I’m overdue making a blog post. And after the last week (the terror in Boston and the tragedy in West, Texas), I don’t feel much like writing an entry. I wrote the below entry a couple of weeks ago, so I’ll put it up now.
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At the beginning of April, I submitted the last two chapters of my novel, Shifting Mars’ Sands, to one of the writing groups that I belong to. The experience has been one of struggle and learning. At the end, I must say it was worthwhile.
Along the way, I learned many things.
Not all reviewers are reviewing what you wrote. It took several submission to realize this simple fact. After a time, I was able to sort through who were reviewing what was on the page versus what they wanted to see on the page. In essence, when my story deviated from where the reviewer thought it was going (or should be going), I got a bad review. In one case, I got a “revenge” review because I wrote of a second person conducting industrial espionage; this was after I commented weeks earlier that the reviewer’s protagonist had been captured and had escaped for the fourth time without the captor facing any consequences of his failure from his allies. The lesson here is to review what’s on the page in context as to what came before. A bonus lesson is not to do a “revenge” review.
Not all critiques are equal. Some people are good at grammar and some aren’t. I eventually learned who the grammar mavens were and paid attention extra attention to their notes. Some people can follow complex situations and some can’t. Some people like genre fiction and some don’t. The lesson here is to take this all of this into account when receiving reviews and incorporating changes into your story.
One of the overarching lessons I learned was that as writer I had to choose. I had to choose a direction for my characters. They had to own it and follow it’s logical end. Hinting at a direction wasn’t good enough. Too much change, too quickly, seemed unnatural. When having your character grow, it has to be commensurate with the situation. Minor bumps in the road shouldn’t cause major character growth; however, several minor bumps can cause major character growth in the end. Of course, a major problems can lead to major growth.
Another lesson is that fudging facts, either historical or scientific must be corrected at some point. Own it and get it right before submitting. In a diverse enough group, someone will notice.
A personal rule that I tried to follow was to present a polished draft (not a 1st draft) to the group. Unfortunately for me, I ended up doing serious rewrites on the last quarter of my novel because I didn’t own my characters’ direction in the draft (see above). Once I owned it, the last chapters, including the book’s climax, became easier to write (read as rewrite in this case). A corollary to this lesson is if you’re having trouble writing (i.e., the dreaded writer’s block), it’s probably because you haven’t nailed your character’s position in what came before, so you can’t move forward. How can you go somewhere if you don’t know exactly where you’re at?
Going forward, I’m staying with the writer’s group even though I’ll submit little for the next year or so. As a pleasant bonus, I found that critiquing others work made revising my own work easier.
I’m working on an outline/summary of a new novel, tentatively titled Freedom’s Fires. It’s in a completely different universe than Shifting Mars’ Sands. Once I’m done with that, I’ll start writing it in earnest. With this novel, I believe I’m going to write the major scenes first, so I have goals in which to write the preceding scenes. This is a departure for me because I’ve always written sequentially.
After a break, I’ll pick up Shifting Mars’ Sands again. I want to look at it with fresh eyes and make final changes, particularly to the beginning since I’m smarter now than when I worked through it with the writers’ group. Then, I want to nail down my elevator pitch (I’ll keep making posts on this). Finally, I want to perform an agent search to see if I can go the traditional publishing route.
These are exciting times.