Like the Nine Circles of Hell, but With Spell Check.

I’m currently in a weird sort of writing limbo.

While running through the final edits and waiting for the feedback on a novel that’s nearly complete, I’m also about a third of the way through the first draft of a new story.

It’s not that my mind has to be in two places at once. I’m used to that. I’m a mom of three, and I work part-time, and I homeschool. So, no. I can handle jumping from story to story and editing to outlining like someone with the attention span of a hyperactive gnat. What feels weird is the criticism I receive — and hope to receive — on these two different stories.

Because if I was given the kind of notes on my new story that I expect to get on the finished one, I’d probably throw in the proverbial towel and consider never taking up pen and paper again.

When I’m starting out on a new story, it’s like a baby. It’s fresh and pink-cheeked, and everything it does is the most wonderful thing to have ever been done before. It doesn’t matter if the plot, like a store-brand diaper, is leaking some sort of sticky substance that looks like tar and smells like death. It is a wonderful miracle of literary genius. But like a child, my own child, if you criticize it to my face, I will do either one of two things: I will either curl into the fetal position and cry for an inordinately long amount of time, or I will take an immediate dislike to you, and everything you say will be filed away under the tag of “They’re Just Jealous/They Don’t Get It/Well, My Mom Said I’m Awesome”.

The trickiness of starting on a new story, or even of being a new writer, is that you’re filled with uncertainty. Are you any good? Well, you just typed 2000 words AND they sound somewhat coherent, so… Yes, you’re doing great! And those characters that were just vague ideas in your head are now down there, on paper! You brought them to life! You are the proud parent of a whole new world that trips and dances from the ends of your fingers like a collection of magical marionettes!

But since the story isn’t complete, it’s still fragile. One particularly bad comment, one wrong choice of words from someone else, and it’s over. You realize you’ll never be able to make it work. That wonderful plot idea you had that would’ve changed genre fiction forever? No, it’s crap. You might as well go back to your day job of NOT writing and NOT making characters jump and turn to your every whim.

And here’s the thing: When you’re just beginning on a new draft, either for the first time or the fiftieth time, you need encouragement more than anything. You CAN do this. You ARE amazing.  Your Mom IS right. But with just enough gentle criticism mixed in to remind you that a lot of work still lies ahead.

Like, a lot of work. A LOT. Two words. HUGE words, when put together in that order.

Which brings us several drafts forward in time. That story that was all lovely and perfect? The one you would’ve sworn didn’t need more than a cursory dose of editing before it was time to print that puppy out and toss it up for sale on Amazon?

Yeah, it’s… it’s good. I mean, it’s okay. But…

No, no. What you have is the manuscript equivalent of a broken and battered Steve Austin, but you need to do everything you can to turn it into the book version of the Bionic Man.

And this is where the criticism I want to receive for my nearly-not-quite-oh-so-close-to-finished novel differs from what I want to hear when I’m just starting on a new story.

I want to know every single thing that is wrong with that almost finished story. Every typo, every redundant dialogue tag, every single plot point that doesn’t make a lick of sense. I send it out to other people to read, and I don’t want them to spare my feelings. Send me copious notes. Tell me when a character is inconsistent. Take a hatchet to every single page, so that I can fix it. So that I can make it better.

By this point, all — okay, I’ll be honest — most of those fragile feelings and insecurities have been pared away. I’ve already cried, torn out my hair, donned sackcloth and ashes over this book through all of its fifty-seven (thousand) revisions. Emotionally, I am ready to cut ties with it. I want to send it off into the world, and I want to move on to another story.

As a writer, you often need to keep a tight circle of people around you. There should be those who will give you gentle encouragement while kindly pointing out one or two itsy-bitsy typos when you need it, and there should also be folks who will take a blowtorch to your manuscript when you need that, too. And, who knows? They might even be the same people, people who understand exactly what you need to hear when you need to hear it.

So find your circle. They might be a local or online writing group. They might be close family or friends. They might be people you work with, or people you hardly know, or a crazy combination of all of the above. But find them, and trust them, and don’t freak out when they tell you that ninjas from outer space might not work in your latest Regency-era romance.

Because you can always save them for the sequel.

3 comments on “Like the Nine Circles of Hell, but With Spell Check.

  1. It doesn’t matter if the plot, like a store-brand diaper, is leaking some sort of sticky substance that looks like tar and smells like death. OMG THIS IS SO FUNNY

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