For while the ways of art are hard at best, they will break you if you go unsustained in by belief in what you are trying to do. – Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
Several years ago I stopped calling myself an Aspiring Writer and decided to take my dream seriously. Not long after, I ran across the above quote in a book of Cambridge Lectures called On the Art of Writing. Though small, the book was a bit daunting to get through, but this quote stuck to my ribs.
I copied the quote on a notecard. Because that’s what Real Writers do, yes? We find inspiration quotes about writing and we champion our ideal.
A few years on, that quote is still a much needed reminder. Right now I’ve got it taped to my bathroom mirror.
I say this because I am currently in my NINTH rewrite of The Blank Mara.
Nine. Yes. Starting over from scratch. Each. Time.
Above: Glimpse of my first page, as it was about a month ago. Needless to say, it has changed DRASTICALLY since then. Also: Pinterest in the background, giving oblique references to the plot.
I’m taking the time to point this out because of something valuable I learned during my Manuscript Academy workshop this past May. The focus for that one week, online class was to tighten up my first page.
I’d already had my manuscript out in queries for almost two years so I thought, why not? Let’s tighten up that first page. Make it really shiny.
It turns out that the class highlighted more than just the issues with my first page (which is no doubt what the Manuscript Academy gurus intended). Here are four things I learned about myself as a result of that class:
- Two years is more than enough time for a person’s writing style to change. For writers who keep on “BIC-HOK“-ing through one draft after another, our style and narrative Voice constantly evolve. I quickly realized that my manner of telling stories had changed drastically since I first started querying my novel.
- The first page must hold a host of promises – and the remaining pages of the book must deliver. If I put it on page one, I’d better have an idea of when to satisfy reader curiosity, and how, and through what character situation. That means every word must be intentional, and I must have at least a pretty good idea of my story “beats” along the way.
- Thoroughly critiquing my first page showed me that my novel had started at the wrong moment. Not the wrong place – but the wrong moment. Instead of starting with the opening scene of a movie, I’d gotten bogged down in the orchestral overture. Instead of lurking in a corner “between the knife racks and the bleeding tables,” Welsan is actively out to subvert a necromancers’ gamble – and make a tidy profit from it.
- Focusing on my first page made me realize who my main character truly was. I know there are authors who shuttle between a host of characters and do it marvelously, but I am not a George R. Martin or Tom Clancy. For a first (hopefully) published novel, I needed to focus on a main angle, a key pitch, filtered through one character. My clock-punching businessman-for-death Welsan won out.
I’ve learned much more than this, of course; but these were the most valuable lessons, at least up front.
The upshot: After looking at my revised first page, and how much tighter it was than the original, I realized the hard truth: I must write this novel again.
This time, however, I’m more than usually hopeful. A lot of the 8th draft will go into the 9th, but from Welsan’s point of view, or in a different locale, or without a lot of balderdash (read: non-productive narrative that doesn’t progress the story). The progress is slow. Sometimes this slow:
(Not kidding about the ping-pong part, by the way.)
But it’s worth it. Welsan is worth it, and so is the story I have to tell; and I’d rather hit it right on the ninth (or eleventh, or fourteenth) draft than put it out there too early again.
The rejections I’ve received from agents so far have been kind and professional and, in a few cases, hugely encouraging. But their silence was also confusing, until I managed to look at my manuscript again with fresh eyes.
I know I have a solid story. It just isn’t ready to pass it’s first job interview yet.
So – back to the Writing Cave I go – with a plan, and hope.
What about you? Where are you in your creative endeavors?
Let me know in the comments!