I've been doing some major edits on my first manuscript after hiring a developmental editor. For the last month or so, I've really been struggling because the editor wanted me to change a character who was coming across as a total villain. She wanted me to make this change for many reasons, including raising the stakes for the romance between my hero and heroine. The villain character was inspired by two people from my past who were both really awful and I just couldn't wrap my head around softening this character.
But then I signed up for a 6 week class on romance writing and during last week's zoom meeting, the instructor said something that finally hit home. She was reading our story descriptions and when she got to mine (which is for a different book), she talked about how books can serve as wish fulfillment for readers.
It got me thinking about how I could take the editor's critiques into account without making the character into something he wasn't. What I came up with is to ask myself, if either of these people ever decided to apologize for the things they did, what would I want them to say? How would I want that conversation to go? And a scene popped into my head.
Fulfilling a wish has given me the permission I needed to not only write the character in a way that will be more palatable to readers, but also to forgive, both the two people and myself. There are tons of quotes and memes about forgiving someone for an apology that will likely never occur, and in some ways, that's what this scene is for me. I knew writing was cathartic, but I guess I never thought it would work out quite like this for me.
I'm really happy with where the story has gone now, and I think it's all the better for it. It's also perfect timing as tomorrow is my birthday and I think there's something to be said about starting the year off with less bitterness and more hope.
Critique the Writing, Not the Writer
I've heard the phrase "critique the writing, not the writer" before, and I think it's great advice. Recently, I received feedback that straddled that line, albeit (I believe) unintentionally. My second novel is a second chance romance about a woman who had put her life on hold when her mother was dying of cancer, and has now returned home after finishing college to finalize her mother's estate. She runs into her high school sweetheart, who has been keeping a pretty big secret from her.
Anyway, in one of the first scenes between the woman and her ex, she remembers going for long car rides on backroads and then watching the sunset over the water. This is a direct experience I had growing up in a relatively rural area. A lot of my writing pulls from my own experiences, and this was something I did often as a teen. Truthfully, there wasn't a lot to do where I come from and as it already took about a half hour to get anywhere, driving around became a favorite past time.
The feedback I received was that this was "absurdly innocent" and then I was asked if this was typical of the genre. I realize not everyone grew up in a rural area, and that perhaps it does have an innocent vibe, but my issue isn't with "innocent" it's with "absurdly." My childhood, according to this person, was "absurd."
Not even just my childhood as I have friends who still live in the area. With gas prices on the rise, I'm not sure that driving around with no destination is as popular as it was when we were growing up, but there's still plenty of backroads to take if someone wanted to drive the long way home. I have plans to teach my daughter to drive down there because A) there's way less traffic and terrible drivers just for the fact that there are less people, and B) it's a good way to learn how to keep control of the car on winding roads with tight curves.
Obviously, I don't think this person knows my history or anything about where I grew up, but as my husband pointed out, has this person never in their life heard a country song? Like, oh I don't know, "Take Me Home, Country Roads" by John Denver?
Anyway, all this to say, it's important to be mindful about how we approach critiques of each other's writing. What may seem a little too innocent to one person may actually be based on a real life experience for another. In one of the writing communities I'm in, someone shared that their memoir was considered too unrealistic, even though it actually happened to them! Sure, some things may sound incredibly far fetched, and perhaps in those cases, the critique could be to make sure to include enough context to make it more believable. But I feel like we need to take a step back and consider whether our own biases are coloring our interpretation of a story.
Last night, I watched a Hallmark movie (I know, don't judge) called Love Strikes Twice. It was about a woman who was 37 years old (same age as me) and had just found out her husband was regretting their marriage. She made a wish in a fountain to have a do over and found herself 15 years earlier. Throughout the movie, she made some important changes to her life, and her town, and learned some things about herself along the way.
It made me think about my own life. Lately, I've been feeling a bit more in a rut at work, despite the fact that I just started this new job just over two months ago. It was everything I thought I wanted: working in government policy, in a program I really believe in, but I'm just not loving it like I thought I would. Some of it is that I don't fit into the culture. I'm an early bird and it seems like everyone else I work with are night owls. I had to change my hours, which has led to some really long days, and I kind of hate that. In my last position, I didn't like the work we did (compliance), but I loved my team. It was a small group of people, and for the most part, I fit in. Though, that being said, the culture of the feds vs the state is so different. I had so many close relationships with my coworkers at the state that I still talk to them to this day. With the feds, I don't know if it's just the nature of the work or the people, but I haven't really felt connected to any of my coworkers since I started. They're nice and friendly, but the relationships are much more arms length than I'm used to. I miss the camraderie I had with my state coworkers.
Anyway, over the summer, I worked with several writers I met online through various writer groups. Some I served as a beta readers, others were critique partners. What I found is that I really enjoyed reading their work and offering suggestions and edits to improve it. While watching the movie last night, I couldn't help wondering what my life would have been like if I hadn't taken the path that I did.
I always loved writing and had dreams of being an author from an early age, but when my mom died, I gave up that dream for something I deemed more "practical." I started working at the law firm my mom had worked as a legal secretary, which led to my second love: the law. I thought about going to law school, but I realized I didn't want to defend bad law, I wanted to change it, to fix it. And so, I pursued a degree that would help me get into policy. It took me three years, but eventually I made my way to the policy side of my agency.
But what if I hadn't gone that route? What if I had stayed the course and finished my bachelor's degree in English instead of legal studies? Would I have pursued a career as an author, working odd jobs to get by? Would I have gone into publishing, working as an editor? Maybe right now, I'd be living and working in NY at some big or small publishing house.
It's funny how the choices we make lead us down different paths. I don't necessarily regret the path I'm on as I do enjoy researching complex legal issues and now I have the chance to help write some of those laws either through editing legislation or drafting regulations. But the movie last night definitely made me wonder what my life would have been like if I had made the choice to follow my first love. I'm glad to have come back to it now, and I believe it's never too late to follow your dreams, but I have lost some time in the process.
What about you? Have you found yourself on a path you didn't expect? If you could go back in time, would you? What would you change?
What a Whirlwind
I am happy to say I got back into editing mode this weekend, and what a good thing I did!
It was an exciting weekend for me, but it started out on quite the emotional roller coaster. I had heard back from one of the agents I live pitched at the #ChesapeakeWritersWorkshop towards the beginning of September, but I hadn't heard anything from the second one. On Saturday, I received the expected rejection. It was kind and encouraging, but a rejection nonetheless.
I had decided to spend Saturday morning baking, with the intention to start editing in the afternoon. I got a little distracted by the Hallmark movie line up (it's "research" I swear). After my husband got home, I was preparing to head upstairs to start my work when I was trying to show him something on my phone. An email popped up from a publisher I had queried after #PitMad. Expecting yet another rejection, I impatiently dismissed the notification to get back to the task at hand.
I distinctly remember saying to my husband "oh, look, there's another rejection" as I clicked to read the email. To my utter surprise, it was not a rejection, but a full manuscript request! I was ecstatic! This is only the second full request I've gotten, though, I haven't really started full on querying beyond Twitter pitch contests and responding to #MSWL requests.
Now, I'm at a bit of a connundrum. I had queried the publisher before I got some major editing suggestions back. Many of the edits would make the manuscript stronger, but some of them will change the trajectory of the story. I sent a synopsis with my chapters to the publisher, but now it's kind of null and void if I make the changes I was planning. I mean, the main story is the same, but the path to the end will be altered from what I put in my synopsis.
I'll have to think on it a bit, but I'm wondering if I can still get to a similar ending in the synopsis while incorporating the edits. Has this happened to anyone else? In some ways, I regret deciding to hire a developmental editor since I received two full requests right after I sent the first payment. But in others, if these edits take my book to the next level, that's a good thing, right?
With all of this in mind, I'm looking forward to spending this "holiday" from my day job on editing!
Baking Up a Story
This weekend, I took a break from writing and editing. I've been struggling with getting back into editing since I got back my manuscript from a developmental editor. I had just completed a major overhaul of the book in question in August, and frankly, I'm tired of looking at it. I planned to do major edits this month, and I still want to do that, but this weekend, it just wasn't happening.
So, instead, I baked. I meant to bake multiple things, but the pressure drop brought on a migraine, and I only baked an apple cobbler. I've never made one before, but it seemed the simplest recipe in the apple cookbook I have, it used quite a few of the apples we picked last weekend, and I had all of the ingredients I needed. It turned out beautifully and my house smelled deliciously like apples and cinnamon for the rest of the day.
I think one reason I enjoy baking, beyond the yummy sugary treat I create, is because it's similar to writing. The ingredients of a recipe are like the different parts of a story. Each of the different characters are a unique ingredient that plays a part in the overall story. The setting, conflict, and word choices all impact the overall product. Separately, they don't make all that much sense, and in many cases, don't taste good on their own (have you ever tried baking powder or flour by itself? Yuck). But when you blend them together, tweaking things here and there, the story transforms.
My love of baking probably explains why my most popular Twitter pitch for the various pitch parties is actually a recipe. Combining my two loves helped to not only give agents and editors an idea of what my book is about, but it does so in a fun, relatable way. I've found many fellow writers on social media also enjoy baking.
Hopefully this week and this weekend, I'll get to bake the other things I wanted to. I need to make my husband's annual fruitcake so it can age until December. He's the only person I know who actually enjoys fruitcake, so I make him one each year. I have plenty of apples left over from our trip to the orchard, and I have several recipes I want to try. And, at some point, I will delve back into editing so I can really start querying this book by the end of the month.
How was your weekend?
Book reviews, random thoughts, and writing samples from an aspiring author.