You Gotta’ Know When to Fold ‘Em

I’ve called off the presses for #Scars. What went wrong with my self-publishing goals is not nearly as important as what I’ve learned in the process. Here’s why putting #Scars on the back burner was important for me.

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If you were only going to publish one book in your life and you had to choose between publishing a book and publishing the book, which would you choose?

What’s the difference between “a” and “the,” you ask? Mediocrity versus quality. Resentment versus passion. A checkmark on a list versus a dream come true.

I think some writers—myself included—can get so intoxicated from the idea of having their hard work displayed on a shelf that they lose sight of the fact that printing doesn’t make a book its best.

I don’t want to self-publish a book. I want to self-publish the book. Because that might be the only book I ever publish—and I want it to shine. And what I have come to realize over the last four months is that Scars is not the book.

I wanted it to be—you have no idea how badly I wanted it to be. And I think someday it can still be. I really did fight for it. But if I’m being honest with myself, it’s not the one. Not today.

I know what you’re thinking of me because I guarantee I’ve already thought it about myself. I’m a quitter because it got hard. And it did get hard. The task of revising and editing became a chore I hated. What was first a passion for the story itself became resentment because I wanted it done so I could move on to the next project. When I realized what had become of my goals, I also realized I had lost sight of what was important. The story is what is important, not seeing it in print or on Amazon.com. I’ve never been in writing to make money, so why would rushing a book to print without ensuring it’s my best work make sense?

I think I had already subconsciously surrendered to the realization that self-publishing wouldn’t happen with Scars before I admitted it to myself out loud. I spent less and less time working on it because it frustrated me. The deeper I dug into it, the more I realized the story is too one-dimensional. I never took the time to develop my characters. There are hard questions I need to answer, and these are not things I feel like I can address in the next four months. I was quickly becoming agitated with my labor of love, and that’s not fair. It deserves better than that.

Last weekend, I read an article by K.M. Weiland posted on Pinterest called “3 Signs You Should Give up on Your Story.” The article explained that if you are losing focus, lacking passion, or feel it in your gut that you should stop, you should stop. I waved my white flag. Message received.

I met all three criteria from the article, particularly the gut part. My gut was screaming at me that pursuing Scars wasn’t right. Don’t force it. Don’t overthink it. Don’t do it if it’s not fun anymore. You’re losing time with your husband and adding stress to your life when you know this story is not the one.

And that’s when I realized that Scars and I needed to take a break.

My friends will be disappointed, I know. And I carry that guilt. I also carry the shame of announcing to the world that I was going to accomplish this, and here I am, seemingly giving up. Do I regret making my decision to self-publish public? A little. This is what I feared from the beginning: failure. But I don’t regret this journey. Tearing Scars apart has raised some important questions about plots, subplots, character development, and point of view. Point of view was a major problem in Scars, and I want to get this right for #Maryn, the next project.

The more we learn, the more our goals change. It’s a mark that we’re growing as individuals and as writers. I’m going to cling to that and try not to feel too bad about putting Scars on the back burner. And I’m going to focus on #Maryn because, you guys, this story…. I’m so excited that I don’t have to wait to get started on #Maryn.

And for the record, to say I didn’t get this far to only get this far has a totally new meaning now. I haven’t quit. It’s all part of the long journey.

 

 

Standing on the Corner of Writer’s Block and Dead-End Street

Self-doubt can be a writer’s most dangerous obstacle while the will to finish is the writer’s most important tool.

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I never imagined how incredibly hard publishing a manuscript would be.

How lonely publishing a manuscript can be.

How frightening it can be.

How hopeless it can be.

After all, when you’re doing what you love, it’s not supposed to be work, right?

Revising my manuscript has brought out an ugly side of me—a side that doesn’t like to write or read or talk about it. An alter ego who wants to run away and hide instead of wishing there was more time to enjoy it.

Over the last three weeks, I have spent more time thinking about quitting than I have actually spent working on my manuscript.

There’s a lot of personal pressure to see this book published. Sure, I put most of that on myself, but that doesn’t make it any easier to manage. When the hubs and I have kids, my manuscript will be shoved to the back of the bottom shelf in the pantry where all the cookbooks I never use are stored. That whole new and complicated and sleep-deprived and selfless chapter of our lives will be amazing, but this is something I have to achieve for myself first.

There’s also the looming deadline of the West Virginia Book Festival, which is where I had planned to launch #Scars. There’s nothing like being less than 10 days out from the registration deadline and fighting your way through serious doubts over whether the book will even get done. Which takes me back to the question at the root of my torment: “Is this one worth finishing?”

And have I told you what it’s like to try to revise a manuscript? I’m so far deep into rewriting, deleting, and rewriting again, I got to where I wasn’t sure what I’ve kept and what I cut back out. I seriously got stuck in a manuscript maze. I couldn’t tell up from down or right from left, and I got to the point where I just wanted out. I didn’t care if I published—I didn’t want to do it anymore.

When I considered, for the umpteenth time, what would happen if I just didn’t finish it, I thought about the book festival. I thought about my blog and my author page on Facebook. It would be a failure, yes, and people would ask me awkward questions about finishing the book that would never be done. But then I started thinking about my mom, my sister, my husband, and all my friends cheering me on.

And then I came across this quote on Instagram: “I didn’t come this far to only come this far.”

I was honestly at the point where I didn’t even know what to do anymore. That’s when I stopped my revisions and printed the book with all its changes. The little voice in my head warned me against this, citing that editing vortex dilemma, but my logic told me I had already changed so much, I needed to see where I was headed before I could go on any further.

I chastised myself for taking what seemed like a step backwards, but in hindsight, I think it was the right move. I got through the first 60 the first night, and while there are still some small kinks, I’m happy with where those 60 pages are. It—along with my supportive, albeit biased, fan base—has me feeling optimistic. I won’t meet my original goal of finishing the revisions by March 15—not by any stretch. But I think I’ll finish, and that’s what matters. Because I didn’t come this far to only come this far.

Week #1 Revisions: The Good, the Bad, and the Disheartening

No one tells you how heart breaking or gut wrenching or mind blowing the journey is. Honestly? If you are doing it right, it should be all these things. Because if it’s not worth working hard for, it’s not worth doing.

It’s amazing the things we learn from personal experience. You know that saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes? I try to incorporate that in my line of thinking before passing judgement, especially when I’m trying to figure out what would lead someone to make a certain decision or make a stand for a particular issue. Trying to imagine what someone is thinking or has gone through—or even talking to them about their personal experiences and decisions—is nothing at all like going through it yourself, though. The process of self-publishing has taught me this in the last three weeks.

Writers are amazing beings, and having jumped into this self-publishing adventure, I have even more respect for them. Sure, they create characters we fall in love with and set our imaginations on fire with places and situations and possibilities we never considered. But they also learn how to edit and rewrite effectively, accept constructive criticism in the name of perfecting their manuscript, and learn how to market themselves, many with full-time jobs completely unrelated to novel writing. If anyone ever tells you writing a book is easy, they are either extremely gifted or they are lying because that’s not the norm. When I write, I’m exposing my gifts as much as my flaws to others on paper. The only way I can imagine feeling even more naked is by actually standing naked in a crowd. That’s not all, though. When you share your work, you have to have thick skin and a brain. You have to put aside the hurt you feel when someone tells you that you have done something wrong and find a way to use that criticism to make yourself better. It took me years to learn that. Even with a perfect manuscript, well, haters are gonna hate. They’re going to leave negative reviews on Amazon and GoodReads. Some people are just nasty. Some are jealous. You have to learn how to discern the haters from the true constructive feedback that will help you grow.

Just because a writer has finished a manuscript doesn’t mean they are finished with their novel. They go through rounds and rounds of editing and rewriting and even writing new scenes. That’s where I am now. I got to the point this week that I had to take an evening off because I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I get so worked up when it’s time to write or edit when working on Scars because there’s a lot of pressure. I want to be proud of the version I share with my beta readers in a month. The fewer spelling and point of view problems there are, the easier they will be able to focus on structural issues or the flow of the story.

Needless to say, I felt pretty beat up after last week’s revisions. The first few days were down right frustrating. I literally made a bunch of revisions on Monday only to undo them on Tuesday and Wednesday. Three days wasted. I was so mad and frustrated and, quite honestly, on the verge of giving up. Again. Everyone talks about how great it is to write and then publish a book. No one tells you how heart breaking or gut wrenching or mind blowing the journey is. And honestly, if you are doing it right, it should be all these things. Because if it’s not worth working hard for, it’s not worth doing.

For those of you who feel like you are the only one struggling through your revisions, I want to share with you my own roller coaster ride so you know you’re not alone. Here’s a summary of my first week of revisions: the good, the bad, and the disheartening.

Monday

I sat down Monday evening to begin working on changing my first-person point of view to third-person point of view. It’s a necessary change, but it’s one I have dreaded. Aside from the fact that it is labor intensive to make that kind of change, third-person feels completely wrong to me, and the more I dwell on it, the more confused I get about how to do it. (Did I ever mention that I have a serious problem with overthinking things?) I proceeded to go through the first chapter and not only change the point of view but also cut out huge chunks of information. In writing classes, I’ve learned that less is more and that when we edit, we should be prepared to pull out the hatchet. I took this to heart and gave myself a pat on the back for a job well done.

Tuesday

I sat down to review all the cuts and changes I had made the night before, and I almost cried. I had taken the hatchet approach a little too seriously and cut important things without noting somewhere else to put them in. I quite literally sterilized the opening scene. I began undoing the changes, but it was emotionally draining, and I ended up going to bed.

That night, after I shut down my laptop, I struggled with the question of how much cutting is too much? How do we know what to cut and what to leave in? At this point, I can’t answer those questions for you. What I can do is give you this piece of advice: use markup in Word so that if you cut something, it’s still reversible.

I also noticed a trend with my work: I’m stuck in an editing vortex in which I keep working on the same four or five chapters over and over without moving to the other 15. One time, I went whitewater rafting in Fayetteville, WV—if you haven’t been, by the way, you should go to West Virginia, whether for whitewater rafting or zip lining or hiking or whatever. Just go. Anyway, our raft tipped, and I ended up on top of a rapid, stranded on a rock. To make a long story short, I was in a life-threatening situation, and when I went over that rapid, I passed within inches of a vortex called “Teacher’s Pet” (because it’ll keep you after school all day long). If you get sucked into a vortex like that, you’re not coming out alive. I have experienced the same with writing and editing vortexes. It took me years to finish my first draft of my vampire novel because I couldn’t get past perfecting the first three chapters. So, be careful of editing vortexes: you’ll never get the manuscript finished if you can’t get past the first few chapters.

Wednesday

I spent my designated novel time on Wednesday evening, doing more of the same: undoing the changes I made Monday. It took so much longer to undo what I had done because I had to read through it all and decide what I needed to add back and what was okay to let go. While struggling through this, I began to fixate on the fact that I hadn’t shared anything on my blog or Facebook for over a week. The pressure of falling behind on my social media responsibilities only added to the stress I was under. On top of all that, I began to question the name of my book. Is that really the best name? I wondered if I shouldn’t come up with other options and poll some people, like my beta readers. Then, I tried to come up with a list of other names.

Again, I began to think about that editing vortex, and the idea that I was wasting precious time weighed heavily on me. It’s amazing how powerful our minds are and even more powerful negative thinking can be. Self-doubt can be just as crippling in this process as having to take time out to fix a big mistake.

Thursday

I sat down to write a new scene. I knew I would eventually get to this task. There are several new scenes I’ll have to write in order for everything to flow better and make more sense. I sat down in front of that blank Word document, and I stared at the white screen. Nothing. Would. Come. I was staring writer’s block directly in the face, and I began to panic. I didn’t know what to do. I tried to write the scene three times, and what I typed just wasn’t right. You know how they say “Use it or lose it?” This is true for writing. I hadn’t had to write in so long, my creative muscles atrophied. It took several attempts to break through and get things rolling.

Friday

I rewrote the scene I added on Thursday. Hey, just because you get the muscles pumping again doesn’t mean they are functioning at full momentum. It happens. I expected it. I wasn’t let down.

Saturday

After a day of putting my taxes together, I sat down at the computer and cringed. It had been a long week of working a full-time job, using any spare time I could find to revise, and spending the day doing taxes, and my brain was mush. That week had also consisted of a lot of additional stress from worrying about my quality of writing, trying to loosen my creative muscle, and wrestling with all the other little things that bother me about this project, like social media and the title. Sometimes you have to realize you can only do so much in a day. Or a week, in this case. Being creative is very taxing, and when you need a break, you just know. Listen to yourself.

Sunday

Ah, glorious Sunday, spent doing much of the same: rewriting the previous day’s scene. Twice. After I finished, I sent it off to my sister for input on all the changes I’ve made.

After I sent it off, I reflected on how much I didn’t get done during the week. How tiny things like social media and book titles and over-editing and letting fear cripple my abilities had prevented me from being more productive. And as I thought about all these things, I realized something. I’m making this worse on myself than it has to be. I need a plan.

Want to know what my plan is? You’ll have to check back next week.

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

As writers, the biggest challenge we face is choosing to follow through. The only ones who ever fail are those who never try.

This is me, excited about my decision to self-publish.

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And this is me after realizing just how much work I have to do in the next six months.

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As someone who struggles with anxiety, overthinks every obstacle, lives her life believing she is the Murphy that Murphy’s Law was written about and approaches each new challenge as a pessimistic realist, self-publishing by Halloween 2017 may be my emotional and mental downfall.

Yes, I’m a little dramatic, too.

But I also now understand why people use the phrase “don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

A week and a half ago, I pulled out my hard copy manuscript and the edits from two beta readers, the professional editor I hired last year and the overwhelming feedback provided to me by a small publisher specializing in young adult fiction. I jumped right in with both feet and began reviewing the publisher’s feedback. She was very kind to take the time to give me the extensive critique she did. This is not the norm from a publisher at all, and anytime anyone, especially someone in the publishing industry, takes the time to provide feedback, it’s your job as the writer to consider their advice on your manuscript. It’s your manuscript, and you don’t have to make any changes you don’t want to, but from my experience as a writer and an editor, I would make the case that nine times out of ten, you should probably make the changes. Like most writers, I am very protective of my manuscript, and I certainly don’t like hearing someone tell me I’ve done something wrong. The hard truth, though, is that when you are the author, you live and breathe the story and the characters, and it’s nearly impossible for you to step back far enough and see the structural problems as well as the grammatical and spelling errors.

Knowing all this, I began to review the feedback. And then I had to put it down. From changing my point of view in the book from first person to third person to addressing weak scenes to revising foundational elements that didn’t make sense, I realized:

  • I did not spend nearly enough time developing my characters or some tricky elements of the supernatural world.
  • I have a lot of content to reorganize and new scenes to write.
  • I am going to be hard-pressed to get this book done in time for a Halloween launch.

So, I did what any determined writer does: I wallowed in self-pity for about a half hour, and then I pulled out my manuscript and got to editing.

It only got worse from there.

See, when I made the decision to self-publish in January, I had in my head that I had this great manuscript and it was ready for publishing. It is anything but. My friends, who have read the manuscript, tell me I’m overreacting, but I really don’t think I am. I hadn’t read the manuscript in a year, and in reading it last week, the flaws were glaring. It embarrassed me to think I had let anyone read the manuscript with some of those flaws in it. And it made me physically ill to realize I have no idea how I’m going to pull this off.

This past Sunday, I finished my read-through, and I had to have another lengthy conversation with myself about the probability of finishing on time. I considered tossing the manuscript and deactivating my blog and my author page. I’ve heard people say a writer’s first few manuscripts are toss-aways anyway. But the stubborn Mountaineer in me says I work better under pressure and if I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it. I argued that I can’t even figure out how to do the social media stuff I need to be doing alongside this, and my inner voice told me to chill. Who cares? The book is more important. Get the book done.

So, if I don’t share blog posts as often as I should or if you don’t see me posting on Facebook for long periods of time, I guess you’ll know I’ve got my nose to the grindstone in order to make Scars the best novel it can be.

This last week has been such a roller coaster of revisions that I’m documenting it: the good, the bad, and the ridiculous. Check back next week to find out how I walked right into some of the pitfalls I knew to avoid and how I had to scramble to pull myself back out.