Exploring the Writing Animal: An Interview with Abby Geni, Author of The Lightkeepers

Abby Geni

abby geni

Abby Geni lives, writes and teaches in Chicago while her imagination wanders the globe. She has impressive credentials that would crash my site if I attempted to list them all. A small sampling: Graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and recipient of The Iowa Fellowship; First place, Glimmer Train Fiction Open, “Captivity”; Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers 2016 selection, The Lightkeepers; Illinois Arts Council Agency Award, “In the Spirit Room”; 2014 Friends of American Writers Literary Award, The Last Animal.

I first met Abby at StoryStudio Chicago where she teaches the popular Novel in a Year class. I had the pleasure of reviewing The Lightkeepers for Blogcritics earlier this year. The Lightkeepers (Counterpoint Press, 2016) is Abby’s first novel and has met with rave reviews and garnered attention from People, O Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and the New York Times, among others. Both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly gave starred reviews.

In my ongoing quest to figure out “this writing thing,” Abby was kind enough to answer a few questions about novels, short stories, and when it’s okay to call yourself a writer.

The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni      The Last Animal by Abby Geni

Congratulations on the success of The Lightkeepers. What has been the most surprising aspect of bringing the book to publication?

Novels create more splash than short story collections.  After publishing The Last Animal, I thought I knew what to expect when The Lightkeepers came out, but the novel garnered much more attention than the short stories had.  I definitely did not anticipate that The Lightkeepers would be reviewed by the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times Review of Books and People Magazine and O Magazine.  It’s been a nice surprise, but it’s a surprise nonetheless.

Much has been made of your use of and connection to the natural world in your writing. Where do you think this connection stems from? Has the literary world made too much of this distinction in your opinion?

Not at all!  Much has been made of my connection to nature because nature is vital to my work. I can’t imagine writing something that didn’t link to animals or climate or oceans or plants, something entirely separate from the natural world.  This theme was central to The Last Animal, and I had a wonderful time exploring new aspects of marine fauna and island life in The Lightkeepers.  I hope to be able to continue to integrate nature into my work in unexpected and unfamiliar ways.

Is it the story idea that chooses the form (i.e. short story or novel) or do you think most ideas can be executed in either form?

One of my dear mentors, Dan Chaon, told me that a majority of novels could have been written as short stories, and that if you, as an author, have the ability to tell a narrative as a short story, then you have no business telling it in novel form.  I have to agree.  If an idea can fit inside a short story, then it should be told that way.  Stretching it out into novel form will just weaken and dilute it.  Only those rare ideas that are too big and wide and deep for short fiction should become novels.

Do you write with a specific reader in mind or more for yourself?

I’m going to quote the master here.  Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”  I never know who my writing will reach or touch or influence, and I don’t have an ideal reader in mind; I just write the kind of stories I would like to find on the shelf.

Which writers have had the most influence on your own work?

Mainly nonfiction authors—Susan Casey and David Quammen and Craig Childs and Mary Roach.  I love to read about science and the natural world, and I love when talented, enthusiastic, inquisitive authors teach me new things.  Their passions become my characters’ passions.  Much of my fiction is born that way.

Aspiring writers have a fascination with the writing process of a published author. Do you care to share any special aspects of your process or your opinion on this fascination?

Anyone can write.  Many people can put a sentence together fairly well, many wrote stories when they were kids, and many secretly believe that they could write a novel one day if they just had the time.  It can be hard to delineate a “real author” from an amateur or a wannabe or a daydreamer.

This can be difficult for aspiring writers.  They may feel that they aren’t allowed to use the word “writer” to describe themselves.  They may be unsure about how their passion and creativity fit into their identity.  Many believe that publication is the bright line—with “real authors” on one side and wannabes on the other.

I disagree.  I was a real author for years before I ever published anything.  Publication is an achievement, not the mark of a new identity.  Aspiring writers are real authors too. My writing process should not be the model for anyone else, because every author is different.  I recommend that all aspiring writers look inward for a sense of what their writing process should be: what works for them, what aids their creativity, what they need in terms of discipline and structure, what they hope to achieve.

What’s the best or worst piece of writing advice you ever received?

The worst piece of writing I ever received was that I should write every day.  This idea is everywhere, and it causes aspiring writers a lot of stress.  I’ve been a writer since I was six, and I’ve never written every day.  Usually I write four or five days a week and take the rest off to recharge.  It bothers me when people make rules for what real writers should do.  Each writer should find his or her own rhythm and structure for effective work and joyful creation.  No rules apply to all writers.

What books are on your to-be-read pile now? Favorite type of story to get lost in?

My favorite stories right now are mysteries. I’m working my way through the Golden Age of Mysteries, tackling the canon of Georgette Heyer and loving every minute of it.

Something readers would be surprised to learn about you?

I hate to travel.  Though many of my stories take place in far-flung places, like the Farallon Islands or the Nigerian delta or an ostrich farm in Arizona, I have never been to any of those spots, and I don’t intend to go.  I’m a Midwestern girl, born and bred in Chicago, currently living in the same neighborhood where I grew up.  I like to research and explore as I write, but more than anything, I love to be home.

If time and money were no object, describe an ideal day for you:

Up at sunrise, black tea, meditation, more black tea, a few hours of passionate and focused writing, more black tea, a few hours of desultory and daydreamy writing, lunch, a long walk with my dog, pick up my son from school, play outside and talk about toddler things, bedtime for my son, a few hours with my husband doing and talking about grownup things, early bedtime for me, deep and unworried sleep.

 

A big thanks to Abby for her time and her original, intriguing stories. Check out her website for more information about Abby, her teaching and her books.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Thoughts on “Exploring the Writing Animal: An Interview with Abby Geni, Author of The Lightkeepers

  1. Great interview.A great book evidently inspired it.

  2. Enjoyed the interview Suzanne, loved reading another person’s insight on writing.

  3. Great interview, Suzanne! I’m looking forward to checking out Abby’s books. And I like her advice on ignoring the usual advice. 🙂

If You Want to Write, Ignore this Advice

metal and wood chair
Worst Advice Given to New Writers by Suzanne M. Brazil

Image used courtesy of www.bilerico.com

What is the most common advice professional writers give to those just starting out? If you want to write, you must read lots of books. Sometimes it’s the only piece of advice given. Usually, there’s no expanding on why or how or what. In interviews on podcasts or in magazines, they repeat it over and over:  If you want to write, you must read. As Nike says, “Just do it.”

I think everyone should read all the time, constantly, every day, whenever they can. But, I find this advice given to new writers to be almost totally useless and enormously frustrating. Over the years, I kept wondering how this metamorphosis was going to happen? Magic? Osmosis? I’ve been reading and writing for most of my life.

I’ve read many classics, hundreds if not thousands of novels, literary criticism, etc. In addition, I’ve been reading books about writers for at least the last 20 years. Natalie Goldberg? Check. Brenda Ueland? Check. William Zinsser? Check. Anne Lamott? Check. Stephen King? Check. You get the idea.

In dedicating my energies and passions to becoming a professional writer comparatively late in life, here is what I’ve learned:

Reading does not teach you to be a writer any more than sitting in a chair teaches you to be a carpenter.

The more chairs you sit in, the more you know what you like, which species of wood visually appeals to you, the curve of the seat or angle of the back you find most comfortable. You may even come to recognize various styles of famous furniture makers and the historical periods in which they worked.

But none of this makes it possible for you to physically build your own chair.

Rocking chair

Despite all the novels I’ve read (famous, critically acclaimed, accessible and obscure), it took completing my own first draft for me to realize I knew nothing about writing a book.

A novel is a specific thing with infinite variations. All of my English and American Lit classes taught me how to find symbolism and recognize a theme but they did not teach me how to build a scene, reveal character, build tension or weave in backstory.

A writer needs tools and the knowledge to use them which is why writing is often compared to craftsmanship.

To build a functional, aesthetically pleasing chair you need to learn how a chair is constructed. You need to know the materials and tools required and you need instruction and practice in using the tools. Is this wood strong enough? Should this be joined with pegs, biscuits or glue? What saw blade works best?

Now, after you’ve got the basics down and haven’t chopped off any fingers, you can loosen up. You can improvise, play with shapes and materials and ask what happens if you try this instead of that.

creative-flower-shaped-design-for-children-chairs-decoration

I’ve learned it’s the same for writing a book (story, article, essay). You need to take them apart and watch someone putting them together. You need classes in construction, or a manual on story structure. You need to know what parts make up the whole. And not just one class or one practice session.

The truly great writers aren’t purposely leading us astray when they simply tell us to read more. They’re just not expounding on what they mean by “read a lot of books.” And I really wish they would.

You have to read to know your market or genre to know what has become trite or cliché. Most importantly, you have to read to find out what you enjoy, what books you’d love to write. You should also learn to read like a writer at times, looking for how favorite novelists pulled off a certain point of view or climax.

metal and wood chair

Reading is a different skill. Reading is a joy. Reading is entertainment. And, yes, reading can teach. Reading will enrich your vocabulary and, as you learn more craft, will expose an endless array of possibilities in your own work.

If you want to write, you must apprentice yourself to the craft of writing. Sitting in a lot of chairs never made anyone a carpenter and reading a lot of books never made anyone a writer.

Click on any of the above authors for some of my favorite books on writing.

12 Thoughts on “If You Want to Write, Ignore this Advice

  1. I fully agree, Suzanne! Like carpentry (of which I have some knowledge – my hubby is one!) the only REAL way to learn and perfect your craft, is simply this: Just DO it! Making many a mistake/losing literary fingers along the way! 😉

    Thanks for a thought inspiring and well argued post!

    Hugs from the little Swiss Hedgehog x

  2. barb armstrong on June 16, 2015 at 3:36 pm said:

    I just will say there is nothing more powerful than the written word!!!!

  3. I was of two minds when I first read it, and am still of two minds, a day later. What’s fun is that you wrote this after I asked my question about recommended books On Writing. Thank you!

    I think you CAN write without reading, but who’s to say if anybody will read it or, having read it, like it? Readings helps a writer determine what they like and don’t like–what styles are attractive, what genre makes their heart beat faster or stops it altogether, what topic or destination they can’t get enough of. Reading keeps a reader striving for perfection; to create something as wonderful or better than their favorite stories.

    Tools help and have their place, and I’m sure 95% of us learn how to make our writing even better when given the proper tools, but I won’t rule out the ability or possibility of a chair builder who comes along and make something wholly beautiful and potentially useful simply by studying other chairs and figuring it all out on his/her own.

    • Well said and I am absolutely sure you are right…there’s always a savant out there making the rest of us feel less special 🙂 My experience has been that I could not, nor would not, want to be a writer if I were not first a lover of books and stories. But all my love did not help me to know that novels were made up of scenes! I still can’t believe that. It’s like discovering water is wet. My post was indeed in response to your question and several recommendations to “read good fiction.” I believe it is crucial to read good fiction if you want to write good fiction. But telling a new writer that without adding the why or the how is like telling a new driver “step on the gas”…OK, and then??? But yes, there’s a 24-year-old (or 90-year-old?) debut novelist out there who did it by feel, by heart and just by reading…oh how I wish that were me! Thanks for the very thoughtful comment and great points! Nothing better than talking books and writing!

  4. Chrstine Kelly on June 19, 2015 at 9:51 pm said:

    Great motivator Suzanne, thank you. And being a visual person I have to tell you that I loved the images you chose. They really spoke to me along with your true and thoughtful words

  5. Love the carpenter metaphor 🙂

#Top10Tuesday: 10 Ways to “Think Big” for Writers

10 Think Big Tasks for Writers

10 Think Big Tasks for Writers

“Your playing small does not serve the world.” ~ Marianne Williamson

10 “Think Big” Tasks for Today

  1. Act as if –Don’t already have a cover of your WIP? Why not? Today’s the day. Make a “coming soon” mock-up and post it on your blog or FB. Already published? Envision and document your dream review or interview.
  2. Tell 3 people you’re a writer – Go On! Don’t be shy. What do you care what they think? They may want to hire you, interview you, mentor you, BE you! You might just inspire someone else.
  3. Order business cards. Now! Pick a font, include your email and social media info. Pass them out like it’s a real job. Or change your title on your resume, FB page, blog, etc.
  4. SUBMIT something…anything…anywhere. You don’t want to make a habit of submitting unpolished things but try poking a hole in the dam, prime the pump, get the juices flowing. Choose your cliche!
  5. Create a tracking sheet for your rejections and set an ambitious goal to be rejected at least 52 times—1 for each week this year. Crying is fine as long as you keep clicking “submit.”
  6. Contact an author you admire through Email, Twitter, or FB message. Don’t send suggestive photos, that just embarrasses everyone. Send a thanks or a compliment. Many will engage and we all love a pat on the back.
  7. Learn one new craft thing and then share it with someone else. Best tip you’ve heard all day? Who doesn’t want to know what that is?
  8. Envision the most “writerly” of locations, instruments, outfits and use them all at once. If you’ve dreamed of writing on a rock by a pond wearing a sweater with leather patches on the sleeves, get thee to a thrift store! Pick out an old sweater, grab a fountain pen and perch yourself on a rock. Congratulations—you now LOOK the part but you still have to write something…anything!
  9. Write a review of the best book you’ve read this year and post it everywhere. Put good energy out into the universe.
  10. Share your successes in the comments below (thinking positive is also a ‘think big’ action). Lather, Rinse, Repeat!

“Vision is not enough, it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.” ~ Vaclav Havel

 

2 Thoughts on “#Top10Tuesday: 10 Ways to “Think Big” for Writers

  1. Hey, Suzanne. Somehow I found my way to this post from last year… Call it serendipity. 🙂 Anyway, it struck me as something worth remembering. This could definitely be a “pinned post” if there is such a thing. So much inspiration here!

The 2K International Writers’ Blog Tour – Author Interview

Fia Essen

2K International Writer's Blog Tour

 

Have you been enjoying the tour? Feel free to pass on the links you find here to other readers or writers in your circle. These authors have a range of accomplishments along with insight and tips for writers of any genre!  Welcome and let’s meet Fia!

Fia Essen

Fia Essen – that’s me. I grew up on the move, and then I kept going. I still haven’t really settled down anywhere. I’m not ready to say I’ve settled. You could say I got lost in transition. But I’ve found some great people and places on my journey to… well, destination unknown. And my journey through life is what gives me ideas for the stories I write.  Fia Essen

What is the first piece you remember writing (from childhood or young adulthood)?

I wrote a short story when I was nine years old. I had just started a new school in Dubai and I was still learning English. Predictably, the story was about the adventures of a girl from Sweden who had just moved to “The Desert of Arabia”.

What is your favorite aspect of being a writer? Your least favorite?

The best thing about being a writer is being my own boss. It’s also the worst thing about being a writer. It’s not a “regular” 9-5 job, and I don’t get a regular paycheck. Nonetheless, I’m serious about my writing. Writing is my job and I give it my all.

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, what is your best tip for beating it? If not, why not?

I can’t say I believe in writer’s block. Having said this, I can only speak from my own experience. As I mentioned above, writing is my job. I sit down and I do the work. Every day! I don’t expect inspiration to hit me out of the blue. I’m not that kind of writer. I don’t get struck by sudden flashes of brilliance. I work hard to create a story that I hope someone will ultimately enjoy reading.

What is your current writing project? What is the most challenging aspect of your current writing project?

At the moment, I’m working on a novel called Ariel, which is about a woman who has lost control of her life and finds herself stuck in a rut. Currently, Ariel is being looked over by an editor. Personally, I think the editing process is one of the most challenging aspects of writing. It requires patience and an open mind. The thing to remember is that both you and your editor want the same thing – for your story to be the best it can be.

What supports you in your writing?

It’s not a what. It’s a who. Her name is Sanna, and she’s my mum.

What are you currently reading?

Blogs. I’ve recently started blogging myself and I’m having a wonderful time reading what other bloggers are writing. If you’re a writer or interested in writing, there are plenty of both established and aspiring writers that share tips and useful information on their blogs. Much appreciated!

Where can our readers find you and your books online?

You can find my 100 Word Blog at https://essenfia.wordpress.com/ . As soon as Ariel is released, I’ll write an overjoyed post about it. Meanwhile, I’d love it if you drop by and take a gander at my daily posts.

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The 2K International Writers’ Blog Tour – Interviews with Writers

2K International Writer's Blog Tour
2K International Writers' Blog Tour

Tune in for a month of interviews with The 2K International Writers’ Blog Tour

Do you enjoy picking the brains of other writers? I’ve become obsessed. True, sometimes it’s procrastination rearing its ugly head but more often, I know I have a lot to learn and what better way than from another writer? Tomorrow, The 2K International Writers’ Blog Tour gets underway. Hosted by Kate Evans and Kate M. Colby, every day in February (except Sundays), you can tune in to read interviews with writers from around the globe.

Tomorrow we will start with one of the Kates!

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Favorite Writing Resources, Books and Websites in 2014

#amwriting

If your New Year Resolution was to get serious about your writing, then you’ve come to the right place! Last year I dug myself out of a frustrated pit of wanna-be-writing into the Land of Writers That Write. But I didn’t do it without help. Below is a list of the tools I found most inspiring, informative or at least entertaining. After all, writing can be a lonely endeavor and we all need to laugh more.

Disclaimer: These are the tools that helped me. I make no claims to their magical powers for muggles. I’ve received no compensation for mentioning them, nor do they necessarily want to lay claim to my transformation.

Books (new to me)

I’m endlessly fascinated by the lives of working writers. Invariably, I find out that they’re human beings that sit down and type or scribble on paper. That’s the one thing they all have in common. Yet, we all have different tastes and some offer savory quotes on creativity while others offer sturdy bites of craft. Some aren’t about writing specifically but shed light on the human condition–and my desire to suck more out of life–in a way that resonated with me.

 

book stack

Books (revisited)

These are comfort books. Reminders to be brave and work hard for what we want.

Websites, Blogs and Podcasts

There you are, alone in your kitchen wondering how they do it? How do you find the secret door to the writers’ world? Google of course! The sites listed below are the ones I returned to time and again for the how-to stuff and the why-should-we stuff. They are the ones I visit during my lunch hour at the day job when the inner critic tells me I’m not a “real” writer.

  • Funds for Writers by C. Hope Clark – Excellent insights on craft and professionalism along with listings for paying markets, contests and submission calls.
  • Writers On Writing with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett – A weekly podcast with one or two interviews with authors on the craft and business of writing. Archives include past interviews for replay or download.
  • Helping Writers Become Authors by K.M. Weiland – Podcast with several years of archived episodes on specific elements of craft. Short and to the point.
  • Women Writers, Women’s Books – A mixture of craft, inspiration and business advice. This group also has a thriving social media presence and welcomes newcomers.
  • Writing Prompts That Don’t Suck – Really, they don’t. Wrote one of my favorite things based on a prompt featuring appetizers, Jesus and a unicorn.
  • Your Writer Platform – No, you don’t need a platform if you’re just starting out. But building a website and connecting online has provided writing opportunities that wouldn’t have been available to me otherwise. It’s also a nice place to call home.
  • The Write Life
  • Ellen Brock on YouTube – short videos on craft
  • Writers on Writing by Knopfdoubleday.com on YouTube

Doing of the thing quote

Organizations 

Social Media

Facebook – Established a professional page and connected with various writers groups. Two of my favorites require approval to join:

Women Writers, Women’s Books – Page of the website mentioned above.

Calls for Submissions – New posts everyday on established and emerging publications accepting work from all genres.

Twitter – My favorite for writers. Some hashtags to follow are #Amwriting, #Amreading, #FridayReads.

Google+ – I’m on it but it isn’t my favorite.

LinkedIn – Changed my profession to “Writer” and made it official!

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The Bottom Line

Reading about and tweeting other writers will not make you a writer. But these resources answered questions, taught me things and gave me outlets for my work. My hope is that sharing them with you might help you connect with a community of creative people that support your determination to write.

I’d love to hear from you. Let me know what you think about these or other resources you’ve come across. And treat yourself to a subscription of either Writer’s Digest or Poets & Writers magazines, or both!

 

Comments are closed.

After the First Draft (for New Writers), An Update: The Editor Responds and How to Choose an Editor

In my first post about completing the first draft of a novel, I promised to give you an update on what happens next. I keep my promises:

Book Cover

Late last night I sat with the family as they watched The Walking Dead. I don’t watch. I hate Zombies. I love Vampires, but that’s a different post.

Hoping to distract myself from the gnashing sound of zombie teeth on flesh, I checked my email via my phone and there it was – the professional editor’s assessment of my first novel!

I gave the email a once-over and was encouraged enough to open the attachment. The editor sent a five-page breakdown of what worked for her and what didn’t.

Stay tuned for a synopsis of the editor’s opinion and recommendations along with my next steps.

I will include:

  • Different types of editing available
  • What an assessment covers
  • Why I selected an assessment
  • How to choose your own editor
  • Results – worth the money or not
  • What’s next?

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After the First Draft OR I Wrote a Book…Now What?

Suzanne Brazil Novel - Work in Progress

 FOR NEW WRITERS ONLY (or My Relatives)

“What’s happening with your book?”

I’ve been getting this question a lot so I decided to share an update.  For those of you feigning interest (family and friends) or for new writers wondering what happens after the first draft of a first novel, read on for some insight into the process.

Ernest Hemingway - making crap

Ernest Hemingway – making crap

Sh*tty First Draft

Turns out, completing the first draft of a novel is just the beginning.

When I triumphantly typed “The End” and climbed out of my writing cave, I strode into the kitchen with tears in my eyes.  I demanded a hug from my perpetually perplexed husband and told him “this is a big deal.” And it was.

But it wasn’t the whole deal.

One axiom shared by writers of all genres and all levels of expertise is:  The first draft is sh*t.  Just ask Hemingway or Anne Lamott. (If you’re a new writer and you don’t know who she is WHY ARE YOU READING THIS?  Drop everything and run, run I tell you – to get Bird by Bird.)

Another rule of thumb is that after you finish a first draft, you are supposed to hide it.  Distance yourself so you can come back to it with a more objective outlook.

I finished  “Tell Me What You Want” on August 31.  It’s on the shorter side for a novel at 65,000 words (245 pages).  Turns out there’s guidelines for stuff like that.  A novel is typically 80,000 + words.  Who knew?

The First Read Through

It wasn’t until the second week of October that I read it through for the first time.  I’d sent a copy to both of my sisters and my best friend knowing they would all be supportive.  I felt a panic attack coming on when I got ready to read it myself.

2014-08-26_14-02-31-1

Covers have sh*tty first drafts too!

My chief concerns were in this order:

  1. It will suck
  2. It will suck so bad, I won’t even finish reading it.
  3. It will suck so bad I will never write another thing.

Completely daunted, I read it as a reader.  Without editing as I went. All of my fears were not unfounded.  Parts of it sucked a lot.

But some parts were decidedly un-sucky.  These parts are what is known in the industry as “my darlings” and the general wisdom is that these darlings must eventually be slaughtered (or for the less dramatic of you, deleted).

Does This Novel Make Me Look Fat?

What most writers need is honest, experienced critique partners and I don’t have those yet.  What I did have was a couple of published authors that I had met and who, as part of a class and later a writing retreat, offered to edit excerpts of works in progress.

The feedback I received was helpful, depressing and amazing often on the same page.  Turns out, I have a “voice” – again, who knew?  Also turns out I knew next to nothing about how a novel is constructed.

construction scaffold

Caution – Novel Under Construction

If I’m being honest, this came as a little bit of a surprise.  I mean, I’ve read thousands of novels. I’ve studied English Lit and even tested out of a couple of college literature courses.  None of these prepared me for the fact that a novel is a very specific thing with specific rules that you have to follow unless you’re good enough to break all the rules.

Novel construction was not something taught in any of my previous courses.  Most of them were about awakening your creativity.  That’s not where I needed help.

construction coneUnder Construction – Danger Falling Hopes and Dreams

To start with, if you’re a casual or even avid reader, it might not occur to you that novels are written in scenes.  Like a screenplay but different.  Go on, go get that trashy romance novel or mystery with the cat on the cover.  Alternatively, grab that suspense novel with the shadowy trees and bloody hand.  Either will do.

If it kept you reading until the end, it’s a pretty safe bet that the book you’re reading is made up of scenes – interactions between characters or a single character doing something.  They have thoughts, sure, but 20 pages of your heroine describing the grass and flower beds does not a published book make.

A lot of this stuff about how novels are made I began to learn during the process of writing the first draft.  Logically, the last third of my book is better than the first third.  That’s a relief.

Writing IS Re-Writing

340px-L.N.Tolstoy_Prokudin-Gorsky

Tolstoy (Exhausted after draft #10?)

Another axiom for writers is that writing is a craft that can be learned, and each stab you take at it usually improves the product.  I tried not to think of stabbing myself when I thought of the time required to rewrite what I’d just written.

On the advice of some of the pros I’ve recently met, I decided to send my manuscript to an editor for an assessment.  Editors offer different levels of services and what I was looking for is a complete read-through of my draft.  The result will be a professional (if subjective) evaluation of what is working in my book, what needs to be reworked and recommendations on the best way to approach a rewrite.

Did you know that Tolstoy rewrote War and Peace 10 times?  Ten complete drafts of the same giant book.  Listening to some of  my favorite author interviews confirms that at a minimum, four or five drafts are common.  One author recently published a critically acclaimed novel after 19 drafts.

Don’t Fall for the New Project

Maybe I’ll Just Start a New One…

Working authors caution against the siren song of the new project.  Seems that a majority of writers agree. It’s easier to get started and write the first draft of a project than to go back and revise a work in progress.

IMAG3560

Actual Revision Shot – Do not try this at home

There are a few exceptions to every rule but I know my own weaknesses.  To me, the act of sitting down and spewing out my brain-droppings on the page or screen is a little bit like magic.  I see a prompt or wake up with an idea, a blank page, and my fingers just start dancing.  Invariably, the alarm goes off and I shut down the laptop to head off to my day job, leaving the tail end of my thoughts and a project likely to remain unfinished.

In other words, I’ve decided not to start another full-length book project until I make some decisions about this one.  I will hear back from my editor in a month or so and have pretty much committed to at least one more complete draft.

Never Never Never Give Up!

I have much to learn and I want to see something I’ve molded take shape into a better version.  In the meantime, I continue to write most every day.  I have a couple of short stories and essays in the works.  I update my blog, review books, interview authors and keep my ideas for new projects in special notebooks until their time comes. I continue to study the craft.

With the help of a friend, we created a working cover for the novel so I could remind myself that I did write an entire book.  I share that cover with you now.  Many first novels languish in drawers as writers take what they’ve learned and apply it to sophomore efforts they are less embarrassed to share with the masses.

Book Cover

I’m not embarrassed at all.  Even the crappy parts of this first effort are all mine.  They’re proof.  I put out effort and the result was a book.  I wrote a book.  Yay me! You can too.

4 Thoughts on “After the First Draft OR I Wrote a Book…Now What?

  1. Oh, how I chuckled at this – because it’s all so true!! Yes, you should never be embarrased for exactly the reasons you stated. I think my funniest fail is sending my book to a literary agent before I really knew what I was doing. There were tense issues, passive voice issue – lots and lots of issues!!

    I really enjoyed this post, thank you for sharing!!

  2. E.L. – I can relate. I sent out a flash fiction piece that had alternating points of view – in a flash fiction piece! We all make mistakes but it means we’re writing and improving. Now we have time for new mistakes! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Much appreciated!

  3. Susan Godenzi on November 17, 2014 at 10:10 pm said:

    Yes, I too can relate to all of this. I also cried when I typed THE END of the first draft of my first novel. I was shocked at how emotional I felt. Yes, I needed a hug too from my very understanding husband. Well, I actually don’t think he understands. But he tries really, really hard to. I love it when I find people who do actually understand and can relate. There is a real bond there.
    Well done with your website, Suzanne. xx

    • Well said, Susan – finding those people whose eyes don’t glaze over when you talk about writing is such a blessing! Welcome and thanks for sharing!