Monday, January 21, 2013

Writing Crap II

Previously we explored writing work unfit to publish as exercise. (Writing Crap I, January 2, 2013.)
Brace yourself, we're going somewhere that most people dare not tread. 
What if you've written your book, rewritten it, gotten feedback from critique partners, you've read it yourself, and being honest, realize... it's crap. What do you do? What if your publisher gave you platitudes, like, "It's okay... not great. We can sell it." 
First, let's be clear. We're not talking about masochism, where you treat yourself much worse than an unbiased reader. This would be a genuine revelation that it ain't so great, baby.
Baseball players strike out (in fact, they miss more than they hit), New Coke fizzles, and actresses star in films they later regret. Can't a writer produce a swing and a miss? And continuing the analogy, most writers produce their first book believing they are ready for the Major Leagues. No matter if this is book number one or six, what if it reads like a whiff and the ball smacking the catcher's mitt?
The issue no longer is the quality of writing, but integrity. Are you willing to break out the red pen, attack it once again, or- horrors- pull the plug? Does it struggle in places, or is it time to walk it back to the dugout?
When I first began writing, I wrote a three thousand word short story, entered it in numerous contests and submitted it to a plethora of publishers. Soon the rejection letters came in, and worse, no responses. But it was great prose! To be honest, I still love the story. However, reality raised it's hideous head and it became time to move along to other stories. 
It's funny how schizophrenic we writers treat our work. We can be our most ruthless critic, yet other times refuse to see our shortcomings. Our writer's group meets every Monday and people get the opportunity to read their work. I shake my head as some of them argue with a roomful of critics that point out a blatant shortcoming of their work. What about you? Can you walk the tightrope of honesty, look at your work and appraise it well? 
It can be worse for published writers, as the publisher sends emails reminding you of the upcoming deadline. You can get caught up in word counts and punching out another book while the quality erodes. Of course, if a deadline looms and the work needs a rewrite, sleep is for the weak, correct? And hopefully you've got good support from your agent and publisher to get that bat swinging and hear the crack as your bat connects with the ball. 
Sometimes, hopefully seldom, there are two options; one painful, one horrific. A big fix, or kill it. 

Stay tuned for Writing Crap III: Standing Out From the Crowd February 20, 2013
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  1. Good heavens, you wrote this for me, didn't you? I just totally shredded a Krakatoa-bad novel that was re-purchased by a new publisher, even with her caveats; went to my fav editor (this is the third novel of mine she's worked on), and though she didn't say it was that bad, I pretty much re-wrote it, after seriously considering pulling the plug, as you said it. Ouch....but a good lesson.

  2. Not too many first-time authors seem to be willing to rewrite their work. I've met more people who believe their babies are perfect, dirty diapers and all, and it's the rest of the industry that is wrong. Most of these go on to give self-publishing a bad name.

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  4. Fix it or kill it! Well said, an excellent post with which I totally agree...Just one tip that I have found works for me: rewrite it from another point of view! You can move to third person if it was first person. You can write it from the point of view of the two main characters (if it has 2 main characters of course!)

    I find that the easiest way to fix it: you find you can use a lot of the stuff and more comes naturally when a different POV is used...How about you? Maybe that should be your next post!