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The Importance of the Next Project

Sometimes I hear about writers who’ve been working on the same novel for years.  To me, that seems counterproductive.  No doubt you should polish your book to as high a sheen as you can, but after you’ve done that, tinkering with it for years only means you’re not getting started on your next book.

I’m on my third.  The first was terrible, the second I’m shopping around, the third is my WiP and going really well.  I’ve learned much from the first two, but I’ve already explored those waters.  Why would I want to anchor myself there?  I want to sail on and explore new seas.

I don’t think endless rewrites actually make the book better.  A thorough sanding smooths the grain, but after that you’re cutting into the wood.  If you’re worried about getting it published, just send it out, even if it’s not perfect.  No actually published novel is perfect either, and not every novel is meant to make it to print.

And doesn’t sticking to one project for so long kill your imagination?  As a writer, a novelist, I feel you should have the feeling of ideas bubbling over.  You should have so many you can’t get to them all.  Periods between novels are for short stories or essays or poetry or what have you.  If you never let your novel achieve it’s natural end, you never get to that in-between point.  Your imagination languishes.  Let it go, and move on.  To a writer in it for the long-term, perhaps the most important concept is that of The Next Project.

Query letter

So I did some editing on the hook for my query letter.  The old one wasn’t inaccurate, exactly, but I think in tone it conveyed Dani as being something of a Bad Girl, and the plot as being a little grimmer than what it really is. Here’s what I have now [edited on 11 October–NPB; and yet again on 13 October–NPB]:






Fifteen year-old Dani is positive she’s in for the most boring summer ever when she goes with her dad to the tiny Arkansas town he grew up in.  To her surprise, she soon meets three locals: two boys and a large black bear, who seems to share a mysterious connection with her via a bear claw her late grandfather left her.

As for the boys, she leans towards Eli, passionate and charming, at seventeen already a semi-professional musician and an expert on local Indian lore.  Before long she’s strumming and smoking pot with his bluegrass band and joining his buddies on beer-drenched canoeing trips.  By the time she notices his quick temper and penchant for settling disputes with his fists, she’s already fallen for him.

The other boy, straight-arrow preacher’s son Austin, is worried about her, as are her Dad and her eccentric Aunt Eunice.  Even their help may not be enough to protect Dani when Eli reveals to her a hidden Indian burial site and his plans to perform a ritual there to keep his sick father alive.  He needs Dani because he believes her bear claw allows her to harness the site’s spiritual energy.  Unfortunately, the ritual also requires a human sacrifice.

Dani must decide whether to turn against Eli, even if it means putting her own life in danger.  Worse yet, while dealing with him, the hours are counting down to her slot at the big bluegrass festival she’s been rehearsing for all summer.  But neither Dani nor Eli realizes the true purpose of the bear claw, or what its use might bring. 

What I’m Reading: Steven King’s On Writing

This should maybe be titled What I’ve Read, since I finished it a couple days ago: Steven King’s On Writing.  It came to me highly recommended by more than one person, and I found it well-written and entertaining.  Part auto-biography and part how-to guide, and all readable.  Alas, like pretty much every writing book I’ve ever read (Strunk & White being the one exception) there wasn’t a whole lot of advice I found useful.

Read a lot.  Write a lot.  Know your grammar.  Have a place set aside.  All good recommendations, all familiar to any writer whose read more than one of these books.

There were two things in the book I did find helpful, one a piece of advice, one a bit from his biography.  The advice bit was that you should write your rough draft all the way through before going back to edit.  He’s not the first person I’ve heard this from, but I’ve decided to follow this with my current WiP.  It’s always tempting to go back and edit before you’re really done with the first draft, but it’s probably faster his way.  Might help make some of the middle part of the book (always my least favorite part) less of a slog if I’m not writing and editing at the same time.

The biography bit was finding out the he’d written three books before his first, Carrie, was published.  Stephen King himself, the man with seeming 1000 books on the shelves, didn’t get a bite from a publisher until book #4!  And once he was well-known, he was able to go back and sell two of the earlier ones, which actually weren’t that bad.  It’s just that selling anything as a first-time author is tough to do.

Gives me hope–just keep on writing, and if the current book I’m shopping around doesn’t attract an agent, it may still end up published later on.  Perhaps as part of a package deal?  Actually, if it keeps me writing and upbeat, I suppose On Writing did exactly what is was supposed to.

The Importance of Writing Groups

I’ve been a member of the Writers of Chantilly for about 18 months, and it’s made a tremendous difference to my writing.  Before I joined, I thought the most important thing about being in a writers’ group was the group’s critique of the story.  But now that I’ve been a member, I’ve come to realize the critiques aren’t the most important thing, or even second.  No, the critique is third on the list.

Second on the list is the moral support.  Now, I’ve been writing since I was a little kid.  Short stories, poems, screenplays, essays for school or even for myself.  I guess I’m pretty well internally motivated.  Even if I wasn’t in a group, I’d still be writing.  But I’m not sure I would have finished my most recent novel, or maybe it would have taken me much longer.  The twice-monthly meetings of my writers’ group energize me, supercharge me, make me eager to come back and write for the rest of the week.

But even that is subsidiary to what I’ve discovered is the primary advantage: being in a group makes me try harder.  Where formerly I might have glossed over an awkward passage or half-assed a difficult scene, or skipped it entirely, I know now I’m going to end up reading that in front of other people, so I really have to polish my work.  Make sure everything is exactly how it should be.  Even if it’s good, it gets an extra re-reading, and if it’s bad, I keep going at it until I know it’s something worth reading to the other members.

That’s why for writers, I’ve come to believe being in a writers group is essential.  It’s something I would recommend to any writer.  I’m not sure there’s really another way, at least for me, and I suspect for others, to get out the best writing we’re capable of. 

Musical inspiration

I find a lot of inspiration for my writing in song lyrics.  I don’t listen while I’m writing–music is way too much of a distraction!  But lyrical fragments will get in my head and stay there for years, and eventually have an impact on what I write.

For The Ballad of Dani and Eli this verse, from Cracker’s I See the Light, was often floating around in my head:

Do you sometimes lust
after the grace that others have inside
they simple peace they make of life
they love they show on summer’s nights
Well I want it too

(By the way, this is what the words sound like to me.  If this is wrong and you actually know the correct lyrics, don’t bother letting me know because I prefer this!)

Not that Cracker’s song directly influenced the plot or anything, but hearing those words sort of puts me in the right mood for writing.  The character of Eli in the book especially was informed by the spirit of the lyrics.  The way the singer wants the uncomplicated, loving way other people have, but isn’t quite sure how to acquire it for himself is very much reflected in Eli.  And you know he probably never will find that “simple peace”–it’s not something you can lust after, the very act of lusting after it precludes its achievement.

What songs or lyrics have inspired your writing or other artistic endeavors?