Monday, December 02, 2019

I know this can be better

I think I have taken this ms. as far as I can, but I have no illusions that anyone would say it's ready to publish as is. I'm certain that a good agent/editor could make it better, and welcome that process, but does that mean I should keep at it? I feel like I would be making changes for their own sake. I don't see problems that I hope someone else will solve, but open to the possibility that I have blind spots. 

I really like what Ira Glass said about the creative process here.

It resonates with my own experience. When I decided to post to the blog every day, my writing gradually got better.

And when I started critiquing queries by the bushel, my acumen on what worked, what didn't, and most of all, why, sharpened perceptibly. 

So what does that mean for you?

If you feel like you've gotten as far as you can, you have to remember that's as far as you can go AT THIS LEVEL.

You need to get to the next level.

How do you do that?
Write more.
Write daily.
Not just work on the novel, but shorter pieces too.
100 words daily on a any topic.
A short story a month.
A poem a day.

And read more.
Read with your writer's eye.
Watch for things that work really well.
Then WRITE why they work.

It's translating what you think to paper that builds your writing chops.

Watch for things that don't work.
Write why they don't.
[And "it sucketh the almighty lemon" isn't an explanation.]

Three paragraphs on why "bad writing" is compelling. (Example: DaVinci Code; Fifty
Shades of Grey)

Figuring out what doesn't work is as helpful as figuring out what does.
Being able to explain both is what you want to work on.

There are all sorts of ways to get eyes on your work if you want feedback.
You could post 100 word stories to Twitter using the newish threading tool
that Twitter allows.

Flash fiction contests are always fun.

You can critique query letters at Absolute Write.

You can certainly wait for help. Or hire help.

But no one can build your skills for you. No one can write in your voice. No one can edit zing into your work. No one can wrangle words deftly for you. No one can write your book as well as you can.

Let the novel sit for a while.
Come back to it after you've done some other writing.
You'll see things then that you can't see now.

Yes, Michael Jordan had a coach.
But he also practiced more than anyone else on the team, famously the first one to the gym and the last to leave.

Happy December!
Now go write 100 words on the joy of mashed potatoes!


Kitty said...

David Mamet on writing: “At some point you’re going to say, ‘Okay, it’s going to be bad.’ You’ve got to stand being bad if you want to be a writer. Because if you don’t you’re never going to write anything good.”

I've been working on something which I began years ago. Although the idea was good, my writing back then was lousy. Periodically I haul it out and work on it some more, and every time I do my writing improves.

One thing that has helped tremendously is to read with a writer's eye. I make mental notes on what works and what doesn't and use them in my writing.

Keep pluggin', OP!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

*waits for the Reiders who will no doubt take up the "write 100 words on the joys of mashed potatoes" challenge*

OP I know how you feel. When to let a book go is a huge challenge.

I am working on a new WIP gleefully while letting the one that I believe is ready for the query trenches to bake a few more weeks. I wouldn't be doing that but enough agents on the top of my list are closing to queries until the New Year so figured I would wait.

Plus personal stuff has me too distracted right now to deal with the inevitable rejections. Also, I believe it would be cool to have the second book closer to daylight when I start talking to agents. So here's looking at you 2020. Good luck, OP. Keep plugging along.

JulieWeathers said...

I've been clearing out files and trying to organize them and came across an old fantasy called Dragon Valley. I decided to post an excerpt on the Litforum just for giggles because someone had mentioned something about something that this sort of pertained to. The scene involves a female cavalry captain who has been sent to a neighboring kingdom as part of an envoy to appeal for aid to save the singing dragons. After yet another banquet, the dancers come out. A male dancer asks her to dance a special dance, the dance of love. He wants to have sex with her in front of everyone. She's absolutely mortified, of course.

Anyway, the scene appeals to my warped sense of humor.

While it isn't bad, one commenter said, "Not meant as a backhand compliment, but Rain Crow is a million times better."

Well, yes, that's what ten years of practice, lots of good advice from a critique group, and three more books will do for you.

When you've gone as far as you can go well, you find someone to help. Or, as they say in Firefly.

Steve Forti said...

“This damned teaching assistant is killing my mojo. You’d think for sixty grand a year, this college would screen their employees. I guess not.”
can’t be that bad. At least you’re learning, right?”
“You’d think so. Failing at that, apparently.”
“He must know something to earn all those diplomas.”
“He d
oesn’t have any! Or maybe just the one. Unless you count his masters from the Training Academy for Gestapo TA.”
“To es
calate, go to the professor. Surely she can do something.”
“Fat chance. She don’t care. Already has tenure.”
“Damn. Well, at least we’ve got potatoes.”
“Oh joy.”

Timothy Lowe said...

Forti . . . just . . .

Game, set, match!

Beth Carpenter said...

Or we could write on the Joy of Forti.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

*bows to Forti*

A master in 100 words or less

Lennon Faris said...

What a great post. It's a terrible feeling when you don't know how to reach your goal, like it's impossible with your life. Here is a concise list to give direction when you hit that ceiling. I think the only thing missing might be time. All of those things (not just letting your mss sit) take time, and boatloads of patience.

I love Janet's lists!

And Forti... I salute you!

Janet Reid said...

I thought I'd cleverly limited my humilation at the hands of Forti to Sundays.

But no, the Prompt Word Wrangler Extraordinaire swoops in on a flying burrito and waxes poetic on mashed potatoes.

Next contest: use nemesis five times in 100 words.

Claire Bobrow said...

Looks like Steve had a second cup of coffee this morning :-)

That was brilliant!

Steve Forti said...

Sorry, I had to do it :) Gotta get it in now, since I'll be out of commission if there's a contest this weekend.
Anyone else already done with winter? Stupid snow.

John Davis Frain said...

Excellent post. The only thing I would add, OP, is to read your current ms aloud and see how it sounds. The rhythm, the cadence, of course. But also any parts that trip you up, and any parts that start to bore you.

And why does it feel like Forti is a Harlem Globetrotter and I just renewed my contract with the Washington Generals?

Colin Smith said...

“Take your writing to the next level,” she said. Fine.

Spent three hours wandering the Champs-Élysées. Wasted a whole afternoon watching the boats on the Seine from the Eiffel Tower’s observation deck.


Eventually went home to drab and rainy Birmingham. Nothing like an English autumn to get the creative cogs turning.

Half an hour in my local chippy, and the words started to flow. Incredible. By the time I finished off a bag of deep fried spuds, liberally salted and doused with malt vinegar, I had an outline and chapter one.

You can keep Paris.

We’ll always have potatoes.


Sorry, couldn't resist the flash fiction challenge. And yeah, I know the challenge was mashed potatoes, but Forti's already won the internet today... ;)

Theresa said...

I feel like I lucked into a double header today, with Janet's fine post and the unexpected flash from Steve.

OP, keep writing for practice and get feedback when you can.

Karen McCoy said...

An Ode to Perfectionists

Oh book nemesis.

You lack the joy of mashed potatoes

Smashed to death

You no longer resemble a potato even.

You’re more like oatmeal.

Over-worked, over-wrought.

And no one wants a bite.

How to sweeten the pot, as it were?

Is it space that’s needed?

Perhaps a critique?

Or, mayhap, a trip to the self-esteem fairy

To help you remember what parts are good

Or are salvageable?

Oh, my poor book nemesis.

Someday I hope to see you sing.

french sojourn said...

JulieWeathers...singing dragons, and Firefly. Thanks, I needed that today.

John Davis can have my spot on the Generals bench.

Karen McCoy said...

Oh short story nemesis.

Why did I think potatoes could sing?

(also thankful to JulieWeathers for the Firefly reference)

Adib Khorram said...

I remember this point in my career well, because this is exactly when I applied Janet's advice to pick a book I loved and write out the whole thing myself (or in my case type it out). I learned so much, and I feel like I really DID level up at the end of it.

Craig F said...

Read with your writer's eye.

To start that I found used paperback versions of books that I wanted to grow up to be like.

I attacked them with a highlighter so I could see how things tied together. It helped a lot on getting focused on the heart of the matter.

Another thing to do is to read the progression of growing queries on Absolute Write or Query Tracker's forum. Then try to help your fellow writers along their journey.

John Davis Frain said...


If you mash 'em just right, pad 'em with the exact amount of butter and sour cream, well yes then, those potatoes can sing!

I can't, of course. Meaning, I can't sing, nor can I make singing (or even unlumpy) mashed potatoes.

Elissa M said...

One thing that has helped improve my writing immensely is critiquing other writers. Not only do you learn to see what's not working and why, you learn how to convey that to the author without making them feel bad. It's probably the hardest writing I've ever done.

KDJames said...


OP, lots of good advice here. Try any or all of it.

But also consider . . . you might be wrong. When you say it could be better, you might not be the best judge of that. We never are. Have you given it to beta readers? What kind of feedback are you getting? Maybe you should go ahead and query a few agents, see what kind of response you get.

Sometimes this certainty that you're not good enough (yet) is a valid thing. Sometimes it's an excuse for not taking the next scary step and you just need a little push in that direction. Consider yourself pushed.

Colin Smith said...

Sure, sure... boiled potatoes mashed with a slab of butter is good. BUT, if you really want to kick it up a notch, throw in some boiled cabbage and fry them together. Plate with some ketchup and you have a traditional English (or Irish--my Irish Mum made it for us to I can't be sure of the true country of origin) Bubble and Squeak.

I salivate just thinking of it... :D

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

A couple of years ago, I set myself to writing/completing a story a month (it was after I read Ray Bradbury's book on writing and thought 1 a week was probably a bit much). And, about 5 years ago, I started the writing workshop at the library.

It's interesting, to look at work I produced then, and to look at what I produce now. I feel like most of the time you aren't as aware of your progress? Like, I've always been confident but perhaps in the past it wasn't necessarily earned, it was just the Donohue/New Jersey "charge ahead and figure it out." Now, I feel like I've put in a lot of work and am seeing the payoff.

It was in 2018-2019 that I dropped the 1 short story/month thing, due to energetic puppy antics. I'm thinking of picking it up again next year, though, now that she's matured some and we've figured out some good exercise-mental stimulation balance for her. I can write at home again! On my laptop! And not just on my phone once she's exhausted herself into slumber sprawled across my lap. On the docket are Run With the Hunted 3 and a number of shorts that I've jotted scraps of notes for.

Also, I in theory need the distraction while I'm querying, right?

Karen McCoy said...

John Thanks! Once my "potatoes" sing, I'm sure I will too. And yeah, we don't have an actual potato masher, so our edible potatoes remain permanently un-mashed.

KDJames You very eloquently stated what I was thinking. I think it's possible to both continually up our craft but also recognize when we need to take a break and reassess.

AJ Blythe said...

What's not to love about this post. Great advice and flash fiction all to the sound of gnashing shark teeth.

Laura Stegman said...

I respect Janet's blog and admire all of you so much that sometimes I wish there was a "LIKE" button for replies. Of course if there were such a thing today, every reply would get one.

Fearless Reider said...

Laura S., I feel the same way!

I tried writing 100 words about mashed potatoes, but it was veering towards erotica. Such is my passion for spuds. And Firefly.

Another great resource for writers who crave concrete examples of writing that works (and why) is Francine Prose's book READING LIKE A WRITER.

NLiu said...

Potato masher? Bah! All one needs is a fork and plenty of elbow grease. Apparently pro chefs use sieves (repeatedly) to get that extra fine texture. But I prefer mine lumpy and voluptuous with butter, crackling with black pepper and studded with parsley.

Mashed potatoes are the best.

I totally get where OP is coming from. I found offering to beta (for another Reef denizen! Yay! Pompoms!) really helpful. We swapped MS's and had a blast. Her comments were spot on. And the experience of assessing another MS and seeing what worked/didn't and why was extremely helpful for me. Hopefully it helped her too!

All the best with levelling up, OP!

NLiu said...

Also, I feel I should plug the Operation Awesome blog ( ) A few other Reiders are there and they are doing crits of people's first 50 words every week at the moment.

(Someone please linkify that!!)

Janet Reid said...

Operation Awesome blog

NLiu said...

Thanks O Sharkly Queen!