You’ve taken a hit. What’s next?

rocky.2

Remember how Sylvester Stallone wrote the screen play for Rocky in twenty hours? That’s right, twenty hours. The only thing I have to say is, that lucky bastard. The only other thing I have to say is, this is not usually how these things work.

Here’s how writing really works:

The more you learn, the more you learn you have to learn.

So you take a lot of hits in the writing business, as you do in every business except the sleeping business. Only there, in that duvet-sky world, may you find absolute peace. But that world is fleeting and then it’s back to the cold hard computer with its unread, bold rejection email (s) waiting to stab out your eyes with its two dagger-like opening words: Dear Author. You don’t bother reading the rest of the words which most likely say the same blah blah thank you blah blah keep it up blah blah blaaaaahhhh…

There comes a point where you have had enough. You cannot take one more hit. Enough is enough. So what next? What is the next phase after a lot, and I mean a lot, of rejection? This phase is Decision Time. You have a choice, as you always do, and the time has come to make it. Do you keep working on this project?

Or do you drop it?

I’m not saying give up writing. I would never say give up writing. I would only ever say never–never give up writing! But do some deep thinking, some considering. Because maybe this project you’ve been working on isn’t the best. Or the time for it is not now. Maybe it just needs too much work. Maybe you don’t know how to solve it. Yet.

I recently came to this realization myself and, I have to admit, I may have plummeted into an abyss of self hatred and giving up on this writing venture. When I crawled back out of the abyss, I was a different person. Hope had left town. But that’s ok. Hope is not that useful. It’s a dream. I don’t want dreams and fantasies. I want realities. I want a book that I can hold in my hands. I don’t want flimsy hope. I want meaty, earthy, certainty. Yes, my belief and confidence in myself had taken a grievous, bloody, possibly mortal wound. But the desire to write was still there, intact, unharmed. Strong. I still wanted this. I’m still going to do this.

But it’s decision time for me. Do I get stuck in and overhaul this whole book? Or do I drop it for another project?

As writers say: You have to write the first book just to learn how to do it.

I found this writing excuses episode on revision to be very helpful.

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You beta, you beta, you bet

I thought I’d completed my first novel after one year. I looked at that fourth draft and thought: Yay, I did it!

As advised by internet and friends, I promptly sent it out to a couple beta readers, nervous to let strangers inspect my precious baby–but secretly believing (deep, deep down in very depths of my ego) that they would come back with: “I love it! It’s perfect! OMG, you’re a brilliant writer!” Aaaaaand of course this didn’t happen.

Now, my beta readers did give me some nice feedback mixed in with the critique. (Just between you and me, I may have read their compliments several times and may have even gone back and opened their emails up weeks later to reread in times of woe.)

But more importantly, my awesome beta readers identified glaring problems in the plot that I’d missed. Seeing how other readers reacted to characters I’d created was invaluable (and fun!). Their suggestions for fixing scenes sent me back to the drawing board and inspired me to write some of my best chapters. And almost everything they pointed out was so obvious. Well, to everyone but me.

So it meant I had to suck it up and work on my draft. Then another and another. Two months later, I finished my sixth draft and thought: Yay, I did it! And this time I didn’t send it out to more beta readers, though I probably should. I’m going to either learn that I’m right and it’s ready–or I’m going to learn the hard way (months of rejection by lit agents) that my novel needs more work.

Update: Yeah. It needed more work.