First Reads and new Projects: the Cusp

With completion of draft 2.1 of my current project (SOTA), it’s time to give it a rest and look ahead to the next one. SOTA is by no means done. It really needs another quick revision before anyone sees it but after 11 months working on it (longer if you count story development), I need a break before I can face it again. Aside from the fact that I’m so familiar with it that I wouldn’t even see half the missing words, mangled sentences, inconsistencies, etc., there’s a more visceral reaction to revising it now: in a month, yes; now, shudder.

Sunrise, sunset. Beginnings and endings
Sunrise, sunset. Beginnings and endings

It was always my plan to take it to a certain point and then take a break while sending it out to readers. It is not quite as polished as I’d like it so I’ve changed the plan to limit it to just one reader right now- a long time friend who has collaborated with me on many D&D campaigns in the past as well as proved a great resource for bouncing off story ideas, especially plot assessments. So, he has agreed to take it as-is and this way, I’ll have another set of eyes on the basic plot before I start the next revision.

It’s always tough for me to know when to let someone else look at a project. You only get one initial reaction. After that, even if the reader is game to read the next draft, the surprises are gone and there’s the baggage of the earlier drafts. I learned some time ago that no matter how much I’d like some feedback (and no matter how ‘great’ it seems at the time), never to let someone see a first draft. Regardless of any caveats you provide (“Yes, I’ll be changing this, this and this”) people can’t help evaluating it as it is and my first drafts always tend to be just partially born, half on paper, half in my head.

These days, it isn’t so hard for me to wait to share it. In this case, what pushed me to show one reader even this current draft is the desire not to spend too long on the project. I’ve been writing long enough to know that this current project, as much as I like it (and yes, as sad as it is to contemplate), probably won’t get published either. If I want to be a successful writer, as evidenced by at least a reasonable readership, I need to keep banging out novels until they start to click with readers. There’s little point pushing out a mediocre novel and there’s also no point in polishing and revising something that, in the end, isn’t going to cut it.

As I’ve come expect from advice for budding authors, there’s conflicting opinions. Some remind you that you should revise and revise and revise, because wouldn’t it suck if you failed to get that big deal because you skipped one more revision? And then there is also the advice that you write it, tidy it up, and move on to the next project. The latter advice is more common and, to me, more sensible. There are examples of wildly successful writers who did spend many years on their manuscripts (Tolkien comes to mind, of course, but there are others like, I believe, Patrick Rothfuss). But I think those examples overlook the far larger number of writers who polish and revise, set aside, re-work, and re-work again for five or ten or more years. I think the reason why “write it and move on” is so commonly offered by writing professionals is that they see so many people flailing away at a treasured project without anything to show for it, ever. And professionals also know that, in the end, you learn more from crafting new stories than polishing an old one.

This whole issue of write and move on, is a bit depressing to me, to be honest. I came to writing wanting to share great stories and that’s still my goal. But on the first ones, without having a good understanding of the end, or of the writing business, it is hard to avoid investing a lot in the story. But at some point it necessary to recognize that the story you had to write, that project that made you feel all fuzzy and warm thinking about how wonderful it was and how well it was going to be received, really isn’t up to snuff. It might still be wonderful in your head and some day you might come back to it, but right now, what’s on paper is not ready, and worse, it isn’t worth further effort on it. Time to try again on something else.

So, I feel sad about being willing to walk away from a project. After so many months or years on something, it’s like abandoning a child. And I turned to writing as something very different from my day job (project management) so treating writing as another form of project, while likely to improve my odds, does take some of the glow off the activity. But, in the end, if the ultimate goal is to having readers enjoy my stories, it is something I have to do.

As for SOTA, I haven’t given up on it yet. I’m hopeful it will do better than the last project but I’m prepared to have to set it, too, aside and go to the next one. And having a next one in the works, will help me make a more reasoned decision on how far to take SOTA.


6 thoughts on “First Reads and new Projects: the Cusp

  1. I think it is important to share your work – at the right time. It sounds like you have a good plan to do that. Resting now, and then looking forward to the next, will rejuvenate you. Enjoy it!

    1. Thanks! All for a little rejuvenation. It’s funny how my conscious nags me to write. I’ve got to give myself permission to take some time off, although story dev still counts 🙂

  2. Alex Hurst

    Thanks for the ping back.

    It sounds like you’ve got a great story in the making. It’s good you’re going to take a short break from it. I know that ‘visceral’ reaction all too well!

    Best of luck to you!

  3. I hear a lot of you saying your story is crap, and I’d just point out that’s no excuse not to submit it. Look at half of what’s on TV! The difference between published and unpublished, so often, is that one was submitted and the other was not.

    1. Thanks for dropping by but definitely not saying that- for me it’s more about forging ahead and not getting hung up on one story 🙂

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