Back on April 9th, I finished the third rewrite of my manuscript and forwarded it to a few brave volunteers who had one mission – to tear it apart and get it back to me by May 31st.
Never before had anyone seen more then a few chapters of my story. My first story. Sure, I’ve had a couple early chapters critiqued, but that was it.
So I drummed my fingers and waited for the results. I wondered – how will I take what they have to say? Will I be one of those who receives the feedback gratefully and professionally? Will I have a temper tantrum and insist they don’t know what they’re talking about anyway? Will I go home and cry and vow never to write another word?
Well I’m thankful to say I received the crits with professionalism – and fascination. Of course now the ball is back in my court and the hard work really begins. I have to sift through their feedback. Ultimately I am the author. I know my story best. I must take those suggestions that will better my story and ignore those suggestions that don’t. That’s not an easy thing to do. You spend a lot of time second guessing yourself. It’s a cliché, but writing is not for the faint of heart.
But what I wanted to share over the next few days is what I learned about the process of writing via this first manuscript crit. You might be tempted to say that’s unimportant, but I think it’s very important. After all, it has taken me a good 4 years to get to this point with this ONE manuscript. I need all the help I can get to become a more efficient writer. I mean face it – I’m middle aged. I have tons of stories in my head that want to come out. And if every novel I write takes four years, it’s a sure bet I’ll never make much progress churning them out – they’ll probably be lost in the chaos of dementia long before their time.
I need to review the whole writing process up to this time, including this first manuscript crit, to see how I can improve both my writing and my process in the future.
With that in mind, here are twelve key things I’ve learned. I’ll list them all today, then over the next six days, I’ll tackle a few at a time, examining each in more detail.
1. I must lay out my project timeline carefully
2. Crafting a novel requires much layering and compartmentalizing
3. The process of writing a novel is a tremendous learning experience.
4. Historical fiction requires a balance between reality and the needs of fiction.
5. Technical aspects of writing are my weakness.
6. Write the story of your heart – don’t cave to pressure (real or perceived).
7. Learn to love rewrites. You might have to do many of them.
8. Popular misconception and lack of factual knowledge may give readers a different impression then what you intended.
9. There is no shortcut to writing a good quality historical novel. So suck it up and deal with it.
10. I have to accept my skill level for where it is, right at this point in time.
11. Even when you think you know your characters, you probably don’t know them as well as you should.
12. I must learn to be mean to my characters.