As I’m writing this I’m hard at work on the second novel in the WITCH CITY series, WITCH CITY: VISIONARY. In this last writing cycle I reread some of the story from the previous couple sessions after setting it down for a couple weeks. (See The Cold Read for why this is important) When I came back to it I realized most of it works, but some of it doesn’t. I’ve got to go back in after I finish this post and add a scene to tie some stuff together, but it got me thinking back to earlier times in my artistic journey when I wouldn’t have added this scene and just pressed on. Today let’s talk about being honest with ourselves about our work.
It’s Out. I Can’t Change it!
As artists we need to feel like our work is worthy of other readers investing their time and money in reading it. (You do want to try to earn a living at this, right? Good. I do too.) In the early days I had this mentality that once I got something out, I was hesitant to change it. This wasn’t due to any sense of an inflated ego or anything like that; I knew I had to tweak things, but I was very hesitant to make major changes.
I’m not sure why I felt like this. Over time I learned the first draft of anything probably isn’t great. It may be good, or really good, but it can always be better. When I finally sat down to write The Trip, I spent nine months working on the novel and then another six tweaking it? I found the process of tightening the story and honing it to be the most enjoyable part of the process. The more I read, critique, and write myself the more I find I can spot flaws in my stories. And I’m going to admit, sometimes it sucks to realize what seemed like a great scene has to go because it falls flat, but sometimes it has to be done.
Don’t Kill Your Darlings
You see this phrase all the time when it comes to writing, and I think it petrifies new writers who think if they have something good they’ll need to rewrite it. Take a deep breath and relax.
If there’s something that drew you to this story, I don’t think you should remove it, I think you should embrace it. This can be a long, lonely slog that will be painful at times, and if there’s anything you can do to make the process enjoyable I think you should take advantage of it.
Now that being said, you also need to understand there will be times when you need to tweak things, probably more than you’d like, to make a better story. Sometimes characters you like will die. Sometimes things won’t work out and they’ll fail. The first few times these things happen to you the experience will be scary as hell, but you know what? On the other side it’s liberating. Do it a few times and you’ll find the sun still comes up, the audience is even more engaged, and before you know it they’re begging for more.
When Does It Work / When Does It Not?
This is one of those skills most writing classes and books don’t even bring up. It’s a mindset you’ll develop over years of work, honing your craft and studying how writers you admire do what they do. Over time you understand at an instinctive level what works in the story and what doesn’t. You become the first line of defense and you develop the ability to edit yourself.
How do you do this? It takes time. There’s no one book, or class, or instructor who’s magically going to give you this skill. You have to study, review, critique and discuss with other people at or above your level to develop this skill, constantly. For a long time. You’ll start by learning how to find what doesn’t work in other people’s work; in time you’ll learn to see it in your own.
I’m not saying you’re going to be perfect, and not need other opinions. You should definitely seek them out and have some good beta readers you can trust (the good ones will pat you on the back when you deserve it and boot you in the arse when you need it). Find a good editor and A Good Instructor. No matter how long you do this, you’ll benefit from other opinions and reviews. You’re the one whose name is on that story, it’s up to you and nobody else to make sure it’s the best you can make it.