What are the signs?
I have this mentor/friend who thinks I have a problem. She’s traditionally published over a dozen novels and teaches a wildly successful fiction workshop in a major city.
Twice, she has told me to just finish my current draft without getting more feedback.
What kind of feedback am I talking about? Not just your garden variety writing or critique group comments that take place in a workshop setting. (But I partake in that, too!)
After my second full draft, I realized my beginning needed work. I rewrote the first forty pages then got an assessment from a professional editor.
I rewrote those pages again incorporating the changes suggested by the editor (also a well-known novelist).
Next, I took part in a story workshop with an award-winning playwright and realized I hadn’t quite nailed my “what’s this about.”
Most authors, whether they’re screenwriters or novelists, eventually have to distill their project to the infamous log-line.
So, I spent some time on that. Then rewrote my outline making sure I was faithful to the gist of my story.
Then I rewrote the first few chapters to more faithfully follow the outline, and—yep, you guessed it—submitted those for feedback.
All of the feedback I received was spot-on and useful.
So, what makes me think I might need a 12-step program for writers seeking feedback?
Last week, the first mentor I mentioned above asked how my project was going. I was all positive: “Great, still working on it. Incorporating feedback on a new beginning, etc.”
And she asked: “Haven’t you already done that?”
Yes. Three times.
She was confused. She told me to knock it off. That it was just procrastination masquerading as “improving my craft.” She told me to just finish the draft using everything I know how to do. On my own. Like, without a guide. Alone. Solo.
I know, pushy, right? So, I said I ok. I committed. No more feedback.
Then I texted her and asked if going cold turkey included getting comments from my writing group.
Her exact response: “OMG. Yes, that counts.”
I’ve had limited time to work on my draft over the last two weeks. I have a post-op son at home that requires twice-daily “wound-care.” And, yes, that’s as disgusting as it sounds.
A dear relative is in the ICU.
I have a day job. I have laundry and meals to prepare and groceries to procure.
(Einstein ought to have tackled that job. The most inefficient system in the modern age: take item off shelf, put item in cart, take item out of cart, place item on conveyor, place item into bag, place bag into cart, take bag out of cart, place bag into car, take bag out of car, take bag into house, take item out of bag, place item onto shelf. Seriously—473 steps for groceries. Aaaaaaggggghhhhhh!)
I’m supposed to find time to exfoliate and floss and meditate and correspond with family. And when do I squeeze in watching VEEP or Silicon Valley on TV?
On my lunch hour today, I sat in my car and read my first two chapters out loud. I listened for the cadence of my sentences. I made notes about two pages of dialogue with almost no exposition or setting. I made notes on two page of exposition and setting with no action or dialogue.
Such is the life of a writer on her first book. I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one who has attempted this while also having to figure out how to pick a ripe, juicy cantaloupe from the produce section.
Sometimes knowing you’re not alone helps. Sometimes it doesn’t.
To further suck time from editing my novel, I signed up months ago for an online workshop. Our current module is “Unhooking from Praise and Criticism.”
This dovetails with my feedback obsession for my work in progress.
One of the common pitfalls of first-time novelists is starting over, never getting to the end of the first draft.
But I avoided that trap! I outwitted my newbie-ness and made sure I got to The End on that first draft. And on the second.
The remaining drafts? You guessed it. I keep going back and working on the beginning. Sometimes, this is important if you still don’t know what your story is. And, yes, there’s no right way and blah, blah, blah.
But by sending out the first twenty pages, or the first five chapters or just this one section for editorial assessments and feedback, I’m avoiding the inevitable.
I have to finish the f$#king draft I’m working on. Not the next one. This one.
And I know how to make it better. I don’t know if anyone will want to publish it, but I do know how to make it better.
There should be a drive-thru service where workers (trained editors of course) scan your latest output of words and hand you a printout that declares Congratulations, these four pages are working. Carry on!
I just don’t know if I’m doing it right. Four nights ago, I was sure it sucked. I decided to just race through the draft maniacally so I could put it in a trunk under my bed and get on with the next, better book.
Several months ago, I was trying to decide if I should send a current draft out for feedback and I asked my wise mentor person if she thought it was a good idea.
She replied, “Have you already done everything to it that you know how to do?”
The answer was an easy No.
What a question! What’s she hinting at?
You guessed it—she suspected my feedback addiction back then. But I had to be ready to quit.
So, I’m taking it one day at a time. Not sharing pages with anyone. Just working away. In my writing room. At my writing desk. In my car. In the coffee shop.
In one of my favorite books about the experience of writing a book (Yes, there is such a thing, and it’s fabulous. How’s that for book-y geekdom?), many pitfalls and stages are explained. Writing a book is a journey.
It’s possible I’m making it harder than it has to be. It’s possible I’m doing it all wrong. It’s possible that I’ll relapse. But for now. I’m just writing. And most days, I don’t want to stop.