walk away from the project for a little while. I spent time working in the woodshop, or preparing the raised beds in the garden. I try to keep my mind occupied on other things, but when I do think about my story, I think about what inspired me to tell this particular tale. I think about my audience and what I want them to feel. I contemplate what’s working in the present form and to recognize what may not be. Only when I have these things in mind do I sit down again to write.
But here’s the real kicker. When I return to my story, I don’t open the old clunky file and try to beat it into shape. Instead, what I have found to be a game-changer is that when I am ready, I open a new document and start all over from scratch.
“What? How can you do that when you’ve spent so much time on the other version?”
Truthfully, if it isn’t working, it doesn’t matter how long I’ve spent on it. This is a difficult lesson to learn, but it is also liberating. The best way to tell a great story, is to start fresh with a clear vision in mind. Oh, I keep all my notes and revisions very close by, but I try to tell the story as if I am doing for the first time. The more I do this, the happier I have been with the results that come out. Obviously, I wish that I didn’t have to spend some much time and effort in getting to this point instead of continuing to struggle with whatever hot mess I’ve created. But in many ways, it’s having gone through those bumps and pitfalls, that makes me love what comes out even more.