“Even the greats don’t nail it on the first try.” ~ Emily Temple
Each year in November, hundreds of thousands of ordinary, everyday people across the world take a challenge to write 50,000 words of fiction in thirty days. It’s called National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I’ve done this challenge many times. Since I know how effective it is in helping writers complete a very rough first draft, I often suggest NaNoWriMo in my classes and newsletter.
Each year in December, a fraction of those same people send their unedited or barely revised 50,000 words, the same words they just wrote in November, to agents and editors.
Here are six reasons why you do not want to do that:
1. They will hate you forever.
2. They will hate you forever.
3. They will hate you forever.
4. They will hate you forever.
5. They will hate you forever.
6. They will hate you forever.
Last month my husband and I attended a Veterans Day luncheon at the local senior center. A friend of Ed’s who happens to be a retired editor, greeted me by saying, “I hate your newsletter!”
He didn’t hate my newsletter. What he hated was receiving submissions that weren’t ready for an editor’s eyes. I had to agree with him. I don’t know if any of those submissions were written during NaNoWriMo, but the point remains – YOUR WORK MUST BE REVISED.
Please. I beg you. If you participated in NaNoWriMo this year, don’t let the excitement (mania?) of November (or any writing spree for that matter) lull you into believing your work is ready to go out right away. Let your manuscript rest. Then, in January (or August), bring it out again. Revise, revise, revise. Have other people read it. Then revise again before submitting it anywhere.
You get one shot with an agent or editor. Don’t waste it.
“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” – Henry David Thoreau in a letter to Harrison Blake, November 16, 1857
In elementary and high school, I belonged to a 4-H club to train dogs for obedience. My rat terrier, Tony, and I won first place at the Ohio State Fair two years in a row. We had a great trainer, a retired factory superintendent, Louie Levengood who had raised and trained award-winning golden retrievers for decades.
As a big show approached, Louie would run a hand through his white hair and remind us it was time to “turn down the screws.” We were to become precise, tightening our training the way a woodworker might give a screw a few final turns so the head is flush with the wood. Minor imperfections we’d let slide earlier in the season took on new importance.
If Tony did not sit close enough to my heel or was not looking straight ahead as he sat next to me, I gently corrected him. If he did not come quickly enough, I corrected him. Every detail was important. This paid off. Both years, the state fair judges explained, these details were what led each judge to place Tony and I a few points ahead of the nearly perfect Doberman, Precious, and his young woman owner.
It’s time once again to turn down the screws – this time with my memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target.
My deadline, December 1st, approaches like an oncoming train. While I trim, trim, trim, I’m also fixing lingering problems: info dumps, too much telling, and dialogue that doesn’t carry its weight. These tasks require focus reminiscent of those days I spent in the large yard near our barn, walking Tony around and around. Stopping and starting again and again. Correcting. Praising. Perfecting. Over and over and over.
I’m under no illusions that the book will be perfect. This isn’t the state fair. But I know I have the skill and patience to improve it. With Louie’s voice in my ear, I will do my best.
“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” ~ T. S. Eliot
This morning I signed a contract with Mango Publishing to publish my re-titled memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought me Back from the Brink.
Yes, I’m over the moon!
But it’s not time to party. Now the real work begins.
The editor made suggestions and I have my own ideas of what still needs work. I have until December 1st to submit a “final” draft. (Is any writing project ever final in the writer’s mind even after it’s published?) That will be edited and returned to me. I’ll make those additional revisions and then it will be submitted to the copy editor.
Boom! Boom! Boom! The published book is expected in Spring of 2019.
In the meantime, if it seems I’ve disappeared, my apologies. I’m head down, working, blinders on.
Don’t worry. I’ll keep you posted as developments occur.
We party in the Spring!!
“I’ve always considered myself to be just average talent and what I have is a ridiculous insane obsessiveness for practice and preparation.” – Will Smith
I’m currently listening to Racing the Rain by John L. Parker. In one scene, young Quenton Cassidy, the main character, learns basketball tips from a famous one-on-one player. The professional gives Quenton the ball and tells him to take his best shot. As Quenton approaches the basket, the expert crowds Quenton to the right. He pushes him so far to the right that Quenton eventually must move to the left, his weak side since the boy is right-handed. Then the pro easily steals the ball. After repeated failures, the expert explains that Quenton must practice his weak side. “I see you practicing what you’re already good at,” he says. To become a pro, Quenton must practice his weaknesses until they becomes natural.
I think about this with writing. I too adore things I’m already good at and want to spend all my time “playing” at those. I love the first draft, no outline, staring down the blank page. I love the freedom to write whatever I want, making something from nothing. I also love detailed editing, crafting sentences, and choosing the right word. These are my “right side.”
But I grow the most by working on skills that don’t come naturally. Plotting and outlines are my nemesis. Big picture revision is a struggle. While I don’t practice them for hours the way the basketball pro urged Quenton, I recognize their necessity and feel my resistance when it’s time to pull those tools out of the kit. I wish I could say I just push through, but I don’t. I usually stall a bit. I’m like a horse that doesn’t want to get into the trailer. It takes a carrot or two, but eventually, because I’m well trained, I force myself to study the big picture and puzzle out the plot. Professionals do the hard stuff too. Hopefully, this makes the reading easy.
I like for people to think I’m a punctuation and grammar whiz kid. I am not. I use cheat sheets like this. I also hire editors or ask friends to read my work. The spell and grammar check functions in Word are lovely, but they don’t catch everything.