Friday, October 14, 2011

And Repeat as Before . . .

This is basically - no, just about  exactly, the post I put up on this blog at this time last year.  And I'm making no apologies for that because it seems to me that, sadly,  what I said last year needs saying all over again - and then some.   Already the kickback at the choice of the Top Twenty (one) has started) So , sadly, I need to repeat myself - Only the numbers have been changed in the cause of accuracy. 

Yesterday was   a big day for aspiring romance writers. The day when the next stage of the New Voices contest was  announced. When the  20 (21)  writers whose work was selected to go into the second stage and write another chapter of their story learn which of them will now be asked for the final entry - to write the pivotal moment between their characters.

20 entries out of 1088 - it's a very small proportion of the oringinal entries who will now be seens as winners of this stage. But does that make the other 1068 entrants 'losers' - not in my book. 1088 people put their words and their dreams on- line and on the line. And while they all did it with varying degrees of success in editorial assessment terms - they also all succeeded in doing what writers do - they wrote.

There has been a variety of responses to the announcement of the results - but one that has saddened me by prevailing is the wash of disapointment - natural disapointment - that has tended in some cases to slide over the line into negativity. If this chapter didn't succeed as it is, then it's no good. And if it's no good then I'm no good as a writer seems to be the assumption. Or - I can't see what was wrong with my chapter - everyone on the web site loved it - they must be 'moving the goalposts' or 'changing the rules'. Neither of which is true. But it can feel that way. I know - I've been there.

As you know I'm celebrating 25 + years of being published. The Chalk Line was published in December 1984 . . . but my next book wasn't out until 1986. The reason for the gap? You can call it second book blues, but the truth is that I didn't get another book right until then. I can excuse myself by saying that my mother was dying or that I was ill myself but the fact remains that the two books I wrote after The Chalk Line just did not work. Particularly not the one between The Chalk Line and Game of Hazard, which was the book I managed to revise to publication standard.

The one in the middle was called Chase The Dawn. And as I write this I have in front of me the revsion letters that my then editor sent me about this book - five different letters ! After each one I tried top do the revisions - and just couldn't get them right. The letters are also spread over four years because I ended up doing the sensible thing - and looking back - the best thing - and put the book away for about 18 months so that then I could look at it much ore clearly when I brought it out.
What was so wrong with the book? With the benefit of hindsight, I can now honestly say not that much. Or rather, not that many things but the fact that I hadn't done one basic thing that I now hear myself advising would-be authors to do all the time.
Keep it simple. Dig deep.

Or to quote one of the revision letters - probably the first - I didn't 'delve deeply enough into your central characters' motives and personalities to integrate their actions into the devlopment of the relationship.' But honestly, remembering back, I really thought I had done that. I remember staring at the revisions letters wondering just what it all meant. How could they say this? I was a failure - a one book wonder who would never be published again.
Today, looking at those letters, I see where so much of my teaching and commenting, the sort of things I put in the 12 Point Guide come from. And the important thing is that although those letters were written back in the 1980, by an editor who hasn't worked for M&B for - what - 20 years? - they show that the things editors have been looking for have always been the same.

Delve deeply into your characters' motives and personalities

Go all out for emotional identification with your heroine. If you live inside her head then your reader will too. (These days it would be identification with both hero and heroine - there wasn't scope for dual point of view then)

Make the reader understand that what she(they) thought and did were her (their) only possible reactions at the time

Get inside your characters' skin so that the developing relationship is no longer swamped by the convolutions of the plot.

It all seems so obvious to me now - but then I was too close to my book to see what they meant.
And the end of this story?
If you look on my backlist page, you'll see it there -

It took me four years but I got there.

And what has always intrigued me is that while I ended up feeling quite sick at the sight of that manuscript, and eventually that book, Chase the Dawn is one of the books I have written that I have had most personal mail about, that so many people have said is one of their favourites. Readers say 'Chase the Dawn - oh, I loved that book.' It might be 20 years old but people remember it.

And no one has ever said anything about being able to see all the blood sweat and tears (lots of them!) that went into that book.

So what am I saying? I'm saying that I and every author I know has been through the rejection of 'this doesn't work'. I know how it feels to think I'll never be a writer - I just can't get this. And I know how it feels to have your precious work sent back to you and to feel you have to start all over again.

I used to have a routine when I got rejections/rewrites/revisions. I used to go into the garage and scream, stamp my feet - and fling the rejected manuscript at the wall. Then when I'd calmed down, I'd pick it all up, put it back in order - and I'd reread the rejection letter to see what I could do about it. It was that 'what can I do about it' that got me into being a writer.

I learned so much from those rejections. And from reading and studying the books that did make it. There weren't contests then but I wish there had been - not from the winning point of view but from the value of the lessons in writing romance that the chosen chapters and the editors' comments on them can reveal if you just take note.

What is it they say - that success is picking yourself up one more time than you are knocked down. If you think you're a 'loser' then you will probably stay down - but if you look at what you can learn from all this and work with it, I'll be willing to bet that there will be way more than the 21 winners on one list - or the 45 on the 'see again' list.

But the only person who can make that happen is you.


Sunu said...

Thts an inspiring blog Kate. Am not an author but I have written poems/songs once upon a time. I had a block for which i dunno the reason.

This makes me wanna give a try.

BiteMeAsh said...

Hi Kate

Very inspiring post thank you - I totally agree "But the only person who can make that happen is you."

Dreaming is easy, planning and setting goals a little more difficult but the one thing I believe is TAKING action which is crucial in making things happen.

My goal this year is to take action for my future ;o)

Take care,

Rita from South Africa

BiteMeAsh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kaelee said...

That was a great blog Kate. I now have to go looking for Chase the Dawn in the boxes of my mom's books in my basement.


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