Sunday, December 18, 2016

The "It" Factor

By the time I had figured out that Project 2016 was part of a larger project, I had already sent out a handful of queries. Most of them had gotten responses before I went back to work, but a couple were still outstanding.

I went ahead and got back to writing because, for one thing, I needed to keep myself busy and stay in the habit of working and, for another, I didn't want to hang all my hopes on this version of Project 2016 being the one that got picked up.

It's been long enough that I'd actually forgotten about all but one outstanding query (as an aside, those auto-response receipts are a godsend as far as keeping up with who has what and where). I've been working on other things, and the emails I sent back in early October are fuzzy.

So I was surprised this week when I found a response from an agent in my email.

Before anyone gets too excited, the email wasn't a manuscript request. It was a rejection. The sixth for this project so far.

I'm not generally bothered by rejections. What makes good fiction is pretty subjective, and sometimes your work just isn't someone's style. Frankly, you don't want someone who isn't one hundred percent about your work to represent it. And I'm not bothered by the number of rejections. Harry Potter was famously rejected a dozen times before it found a home. All manner of famous authors have seen rejections--Orwell, Faulkner, Stein, L'Engle, Alcott, Christie, Joyce--the list goes on. I've heard authors talk about seeing upwards of 50 rejections before finding the right match (though, I'll admit--I'm not sure I'd still be unbothered by rejections at that point).

The responses I've received from the people I've queried, thought they haven't been what I wanted, have all been kind and helpful. None of them have made me feel like I'm wasting my time with this project. In fact, from the way some of the rejections have been worded, I think I might have come pretty close to success once or twice--phrases like "excited by the query" and "interested in the premise," stuff that suggests that, if nothing else, there was something that gave the reader pause or piqued interest.

And that's great--it's really, really great. It means there's something in the story that people are into.

But it's also so frustrating that I want to pull my hair out.

In addition to these more promising statements, the emails I've gotten have mostly included some variation of "I didn't fall in love with it the way I need to to represent it."

Again, in the long run, that's a good thing for me to know. Whoever is going to champion my book needs to love it at least as much as I do. If someone can't reach that level of enthusiasm, they won't be able to fight for it. And my work not being someone's cup of tea is no big thing--there are plenty of books that are great that I'm just not that into. It happens.

None of this experience is abnormal. But it has left me asking questions.

What's the "it" factor? What makes someone fall in love with a book? What might my book be missing?

Obviously, there's not a hard-and-fast answer to any of those questions. What makes a person fall in love with a book is going to depend on the reader. The "it" factor can be anything from a particularly compelling character to a detailed and expansive world with thorough lore, to a timely conflict or the introduction of a fascinating piece of technology. My book may not be missing anything--or it may be missing a lot.

The process is a roller coaster. People have joked that being an artist is simultaneously feeling absolute narcissism and crippling self-doubt. That doesn't seem far off the mark. This question of what makes people fall in love with a book (which is really me asking "why aren't people falling in love with my book?" if I'm being honest) has got me on a bit of a downswing. But it's temporary. It always is. And at least I know that there is something worth keeping in this project.

I've still got two queries out. I have no idea what to expect from them, but I do have a plan for what I need to do next, which is about the best I can ask for.

I'll be taking next week off from the blog for the holiday. The blog will be back January 1 with a 2016 recap and, if there's news, updates.

Happy holidays, folks. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Let it Simmer

I'm about five days removed from finishing my latest draft.

The whole process for Project 2016/Delphinus Trilogy has been, to put it lightly, a total freaking mess. Originally, I was supposed to be sending out queries around this time. Maybe taking a break from submissions to do another pass through the draft just to make doubly sure that everything's polished as well as I can get it.

Instead, the notion that my stand-alone was actually a trilogy hit, and now I'm back towards the beginning of the process. It's not quite square one, but it's pretty close.

Anyway, I've made it over the first big hurdle. Draft one of the first book is finished. That is a victory, though it can be difficult to feel that way.

This first draft is ugly. Like, really ugly. I'm not going to be short of things to work on when it comes time to revise. Off the top of my head, I know a character has to be dropped, a couple of relationships need more fleshing out, there are some alterations that need to be made to some of the opening scenes to work in a little more world building, and the dialogue and body language in the back end of the draft (around the part where I started getting tired like a kid cramming to finish a paper the night before it's due) need to be overhauled.

That's just the stuff that I know needs work.

One of the pitfalls of writing, particularly of writing so much of a story in so short a time, is that it can, if you'll pardon the cliche, hard to see the forest for the trees.

I'm so in this story. I've been building the greater universe for it for a decade, and I've been spending literal hours every day piecing this specific draft together for over a month. The world and its characters are ever-present. Bits of their history and their conversations wake me up in the morning and keep me up at night.

Part of the reason that beta readers are so important is that at some point, a writer needs someone who hasn't had the entire world of the story living in their head. I'm not quite at the point where I'm ready for an outside set of eyes to look at the story, but getting some distance from the story is still the plan.

I want to do a round of revisions on my own before I pass the draft on to anyone else. But I'm really not in the right place to do it--it's all too fresh, and there are sure to be important gaps and flaws that I'll miss.

So I'm letting the draft simmer. I'm taking a couple weeks to let the story sit. I'm not fiddling with or looking at the draft until the 20th. By then, I should have a clearer sense of what it needs.

In the meantime, I'm doing other work. I've got a short story for an upcoming anthology that I need to write, a second short story that I hope to wrap up and shop around. There should be enough to keep me occupied until it's time to dive back in.

And maybe by the time I look at the draft again, I'll feel a little better about it, too. Maybe a little simmering is just what it needs.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

NaNoWriMo Plus

Ho boy, what a month.

For those that maybe missed the memo, I spent the month of November (and the last ten days of October) participating in National Novel Writing Month 2016. The goal NaNoWriMo official goal is to write a 50,000 word novel (or, for most folks, 50,000 of a novel) during the month of November. This shakes out to writing about 1,667 words a day. Tough, but doable, provided you make the time to do the work.

I did things a little differently. In the course of working on Project 2016, it expanded into a trilogy. I decided to use NaNoWriMo to pin down a first draft for the first third of the project. (In case there's still confusion: Project 2016 is not only suddenly a trilogy; it's a trilogy that I started writing out of order. The whole process has been sorta a mess--glorious, but a mess.) Based on my outline, I knew that 50,000 words wouldn't complete the draft, so I gave myself a different goal and a different timeline. I started work around October 20 with the idea that it would take about 75,000 words to complete the draft.

I found out that I was wrong pretty quickly.

By November 10 or 11, it was pretty clear that 75,000 words was an underestimation. The trend for Project 2016 seems to continue to be "This is more story than I thought it would be." I refigured for 80,000--which put me at an average of 2000 words a day.

Actual image of me around November 15
Still doable. A bit much, when balanced with two day jobs and a few days of migraines that left me completely sidelined.

Beyond the issues of not-enough-hours-in-the-day, other difficulties presented themselves. I've written before about imposter syndrome and how I frequently feel like I'm not a writer--or in the least like I'm not a good one. Nothing brings those feelings of inadequacy to the fore like trying to put together a first draft on a deadline. 
First drafts are bad enough. They're messy and half-formed and full of cliches and redundancies and really repetitive body language (really, AJ, you're gonna shrug again? Can't think of anything else to do?). First drafts written under a time constraint--even a self-imposed one like NaNoWriMo--feel a little bit like falling down a flight of stairs. You're going to make it to the end goal eventually, but it's going to be ugly and a few things are going to be knocked out of place or broken. I spent most of my forty days of writing battling to keep from giving up, reminding myself that this story is worth telling. I didn't always believe myself, and there are some days where, when I look back on the work I did, it shows.
But I made it through--or close enough. I made it to the goal of 80,000 words at 12:05 AM on December 1, technically five minutes after the end of NaNoWriMo. I counted that as a victory, whatever the official timing might say. 
The problem was, 80,000 words didn't finish the draft either.
As a point of reference, Evin runs about 85,000 words, so it's not as though a story spinning out this long is unheard of for me. But it did feel like the finish line kept moving on me, and that got frustrating pretty quickly.
I finished the draft yesterday. In total, it's just over 85,000 words. Some of this won't make it to the next draft--I already know that one character and their scenes are going to be dropped, and I've got a few ideas on how to do some streamlining. But for now, I'm going to let it sit. I've got a couple of short projects to wrap up, and I want to outline the third book in the trilogy that is Project 2016.
The draft is longer than I thought. It took longer than I thought, and it's ugly and messy. But it's done, and that in and of itself is a victory.
Did any of you do NaNoWriMo this year? Did you meet your goals? Tell me about it in the comments.