Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for August: (8/3) Dianne Freeman (8/10) Daryl Wood Gerber (8/17) E. B. Davis's Review of Granite Oath, James M. Jackson's new novel (8/24) Rose Kerr (8/31) V. M. Burns.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sounding Retreat to Write Another Day

I wrote a synopsis for my third novel in the Skeet Bannion series and sent it to my agent the other day. I felt pretty good about it and ready to start working on it as I can during this crazy book-promotion time right before Every Last Secret (the first Skeet book) launches. I had my novel-writing group (there are three of us who have met monthly for years) take a look at it, and they liked it.

My agent, who is wonderful, sent back a reply, saying it had lots of interesting characters and good suspense and plot complications. Then, she asked me, “How is Skeet being tested anew?”
I stared at it and realized that, unlike the first two books where the story had risen from Skeet’s character and the things she needed to be forced up against to create growth in her character, with this book I got carried away with great situations and quirky characters and left that most important consideration out of the equation altogether.

I packed up my laptop and marched myself to my local coffee shop for a full day of total focus on revising this synopsis and fixing it. I could do this thing. I just had to tie it into Skeet’s character development. That was all I had to do.

By the end of the day, I was ready to cry. My great synopsis was not going to work. All those terrific characters and interesting situations didn’t fit Skeet’s character arc—at least not at this point in the series. Oh, I won’t throw them away. But this is probably going to have to be a later book—or maybe even someone else’s book. I crawled back home, defeated.

After much thought about it, I emailed my agent and said I needed to start from scratch to be sure this book would have the same level of quality the other two had. I wondered if she’d think I was a lousy writer because I couldn’t make the synopsis fit. I had visions of my name falling down to the bottom of her priority list.

She told me not to worry, that now my concern was to promote the first book, and she knew I’d come up with the right book with time. (I told you she was a wonderful agent.) The weight lifted off my shoulders, and I looked one last time at the synopsis. Lots of good stuff there, but for another book. I would go back to Skeet’s character and situation at the end of book two and look for natural outgrowths and integral elements that will test her and cause her to learn things she doesn’t want to face.

Sometimes it’s best to say, “This is not working. Let’s try something else.” And sometimes, if we’re very lucky, someone else will lead us there before we’ve gone too long down the wrong road. A Southern friend’s grandmother always used to tell her, “You’ve never gone too far down the wrong road to turn back.”

Have you found yourself mired in a story that ought to be working but isn’t? Have you ever wandered from the strengths of your original work to something lesser and realized it with horror? Have you ever gone down that wrong road?


Warren Bull said...

Linda cannot be with us today. I think her blog shows how as writers we have to be open and willing to recognize when we get off track in our writing and brave enough to abandon work we have labored and sweated over to start again

Norma Huss said...

I have definitely reached this spot. Several times. I have several chapters of several books that I decided didn't work part way through. Finally, I'm starting a new sequel to my first one published, and I think I've got it. I hope.

Okay, there are way too many personal pronouns in that paragraph!

Gloria Alden said...

Yes, I had several middle-grade books that weren't working. Someday I want to get back to them now that I have more writing experience and work on them again.

Also, at Seascape last week, something as simple as changing the title of my book was an eureka moment when it was suggested in the group meeting. It wasn't much, but it was enough to make me feel much more positive about the book and its plot.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Linda and Warren,

I think this has happened at one time or another to all of us who write. A good rule is to put the manuscript aside and come back to it with fresh eyes at a later date. Just don't throw it out! You never know when a brilliant idea will strike for rewriting or rethinking.


Jacqueline Seewald
DEATH LEGACY--new release from Five Star/Gale

E. B. Davis said...

This is the reason that I wish fiction worked like non-fiction. Until you have a relationship with an agent/publisher, fiction writers can't propose books. I have a lot of concepts that I'd like to propose, but I have to write the book before anyone will look at it. If the concept isn't right, I've lost a year of work. So, Linda--don't fee failure, feel gratitude that you've saved time. Sure, you'd like to come up with a winner everytime, but since you have those relationships, relationships that unpublished authors don't yet have, you've saved time in your career. You'll come up with the right plot and further your characters' arcs without writing the wrong book.

Warren Bull said...

Thanks to those who comment. Great advice from Jacqueline. Don't throw away your work. I may well come in handy later on.

jenny milchman said...

I admire Linda's courage in being able to set something so invested in aside. I know the next book will be all the greater for this--and as Jacqueline says, no writer ever throws anything away.

Nathan @ Nortia Press said...

Hi Linda, this is a great piece. As Jenny says, it takes courage to know when something is wrong and take the time to make it right. And thankfully word processors allow us to "throw things out" without actually deleting. This is very liberating.

To respond to E. B. Davis, I think you can accomplish a lot without an agent. You can write a little bit and show it to people whose opinion counts (not necessarily friends and family, who will always tell you what you want to hear). Good luck!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Thank you all for stopping by and for your comments--and especially thanks to Warren for stepping in while I was gone. I am still out of town, of course, but the literary festival I've been in Iowa City for, running a book table for a literary magazine and small press all day and giving a reading this evening is done for the day.

Norma, I'm so glad you've found what you needed to make the new sequel to your first published book work! Wishing you great good luck with that!

Gloria, how I envy you getting to attend Seascape with such great faculty! I'm so glad it's been quite helpful on your current book.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jacqueline, you are so right! Never throw it out while in despair. Just set it aside for consideration after you've done something else.

EB, I count my blessings for my great agent every day. I know how lucky I was not to have gone through a chunk of first draft before seeing the problem. I wrote my first two novels without the chance to propose them first, so I know what you're talking about.

Nathan is right about finding someone good to look at your work. The tricky thing is to find the right someone who can give you the kind of feedback a professional reader like and agent or editor would.

Jenny, thanks for dropping by. Jenny is one of the folks who make the International Thriller Writers Debut Authors Program such an immensely helpful, great success. And she knows more than a little about writing a novel on spec and being stymied until a professional took an interest after reading it!

Again, many thanks, Warren, for filling in for me in comments today. I appreciate it greatly.

Anita Page said...

Linda, I would guess we've all been there. Good for you for recognizing the problem as soon as you did. Best of luck with the series.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Thanks, Anita! Yes, I think it's something we all run into sooner or later.