Starting over, a novel approach

Hey all,

So, I’ve got a huge, slightly scary, but mostly super exciting announcement to make.

Are you ready?

I’m going to re-write Machine.

What? That’s crazy! I’ve been working on it forever!

Yeah, I know.

But the problem is, for the longest time, I’ve been working backwards. Terrible first draft aside (kind of hard to miss that step), first I was polishing, then in stages I started making small changes, then larger ones, and even larger ones until now where I’m finally willing to admit that maybe the bones I’ve been trying to jam together for so long just aren’t meant to work that way. And I’ll admit that’s kind of frustrating (and significantly more embarrassing for as much as I’ve run my mouth about my little monster), but now that I’m starting to let go of it a bit more, now that I’m more willing to admit I was wrong and to let God and the advice of others in, it’s actually getting a lot more exciting, not only because I’m rediscovering the potential of something that I’ve increasingly been seeing as hopeless, but also because I’m finding some of the bones that do stick together (and where some of the other ones that don’t might actually go).

And it’s great.

So, if you’re looking at a massive rewrite like me, what does that actually look like?

Well, let me tell ya. Basically, (or at least at a first stab since this kind of edit is still new to me) I’m actually doing my work in order.

First, I’m going to do world-building. That’s the stage I’m in right now, figuring out weather, politics, education, creatures, etc. I’ve made some progress on this front already. Several problems I’ve had basically since the beginning have started to shift and crack, others resolving completely. I’ve also made some surprising discoveries, both about the world itself and the characters that live in it. Honestly, though it’s been daunting sometimes, it’s also been really fun. I used to be afraid of locking anything into solid fact because I was so worried about getting it wrong, so afraid someone would question me and I’d have to change things (if you’ve ever had to deal with my unwillingness to edit before, I am so sorry. I’m getting better!), but now I’m really discovering how much fun research can be. It’s exciting to see how these different aspects can lock into place, and even though it doesn’t always work like I’d initially expected or hoped, it’s also been fun to start deconstructing story elements I’ve (sometimes needlessly) clung to, to ask the important questions about how things relate to make sure this story becomes the best it can be, which brings me to my next point, which is…

…taking a good look at my plot. Before I plunge ahead with a rewrite, I want to take time to think about what this story really is, what it is I’m really trying to say. God is helping me a lot with that (when I listen, which is still hard), and I’m trying to take the time, though I’ll admit I’m not super far on this one yet. I am asking a lot of questions though, and taking advantage of some advice I just read from Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird. Speaking about the first stories we tell, she says, “Beginners … always write blatantly about themselves…even if they make the heroine of their piece a championship racehorse with an alcoholic mother who cries a lot.”

And while Machine certainly hasn’t been about either of those two things specifically, it is a lot about my story (something I’ve mentioned before on this blog), my testimony, and when I consider that, it helps me to figure out not just what Machine is about, but where I want it to go, where I want to go. Because the fact of the matter is, if you’re writing about yourself and your main character gets hit by a bus or winds up a hermitic alcoholic, that doesn’t bode well for your own personal outlook, and as I’ve been looking at how Machine reads, I’ve been finding more and more telling things about how I perceive myself, especially when I look at the arc of it over time. And that’s not to say that I’m going to make this truly autobiograpical, even in an allegorical sense, but as I keep pushing towards more love, compassion, grace and especially hope for myself and others–especially the others I want to reach with this book, I think it’s going to show.

The other half of this step is to take a close look at my structure, what works and what doesn’t. Machine was the second-ish book that I wrote, the first in even more dire need of a rewrite, so I’ve learned a lot about plot in the books I’ve written since then. I’ve also heard a lot more from other authors, agents, etc., on what publishers are looking for, and gotten feedback that I think I’m finally ready to start taking into account. I’ve started taking better notes with my critique group and will soon be ready to get feedback from them on the whole thing (well, a few months down the road, but soon for the book publishing world, haha). I’m also considering taking some classes, or at least getting some extra books from the library about things like structure, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Step three is going to be, rather obviously, writing it. I don’t know yet if it’s going to be a full re-write or if there are going to be pieces I’m going to be able to keep, but hopefully after steps one and two I’ll have a clearer picture.

After that, I’m going to take a look at it, see what needs to be fixed, fix it (rinse and repeat those maybe a couple of times), and then polish and scrub. You know, all of the steps I’ve already been doing out of order for the last eight or nine years, haha.

So, I’m not sure yet how long all of this is going to take. Life has been crazy, and though I’d like to say I’m going to be determined enough to plow through this all by next spring (or at least have a first draft), I just don’t know that that’s true, and with another book or two that are not in such desperate need of makeovers, I might be switching gears to start working on them while Machine takes a backseat to simmer. As ever, time and the Lord will tell.

In the meantime, I’m going to be working on some short stories, gathering feedback, researching, working on some other projects (like Twice Born!), and of course, blogging. As to the rest, we’ll find out! Tally-ho!

So, do you have any advice? Any times you’ve had to start over or do a lot of back work on a big project? What did that look like? How did you do it? Did you have other things that inspired you or kept you going on the way? Tell me all about it below and if you’re not already subscribed, follow me here, on Facebook or Twitter to keep in touch.

Thank you!




Writing tips from down the road, part 1

Cliche? Yes. Still gonna use it? Yes.

A couple weeks ago, I started reading Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, a book about the craft of writing, and, as the title suggests, some of the overlap that has with life. It’s a wonderful book full of beautiful analogies and insight, especially if you are a writer (or want to understand what it’s like to be one), and as I continue in this transitional season, I’ve been looking back on many of the lessons that I have learned on my writing journey. I wound up coming up with a lot, so I’m going to split this into two parts, but feel free to enjoy the first half below.

  1. Be humble. No matter how much you think you know about “your story,” no matter how much work you’ve put in, if people point problems out to you, there’s probably truth in it, whether because you haven’t written what they need or because you have and it doesn’t work. Examine what people tell you, ask yourself if it’s really true, and to what degree if it is. Never assume your audience is stupid or just “doesn’t get it.” Be humble enough to accept critique and that you don’t know everything, even about your own book. Furthermore, be humble in dealing with others. Don’t bash your work (see point 2), but do remember to give space to those around you. Humility brings perspective and clarity about how our work relates to others, and though it might hurt at first, it is important.
  2. Remember that your work matters. There is value in what you do. If not because of any great profundity or humor or beauty (yet), then at least because of the work you’ve put into it. Now, whether or not that will ever translate into commercial success or not is another matter (if that’s even your goal), but that is also, in a very real sense, irrelevant. So what if you don’t become the next J.K. Rowling? You’ve still written something personal, something only you could make, and that’s a wonderful, beautiful thing.
  3. Get connected. Writing can be a lonely task, and not having anyone to share your work (or passions) with, can be suffocating and discouraging. Community is vital. Get writing friends because they will comfort and cheer you in your despair and convince you that what you do and think and see is not some secret insanity. Get and love and appreciate non-writing friends, because they may often be those who read, those who pull you back from your various edges and inspire you, and even if they don’t, God still loves them anyway, as should you. Good places to pick up the former are conferences, authors’ events, libraries, book stores and critique groups. Good places to pick up the latter are pretty much anywhere else.
  4. Be teachable. No matter how much you know about writing, there’s always more to learn. Whether it means reading blogs or books about writing, going to conferences, going to school, or anything else, always keep your eyes and ears out for opportunities to learn, and when you find them, appreciate them. Pride will try very hard to get in the way of this, but if you can be humble enough to accept there’s always more to learn–and that you can learn it from anyone–you’ll be surprised how much farther you’ll go and how much more fun you’ll have along the way. Bonus tip: Don’t be afraid that reading about the processes of others will screw up your own. That fear kept me away from a lot of resources for a long time, and I don’t doubt I’d be much farther down this path and suffered less had I realized this earlier on.
  5. Come up for air. Because of the often solitary nature of our work (and often of writers in general) it’s easy to get caught up in our own works, thoughts and emotions, whether to the neglect of our friends and family, to the greed and consumption of pride, or to the gaping maw of loneliness. These, of course, are poison, and just like Wisconsinites who need their brilliant summers to survive the cold bleakness of winter, so also writers need the outside world in order to feed their inner. Writing time is precious and must be protected, but make sure you save time for more important things as well. Spend time with family and friends, get some if you don’t have any, and spend time away from your work. Besides the obvious benefits of keeping you out of the tumbling abyss of your own imagination (or neuroses), it will also stretch and grow you as a person, keep you healthy, and inspire you later.
  6. Require accountability. Procrastination is one of the greatest enemies of the writer. “Research” in the middle of a chapter, housework, exercise, all of these things will cry to you in the middle of your work, to say nothing of books, friends, family, Facebook and other ephemera. This, though to be expected, must be fought, and besides your own failing will, your contacts and community are and will be priceless in fighting those distractions. Set goals for yourself, tell others what those goals are, and ask them to help you keep them or follow up. That’s not to say that they are responsible for you writing or what you do with it (or even that they will do what you ask, and that’s fine), but even just being a group that’s in agreement can be invaluable. This, in my experience, is particularly useful in the case of critique groups and other writers, because very little will make you sit down and write like knowing that others expect you to do so or the dread of the question “How is your writing going?” if in fact you know that it hasn’t been going at all and are running slim on excuses. This is not to say you should write for fear of shame or condemnation, that is never a good place from which to do anything, but it does help to know that people are interested enough in you or your work to ask and that they might be disappointed if you fail to reach the full potential of which their very interest proves they believe you capable.

That’s all I’ll hit you with for right now, but expect another group of these probably in early April. Also, if you have any tips you’d give to people about writing or life (or thoughts, additions or comments on mine), feel free to share them below. I’d love to hear them.