Today I got a report from a beta reader about the opening of the novel that I’ve been querying and it’s making me wonder if I really am deluded about being a writer.
There’s a grammar problem right at the beginning that’s bad enough to drive off an agent and I can’t see it even now that it’s been pointed out. Also it’s apparently unclear who kills who. Which is a huge problem. If I can’t make that sort of thing obvious then what hope do I have for the more complicated and nuanced stuff.
I don’t know how to fix any of this. I don’t know how to build the skills necessary to fix it. I don’t even know if I should fix it.
I have so few spoons on any given day. Maybe I should stop wasting them on something that I have so little aptitude for. My house is a mess. My body is a wreck. Maybe I should be concentrating on those instead. But what’s the point of a tidier house and a slightly less fucked body if I’m not making or doing anything?
Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe I’ll look at the comments tomorrow and I’ll know how to fix it. Maybe the beta reader is wrong about some of it.
Maybe. But it seems much more likely that I just suck at writing. I suck at most things so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I suck at this too.
And so we close out the year with another email from an agent who isn’t passionate enough about my novel to represent it. More than a year of querying and I haven’t even got a detailed rejection yet.
I know that there are famous writers who got rejected a lot before they got their first agent/publisher. I also know that there are a lot of deluded people sending terrible novels to every agent and publisher on the planet and wondering why no-one is backing a dump truck full of money up to their house to publish it. It’s getting harder to believe that I’m in group one and not group two.
From here I think there are three options. Keep querying this novel in the hope that further down the list there might be an agent who’d be interested. Give up on this novel for now, finish something else and query that. Give up on traditional publishing and self publish it.
There are problems with each of these options. I’ve already queried most, maybe all, of the agents who’d actually be interested in such a weird novel. It’s the first in a series and most of my other novels are in the same story universe. If I can’t interest people in the first one they’re unlikely to care about the rest. I really don’t want to self publish and once I’ve self published the first in a series I’m unlikely to find representation for the rest unless the first one is a huge success. I don’t have the resources to ensure that success.
Am I nuts? Could it be that I’m just not very good at writing? Are my novels bad? Have I been deceiving myself? How do you know if your novel is bad?
My final post for those in the midst of NaNoWriMo.
Here we are. Just four days left and this one is partially used. All that’s left is to keep writing whether we do it from habit, or stubbornness, or desperation, or hope. What else is there to do?
We look ahead to December and we think of reasons to party. What we don’t do is take our scrappy first drafts and send them off to any agents or publishers. We’re not even going to look at them until January. Christmas holidays at the very earliest.
What are our reasons to party then? If you got your 50,000 words and an official win then you have my permission to party. If you wrote more than you’ve ever written that’s a reason to party. If you wrote every day, or at least every day until your story was finished then it’s party time. If you turned up to an in person meeting and met new people then break out the paper hats. If you supported other people online then pour yourself something nice.
For some of you the work has only just begun. Some will have to keep writing next month to finish the story. Some have discovered that they are slow writers and they need to write a little every day. Some will spend the next 12 months cleaning up what they wrote during November. I myself will be going back to rewriting and editing the story that I was working on in October.
But regardless of where we are on our journeys December is always the right month to pause, to look back on the lessons we’ve learned, to look ahead towards new challenges, and to party.
There’s only going to be one more post on the subject of NaNoWrMo 2017 and that will be about the things that I’ve learned this year. I might keep up the playlist posts though.
For those deep in the depths of NaNoWriMo.
As we face week four my advice to you is just keep going. No matter what your word count or where you are in the story just keep writing. I do have some slightly more nuanced advice but it all boils down to “keep writing”.
If you’re ahead of where you need to be, even if you’ve hit your 50,000 words then keep writing. If you’ve finished your story either go back and add some revision notes (but don’t actually revise anything yet) or start something new while the magic lasts.
If you’re on track then keep going. Yes I know you’re tired but why give up now when it’s actually working? And if you’re on track but you’re increasingly sure that your novel is worthless and you’ll never be able to stand to even look at it keep going anyway. You might be wrong and even if you’re not you will still learn something from finishing it.
If you’re behind but you think you can catch up then stop reading this and write something. You might also want to spend 10 minutes thinking about ways that you can find more time to write.
If you’re behind and you’re sure you can’t catch up I have two things to say to you. Firstly don’t stop writing because you might be wrong and even if you’re not you’ve got nothing to lose by building a habit of writing daily. Secondly it might be time to have a look at why you’re behind and see if you can learn anything for next year.
You could be behind because you are a slow writer. There’s nothing wrong with being a slow writer. Plenty of professionals are slow on the first draft. Slow writers typically end up with a much cleaner first draft and spend less time on editing and rewriting. So don’t assume that this is a problem that you need to fix. But if you are a slow writer then you might want to start thinking about building a daily habit of writing. Slow and infrequent is no way to finish a novel.
You could be behind because you’re too busy or because even when you have time you’re too tired or stressed. If that’s the case then the solution is preparation. Next October you might want to spend time cutting things from your November schedule and planning your novel so that you have a good idea what you’re writing.
You could be behind because you’re having trouble letting go of the perfect novel in your head. You either keep editing as you go or each time you sit down to write you find yourself paralyzed by the empty page and take ages to get started. For this year try timed sprints and remind yourself that this isn’t your novel. This is a first draft. You’re exploring the idea of your novel just now. For next year maybe try to write something that you don’t care about as much just to get used to the process. Once you have a bit of faith in yourself as a writer it’s much easier to tell your inner critic to take a hike.
Good luck with week four and keep writing.
The good news is that I’m ahead of where I need to be. The bad news is that my plot isn’t a plot it’s a series of scenes that happen to my characters and which I may, at some point, be able to wrangle into a coherent narrative.
I have finally found this year’s Plot Ninja*. It turned out to be the deeply creepy personal blog written by my killer. So the one thing I can always write about is delusions of an untreated erotomaniac? What does that say about me?
The Fife region that I’m the Municipal Liaison for is doing really well this year. The group are supporting each other both online and in person. Fife is in the global top 50 for average word counts. That can only happen because everyone writing in the region is pushing hard and even when people fall behind they haven’t stopped writing.
Allow me to share my favourite bit of writing so far:
“I wasn’t going to apologise to Archie. He gave night vision goggles to a teenager. Creeping round the house at night is about the least worst thing I could have done with them. He’s just lucky I wasn’t stalking cute boys and girls with them,” said Maggie
Don’t you just love Maggie from that line alone? No? Maybe it’s just me.
Good luck to all my followers who are writing this month. May your characters be loquacious and co-operative and may your Plot Ninjas be less creepy than mine.
*A Plot Ninja is the thing you write about when you’re completely out of ideas but you need to keep writing to keep your momentum up. So named because in one of the early years of NaNoWriMo one of the participants would just have their characters attacked by ninjas whenever they ran out of plot.
This song is for my group of ‘detectives’. They’re good people but they’re all a bit damaged.
Tragic backstories all round.
But the thing about damaged people is that they can be hard to scare. How do you intimidate someone when you can’t say anything that’s worse than they say to themselves? How do you threaten someone when they’re already in more pain than you will ever know?
And if you’re a killer who has so far gone undetected you can forget about them missing any evidence you’ve left behind. The OCD won’t let them miss things that are out of place. The Autism won’t let them stop looking. The PTSD and the depression mean that they don’t care enough about their own safety to even think about letting things lie.
For further information
Another post for NaNoWriMo. If you’re participating and you’re on track or close to on track then read on. If you’re more than 2000 words behind then stop reading right now, set a timer and write for twenty minutes. You have my permission to make the first sentence something like “I hate her but if I don’t write something she’s going to come after me what that damn stick.”
So here we are, staring down the barrel of week two. There’s something in the distance. It’s getting closer. How strange. It looks like a wall.
I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that if you’re still writing at this point, no matter how far behind you are, then you have already overcome two of the greatest barriers that stand before any aspiring writer. The bad news is that number three is right ahead and it’s a doozy.
Most people who want to write a novel ‘some day’ never get as far as writing a single word. You got past that when you actually sat down and wrote something.
Most people who get as far as writing something stop as soon as they realise that what they’ve written sucks. Because of course it sucks. It’s a first draft. That’s what first drafts are for.
The third barrier is the week two wall. Can you keep going now that writing has stopped being fun? Can you keep going even though you’re lost and you hate your novel and you have so many more words to write before it’s done? Can you keep going as the laundry piles up and it’s getting harder to find time to write and your friends and family begin to express surprise that you’re still writing? Can you keep going now that you’re losing hope that your terrible words can ever be anything better?
You can’t avoid the wall if you want to write your 50,000 words. You have to go through it, or over it, or tunnel under it. And you have to do it one word at a time. Don’t worry if you slow down when you hit the wall. You have time to catch up as long as you keep going. So keep going.
Tips to help you beat the wall:
- Stop caring about good. Start caring about finished.
- It’s ok to skip a difficult scene and come back to it.
- It’s also ok to slog through that scene with painful slowness.
- Don’t delete anything.
- If something is so bad that you can’t stand to look at it then change the text colour to white or use the highlight function to change the background to black.
- If you’ve written something wrong and you need to change it don’t delete the old version. Write it again and keep both versions. That way you can choose to go back to the old version if it was better.
- If you’re not sure which word to use then use all of them. There will be time to pick the right one later.
- If you find you need to sort out some word building or some backstory then do it but keep the words in the draft. Even if you know you’re not going to use any of it in the finished version. It’s fiction. You wrote it in November. It counts.
Good luck. See you on the other side of the wall.
So I threatened to interview one of my characters and then I introduced you to the pub where I planned to meet them but here’s where it gets interactive. Who do you want to meet? I’m going to list a few of my characters using descriptions that are not necessarily helpful but which I find humorous.
Who do you want to get to know? You can pick more than one becuase pub banter is better with a small group. Don’t worry about picking people who go together because it’s up to me to make the group work.
- The “Government Fraud Investigator”. She’s more than meets the eye. She’s got a shotgun in her desk for one thing.
- The “Witch of the Tower”. Either before or after the tattoos, you choose.
- The copper. AKA New boy.
- The priest. He only looks like a famous vampire hunter.
- The psychic. Just don’t let her touch anything you own if you want to keep your secrets.
- The IT guy. He’s got an armoured rucksack full of exotic computer equipment and a sticker that says Temporal Engineer – Causality is my bitch
- The coffee ninja. Don’t hold his caffein based kleptomania against him. He’s a really good manager.
- The scientist. She’s super impatient, she looks like a tiny drag queen and she’s the biggest fangirl in the Department.
- The soldier. She’s got an Irish battle Goddess in her head but she’s actually pretty chill most of the time.
- The spy. I could tell you what’s going on in his head but then he’d have to kill you.
- The historian. She knows where all the bodies are buried and she’s 100% honest 94% of the time.
- The thief. He’s also a spy but only in the sense that he knicks things for queen and country.
Stick your answers in the comments, or reply on Twitter or Facebook or Google+
A few days ago I threatened to introduce you to my characters. I said I could nip into the pub for a quiet pint and a chat with them. But If I’m going to do that I should probably introduce you to the pub first.
There’s one in every city if you know where to look. It’s always on a quiet side street. It’s not exactly hiding, it’s very clearly a pub, but the eye has a way of gliding across the sign and the name has a way of slipping your mind but if someone actually suggests meeting there you immediately say “Oh JW’s? Of course I know where that is,” and you do.
From the outside it looks quite small but you can tell that it’s one of those pub that’s been carved out of a series of liminal spaces. It will be a labyrinth of snugs, and lounges, and bars, and corridors. You’ll need a map and a compass to find the Ladies loo and the route back to your seat will look so unfamiliar that you’ll be sure you’ve taken a wrong turning.
It’s right in the sweet spot where you can’t tell if it’s a genuine traditional British Pub or a slightly battered chain pub that’s just pretending to be one. There are two large windows with bullseye glass panes on either side of a doorway that’s slightly too narrow for the double doors it has and slightly too wide for a single. There’s a sign above the door. Black with letters in peeling gold paint that say JW’s Cocktail Bar and underneath it Dimensionally Transcendental food and drink. Established 2323. There’s also a blackboard bolted to the wall next to the door. No mention of specials, or discounts or forthcoming events. It just says Your local bar wherever you are ~ Caterers to the Big Bang.
Inside there is always music. Sometimes it’s karaoke, sometimes it’s a band but mostly it’s a jukebox. Well, you assume it’s a jukebox. People claim to have seen it and even to have selected tunes but you don’t know where it is. It must be huge because it has the the most eclectic selection of music you’ve ever heard. Once you heard a Johnny Cash cover of Ace of Spades that you tried to buy later but that doesn’t seem to exist.
So join me there for a quiet pint and some people watching. I’ll be in the room with the knackered red leather booths. You know, the one with the piano. No not the electric piano, the upright chained to the wall with the warning signs and the fake blood stains. Well I hope they’re fake.