Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When Bad Books Happen to Good Writers

This blog entry could also be entitled “The Dreaded Revision Letter”.

If you’ve been following any of my comments on Twitter recently, you know that I received a rough revision letter recently from my editor. As always, she very clearly stated the flaws of the book and some of them were pretty big. Naturally, I was quite upset by the letter. No, not by the fact that it was attacking my “baby” but that I felt that she was completely right in all the problems that she listed with the book. I had clearly turned in an inferior product, far below what I was capable.

Now, I can make excuses for the book. There were a number of extenuating personal circumstances that came up during the writing of this book. But excuses don’t fix the book and they don’t make me a better writer. One thing a writer has to quickly learn is that your personal life will constantly try to intrude on your writing. You have to find a way to put the personal aside and still write the best that possibly can regardless of the chaos around you. And if you can’t write your best, you make sure the edited version you hand in is your best.

So, now that I’ve had some time to digest my ugly revision letter and spoken with my editor, let me share what guidance I have gained from both my experience and my wonderful editor.

1. Bad books happen to every writer. No matter how long you’ve been writing, a bad book will eventually happen. It’s like a rite of passage. Don’t let it stop you from being the best writer that you can be. Learn from your mistakes and make a better book.

2. Don’t immediately contact your editor after reading your revision letter. You’re going to be speaking based on pure emotion and not thinking clearly. You are going to say things that you’re going to regret. Sit on the letter for a couple of days. Let the comments sink in and think about how the suggestions could possibly make the book better. Contact your editor when you have a list of questions as well as a list of suggestions on how you’re going to improve your book. That way you have a rational, calm basis for a productive conversation.

3. It may be time to try new planning techniques for your books. As my books have progressed, they’ve grown more complicated. As a result, I need to switch to a more detailed outlining process for the book in order to properly weave all my plotlines. Since I am a fast writer, this process forces me to slow down and think more about my plotting, which could in the end save more time in the revision stage.

4. Leave time for a thorough review. One mistake I’ve made is that I’ve been trying to write on too tight a schedule. As a result, I’m not giving myself enough time for review and I’m handing in far too rough of a draft to my editor, forcing her to work harder than she needs to. I need to spend more time reviewing more work, looking for common mistakes and tightening up my prose.

In the end, the book’s not that bad. The plots need to be expanded and the relationship thread needs to be strengthened. The baddies needs made badder and the overall violence taken up a notch. While I managed to sum it all up in just a couple sentences, it is still a lot of work and it’s going to take me the better part of a month to fix it. Right now, I’m outlining one chapter at a time, making notes on which plots are being involved so that I can find the right balance.

Overall, the point that I want you to walk away with is that we all stumble eventually. The choice is whether you sit there or you pick yourself up again.


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Awesome attitude, lady. Way to keep your chin up.

Diana said...

You've also been under a v. fast pub schedule, not to mention everything else. Blame me for the pub schedule, and don't beat yourself up--a bad book happens to everyone.

I owe you drinks. Or flowers. Chocolate. Whatever.

And I know you'll make this awesome.


Moonsanity said...

I'm not kissing butt here, but it's so hard to imagine you writing a "bad book". I do need to stash this post somewhere and take it out frequently to read again. Over the years I have been horrified when I've sent out articles with typos my kid wouldn't make. Thanks for blogging about this:)

Tracey O'Hara said...

Hey - *hugs*. I am so sure you will pull it around and produce a wonderful book. Trust in editor extraordinaire and you will be right. I feel the pressure too.

Indigo said...

Thank you for allowing me to see how this is handled with class and integrity.

I've had writing projects with partners before and I realized early on never, ever answer a critique right away. Sometimes we become our books and can't see the storyline any other way. To that end I try to keep myself open to the possibilities.

Thank you for this post! (Hugs)Indigo