Admitting Defeat to Find Success

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Photo by Flickr’s cobalt123

I haven’t had an easy time with my second book-in-progress. I came up with a concept just before my first book sold, and fell in fast love. Others have called the concept ambitious. I’m going to get back to that in a bit — that word: ambitious.

I worked on the draft for two years before submitting it for a first read, feeling less than confident about the whole thing because something wasn’t clicking and I didn’t know why. My editor at the time sent back notes, with suggestions aplenty for taking the story to the next level.

I saw the value in many of her ideas right away and got to work, eventually rewriting about 80% of the text over the course of roughly ten months. When I turned in my rewrite, it was to a new editor, as my prior editor had moved on. I felt good about the story–it was better, tighter–but I knew something was still not right. It needed fresh eyes again.

My new editor gave it a read, and her diagnosis was that my “ambitious” premise wasn’t working. I would need to try to find a way to make it work, or I’d need to let it go. So, I’d try again, I thought, feeling a mite desperate, because the premise was the whole story, and ack!

I tried one of my compromise ideas.

And then I tried again with another compromise idea.

And then I pulled some hair out, because at this point enough time had passed that I could better see why my editor was concerned and realized the damned premise–ambitious or not–wasn’t working.

I won’t sugar coat this. I had a rough few weeks. I thought, my book is dead. I thought, I’ve wasted years. I thought, I’m going to have to go on Writer Unboxed and tell everyone I’ve failed. (And etc…)

I went to bed one night sure it was finished, and woke the next morning with a new idea–a kindred concept that would mean I’d be able to save much of what I’d written and even skirt the edges of my ambitious premise. I wrote it out, carried it through the first few chapters, sent it to my editor, feeling good, feeling that click, and… She gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up.

I spent the following few months pulling those changes through the manuscript, and then waited while my editor read through them. When a note from her landed in my inbox, I held my breath. The news was good. The story worked, just needed some polish here and there. To say I felt relieved would be the largest of understatements.

I wish there were an easy lesson here, but nothing about this was easy. Here are a few of the takeaways I do see:

Multiple pairs of fresh eyes are crucial. We say it here often, and I don’t think anyone would disagree, but I know I would still be chasing real and imagined problems around the page if a fresh editor hadn’t told me outright that my premise was not working. Valuable CPs had read the story and hadn’t suggested this. My agent and my prior editor noted things I might change but hadn’t suggested the problem was the premise–which isn’t to say their ideas weren’t valuable because they were. My point is, at least seven sets of eyes grazed over that story and it took my current editor to see what was at the heart of the problem, why the story wasn’t working.

Fresh eyes. Get them. Use them.

It’s okay to find and recognize your limits. Time to revisit the idea of being “ambitious,” with a little help from Dictionary.com. It’s the 4th definition I’m interested in, so I’ll jump to that here:

am·bi·tious   [am-bish-uhs]
adjective
4. requiring exceptional effort, ability, etc.

For a dozen reasons, I didn’t want to let go of my initial idea. It had made me feel shivers-on-the-arms magical when it came to me all at once. Everyone I told loved it. I loved it. I didn’t want to fail.

But I did.

This pill wasn’t easy for my ego to swallow. In fact, this pill grew fists and punched my ego in the face. But story doesn’t give a fig, not even an exceptional fig, about ego.

Now I know that it’s okay to find the edges of your talent, to say “Oh, that’s what a wall feels like.” To realize maybe a more experienced writer could’ve made it work, but that you didn’t have the skill right then to do so.

There’s always room to grow. I first opened a Word document with the intention of writing a novel for adults ten years ago. That book is now published. When I look back on my first takes for that story, I’m well aware of how far I’ve come in terms of craft. Even though I do feel I hit a wall with this second book, I know walls can be knocked down over time, and skills can be learned and perfected. I’ll keep growing until I’m dead, and I’m not dead yet.

You can entertain ideas while hanging on to your old ones… I often “trick” myself into thinking I’m not going to make changes to my manuscript, that I’m just going to consider making changes. I’ll save a troubled scene, then open a new Word doc. This is to play with an idea, I’ll tell myself, just to see, no big. Most of the time, that play/work ends up becoming the new scene, but because I’d set up a safety net for myself, it feels easier. I experienced something similar when my editor initially gave me the opportunity to make my original premise work; I felt the safety net.

…but sometimes you have to burn the safety net. When I realized none of my ideas for saving my initial premise worked, it felt like more than an ego punch; it felt like a dark moment of the writerly soul. Like sucking the bowels of defeat. (And that’s not very nice, Precious. [1] ) But I think I had to get slammed down to the floor, have my head knock up against the wood to rattle things around a little in my cranium, to see radically different, no-safety-net-here options. I had to experience a personal dark moment.

Maybe, sometimes, a writer has to be torn down for a book to be born.

Have you hit any barriers with your own writing? What lessons have you learned?

______________________________

[1] Anyone else looking forward to The Hobbit?

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About Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed in 2006. Her second novel, The Moon Sisters, was named a Best Book of 2014 by Library Journal and BookRiot. Her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, sold to Random House in a two-book deal in 2008, was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books, and was a Target Breakout Book. She's never been published with a lit magazine, but LOST's Carlton Cuse liked her Twitter haiku best and that made her pretty happy.

Comments

  1. says

    I ran into a huge one with mine — so huge that I wondered if I would ever be able produce a novel that worked. I had finished a novel and sent it to agents. It had been a bear writing it, because it had run significantly short and it took all I had just to get it up publishable length. Running too short has always been a big issue for me (please, no one comment that maybe it wasn’t enough of an idea to be a novel; that is definitely not true). This time it had been much worse. I think I tried every workaround imaginable and a few I should have never touched. Submitted it to agents, and one was kind enough to send personal comments. Every single issue she mentioned I had written into the story trying to increase the length.

    I was an impasse. I could not figure out what was causing me to fall so short. There’s a lot of information for the writer who runs too long and how to fix that; virtually nothing for the writer who runs too short beyond add another subplot. Subplots were the one thing I could not get at all into the story without taking out a shoehorn and ramming one in. I was at a real low point because I didn’t want to keep guessing at the problem; I had to find it. Then I ran across Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel, and I thought “Why not?” I was pulling out my hair for 10 weeks because I was no closer to the finding the problem. I could see there was one, but I couldn’t identify exactly what it was — and it was evidently such a strange problem that no one could tell me what it was. Then, in the 10th week, the problem finally revealed it to myself–I was starting way, way, way too late. It was keeping subplots, theme, and a few other things out of the story. I later discovered that I also have to pull the subplots out of the story and write them separately so I get them in.

    I’m still too short, but now it’s fixing things because they weren’t there.

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    • says

      Linda, huge congrats to you for working through it. Part of my solution was similar: I began the story too late. I backed up by five months, and boom. Off to the races.

      You’ve also given me the chance to talk about two of my favorite people: Peter Jackson and Kathleen Bolton.

      First to Peter, of Lord of the Rings fame. I remember watching the extended DVD edition of the series and hearing Peter discuss a scene from the film, when the fellowship had to escape a demon (a balrog, for fellow LotR nerds out there). The original scene was supposed to be much shorter, but someone on staff–maybe a “stills artist,” created a labyrinth picture of the underground, and it inspired Peter to work with crumbling stairs and bridges in a way he hadn’t imagined before. The scene became richer for it, and is one of the most epic in the series.

      Kathleen blogged about something called “suspense pockets” several years back. Maybe something here will help you if your next work feels short. Here’s a link to her original post on WU: http://writerunboxed.com/2006/04/05/pocket-power/

      Lastly, Holly is full of gems! Thanks for giving us the chance to point people her way again. Writers, check out Holly’s page of articles for writers. You won’t regret it: http://hollylisle.com/my-articles/

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  2. says

    I spent the first half of this year writing a novel that I knew was a grand slam, only to see it soar into the bleachers as a foul. The voice, the characterization, the basic premise–something wasn’t working. That poor first draft will have to be burned to a crisp so I can pick through the ashes and figure out how to reincarnate it into something resembling my original intent. (Wow–that’s a lot of metaphors mixed up in one paragraph. It’s early and I haven’t had my tea yet.)

    But even if I don’t salvage it, that doesn’t mean my year was wasted. I know learned a lot just by hacking at it, getting in that practice. One thing I’m counting on to help me with my struggling WIP is time. Lots of it. Maybe after a year or two of writing other novels and short stories, I’ll grow enough to be able to handle it. Of course, I’m not under contract like you are, Therese. The only person impatiently waiting for this manuscript is my mother :p

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    • says

      First of all, cheers to you, T.K., fellow tea drinker.

      You said, “That poor first draft will have to be burned to a crisp so I can pick through the ashes and figure out how to reincarnate it into something resembling my original intent.”

      Part of what happens with me is that my “original intent” is not what the girls in the basement want me to write about. What I’m learning is that it’s okay to scrap the original intent and go with the girls, that it’s important at least to step back and absorb what they’re trying to say.

      Good luck with your burning, and I hope a phoenix rises from the ashes for you.

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  3. says

    Thanks for sharing your writerly dark place, Therese. I find it hard to imagine ANY writer not having set backs, doubts, stalls. If it were easy, anyone could do it and there would be nothing special about giving literary birth. But, it isn’t easy and our fraternity collectively nods its head in recognition…and keeps going. Once more unto the breach….

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  4. says

    I’ve definitely been here – “To realize maybe a more experienced writer could’ve made it work, but that you didn’t have the skill right then to do so.” I worked on an idea for quite awhile before I figured out it wasn’t the story that was the problem – it was me. I didn’t know how to tell the story the way it needed to, wanted to, be told. So, I put it away – for the moment. I have to believe that the better I get at the craft, the sooner I’ll be able to tell that story. Fingers crossed. :)

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    • says

      There is a certain wisdom that can evolve the longer you’re away from your work. I think it has something to do with what T.K. and I touched on, just above: an ability to see beyond what you meant to write to realize what you wrote, which may be just as rich and worthy as what you intended. Once you can embrace that, you can honor it in a revision. Good luck, Madeline, and thank you!

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  5. says

    Oh, yeah! Been there, done that, still recovering from the last episode. My wife (who is my beta-reader) took one look at my most recent efforts and said, “This won’t work.” Together, after some serious struggles, we figured out a way to fix it, and although it meant rewriting forty thousand words (ouch), I think it was worth the effort.

    Sure, it hurts to labor so long and then have to give up, but the effort isn’t wasted. Every sentence we write, whether it ever makes it into print or not, ultimately makes us better writers.

    Thanks for sharing. And congratulations on the ultimate result.

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    • says

      It’s so important to have someone in your corner who can see issues and who is willing to scrape away all the ego-buffering b.s. to tell you how it is, right? Three cheers for your wife, Richard.

      “Every sentence we write, whether it ever makes it into print or not, ultimately makes us better writers.” Amen.

      Thanks, Richard, and congrats on your success as well!

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  6. says

    The book in my head is always so much more ambitious than the one that makes it onto paper. But my hope is that each time I write, my skill improves and I get a little bit closer to that phantom book’s perfection. Thanks for sharing this, Therese. WU is such a wonderful support system in terms of sharing good news, but at the same time it’s a relief to know that we all struggle, too.

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    • says

      “[M]y hope is that each time I write, my skill improves and I get a little bit closer to that phantom book’s perfection.”

      I love this, Liz, and I’m going to remember it. Thank you!

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  7. says

    First, re: your footnote–Cannot. Wait. for The Hobbit!!

    “Maybe, sometimes, a writer has to be torn down for a book to be born.”

    I think there’s something to this, T. You’ve called this “The Book That Tried to Kill Me,” and I laughed when I read it, but I also nodded. I totally knew what you meant. I like how you identify that you knew in your gut that it wasn’t right the first few go-’rounds. Those gut feelings are always clearer in hindsight. I’ve been there. You want it to be fine, but you know it’s not, and you don’t want to face it. I’ve been going though this in maybe a slightly less extreme form with book one of my trilogy. I have two more manuscripts depending on my ability to make it right somehow. Had to tear it down, pull it apart, and put it back together–twice. Fresh eyes were imperative. Fingers crossed. I’m consulting my gut, but don’t want to jinx anything by speaking of it publicly.

    I’m so very happy for you, T! Thanks for sharing this. You are an inspiration.

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    • says

      Lisa Brackman told me a year or more ago that her second book should’ve been called “The Book that Tried to Kill Me” too. Hopefully she won’t sue me for copyright. Anyway, I wonder if it’s a common phenom for the second book in particular.

      That feeling in your gut is important, but it can be more than a little anxiety inducing when you don’t know what is wrong. Because not knowing that means you have little hope of fixing the problem. Again, those fresh eyes are crucial.

      I totally understand that jinx issue. Fingers crossed for you, V!

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  8. says

    Brilliant and beautiful, Therese. Thank you for sharing.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Donald Maass at a writers’ conference this summer, and we talked about how rarely we see published, respected authors sharing their low points, talking about writerly challenges, etc. I LOVE that you were honest about your birth story. It’s such a community-builder and a great lesson for all of us!

    I just wish we could send this post to Britney Spears . . . it might help her reconsider being “in talks to write her first novel.” I just hate to see her professional road get bumpy again. ;)

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    • says

      Thank you, Sarah! If I’m not safe exposing my soft underbelly here, I’m not safe anywhere.

      One thing that’s becoming clear to me just today, because of all of these comments and the fact that I’m thinking about this issue more deeply than usual, is that I’m proud of where the book landed. I don’t feel that the finished result is “lesser than” because I pulled back; in fact, it’s “more than” because I realized my limits and then polished inside of those bounds. I feel really, really good about that. So thank you, WU community, for putting a little swing back in my step.

      Hear it, Brits!

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  9. says

    Thank you for sharing this, T. Almost every writer I know has experienced this to some degree, and if they haven’t, they will. I’ve been through something similar with my WIP. There have been actual tears, panic, frustration, anger. Then suddenly the clouds part, the new path is clear, we see why we had to take the old paths to get to the new, and what results (I think) is something much braver, bolder, and better.

    Writing is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards after those dark times are worth the trouble. They are.

    I can’t wait to read your new novel. Thank you for your honesty and inspiration.

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    • says

      Thank you for sharing your road, too, Erika! Love this: “Writing is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards after those dark times are worth the trouble.” Cheers to that.

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  10. says

    “…nothing about this was easy.” This is one of the most encouraging posts I’ve read in a long time for those words alone. It’s hard. And it’s so helpful to know that other writers — maybe all writers? — go through this. Thank you for that as well as for your helpful takeaways. Great post, Therese.

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  11. Bob Greene says

    Thank you for sharing your journey. It is both helpful and intimidating at the same time. All the time running though your theme is “don’t give up”. Good word. Where there is a will there is a way and where there is a writer there is a story.

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  12. says

    I have such an ambitious project: a novel that has been “in-progress” for exactly six years now. I have several long, drawn out theories as to why it tanked, but the main point is that whatever the reason, I had to walk away from it. Though I have every intention of coming back to it, it was still painful to do because I loved the concept and I loved the characters (and they’d already been through SO much).

    A few months after deciding to shelve it, I came up with an idea for another novel and low and behold that was what I finished just a few months ago. Putting my energy into something new allowed me to look back more clearly on the novel-that-didn’t-work and I am beginning to apply new “solutions” to that first novel: some as drastic as changing the decade in which it was set. Taking a break from it, bouncing ideas off of friends and getting absorbed in a completely different project has worked wonders for me.

    It’s good to know that this happens to everyone who writes. It’s a struggle, but there is always a way out of the tangle!

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    • says

      I love your comment, Jillian, because it highlights the importance of the author stepping back from her investment in the story. When it feels so personal, so critical, it’s hard to see clearly. Putting distance between you and your work resets your eyes in a way, makes them fresh again. I’m so glad that you’re trying new solutions for your challenging story, and I will be sending you positive vibes. Best of luck!

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  13. says

    Now I’m curious to read your as-yet unnamed #2. On the surface, your book’s themes would seem to mirror your authorial path. If that’s true, do you think dwelling in the head-rattling zone benefited the book ? (Don’t feel obliged to answer.)

    Regardless, glad you’re no longer sucking intestines. After Frank’s abdominal injury, that’s a metaphor I didn’t need, LOL.

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    • says

      There is much going on at the marrow level of this book that relates to my personal journey, and I’m sure most people won’t realize that. But you are wise, O’Hara. Sorry about the intestines.

      1+
  14. Linda Pennell says

    One of the things I love about WU is reading other people’s journeys along the writer’s path. Great post, Therese! And yep to both questions. I have torn apart my WIP several times – never fun, but always the right choice. As to the Hobbit, can’t wait to see it.

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  15. says

    Yes to The Hobbit. I saw the trailer the other day when I went to see SKYFALL.

    Your post is well-timed for me. I’m going through this very thing right now. I sent my ‘baby’ for a crit too far. I knew it need fresh eyes and I knew it needed revisions. When it came back, I couldn’t face doing the work. I’d got so sick of it and that dismayed me because my enthusiasm for that project hadn’t failed before.

    I’ve put it away and I signed up for nanowrimo which I am enjoying far more than I imagined I would, despite the fact that it is exhausting beyond belief. I have new characters and a new world.

    I haven’t abandoned my first set of characters but I need a break from them.

    Thanks for your insights.

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  16. says

    Thank you for this post, Therese. I decided to read one last e-mail before diving into my writing for the day, and I’m glad I did. I’ve been suffering through a similar journey with my second novel, too, and your advice is helpful. I’m particularly struck by the notion that I wasn’t meant or prepared to try to tell the story I initially wanted to tell (the premise).
    To answer your question about barriers, I’ve found when it wasn’t feeling right, I should have readjusted far earlier. Here is a simple lesson I learned that finally put me back on track: I read a book with a similar premise to what I thought I wanted to write. That was my personal dark moment. But now, with three chapters left to complete the first draft of that revived novel, I’m seeing the light again.

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    • says

      Pushing through to finish a draft even when it’s confusing and feels hopeless can be important, I think. As a “pantser,” I’m a strong believer in the power of the subconscious to direct a story, and that may only ever come out via a completed draft. Write the story, then step back and try to understand it. I’m glad you’re seeing a light at the end of your story’s tunnel, Valerie. Best of luck!

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  17. Denise Willson says

    Sometimes I’m not sure why we (writers) put ourselves through such torture. Then I read a great book, one I really fall into, and I say, “ah, that’s why.” We are but humble entertainers…to the core.

    Kudo’s Therese.

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth

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    • says

      Anyone who spends time with me in real life knows that one of my favorite phrases is, “I should’ve been a banker.” Being a writer isn’t easy, but here were are. I’m not sure I would’ve liked being a banker, anyway; I probably would’ve been fired for scratching stories on fifty-dollar bills.

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  18. says

    I want to say thank you. I needed to read this today. I’ve hit my own wall and have been wallowing in the dark for a few weeks. This is the first glimpse of light showing me the way out.

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  19. says

    Thanks for this story, Therese. Thank God for our back-burner thought processes and the power of a good night’s sleep! When I get stuck I usually take some time to write deeper into the conflict, exploring it from all sides, and often in longhand, journaling from different characters’ perspectives.

    Ironically, considering that this is already my process, my publisher is now asking me to go even deeper and address something that from the moment of inception was always the seed of the novel—yet somehow I managed to write all around it without ever directly addressing it. I quake to think of entering this concept so directly and so deeply, yet know the bravery needed to do this is what the writing life is all about. Wish me luck!

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    • says

      Kathryn, I had a similar experience when I realized what was at the emotional core of the story. I found myself dancing around it, and had to have a “come to Jesus” talk with myself about attacking juicy–if difficult–conflict at the center. You can do it! Sending you much luck.

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  20. Carmel says

    Whew! I’m so glad your story had a happy ending. I was in anguish reading about all your hard work and not knowing if you could salvage it.

    My wall is definitely craft related. The lesson I’m learning (still) is that it’s okay to write whatever comes to mind and that I can always go back and make it better. I have to fight thinking that my writing will never measure up. I have periods (getting shorter) where I walk away from the writing and think I’m never going back. But in the meantime my subconscious is working things out, and I do go back — with a huge sense of relief, because this story won’t let me go until it’s told.

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    • says

      Three cheers for the subconscious mind, right? Learning to trust it completely is something I need to be better about–and, as you said, go with the flow, knowing you can revise later. Good luck with your book that won’t let go!

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  21. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    Congratulations. Not only are you an accomplished writer you are also a brave one. There is a lot of pain involved in the process of creation especially when it comes to pushing forward. It takes courage to acknowledge that the journey is not over (is in fact never-ending). Therese, is is obvious from your post you are one of these brave writers. However, it is even more rare for someone to make the kind of journey as you have, acknowledge to themselves the difficult path ahead, and then to have the generosity of spirit to openly acknowledge it, for the sake of other writers struggling with these very same dilemmas. Thank you, for being a light in the darkness.

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  22. says

    Therese,
    Thanks for sharing your insights on the difficult process of rescuing your MS. Writers feel a strong sense of ownership in their initial premise and it is very hard to let go, or to admit it is not working. I recently abandoned a political novella after concluding I could not make the main character’s voice work. The story was fine, but without a more authentic voice the MC did not resonate. I loved your first book and I have looked forward to the publication of your second book. Please keep your WU followers informed as to when it will be published. Thanks again, Therese.

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    • says

      I had a tricky voice to nail in this story, too, Chris. I thought I had it several times, but no… Finally, I think it’s right.

      Thanks so much for your support. Right now, it looks like the story will be published early in 2014.

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  23. says

    Therese, I love this post. It couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for me!

    My first novel, The Memory Thief, came out from Ballantine Books this past August. I’m in the process of revising Book 2, based on feedback from my mentor and agent, and am going through a process that’s very similar to the one you described–is it too ambitious? Should I scrap it entirely? Is the premise inherently flawed? etc. It’s so hard, when you’ve fallen in love with an idea in such visceral fashion, to let it go…and hard to tell if you’re hanging on to it out of pure stubbornness, or whether a spark is truly there!

    At this very moment, I am dutifully revising away. Truth be told, I feel a bit as if I am proceeding on blind faith that implementing the suggestions that my agent and mentor made will make it a better book. They may well be right, but I am too close to the story to tell–which is why those ‘fresh eyes’ you mentioned can make such a difference. Folks who don’t know where you’ve been, but only where you’re going, this brand-new time around.

    It makes me feel reassured to know that you, at least, found a way to rework the storyline that had seemed ‘shiver-on-the-arms magical’ to begin with, and then somehow got lost in translation. Thanks for the insight!

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    • says

      Hello fellow tormented one! This is a rough gig, isn’t it?

      You said, “It’s so hard, when you’ve fallen in love with an idea in such visceral fashion, to let it go…and hard to tell if you’re hanging on to it out of pure stubbornness, or whether a spark is truly there!”

      Truth. As writers, we have to believe in our gut feeling, right? That directs so much of what we do. But it gets all fifty shades of grey when what you think you wrote is different from what you actually wrote, or when gut becomes indiscernible from ego, or when pure anxiety prevents you from reading that feeling in your gut at all.

      I had a round of “blind revisions,” too, when I wasn’t clear that the changes were going to get us to where the story ultimately needed to go. For me, they didn’t, but they did help to clear the rubble, which may have made it easier for my editor to see the true problem issue. I hope that things clear for you, too. Hang in there.

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    • says

      Tayari Jones tweeted something like “your first book is like birthing a baby; your second book is like birthing an elephant and if you’re trying to grow, your third book is like birthing a dinosaur.” Maybe it will help to know you are not alone!

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  24. says

    I know exactly how you feel, when I first began writing all I had were a few characters I fell in love with and a simple premise to give them purpose. The character driven story grew over many years–I kept adding to it until it became a wieldy 1000 pages. I had begun an entire series without plotting individual novels. I tried cutting the work in half, but I didn’t like it. Much of what I wrote hinged on pieces that were in the second half. I cried my eyes out for a week and began the process of splitting up the material into three books. I won’t lie. It’s been hard not to feel burned out. I want so badly to move beyond the same material I have been working on for too long. It’s lonely, too. I want to share what I’ve created but that can’t be done in pieces. And like you, I *love* my premise which has become something very special to me.

    I’m no longer trying to boil an ocean. The new book is half done, and I’m hoping nano will push me over the finish line. WU has taught me so much, given me tools, resources and support when I needed them. You have founded something amazing here that feeds the writer’s soul in so many ways–and I thank you for it.

    You are a beautiful writer. There’s no doubt this second book of yours will be amazing and the premise will shine. Your success is based on talent. You own it, and no one and nothing can take that away from you. Trust it even when you don’t trust yourself.

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    • says

      You are such a dear for saying this, D.D. I appreciate it so much.

      “Boil an ocean” about sums up how it feels to make significant revisions to a completed draft; it’s tedious and seems impossible. It’s the “little by, little by” rule that keeps me going.

      Good luck with NaNo! Rooting for you.

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  25. says

    I’m a little late to the comments.. But thank you! I needed this in my inbox for a long time. No matter how much I “learn” this lesson, I always seem to be dealing with it again and again.

    The problem is, I’m totally unpublished. And so where does one find fresh eyes when I don’t even really have a completed novel? Do I wait until I have a finished manuscript to seek out an editor? Decisions, decisions.

    And I absolutely cannot WAIT for the Hobbit! When my husband suggested we dress up for the movie, I knew that mawiage is founded on wuv, twu wuv. (Also a Princess Bride reference!) :)

    Anywho, thanks for for the encouragement this morning. For now, I will continue writing away at my story and trying to bribe people to read it once it’s done…

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    • says

      Sarah, just my two cents, but I would wait until you have a completed ms before looking for critique or beta readers or an editor. Premature criticism can derail a writer–and her story. It is not “Inconceivable!” :-)

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  26. Marilyn Slagel says

    Second book – UGH! Less than a month from release of my first book, the second one is already giving me fits. Is it fear? From what I’ve read in your post, Therese, and the responses, it looks like I’m in for a different experience than writing book #1. My idea is great. Will it work on paper? Lord, I hope so.

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    • says

      Second books come with their own special anxieties. One thing I wish I’d done was write the first draft of the second book as quickly as possible, giving myself permission to write poorly and play with the ideas. I hope that works for you. Good luck, Marilyn!

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  27. says

    Well, looking at your photo, the bruises don’t who at all, and you clearly have a healthy amount of the most necessary ingredient for writing a novel–perseverance. So how about revealing that magical premise that didn’t work? You’ve provoked our curiosity, y’know.

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    • says

      The magical premise that didn’t work: Two girls go on a journey to find the end of their dead mother’s story, each with a very distinct belief system. The story-within-the-story was supposed to have been woven throughout, and culminate with the girls appearing “within” the mother’s story in a unique way. The revise is far more realistic but retains a quirkiness that is right for the book and these particular characters.

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      • says

        Ooo, sounds interesting! And I love that you’ve got sisters and a story-within-a-story again, because I loved how you wove so many threads like that in LAST WILL OF MOIRA LEAHY. :)

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        • says

          This was part of my angst. I wanted this book to be as complex as Last Will; I felt I owed it to my publisher and readers. Even though the initial premise didn’t work, I’m happy to say that this second book will offer weavings, and a story-within-a-story in a different way than I first imagined. And I was able to do more justice to the core story by dispensing with all the darlings, the bells and whistles that were making it hard to hear the beating heart.

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  28. says

    Great post, Therese. I am right there with you on my last novel. A few agent requests for fulls that ultimately came back with the note, “Just not loving it enough” sent me back to the page, and I reworked and reworked until I was so sick of it I couldn’t stand it. Still no agent love. I know something is still wrong with it, but I’m so deep into my next novel that I just adore that I don’t have the will power to work on the last novel. So I made the decision to put it aside. I am not exactly happy about the decision, but I am relieved. There may come a day when I can figure out what is wrong with it, but for now, it needs to be put away.

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    • says

      I hope your time away from the older story helps, Melissa. Maybe you’ll come up with some solutions when it’s on the back-burner. Meanwhile, best of luck with your latest!

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  29. says

    I’m so excited because I can relate! I know that sounds funny, but this summer I plotted out a story, created characters and started writing. I’d gotten through the first act before I realized I didn’t like the story, it was too dark. And boring. Plus the bad guy is actually more interesting than the good guy and I wasn’t having much fun writing the story at all (very unlike my first novel.) I set it aside after making some decisions about what to do with my first novel, and then realized that I need to just replot the whole thing. I’m keeping some basics, and my characters (because I love the bad guy, who may turn out to be the good guy), but the story needs redone. Now, I’m excited about the story again, so I think it’s a good decision.

    Although I am sorry for your (and everyone else’s) creative pain, it makes me feel better to know others have story issues. Sometimes it feels like everyone in the world writes amazing stories without any struggles. Except me. :)

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    • says

      You are not alone, Lara! And for what it’s worth–and though I know nothing other than what you’ve said here–I’m intrigued by this bad guy who may be a good guy. Best of luck.

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  30. says

    This sounds a bit like when Jo, from “Little Women”, wrote her first book. Sadly, your story, Therese, also sounds like when we tried to write our second novel, only without the same happy ending. (We had to shelve our original idea and move on to another story, although we did manage to find out why the original wasn’t working!)

    “You can entertain ideas while hanging on to your old ones…” This is excellent, time-tested advice for those of us who can’t stand to betray their first ideas, but would like to dream up different endings anyway.

    Congratulations on making it through a tough time!

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      • says

        Thank you for asking, Therese! Yes, we will revise our story the next time we pick it up, though that may not be for a quite a while. We did learn a great deal about how we write through that arduous process, so it can’t be counted a complete loss of time. The good news now is that our new second novel is coming along quite nicely.

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  31. says

    Loved the title of this post, but loved the tag “second books that try to kill you” even more! Except it’s my 3rd novel that tried to get me. But like you I got fresh eyes and boy did it make a difference. At least I think so. We’ll see what my agent thinks. Thanks for sharing this!!!

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  32. says

    I have had that very same experience with the novel I’m currently writing. I’m actually in the process of giving it about a two week break while I work on other projects. It can really hurt to realize you’ve got problems with a manuscript, but at the same time, all the ambition and work will eventually steer you in the right direction! And, yes, I am EXTREMELY excited about The Hobbit coming out in theaters!!! CAN’T WAIT! So glad to hear that you were able to work on your second manuscript and get it to where you want it!

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  33. says

    That is so true, the new eyes thing. I’ve had this idea for a novel for about six years, and started writing it five years ago. The first draft was horrendous, the second draft was awful, the third draft was terrifyingly terrible, and the fourth draft was sickening. Then, me and a few friends got together to work on our story ideas; we’d start with one, throw out every idea we could, the creator would write all the ideas down, and take from it later. They gave me marvelous ideas for the middle of the book (which I could never cement XP) and ideas for a sequel. I’m in the middle of draft five, and it’s going wonderfully. I hope to have it published by the end of 2013, beginning of 2014.

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    • says

      Good for you for pushing through the horrendous drafts stage, Caitlan, and cheers to your fifth take. I hope it’s the one that turns things around for you.

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  34. says

    Oh well done, you for keeping on and on and on.

    And thank you so much for sharing this story, warts and all. I think I’m going to be coming back to this post again and again!

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  35. says

    Therese,
    I always learn so much from your honesty about your own writing process. Thanks for sharing these insights. I especially love your determination to continue growing as a writer — we’re never “done” yet, right? :)

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  36. says

    Thank you for sharing this with us. You know what–to me the biggest lesson in your post for all of us aspiring novelists is this: writing a novel is HARD WORK. Like REALLY REALLY REALLY hard work.

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