02 Nov Monday Blog – You Need Help
I’m just now getting in to the editing process and finding it delightful in the sense that this thing I wrote is getting better. I tend to write in flurries, moving fast and then letting it sit, which means I can sometimes forget little things like character names, motivations or what it was I was trying to do in the first place. I’m a professional writer.
When I was discovery writing the book that started this whole adventure for me, I kept it under wraps for a while because of something I had heard on The Nerdist podcast (second time in two weeks I’ve mentioned this podcast, I know. I listen to a lot of other podcasts. A LOT of other podcasts). The gist of what I heard was that when you’re starting a creative endeavor, the worst thing you can do is brag about it because it gives you the same rush, chemically, as you get when you complete a project. Because you’ve already had your dose of positive endorphins, you are less likely to complete the project, so the thinking goes. It might seem a little counterintuitive (why wouldn’t you work harder after you brag about your project?) but I’ve experienced this first hand in the literally dozens of times I’ve tried to start a novel and failed to complete it. The minute you say “I’m writing a book,” you might as well not be writing a book. Or so I thought.
As I’ve talked about before, when I started writing the book I thought I had a good idea and about 40,000 words in, I needed to know and, since I have the will power of a hungry three-year-old looking at a bowl full of candy I sent what I had to a friend. This friend was someone I knew was also a writer, someone I trusted to not bullshit me if she didn’t like my idea and would, importantly, encourage me to finish the project, but before I sent it off, I made a deal with myself. I would send it to this one friend and beyond that I would shut my mouth and write. That way I would get the encouragement I needed and maybe avoid the trap of felling too good about myself.
It worked, but not in the way I thought it would. My friend, let’s call her Stephanie Romanski (go read her stuff because she’s awesome) gave me exactly what I needed – feedback, confirmation that the idea could get turned into a good novel and motivation to finish. But as chapters continued to fall out of my head and onto the page something happened I didn’t see coming at all. I created expectation. She had read the start of the book and would mirror back to me the promises I made to the reader. Sometimes I had totally forgotten I had made these promises (I’m a professional writer!) and other times her feedback changed the direction of what I was writing. As a discovery writer that’s not too big a problem as you can fix any problems a change creates on the fly about 80 percent of the time (your mileage may vary) but as I look back now that we’re editing I am realizing for the first time just how much influence this one person had.
Given that I don’t want to give the entire freaking plot away of a book that still has 11 months until it hits shelves, I’ll use this example. I had planned on ending with a whimper. This whimper would, of course, tie up all the threads I wanted to tie up and completely work within the three-act structure I was using, but what Stephanie Romanski (go read her stuff!) told me was I had promised a bang. And she was right. I went back and looked and I had promised a bang over and over again and to not deliver a bang might have toppled the book. At the very least it would have made the book a lot less fun to read. So I ended it with a bang and I’m glad that I did, though not nearly as glad as I was to risk sharing the book in the first place. Eventually I brought my wife and another writer/good friend in on the conversation and they also gave me feedback that made it into the manuscript I submitted and am now editing, but I never would have gotten that far without taking that initial jump and sharing the first third of the book with someone I trusted.
Do I recommend sharing before you’re done? I think I do, but only in very specific circumstances. It needs to be someone you trust both intellectually and emotionally, someone who isn’t going to shy away from telling you something isn’t working (and that you can take criticism from) and someone who is going to keep you motivated. If you don’t have one of those elements, I could see it being more harmful than not. If you’ve got someone like that, then share and don’t hesitate to tell them how much you appreciate their help, like I’m going to do at the beginning of my book when it’s published.