Tonight I received the first set of notes critiquing “Sasha’s Journey”. As I’d only done one revision so far (aside from an ill-fated set of rewrites of the first chapter or prologue a couple of months ago), I expected a lot of issues and on that, I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, the first critiquer was incredibly kind in her summary notes. Even so, I’m feeling a little bit sick to my stomach. She found some positive, encouraging things to say, and for that, I’m very grateful. Still, I’m going to give myself a few days to digest (meaning I’ll re-read repeatedly) her summary before diving into the meat of it.
One thing she confirmed was that I have a long way to go when it comes to writing conflict. For the next few days, then, I will be scouring the internet and Amazon bookstore for tools to help me improve in this area. But it’s not just about writing conflict, I realize. It’s about developing clear strong needs and desires for the protagonist and antagonist, and ensuring that these needs and desires are strong enough to provide sufficient opposition between the two.
As I think about “Sasha’s Journey” it occurs to me that I started with what she wanted at the moment the story began when what I really need is to dig deeper to find in her what I’m still trying to find in me, and that’s her true purpose.
So, I ask myself, was novel number one just a waste of time?
I think about what I learned by committing myself to 50,000 words in a month. I consider what I learned during the first revision. I add what I’ve learned by reading the work of others and by participating in critique sessions. Then I look at the fact that I’m 60 some odd thousand words into novel number 2 and have rethought my approach to the book about healing from my parents’ suicides. Only then do I realize something so many people around me have already figured out.
Writing is just a line dance done with paper and pen or computer and keyboard.
You’re not going to get it right the first time, and probably not the second or third or even twentieth time. But repetition and constantly learning will eventually bring you to a place where you’ve brought all of those pieces you’ve been learning and practicing together and suddenly, it works!
I’m at the point right now where I’m still learning some of the basic steps. I’ve tripped and fallen but at no point have I even considered giving up. I know that as long as I keep moving forward, I’m successful. As long as I listen to what people have to offer in terms of suggestions, advice and resources it will have a cumulative effect towards improving my writing.
The one thing I cannot do is to stop. I need to keep writing those first drafts, then going back and fleshing out the second draft. By the third draft, it’s time to really pick the story apart and figure out what’s working and what’s not. I have to walk away from it for awhile and work on something else, then come back and look at it with eyes that don’t clearly remember the story so I can see where at least some of the holes might be. And most of all, I need to listen when others are critiqued and learn both from what is working in their stories and what is not. Learn what I, myself am lacking but can’t quite figure out.
Just as dancers are all at different levels; some have the line dances down cold, but struggle with two step. Some can follow two step pretty well, but lack the fluidity which makes West Coast Swing look amazing. We all have room to grow as dancers and can learn from watching others. We all have room to grow as writers and can learn from analyzing the techniques of others.
News Flash: We do not learn and grow by living in a vacuum.
If we want to improve whatever it is we are doing, we must learn from those who are farther along the learning curve than we. But we must also learn from those who have not progressed as far as we have if for no other reason than we see from reading the work of others that we truly have learned things others are still discovering.
But learning to write and write well is not exactly linear. I may learn something sooner in the process than one person and much later than someone else. Does it matter where in the process a particular concept is learned? Not really. As was pointed out to me recently, I am of the variety of non-linear thinkers. I am often accused of jumping from point A to point Q, skipping all of the steps in between while someone I’m talking to may really need all of those other steps in order to understand how I got from A to Q, and if it really is the best answer, everything considered. Yet, there are others who might wonder why I only got to step Q instead of jumping all the way to step Z or beyond? In the end, it’s not about how we got there, but that we got there with the skills to understand how and why we did, and the ability and knowledge to improve upon where we are and keep moving forward.
So I’ll take a few steps back, consider the messages for awhile before digging into the details. I will also consider some ideas which have been bouncing around in my head like corn in a popper. Ideas which, oddly enough, fit well with the comments I’ve read so far. Clearly, just being away from the manuscript for a few months has made me see things I couldn’t while I was immersed in it. It has made me agree with the first person to try to help me improve upon the book, at least on one level. The opening needs to be completely reworked if I want anyone to actually keep reading. The thoughts which have been bouncing around in my head need to be written down before they’re lost.
Most of all, I need to get into my character’s heads and really understand their purpose. I need to understand just how far they’ll go to achieve their goals. I need to feel the emotions, the conflict, the frustration and the jubilation. I need to feel the struggle of taking on adult responsibilities and leaving the insulation of childhood behind. More, I need to get into the head of someone who couldn’t care less about individual humans as long as they get what they want in the end.
Sure, it will be difficult at first, but if it were easy, there would be no challenge and where no challenge exists, there will be no sense of accomplishment, no victory. And I dearly want a victory!
Had I gone into this filled with confidence and the notion that every word that slipped from my fingers was golden, I’d probably be very humbled by the process of laying my work out before the eyes of others. But the truth is, I was already humble in the first place, and am pleased that the readers could find anything that worked. That, in and of itself is a small victory for me, and a huge dose of encouragement to go back to that drawing board and keep learning and improving and moving forward. Did I expect glowing reviews of my first effort? Certainly not. In fact, if I were asked, “Which do you think is most likely? That the readers will love it or hate it?” I’d have probably chosen the latter, but with the qualification that they’d find at least a moment or two which indicated that there was a glimmer of hope that I could eventually work out the kinks and bring to life the amazing stories which have filled my head since early childhood. Some might call those stories “dreams” but I’ve always known them for what they truly are.
My gratitudes tonight are:
1. I am grateful for humility.
2. I am grateful for even the smallest glimmer of hope that my work will eventually be publishable.
3. I am grateful for the many opportunities to improve my skills.
4. I am grateful for dance nights which give me time to just be before getting back to the real work, the real purpose of my life.
5. I am grateful for abundance; opportunities to grow, learning, honesty, hope, joy, love, expansion, harmony, peace, health and prosperity (which, of course leads to philanthropy).