Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Courage to Listen

When I finished editing my first book (now shelved) I hadn’t much of a clue how to go about getting it published. I finally decided to hire another writer in that genre to take a look at it and see what she thought. Just for fun, I pulled those notes out today and here’s what jumped out at me, “Maybe the story of the orphans is really a separate novel hiding in this one.”


Oh, how I laughed!


When I first contacted this author about critiquing my work, it was in hopes of having someone tell me if it was a novel I could get published or if I should move on from the years (!) I spent on it and try to get something else out there. The trouble is I already knew the answer to this question. Somewhere, deep inside of my being I knew that I could do better, that my writing had not become the caliber I would wish to sign my name to.


I just didn’t have the guts to call it a writing exercise and move on. Instead I kept revising, rewriting, reinventing. What I needed was to listen to myself. To hear myself say the vitality in the book was the obscure characters and their side stories. These were the gems in the mire of practice often necessary to gain knowledge of craft.


Now I’m learning (slowly) to trust myself when my inner voice tells me that a character doesn’t work or that a plot is too derivative. It’s taking time, but at least I’ve developed the courage to listen, to know I’m the one who knows what’s best for the book.


And do you know what? The author I hired was right. I had another story in there that wanted to burst forth. I knew it and she guessed it. No wonder the small secondary characters always threatened to take over. No wonder the main characters reacted rather than acted. They weren’t the story. The story was waiting for me to cowboy up and pluck it out.

That’s the book I’m writing today. That story was a seed inside the crap… er… fertilizer. I only needed the courage to dig it up and replant it.

Q4U: Is there anything you’ve needed the courage to do but couldn’t until someone helped you listen to yourself?

39 comments:

  1. This is such a good post. It did take courage to hear what you knew in your heart was true. And you'll be a better writer for it, I'm sure.

    I had that problem with The Mist Chasers. I was getting stuck on the query because I was stuck on Eve. There was the big story of the mist and the relationship between her and Adam, but I had to figure her out on her own - without the other stuff. I had to make sure she was standalone in the novel too. Until I did that, I couldn't write the query correctly. I think I've done it now. We'll see.

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  2. This is a great post. Sometimes, your inner thoughts or your "hunches" about things turn out to be right!

    Jane

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  3. Sometimes it just takes a little time away from something to see it better, and that goes for critique comments, too. I'm also learning to respect my intuition. It's powerful when we listen.

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  4. Oh I loved this!! Yay for that author for helping you find your inner voice and for helping draw your strenghts out!! Wonderful!!!!

    I'm yet to find my own guardian angel to help me draw out my inner courage! :-)

    Good luck with this story you're now focusing on!! Wow!! Take care
    x

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  5. Oh, man. Have you been eavesdropping on my brain--or my phone? I was just talking about this with a critique partner this morning, about the idea that one of my plots/subplots--a BIG one--doesn't belong in this book. And, of course, it's the one tied to the idea that started me on this story. BUT...

    Not ready to decide yet, and I'm going to write through to the end of this draft before I even step solidly onto that line of thought, but thanks for the reminder that I do need, soon, to look it squarely in the face.

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  6. Sounds like you hired a good writer, better than you even knew at the time! Sometimes it's just so hard to know which voices to listen to. But time away always seems to help.

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  7. What a great post.
    I've thought many times that my first attempt at a novel wouldn't go anywhere. I finally sat down and did a major re-write but it took a LOT of internal screaming to get there.

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  8. Yes, I had to get my first rejection before I discovered the beauty of books on the writing craft. Each step backward led me closer to my goals. I'm not there yet, but I'm open to keep learning!

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  9. To query. I'm terrified and I know my book isn't ready yet. But soon. See...my inner voice is urging me to polish my book. =)

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  10. There is so much I have written that I was so proud of at first only to realize it was garbage later. I loved to hear your story, to know that there is hope that not all my stuff will be considered garbage someday.

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  11. hi miss jackee! i like what you said lots. i like stuff about people being brave. it pretty important to listen to what you say to your self and believe it too. my brother andrew says for deciding stuff you just gotta listen to that little voice inside you and then just follow your heart. im real glad youre gonna follow your heart.
    ...big hugs from lenny

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  12. It's hard but necessary to come to the point where you can shelve a project and view it as a worthy writing exercise. Many things writers write are never published, but a smart writer learns from everything heor she writes--nothing is a waste.

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  13. Great post, Jackee! This has happened to me recently. I was writing a novel that ended up being two totally separate novel ideas. That sure came as a surprise! I tried fighting it at first, but finally I gave in to what the stories were trying to show me. I'm learning to listen to myself as a writer AND hear what the story is telling me!

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  14. Yeah Jackee! Yeah for having the courage to listen to your heart and follow it. You go girlfriend. Good luck with your book. I hope it works out brilliantly for you. (APPLAUSE)

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  15. Blogger loves eating my comments so this will be a lot shorter than originially planned!

    I wanted to say that I adored this post!!!

    For me I've written two first drafts and for weeks worked on 'revisions' only to end up hating everything. Someone told me to rest and when I finally did I was able to write other stories... amazing how it helps to listen to others?

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  16. I'm always lacking courage of my own. Thank goodness I have great crit buddies who are braver than I am - and who make me be brave :)

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  17. Same thing happened to me. At least there was something still worth salvaging, right?

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  18. That is an absolutely brilliant post. The problem is that we are rarely willing to listen when we are being told what to do by our characters.
    But I am glad you found out what you were doing wrong, ultimately.

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  19. "Is there anything you’ve needed the courage to do but couldn’t until someone helped you listen to yourself?"

    Heck yes! It happened just the other week when you motivated me to write a query letter. I'd been putting it off for months (because of several reasons) but your common sense approach and encouragement really helped give me the extra push.

    Jai

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  20. So, when do I get to read it? :) I am still attatched to that story and those characters and world.

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  21. The same thing happened to me. I guess we all need to learn to listen to our guts.

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  22. For me, the very thought of asking for critiques requires courage! I'm nearing that point, ironically with the WIP that I began as my "practice novel", originally written just to show myself I could complete a draft.

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  23. oh definitely. With relationships, I'm so blind!

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  24. My first novel was a practice one too. That's a hard pill to swallow, but so good for us. It's one huge step toward something better. :)

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  25. Wonderful post. Good luck with what you are working on now.

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  26. Yes, that has happened to moi, but that would be a truly long and tedious story that I'm afraid I would have to kill; mostly due to the overkill.

    Hey there, here by way of Jai's blog

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  27. Yes, I really need to write that prequel, but I hate to leave my current WIP in the state it's in. I think I'll give it until the end of the month and then work on the prequel for a few months. Then I won't be as embarrassed to let someone look at the current WIP. ;)

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  28. Yes, I've had that happen! Something a crit partner says echoes my inner voice and I'll KNOW I have to make specific changes. I'm learning to trust my inner voice more and more.

    That said, sometimes someone more experienced will give me feedback and, while I'll think it's good and helpful, I won't see its full brilliance until I let it simmer.

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  29. Wonderful post! That was something Bruce Hale said at the conference I went to... you have to accept that not every piece is a piece that will be published, many are practice pieces....

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  30. I love that you found the story within the story! I have surrounded myself with very courageous people. I am more courageous in a group anyway! Each person has a different strength, which is nice. It's not always easy to listen and I can be stubborn at time! It definitely takes courage to move on.

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  31. Great post. I think a lot of us have been there. It's so hard to give up a book and put it on the shelf. I like how you call it a "Writing Exercise." That makes it seem more productive :)

    My answer is similar to yours. I had to put three books on the shelf, after querying the last one for about a year, and getting a lot of "maybes." I had to make the decision that I would rather start afresh that re-vamp the old book. So hard to do, but so worth it, too, once I got over the initial "MY BABY DESERVES TO WIN EVERYTHING AND BE IN BARNES AND NOBEL DON'T YOU TELL ME OTHERWISE!" rant, sat down, and started writing something new. I didn't use any ideas from my old book, but I definitely learned a lot from writing it, and it's helping the process so much this time around.

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  32. This is why critiquers are priceless. I dunno what I'd do without their valuable insight!

    It takes courage just to start a book. I began writing mine four years ago (with many weeks taken off in between) and now I'm in the middle of what I hope will be the final revisions before I start querying again. *shudder*

    Anyway, I wish you luck with your book. :)

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  33. have you seen this? i can't stop giggling at work lolol

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0lfJxjRHrE&feature=channel

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  34. Wonderful post, and so true! I'm slowly learning this lesson myself, too. :)

    Amy

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  35. OMG, yes! There's a ton of stuff I wouldn't have achieved if I didn't have the courage and the push from friends. ;)

    Ooh and I have an award for you at my blog, please come by when you can. ;)

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  36. I've often wondered the same thing about my first novel. But I just CAN"T LET IT GO! Help!

    No seriously, great post. These are important questions.

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  37. I was like that with my first novel too. I loved it so much and it hurt to think that it didn't have a chance. Which, it totally didn't. I realize that now. Great post!

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  38. Good day!This was a really splendid post!
    I come from roma, I was luck to discover your theme in google
    Also I learn much in your topic really thank your very much i will come later

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