A Writer’s Tale (Mine)

This week I hope to finish the first draft of Devil’s Blood 3.

First draft of the third book…wow! I remember when I thought I’d finished the first novel. I was so proud of myself, of it. Then, I started to query literary agents. A few said kind words, but all of them declined representation. Total bummer. Then, I somehow (I don’t remember how exactly,) found this neat little site called Agent Query Connect. I found a beta reader who had the grace to read my entire 87,000 word novel and provide kind words about how it wasn’t quite as good as it could be.

I did feel insulted that my novel was ‘good enough.’ But, I soon learned that when someone gives feedback on your novel, they are not insulting you. The novel is what needs work, not you. That’s a critical lesson every writer needs to learn.

After that experience, I admit – I didn’t know where to start when it came to revising. From what I’d learned in my English classes that meant changing a few words around to make it sound smarter. Right? No. Absolutely not. But, that’s what I did. I fiddled with clarity, shortening things here, lengthening other things, all the while thinking that I was revising.

In comes my second full-novel beta reader. This one came from a different site, one that I don’t frequent any more. She (or he, I don’t remember, but for the sake of grammar let’s pick a pronoun) gave similar advice from the first beta, although not quite as nicely. She spoke bluntly about what worked and what didn’t. This happened to be exactly what I needed to hear.

My novel didn’t work. It had problems that I didn’t see because I’d never looked before. I’d never thought about exposition and what it meant for the reader, or how having multiple characters took half the novel and the plot lasted about a chapter and a half – I’d never given the balance of a novel much thought. I knew my characters and I knew my plot, and I believed it enough to write a novel. I thought having a cool character, witty side characters, and a cool plot were enough.

Well, it wasn’t and it’s not.

That’s when I started to learn on my own about writing fiction. I started working at a library and checked out every book about writing we had in the system, and I check often to see if any more have been added. By reading all these books, I gained a plethora of do’s and don’ts which often contradicted each other, lists of things that made a novel work and things that made it not work.

Things were brought to my attention that I sort of knew, but hadn’t thought about before, like this mysterious “passive tone” that everyone kept talking about.

“You use the passive voice too much,” – said a beta reader with no further explanation.

Okay, but what the fudge does that mean?

I figured it out, but not overnight. It’s not something that magically “clicked” one day and ever since my writing has been humming with moonlight. It’s one of those things that I still find in my writing.

But, back to the story – after my intensive study into writing, I started another revision of my novel. This one had less exposition, one central POV character, and less passive tone and more active words. In retrospect, it was a good revision. However, it wasn’t quite ‘there.’

My next beta reader, less tactful than the second, pointed out that the plot was…bleh. The main character didn’t do anything. The plot happened around her and she just went along. The beta reader was right, of course, and up until then I hadn’t seen that.

So I revised again, and saved it as Final Draft. Now this is the part in the story where I did a common mistake – I rushed. I considered that final draft good enough. I’d fixed all the problems. I considered it publish-ready. So I self-published without finding another beta to fine tune the revisions, without finding another set of eyes to proofread, and without getting anyone else’s thoughts about the cover.

I did all of that myself. See where I went wrong? I do. Now.

I should have found another beta, hired a proofreader, and paid a professional cover designer, but I didn’t. I thought the book was good enough, and I rushed to Create Space, uploaded the manuscript, and made my own cover for free. And that bad cover will haunt me forever.

After that, I did find a cover designer and paid for a nice cover, but that old cover is still out there, taunting me. For the second book in the series, I did go with the editor and the designer, and I proofed it twice, and I had someone else proof it. I didn’t push it to get published before it was ready. For the third novel, I’m already thinking about a cover and putting back the money I’ll need.

I’ve heard that you shouldn’t publish your first book, and now I see why. Because it’s a learning experience.

It took three novels, but I have found my pattern. I discovered how I write best, when, and how. I have a system of writing, and a style. With each book I work on, my process gets a little more streamlined, quicker, and easier. I start closer to the end. That doesn’t mean that one day I won’t have to revise. Revision is always a good idea, but I won’t revise as much. Instead of starting at draft -5, like I did with Devil’s Blood 1, I’ll start at draft 0.

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