Monday, October 18, 2010

Rewrite? Not Me!

Since I am the first newbie to post, I thought I would share a personal story (writing related) and give you a glimpse of the road I have been on, and also share some valuable lessons I learned along the way!

When you get that sudden knock-you-to-your-knees inspiration for a plot or character, it can keep you up into the wee hours, typing away. I remember the first moment of inspiration that led me down the road to writing- I was at my husband's grandmother's apartment about five years ago. She had recently moved from her home of many years, to be closer to her son. Her body was failing her in every way, but she often said she still felt like a young woman inside. Her struggles and life journey gave my heart such a tug, that one night, in her dimly lit apartment kitchen, I began to write. It started as a short story, and then I added to it. Soon I had a novel length manuscript.
It was a masterpiece! Or so I thought. I was so focused on getting my story out there, that I refused any cyber-advice I found when I googled, “publishing”. Some points I specifically ignored were:

  • First book? Tuck it away and visit it in a year or two.
  • Get in a critique group
  • Go to a writing conference
  • Rewrite!

Why would I do these things? I had poured my heart and soul into this piece and God had shown me the way! So, having patted myself on the back until I was sore, I began to skip all the steps needed to creating a worthy final product, and took the giant leap towards publishing.
I got a nibble from a co-publisher, but the price tag that went along with it was my first reality check. So I sat on it for a while. I continued writing, having a second story brewing in my head, but just couldn't resist trying to push my first manuscript forward. After several rejections from agents and editors (yes, I shamefully admit I queried with absolutely no exposure to what the industry was all about!), an editor referred me to a manuscript review service. I took the plunge and forked over the lesser amount on their price tag, and got my manuscript professionally reviewed.
At first, I saw all the wonderful things they said, and then considered the negative. But when their final advice was to, dare I say the word, ... REWRITE... I began to sit back and re-evaluate my masterpiece.
After a poor attempt to rewrite, and another pricey offer to co-publish, I received my comments from the ACFW Genesis Contest.
This was the final blow- in an absolutely wonderful and humbling way!
The judges gave me such specific suggestions and opened my dreamy eyes to what a rewrite really meant!
The inspiration I first felt at the beginning, welled up inside after the reviews, but this time it was from the challenge to write better. I was a little wiser, a little more harnessed for quality. I chose to only keep the characters from my first novel, and start from scratch. I couldn't even bring myself to use pieces from that first text because I cringed when I read it! Through the long process of pursuit, criticism, and writing as often as I could, I discovered many things that proved to me, the process to successfully write an exceptional story wasn't going to happen overnight.
Some things I finally took to my writing heart was:
what it means to write with a literary bent, but not flush your work with adjectives
AND...what “showing” versus “telling” was, and how my first manuscript was just one long “tale being told!”.
I am proud to say that I will never again let someone read my first manuscript...ever. And I am thankful that God gave me a big dose of humility over the five years I clung to my first endeavor.

I promptly got into a critique group, which led to my amazing experience at the ACFW conference. I know the path ahead is long, but I feel like I am open to growth and ready for the maturity that comes with every word written...and rewritten. Sometimes it hurts to have a crit partner rip to shreds the very sentence you were so thrilled with when it was first written. And sometimes, you just ignore suggestions and take them with a grain of salt. But to have the opportunity to learn line by line, scene by scene, only equips you to elevate your story to the next level, or create another story to be written and shared!

I am so glad I never turned my back completely on the criticism, because it would have stunted my growth and I would found little encouragement to continue with such a passionate craft as this!


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

GREAT post, Angie! My experience it a little different than yours. I wrote my first novel and knew it was trash. I loved the story, but knew it was not well written. I got several people to critique it and worked on the first few chapters until I felt good about it and then sent it to a couple of contests. It won first place in one of them. That's good, of course, but I felt like a fraud, because the rest of the book is still trash! lol I still haven't queried or shopped because I know my work is inferior still. I am hoping next year I will have something to share. :)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I tackled a rewrite before. Ouch, painful. But--sooooo worth it. I've come to understand it is worth staying with a work until I improve it to a point I'm proud of it.

I think we all need to experience the querying right after our first novel only to be smacked upside the head with all we've yet to learn.

I know I experienced this.

It keeps us humble. ;)
~ Wendy

Julia M. Reffner said...


I love this honest post that I'm sure a lot of people will be able to relate to. Oh, boy, Sherrinda, can I relate to you. I feel like I SO need the help that comes from critiques. I'm an emotional person, so it can be rough that way.

Because my kids are little and I don't want to be published now that somewhat eases the pressure. I feel a sense of freedom because of this. If I need to go through 40 rewrites then that's OK.

I look forward to learning more from your journey, Angie.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Angie, I think your approach is right on! I'm one of those weird people who LOVES to get a critique back. And the more comments, the better. I love learning ways to take my writing to the next level. Sure, I've gotten a few random comments that don't make sense and I sometimes have a gut reaction that says, "How dare they say that?" But I always try to analyze the why behind the comment and grow from it (and in almost all cases, I find that the person did know what they were talking about, lol).

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Angie, thanks for sharing this story. I think a lot of writers can relate to this. But it's also kind of part of the journey. I think experiencing these first steps helps us appreciate the journey more--helps us learn what kind of writer we want to be and recognize if we have the courage and endurance to persevere.

And rewrites...ugh. Not my favorite but they're so necessary--and I think they teach us the most about being writers, too.

Mary Vee Writer said...

The writing journey has sink holes, pot holes, and speed bumps. If we stay the journey...we'll find the finish line. God is so good. He's handed me tissues to cry in (hugs from hubby), and strength to square my shoulders and have another go at it.
There is comfort in company on a journey. I'm with you:)

Keli Gwyn said...

Wow, Angie. Talk about a subject I can relate to. This is one! I've rewritten my story so many times that I no longer think of myself as a writer. Nope. I'm a re-writer!

I wrote my story, which used to be known as Violets & Violins, four years ago. A year later, I got a request for a full from an agent, but she wanted me to make a major change to the spiritual element. I rewrote the story to incorporate that. only to receive a nicely worded handwritten rejection.

I set the story aside and delved into a study of craft. A year later I took one look at the dreck I'd sent the agent, cringed, and determined to do better. I spent the better part of a year rewriting the story, including adding a snazzy new beginning.

Wanting to see how V&V would fare in contests, I entered several. It did better than I ever dreamed. I ended up getting an offer of representation from my Dream Agent, who was one of my final round judges.

Was I on my way? Yup. On my way back to Revision Land. My agent told me the beginning was good, but I needed to let go of the final 3/4 of the story and write a new ending that lived up to the new beginning I'd added. So, I deleted 86,000 words and rewrote 75,000 of them. (I'm wordy, so I had to cut as well.)

Nine months after receiving my Revision Notes from my savvy agent, during which I rewrote the story and went back to revise 1/4 of that due to a sagging middle pointed out by my CPs, I sent it to my agent, eager to see if the story would pass muster. It did!

Phew! Four years and three rewrites later, my story is out on submission. It's not perfect, but it's heaps better than it used to be--thanks to all those revisions, coupled with the wise counsel of my knowledgeable agent and the feedback of my awesome CPs.

So, in case you haven't picked up on my oh-so-subtle message, I'm a firm believer in being willing to rewrite and to waiting to submit until a story is marketable.

And now, I'll step off my soap box and finally come to The End. =)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Oh Keli! I love your comment about persistence in bettering your story. I have a question. While you were doing the rewrites, did you write any other stories?

Keli Gwyn said...

Sherrinda, at the risk of revealing just how nit-picky and detail-oriented I am (lol), I'll answer your question. I spent two l-o-n-g years focused on the rewrite of this one story and didn't work on any others. I knew I had lots to learn in order to take my writing to a publishable level, so I took the time to go slowly and work on craft as I went.

I know I can slap a first draft down quickly if I want. I wrote five 100K stories in my first two years pantser-style. While I love them, I cringe when I look at them now. They're so full of newbie mistakes, overblown writing, and sagging everything that I won't let anyone see them. I figure they'll serve as very good bad examples when I develop a beginning fiction writing course some day. =)

When I began the latest rewrite, Rachelle told me that I should expect to do two or three passes before I got it right. Well, being the recovering perfectionist I am, I set out to surprise her and turn in a story that was marketable on my first go 'round. In all honesty, I wanted to prove to her that she hadn't make a ginormous mistake in offering me representation. I was highly motivated to "get it right" the first time, so I didn't rush. Imagine my delight when she told me I'd achieved my goal and had a story ready to submit.

Now, I'm the first to admit that what I sent her isn't perfect. If this story sells, I fully expect to do more revisions. The nice thing is that after my experience with rewriting and revising, I no longer fear the process. I've seen my story get better and better as a result of incorporating the suggestions of my Dream Team.

Thanks for asking! (Sorry for another marathon comment. =)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Keli, I am in awe of you and your focus. Really, you are an inspiration. And congratulations on producing top-notch quality work that Rachelle could send out! That is amazing! I feel great things are coming your way!