Novel-Writing 101: Just Do the Thing
I'm sick and tired of this book's nonsense
I stood in the back corner of the playground, pushing my lastborn on the swing as my firstborn walked up to receive her fifth grade diploma.
“Shit, did I miss my Wednesday newsletter?” I thought to myself.
It was 9:31 on Monday morning.
That’s how this week started, and that’s how it is continuing to go. The plus side is that it’s Wednesday and I feel like I’m getting free worktime (a phenomenon I predict becoming few and far between in the next few months, as I think I’ve just been ghosted (again) by the babysitter I thought I’d hired).
I wrote out a whole thing on Monday after that graduation, about whether or not 10- and 11-year-olds can be said to have graduated from anything. I thought it was my newsletter. But, instead, I’m going to pitch that article and try to sell it to a media outlet. There’s something there that I think will resonate with many people living in our backward, broken world.
That’s on tap for today.
Also coming up today, I’m going to finish the edits on the novel. I’m sick and tired of this book’s nonsense. I told you a couple weeks ago I was about 95% done with these final edits anyway, and I also said I’d finish them this week. Good thing I told you that, because now I have to hold myself to it. And with the childcare situation being as nebulous as it is, I’m going to have to be efficient with my work time. Which is why, even though the baby (who is no longer a baby but is stuck with the moniker until he can manage getting himself ready in the morning) got out of bed 10 minutes ago, I’m still sitting here writing this to you because he diverted course into my daughter’s room and is content to bother (er, spend time with) her instead of me. I’m squeezing every bit of work time I can from these few quiet minutes before I have to get up and start making breakfasts and lunches and coffees (oh, but that one does sound nice…brb).
Okay. Coffee in hand, let’s continue.
When the little crawled into my bed at 5am, I wasn’t mad. On the contrary, I was energized because I awoke knowing exactly how to fix up that first line or two of the book. Remember the First Line Frenzy from last week? I ended up putting my first line into their Discord channel (I still don’t quite know what Discord is, but I was invited to contribute there so I figured why not), and a few people gave feedback. Most said it was evocative and they’d like to read on.
But one was not letting me off the hook so easily. “Erase ‘really’ from your vocabulary,” they said. “And I need more from you here. She wonders if the outside is really there? That tells me nothing.” And, wow, was that person right.
One sign you’re distancing yourself (and thus the reader) from the action of the story is when you describe things without having them work for you. Any description should have a reason for being there, some sort of emotional meaning for the character or setup for the scene and mood. The book’s second sentence, for example, says, “There are no sounds drifting up from the alleyways below.” Here’s a description that does nothing for the story. “There is,” or “There are,” is a surefire sign you’re about to describe some stuff no one will care about. Tie that description to the emotional resonance of the scene - and, in the case of the first line, the book as a whole - and you draw your readers in more. Why is it so quiet? What sounds might drift up? Why don’t they?
“Reinforced walls block out the sounds of traffic” is better, and maybe “Reinforced walls insulate the suite from the beeps and rumbles of the traffic far below” is even better. You get a sense this suite is secure in some way (maybe too secure?) and that it’s high up. And in the first sentence, I’ve added the character in. So now I have set the mood and character in a way I hadn’t before, all in the first two sentences.
I’m thinking about sharing these lines with you next week. Those of you who have already read a previous version of the book can compare the resonance from one version to the other. What do you think? Would you like to see them?
More book things - I discovered an agent last week whose wish list overlaps so nicely with the themes of the book. I’m going to query him (my first attempt with a male agent!) after these edits are nice and clean. I also set myself a deadline for publishing. I’m not quite ready to share that deadline yet, it’s more of an internal thing, but I’ve forwards- and backwards-mapped the things that need to be done in order to publish this thing, and I have decided that when I send out my final batch of queries this September, I will also begin putting plans in motion to self-publish the book. If I end up getting an agent, great - I can divert course. But if I don’t, at least the groundwork will be in place to meet this deadline of mine and finally get the book out into the atmosphere. And hopefully by then I’ll have a good chunk of the sequel written, too.
Oh, also. I BOUGHT MY TICKETS TO ENGLAND. That’s right, not only did I select my writing courses and book my agent sessions, I also officially scheduled my trip and bought the tickets and contacted my British friends, and in just 10 weeks I will be in England! I seriously cannot wait.
Alright. That’s enough rambling for one week. See you next week!