Writing Wednesday: Destroying Doubt & Soldiering On with Your Manuscript

The official doubt crow, courtesy of @doubt_crow

The official doubt crow, courtesy of @doubt_crow

With a little more than a month and half a manuscript left to go before my Book to Blurb final is turned in, I’ve found myself in a strange place. I’m getting to my word count goal (though now I think I need to up it a bit to give myself a better cushion) and finding that I have great revision plans for the manuscript that will make it even stronger (I’m not revising much while getting the first draft to take shape). I’ve been really consistent with my writing, getting up when I don’t feel like it and always getting something on the page. Yet, something has been dogging my every step: doubt.

Writers tend to be very familiar with doubt, particularly those who seek publication. There’s always something you can second guess. Second guessing and trying things a different way isn’t bad; it’s when our questioning of our choices renders us unable to move forward, meet deadlines, or even submit our work that it becomes troublesome.

At the moment, I have a myriad of doubts that are difficult to combat:

  • deadline doubt. Sometimes it seems as if the deadline is coming faster and my word count is climbing slower. It seems like I’ll never have the first draft done in time, let alone have time to revise and send in my best quality work. Many other participants have told me about family vacations, births, conferences, and other events standing between them and the deadline that causes them to feel as if they aren’t getting enough done now to compensate for losing that time. No one wants to miss the deadline or feel like they didn’t turn in their best book.
  • balance doubt. Is there enough conflict? Have I shown enough of their budding romance? Is the faith element present enough? Is there enough plot to this story? Did I show enough emotion? Will readers like/relate to/fall in love with my hero & heroine? I always feel as if I haven’t done enough somewhere.
  • word choice doubt. How many times did I say gaze in two paragraphs? Five. Seriously. And I had both my characters think “No, this isn’t happening” ON THE SAME PAGE.If my characters don’t stop looking, staring, gazing, flicking glances, or locking eyes, someone may be arrested for stalking. Finding fresh ways to say things can get stale if you let it, and it will drive you crazy trying to find just the right word all the time.
  • revision doubt. Did I change this enough to address the editor’s concerns? Will changing the hero’s motivation from this to that strengthen or hurt the story? I know I said I was cutting this scene, but maybe I should keep it? Is this scene really advancing the romance like I want it to? Is this subplot adding to things or detracting from them? Should I dial back the faith element here? How do I tie this subplot into the main plot to make it all make sense?
  • doubt scrapping. Maybe I should chuck the whole darn thing and start over.

So what do you do to combat doubt? I keep writing. I skip scenes that aren’t working to work on a scene where the words are coming fast and furious. I type things I know I’m not saying write but also know I can change later if I get the general gist down. I keep myself accountable by posting my word counts each day. I reach out to my critique buddies and writer friends when only a kick in the pants or a good brainstorming session will do. I make revision notes while they are fresh in my mind and plan out how I will address them. And I pray. A LOT.

Your two cents: How do you deal with doubt, in writing or any area of life?

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Writing Wednesday: Death by Deadline

January Jones, inspiration for my Blurb to Book heroine, Cordelia

January Jones, inspiration for my Blurb to Book heroine, Cordelia

It’s been a busy month of April for me. I found out halfway through that I had made stage 2 of the Blurb to Book contest and needed to come up with 3 chpaters and a synopsis by May 1st. Cue excitement and basking in the awesomeness that is me. *basking* Then I pulled out my calendar. I had about three weeks to accomplish this feat. Three weeks was plenty of time! I’d written the rough draft of a novel in a month! I could so do this!

Here’s the thing: as great as NaNoWriMo and other programs like it (like Seekerville’s Speedbo in March and Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July) can be, these are goals, not deadlines. We can treat them as deadlines, but they aren’t hard and fast. Neither are my personal deadlines. If I don’t make one, I’m inclined to give myself a break. I will take days off to rest and let the story “flow.” I’m artsy that way, y’all. I can’t rush my brillance (hence why Altered before the Altar was 4 years in the making).

Now I have a deadline from an actual editing team that wants to see my well-written, well plotted, make-them-hungry-for-more proposal. This Friday. As in the day after tomorrow… and everything that has breath inside of me has hit the panic button.

I used to be one of those writers who didn’t sweat a deadline. I was the last minute maverick of all things awesome in 24hrs or less. I pulled greatness out of some sweaty, past their best by date places searching for inspiration in the 23rd hour. I’ve hit print on papers with less than five minutes before class and gotten more than one plus (+) behind my “A” for the effort. But this deadline just might kill me.

I could blame it on being older and knowing that it’s important to have time to revise, etc., but I think it has more to do with the perceived stakes. I’ve never doubted before that I was a great writer; I’ve been told that my entire life. Now I’m not as sure as I was before. I question every word on every page. My perfectionist streak has struck with a vengence. I need every comma to be perfect. This is my LAST chance, you guys!

Except…it’s not. In fact, since I made it to this stage, I’m guaranteed personalized feedback from my dream editors at Harlequin, feedback that could lead to a sale even if I don’t make the next round. I thought that whole “publishing contract by 30” ship had sailed and I was over it, but it turns out that since I’m thirty until February 24th of next year, my brain has picked up on the fact I could still be contracted in that time and is PARALYZED by ALL THE FEARS.

Somewhere in the last few days, I’d stop having fun with my writing. I’d made it into a chore that I’d be graded on. I was making my characters do what I thought might interest the editors even though they were screaming at me they weren’t those kinds of people. Then they stopped talking to me at all. I had to decide that in addition to turning in the requested materials by a deadline, I wanted to turn in something that represented me–my unique voice and characters, give them more of that stuff that sparked their interest in stage one and make it even better.

So…I cut scenes. WHOLE SCENES. DAYS BEFORE A DEADLINE. I slashed anything that didn’t feel write. I gave myself permission to write crap, but crap that at least sounded like me, crap I could make not so crappy. I threw out the rules to write and then picked them up to edit. And by George, I think I’m going to make the deadline knowing I gave them MY best.

What about you? Do deadlines motivation you or paralyze you? How do you ensure that you meet deadlines?

When Great Writing Goes Wrong…

I have a confession to make: I have been avoiding #LoveThyEnemy. And Pleasure’s Payne. And a couple other ones. I haven’t been avoiding them for the usual reasons; I didn’t run into an issue with the manuscript that I can’t write past or am unsure what happens next. The problem is that my writing has been scaring me lately. Why? Because I think it’s…good. 

That may seem a little backwards, but here’s the thing: all the writing advise says that first drafts are bad. The great Ernest Hemingway said that the first draft of anything is crap. Anne Lamott has a whole chapter of her popular fiction writing book Bird by Bird dedicated to crappy first drafts. Some random twitter quote said that a writing who thinks he is writing well is probably writing really badly. The encouragement is always to get whatever crap you can on the page because you can’t fix a blank page, but you can fix a crappy one. But what about a good page?

I’m not saying that every word of #LoveThyEnemy or Pleasure’s Payne is golden. I’m not saying that I have proofread and revised the sections I have written so that they look as good as they do. What I am saying is that maybe, just a little bit, I’ve hit my stride and found my voice with these stories. The thing is, I’ve set the beginnings up well enough that I have to deliver something at the end. The thing is, I can feel great within my reach, and it’s a little scary. Intimidating. All of these great words are clogging up the well. I’m finding new and exciting ways to procrastinate…like writing this post. Bah!

There’s also the possibility that I’m wrong. Every word I’ve written could be drivel. It could be moving in the opposite direction of what everyone in publishing is going in. Or it could be to on trend. Maybe what I have is a steaming pile of crap that needs to be excavated for the evidences that at some point a decent story existed. Maybe I’m just a cockeyed novice with her compass all messed up.

So I called in the big guns. Instead of keeping this project to myself as I have been, I am getting my Beta Reader on the case. Having to turn over my words to her keeps me on track and helps me focus. Next week is my week to share writing with my critique partners, and I’ll send them what I have as well. I entered 10,000 words of #LoveThyEnemy into contest, and plan to enter Pleasure’s Payne into a contest as well. I am putting my work out there for both egregious praise to bolster my self-confidence, constructive criticism to help me fix things that are going wrong, and feedback from contest judges, with the possibility of them garnering an editor or agents attention.

On (Not) Wimping Out

The past three days have been hard writing days for yours truly. I didn’t like what I wrote for Friday’s words, I wrote less than a thousand words at 10pm last night (meaning I wasted all of my morning writing hours–all four of them!), and this morning, I’m struggling again to get words on the page. With a manuscript that stands at a little more than 44,500 words, I am losing my momentum on it. The doubts are beginning to creep in: is the suspense element strong enough? Is the romance element strong enough? I haven’t gotten these characters on the same page in too many pages. When is she going to tell him she loves him? Is he going to tell her he loves her first? How are the conflicts going to be realistically resolved so they can be together (I resolved one conflict last night. Whew! Only one or two more to go)? How is this all going to end?

Other than these doubts, I’ve been dealing with minor characters trying to take over the story, awkward attempts at sensual scenes, and the ever looming realization that if I target Harlequin romantic suspense, I still have 20,000 words beyond NaNoWriMo to account for. Gah! No wonder I’m plastered to the ceiling! So. Much. Pressure!

Then I received a wonderful piece of advice from Sarah M. Anderson’s online workshop on revision (among a million other great pieces of advice in the forum). She reminded all of us that the holidays is not the time to send in a manuscript, as many editors are in and out of town, and requested manuscripts and establish author manuscripts tend to get priority. She told unpublished and unrequested authors to hold off until the new year, to use the next month to polish and revise. I had planned to do this initially, but I was fighting the impulsive side I had that wanted to hit send on this manuscript on December 5th and get the waiting started already. Hearing her words, in effect, gave me back a few weeks to get the story like I wanted.

I’m going to finish NaNoWriMo, and have all the major scenes, plot points, and resolutions/endings in the manuscript. I will continue on until the close of business November 30th, even if I have hit 50,000. But after that, I’m setting it aside until Monday December 10th. I am just going to get the things I still need to get on paper on the page, then I’ll go back and extend scenes that need to be elaborated on, fix word choices, find grammatical areas, deep clean each chapter…whatever editing tricks and tools float my boat. Then I’ll add in my chapter headings and make sure it’s properly formatted. Finally, I’ll develop my query letter and synopsis. Beginning December 10th, not now. Right now, all I need to do is get the words on the page in a fun way that keeps me motivated for at least 5,000 more words.

I’ve always had a problem ending things, of letting them be done so I can move on to the next step. I’m not a finisher. The problem is usually that fear chokes me. I am determined not to let fear choke me so close to my goal. It doesn’t have to be perfect; I have an entire month to sit with it and perfect it. Right now, it just has to get done.

Send me prayers and encouragement for better writing days and to finish NaNoWriMo strong and still proud of what I’ve accomplished.

How are you holding up this month?

XOXO

Erica

Writer’s Remorse

I’m not a very experienced submitter. I have only submitted writing to a handful of competitions–poetry and oratorical contests in middle school (where I won every gold medal/blue ribbon known to man), Prize Papers in high school (where a story about one of the biggest rejections of my life was won, ironically), the literary awards competition in college (where I ate the dust of an MFA candidate), and two literary magazines competitions (neither of which I won. One was for Crazy Horse and the other was for Boulevard). With so little experience with submitting work, and never giving myself too much time to think about what I am submitting when I submit, I often have a writer’s form of buyer’s remorse about my submissions.

I don’t know if this happens to other writers, but once I submit something to a teacher, a workshop group, an honest friend, or a competition, I am plagued with writer’s remorse. The moment the piece leaves my hands, I am overcome with doubts about the choices I made and the quality of the material. This time is no different. Even before I pressed the submit button, I wanted to change the opening of Pleasure’s Payne. I knew where I wanted the manuscript to start, and that I should blend the things before the beginning into the story, but I wasn’t confident enough in that option to pursue with only 4 hours left until the deadline…while at work, where I’m supposed to be working on what I’m paid to do. In the end, I ended up closing my eyes and pressing submit.

I know that the opening is still strong as is, but I can’t help but feel like it could have been better. It certainly didn’t help that the very thing I was going to do was tweeted as a warning by one of the editors reading the submissions. She was saying that if you don’t get selected for the top 50, perhaps it’s because your manuscript started in the wrong place. My first reaction was “Oh, my God! She’s reading my submission! She’s talking about me! I’m dead in the water already. How could I let this happen? But they’re judging on the content and voice and the quality of writing as well, right? I know the writing is good. Can’t they forgive a little misstep like giving a teeny bit too much background at the beginning?!” Yes, friends, I freaked out at an ambiguous twitter posting.

I’m so tempted to change the beginning now and continue on with it all “chopped and screwed,” but if I do manage to make it to the next round by some miracle, is that even allowed? I don’t know. Besides, I’m supposed to be finishing the book, but now I’m paralyzed with fear. I wrote another 3,000+ words after I entered it Thursday, but I wrote zero words yesterday. I know where the book is going, what needs to happen, what characters will be introduced, how they will get over their issues and find love with each other, but my pudgy little fingers are a little dejected right now. So help me snap out of it.

Have you ever had writer’s remorse? What happened? What advice can you give to a novice submitter?

XOXO

Erica