Sunday, July 18, 2010

I thought that you'd want what I want

As of last night, I am officially in the last third, page count-wise, at least, of my revision of Linger. (Would you like some more qualifications of that statement? Page count is based on the printed out version of the manuscript, without the changes having been typed into the computer yet. I have no idea where I am, word-count wise, because I'm not letting myself type until this revision is done.)

I feel good about the amount of progress I've made. But what I feel best about is the sensation that I am finally telling this story in the right way.

Let me explain. There have been a number of times during the writing of Linger that I've paused, and asked a bunch of people for feedback. Not the least of those was Clarion, where I workshopped the short story that became this novel. Beta readers, as I've said before, are fabulous. I am so grateful to everyone, who, at whatever state the manuscript was in, took time to read it, and read it carefully, and talk to me about what they found there. My beta readers see things in my stories that I can't, and notice the things that aren't there. But one of the things I have had to learn, that has been an ongoing part of the learning to be a writer process, is when to incorporate their feedback into my story, and when to choose not to.

Because usually, if five people all point out a scene as not working for them, the scene is probably broken. But I cannot fix it five different ways. So I've learned that instead of just picking up the pen, and accepting the offered solution, I need to step back, and think about what function the scene was supposed to be serving in the story in the first place, how it is broken, and why the reader is offering the feedback she is. This allows me to fix the broken scene in a way that doesn't scar the rest of the story.

I've also learned that not every reader is my ideal reader. This one was harder, because I want people to be affected by what I write, and so my tendency was to try to fix everything that was pointed out to me as a flaw, to rub all the rough edges  and sharp bits off of the story so it wouldn't bother people.

Except the rough edges and sharp bits are what made the story recognizably mine, and by removing them, I was turning the story into an automaton: technically functional, but soulless. So I realized that what I needed to do was write my story. Maybe a strange realization for someone with an 80K finished manuscript sitting on her desk, but the thing is, getting published is hard. Even after you're published, there are people who won't like what you write. (Just go look at the Amazon reviews for people like William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, and see how many people hate the traits that are often cited as the best parts of their work.) So I thought about the things that were important to me - not just in the what kind of story was I telling, but in the how I was telling it - and I let those be there. I stopped worrying that people won't like it if my pov character is sarcastic and snarky as a coping device, or that I use too many polysyllabic words, or that I never met an allusion I didn't like. 

Linger may not be everyone's kind of story. But it will be mine. 


  1. Terrific writing advice and this bit is going straight into my fortune cookie file: "If five people all point out a scene as not working for them, the scene is probably broken. But I cannot fix it five different ways."

  2. Thank you. And I love the idea of a fortune cookie file. I may borrow that one from you.