We are so happy to have former regular contributor Lydia Sharp back with us today! Lydia was one of WU’s ‘unpublished writers,’ writing for us from 6/10-3/14. We’re thrilled to help her celebrate the publication of her debut novel, WHENEVER I’M WITH YOU (Scholastic Press), releasing TODAY, and glad to welcome her back to share lessons she’s learned while working on that story. A little more about her:
Lydia Sharp worked a number of different jobs, everything from retail management to veterinary medicine, before turning her passion for stories into a career. She is now an editor for Entangled Publishing and writes young adult novels with lots of kissing and adventures. Her debut YA novel, WHENEVER I’M WITH YOU, released from Scholastic Press in January 2017. For info about her books and more, visit lydiasharpbooks.com and follow on Twitter @lydia_sharp.
Welcome back, Lydia, and huge congratulations!
Lessons Learned from My Debut Novel
My debut novel is not the first novel I wrote (it’s the 8th!) but the experience of it brought me a lot of firsts. My first book deal was also my first novel sold on proposal—only a synopsis and sample pages were submitted to the publisher—so it was also my first experience with fast drafting under contract followed by turbo editing on an intense deadline. My editor and I went from story idea to rough draft to finished book in a matter of months, and at the start, I honestly had no idea if I’d be able to pull it off.
But I was honored to have the opportunity, so onward I wrote, and then onward we edited that book together. It might have looked more like a potato sack race than a relay race at times, but we did it. We crossed the finish line with a book we’re proud of.
And here’s what I learned along the way:
“I’ve never done this before” and “I don’t know if I can pull this off” are NOT reasons to NOT try.
This can be applied to pretty much anything in life, but it’s especially important to remember as novelists. The publishing world is constantly in flux, so to survive, we must constantly try new things, or different approaches to the same thing. You never know, that “impossible” idea you have could end up being your author legacy. To step away from a new idea, you should have a stronger reason to not try it than your reason for wanting to try it in the first place. So if your circumstances permit, just try it and see what happens. If nothing else, you will have spent time practicing your craft and stretching your imagination.
Don’t get too attached to your plot, your characters, or pretty much anything BUT your core story.
My editor at Scholastic tweaked the plot synopsis I’d included in my proposal before giving me the go-ahead to finish writing the manuscript. And by “tweaked” I mean she completely scrapped about 75% of it and then we brainstormed a new plot together. That was only the beginning.
During the editing process, I had to completely rewrite the final third of the book 3 times, did major revisions on large sections through the middle, and added new scenes to the opening chapters. Some of those rewrites involved removing characters that I loved, or changing a character’s role. And the changes had to be made quickly. It was rapid-fire revising, which required shifting my view on how to tell the story, multiple times, within days of one another, until we came up with something that worked.
Keep in mind that “story” and “plot” are not the same thing. A plot can go through major changes and still tell the same story. So when revising a manuscript, whether it’s under contract or not, ask yourself, “What is my core story?” You should be able to convey it simply and succinctly. (This was mine for Whenever I’m with You: Girl falls for boy in Alaska. Boy disappears in the wilds. Girl and boy’s brother go find him. Adventure + romance + family issues.) As long as you don’t stray from the core story, the changes you make to how that story plays out, no matter how extensive, are not really changing your story. They’re helping you tell it in a better way.
Never underestimate the power of your tribe.
Your family, friends, co-workers, fellow authors, agents, editors, everyone who is supporting you, cheering you on, doing whatever necessary to help you succeed in your current writing endeavor—the stronger they are, the stronger you are. Do not take any one person for granted. Do not discredit even the “small” ways others show their support. A simple word of congrats, or an inquiry like “how’s your book going?” will keep your motivational fire burning strong.
I never knew how many people were truly in my corner—and have been for several years—until this book deal happened. It’s been a wonderful, eye-opening experience. And I would not have succeeded without my tribe—which includes the WU community, so thank you, all of you. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me and for so many others. Write on!
What have you learned while writing your work? Please share in comments.