Staying Focused Through the Doubt

A couple of weekends ago, I had a few days that shall I put it...

...they were less than...

(no, that's not quite right)

...they weren't quite up to...


Oh heck, let's face it, they stunk. They were awful and depressing. Mainly for two reasons, both of which had to do with my writing.

First, I received the expected rejection letter from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction for the short story I sent them (see previous blog post). In and of itself, the letter wasn't a big deal. As noted, it was expected. What got to me was what the letter said: 

"This is a very clever, well written story but in the end it feels one dimensional and didn't quite win me over."

Under most circumstances, this would have been an great rejection letter to receive. After all, the editor called my story "clever" and "well written." That being said, he also hit upon the one issue I've struggled with in my (fiction) writing since the very beginning—how to peel my characters off the one-dimensional page and turn them into living, breathing beings that my readers will become emotionally involved with. As it pertains to the short story, it's really no big deal—that story was/is nothing more than a fun distraction. Whether anyone publishes it or not is of little concern. As this critique applies to my larger works (i.e. my novel), however, it is monumental.

The second reason for my awful, depressing weekend came, as if to reinforce the critique of the rejection letter, while reading the draft of my current novel to my wife (see How I Write-Part 5: Editing, Rewriting & Beta Readers, Oh My!), we stumbled upon a couple of chapters that were...well...let's just say they weren't as ready for the light of day as I originally thought they were. In fact, they were about as flat and one-dimensional as you could get. I noticed this to be the case as I was reading the chapters in question aloud (another example of why you should ALWAYS read your work aloud at some point in your editing process). It was only after I finished reading that my wife confirmed what I already knew to be true: I had a whole lot of work to do, if I was going to get my novel back on track.

I spent most of the rest of the weekend in quiet contemplation (read: pouting) over what to do next. The first thing I had to determine was if this flat one-dimensionalness infected the whole novel, including what I'd already read aloud, which was more than half of my book. Here's a snapshot of how that conversation went in my head.

The insecure part of me said:

"Of course the rest of the book is flat and one-dimensional—you're terrible at this and you should just quit now before you embarrass yourself any further." 

Then the arrogant part of me said:

"Don't pay any attention to that ridiculous editor. Your writing is superb. You can't help it if others are unable recognize your obvious talents. You're being way too hard on yourself."

Then the more realistic part of me popped up and said:

"Alright you two, knock it off. I know my writing isn't terrible, and not all of it is flat and one-dimensional. That being said, however, it clearly need some work, so stop whining and figure out how you're going to fix it!"

And with that, I began working on a solution to the issues of the broken chapters. Implementing those solutions will take some time to complete, but in the end, I believe they will make for a better story, with stronger, more well-developed characters. This level of rework is no fun at this point of the process, but it is vital to the success of the story.

If I've learned one thing from all of this, it's that while, for simplicity's sake, I must write my first drafts "in a vacuum" so to speak, at some point my stories must come out and be revealed to (and critiqued by) those I trust. In so doing, I must be prepared for the moment when the flaws in my work are found, for they will be. When that happens, I have to fight the doubts that arise and simply work to fix the problems, even when those problems seem insurmountable. I must never take my eyes from the ultimate goal—to write and publish the best novel I possibly can.