The Evolution of a Writer
I wrote my first novel using a technique known as pantsing — as in, flying by the seat of my pants. With nary an outline nor character sketch, I wrote chapter one of Until Thanksgiving — then known as Addicted — with no idea what chapter two would be about, and so on, until I’d finished the story. My beta readers will tell you the thriller/romance I ended up with looks nothing like the slice of life story I had in mind when I started.
Pantsing is a very free-wheeling, stream-of-conscious style of writing that many writers prefer. The problem, at least for me, was the need to revise a finished chapter to include something I thought about six chapters later — over, and over, and over again. I got confused about what had and hadn’t been changed and always worried about missing something.
The constant revisions pantsing requires were so painful, I vowed to find a better way. For my second novel, After Christmas Eve, I wrote a one-page synopsis, pages of backstory for all the main characters, and three-sentence descriptions for every chapter — about thirty in the original outline — before writing any of the story. Changing the description of what’s supposed to happen in a chapter is a helluva lot easier than revising a chapter I’ve already written.
The process helped a lot. Knowing where the story was going and what had to happen kept me focused on the plot and prevented a lot of needless wandering around. But — and this is a good thing — the characters filled me in on important things about them I didn’t know. My thirty chapter outline turned into a book with fifty-five chapters.
I worked on revisions to address concerns raised by my writers group, but in the end, got feedback suggesting I’d made things worse. Discouraged, I quit writing. I’ve been nervously awaiting what I expected to be a huge amount of work I didn’t have the stomach to tackle with first round edits.
Exactly a month ago, I returned to my writers group after a months long hiatus. While there, I received the first round of edits from my publisher for After Christmas Eve — a sign from The Universe that I needed to get back in the groove with my writing. I ignored the manuscript for about a week, working ahead on this here blog thingy and otherwise clearing my calendar to focus on the edits.
There were a couple of little things in Until Thanksgiving my writers group had recommended fixing. The opinions were mixed, so I decided to see what the editors thought. When I got first round edits, the idea of changing something the editor hadn’t flagged for attention never occurred to me. In fact, I really didn’t think changes other than those they suggested were allowed.
Painful though it sometimes is, I read reviews by readers. A bad review because the main character has facial hair, smokes pot, or isn’t sleeping with the other two guys on the cover — all evident either on the cover or in the blurb — says more about the reader than about my book. Besides, pleasing everyone would be nice, but I know it ain’t gonna happen. Mentioning the same issues raised by my writers group that, in the end, I chose to ignore, however, is another matter.
I’m proud of my first novel, and could write a book about everything I learned at each stage of the process. Writing After Christmas Eve and taking it through the process has been an opportunity to put into practice what I’ve learned. I shared the issues my writers group raised about After Christmas Eve that still bugged me with my editor. When I read through the manuscript, I wasn’t afraid to change whatever I thought needed to be changed. In the end, it’s my name on the cover.
The two biggest issues — that the identify of the killer was too obvious and a concern about the main character — have been resolved. I’m tickled pink with the revised manuscript and excited about the September/October release. I should see cover drafts any day now. And when I do, trust me, you’ll be the first to know.