Friday, January 30, 2015

This Time Around: Breathing New Life into Old Bones

It has been said, often and by many sources, that an author's first book (or books) will likely never see print. This is a polite way of saying you had no idea what you were doing and that story, while probably quite special to you, really isn’t special at all. In fact, it could be a study in rookie mistakes. Probably is, and you’d see that if you had the guts to go back and stomach all the passive language, all the cliché smiles and overloaded adjectives, and all the holes in your rather predicable plot.

Crafting a story is hard work. Brainstorming, plotting, drafting, editing. More editing. Reading. Editing some more. Getting critiqued. Editing ’til your eyes cross. Like most things, we learn best by doing. Classes are great! Critiquing someone else’s work is surprisingly insightful. Reading craft books or other works of fiction are wonderful tools for learning as well. But I truly believe that good old fashioned blood, sweat, and tears on the page will work your writing muscles in a way nothing else can.

In my own writing career (ambitious wording there, but I’m always optimistic) I have seen whatever natural talent I possessed when I first so enthusiastically started vomiting garbage on paper grow and hone and sharpen with each story I have written. Simply put, every story I write is better than the last. Why? Because I am learning from my mistakes. I am finding my voice and embracing my style. Oh, I haven’t arrived. And I doubt I will ever learn all there is to know. But I have found my groove.

I’m not Stella and I didn’t exactly get my groove back, but I did take my groove back to the beginning. Back to those first bumbling, adolescent attempts at story. And let me just tell you, collecting dust can be one of the best things you can do to revive those decaying words. Time and experience can grant a perspective not even the most relentless editing can expose.

So here’s what I’ve learned this time around…

Unearth those lost stories and give them a read, start to finish no matter how much it pains you.

Take notes on the things that make you cringe so you can focus your attack instead of just adding words—which you will be tempted to do more than is wise. After all, you don’t want to bloat your manuscript, you want to give it a good balance of eloquence and movement.

Get to work. Be relentless and meticulous. Your words make your story. What you say and how you say is crucial. Don’t be satisfied with a sentence just because it’s already written. Take it to trial and try to make it better. Be choosy. Trim the fat but enhance the flavor. The time spent will pay off.

And then finally, read like a reader. Just read. Put your editing eyes away and enjoy the story. It still may never be published, but stories aren’t meant to be exiled. Share them. Post them up. Give them away. Most importantly, don’t give up on them.

Talk to me Alley Pals Have you ever read back and caught a rookie mistake? I was (still am) an overwriter but back when I was a newbie my adjective use was atrocious! What was your biggie? Be brave and share. Good reminders for all of us in the thick of editing. Happy Friday!
Amy Leigh Simpson is the completely exhausted stay-at-home mama to the two wild-child, tow-headed toddler boys, one pretty little princess baby, and the incredibly blessed wife of her hunky hubby.
She writes Romantic Suspense chalked full of grace that is equally inspiring, nail-biting, and hilarious. And a little saucy! Okay fine, a lot saucy. :) She is an active member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and now uses her Sports Medicine degree to patch up daily boo-boos. Her greatest ambitions are to create stories that inspire hope, raise up her children to be mighty warriors for Christ, invent an all-dessert diet that works, and make up for years of sleep deprivation. 

She is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, Inc. 


Edie Melson said...

My list of rookie mistakes is long and embarrassing. But the worst was talking heads. I want atrocious at description and setting the scene. I think it comes from the fact the initially, a story comes to me through voices. I hear the dialogue, but don't see the movie. Great post!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Oh I've done those too, Edie! And the head hop, which is equally nauseating! Or when body parts act on their own like, her hand grabbed the cookie. Haha!!! Ignorance was bliss, huh? 😊

Pepper Basham said...

Oh my goodness, I love you so much!! "vomiting garbage on paper"
See - this is why I love your writing SO MUCH because it has such unique visual descriptions!

And this post is oh so true!!

I think the stories God cultivates in our hearts are worth telling - even if we have to wade through the garbage to find the lost gem. Because HE thought it was a story worth telling within our imaginations :-)


Becky Dempsey said...

I've taken so long working on my WIP that I've learned a lot (Like from websites like this one) that I'm realizing things I'd done wrong at the beginning and that I need to change them already. I'm sure that won't even make the first story spectacular, but it seems like it would help it some at least!

Laurie Tomlinson said...

I'm too scared to go back and read my first book. I think I'll let it stay shelved a little longer until I'm ready to read it this way hehe!

Excellent advice here. <3 <3

kaybee said...

Amy, good advice. The thing I've learned the most and am still learning is structure -- my early attempts weren't structured all that well. I think I had some good ideas and may go back to them some day, especially the World War I story. If I applied what I know now it could almost work. Just like in life, only this time we get to go back.
Kathy Bailey

Jill Weatherholt said...

Great post, Amy! I have two old NaNoWriMo projects that are hideous, but I like the characters. I'm debating whether to go back and rewrite or shelf them and start with a fresh story. You've given me a lot to think about.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Fun post, Amy. Earlier in my writing journey, I was accused of writing purple prose. And writing to an agenda (and I totally couldn't see that one!). And my heroine wasn't very likable.

I haven't read that story in a couple years, but a part of me still wants to go back to it. . . maybe one day. :)

Ashley Clark said...

Beautifully said, Ames! I love the analogy of God breathing life into dry bones because it also shows that even stories that lay dormant aren't necessarily dead-- God can revive them for potential readers and even just for our own hearts.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Love you, Pepper!

Becky-so blessed to hear we have helped you on your journey! And you'll catch mistakes now and later... I'm not sure it ever stops! 😉

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Laurie-it most definitely is scary! And eye opening! Not always fun though, you're right.

Kathy-oh structure is a biggie! And where to start your story was a big one for me too. Writing is tricky business!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

I'm quite the devils advocate today, Jill! Hope you give it a shot!

Jeanne- somehow I feel like you'll know when it's time. 😊

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Exactly, Ashley!!! Love u!