Turning Point or Reversal?

This week we're talking about turning points on the road to publication. I'm going to write about a turning point that came after I got my first book deal.   Actually, it came after my second.   At the time, it felt more like a reversal than a turning point.   Like a character on the cusp of Act III, I had one of those gut-wrenching defeats where it seemed all was lost. The only thing I could do was dig deep to find the courage I needed to regroup and find another way through the problem.

At the time, I didn't dwell on it all that much. I just did what I had to do to find my way through to the other side. It's only months later, in hindsight, that I can appreciate how I've come through the struggle changed- more confident as a writer.
I sold a book on proposal. I wrote the book. I was given some revision notes and I did a revision. Then I got an email from my agent.

"We need to talk."

My agent is lovely, and I'm sure the email was extremely polite and positive, but I read between the lines.   Sure enough, the conversation centered around the fact that my editor did not think the direction of the revision was working, and wanted to see how I felt about a fairly significant rewrite. I assured my agent that I was okay with it.  I was, both because I was starting to have my own doubts about that revision, and because I wanted my publisher to like the book.

But I was terrified.

My editor was enthusiastic and encouraging on our call. She offered to move my publication date, to give me as much time as I needed to do the revision. She helped me understand what wasn't working and brainstorm some new ideas. I told her how grateful I was for the opportunity to make the book better, rather than rush an inferior product to market. And I was grateful.

But I was still terrified.

When I went back to the manuscript to start chopping story elements, I was left with about 20% of the original product, and most of that would have to change.   I was going to have to replot the entire book from scratch, reimagine some supporting characters, and basically write a new book.

I felt the pressure to perform in a way I'd never felt before.  It truly felt like a make it or break it moment, if not for my writing career, at least for this book.

I embarked on a crash course in plotting. Some of you may remember when I was learning about the four act structure and analyzing sequences and setpieces. The index card method mentioned in the first post was just one of the techniques that helped me get past my fear and get to work.

Once I had the new plot in place, I sat down and wrote. At first, I felt the eyes of my editor over my shoulder, and I started to second guess every page, every line, every word. But it wasn't my editor at all- it was my own fear of failure that hung in the air and kept me from doing my best work. I had to find a way to push it aside. To find my character's voice again. To let her tell her story. The story I wanted to write.

I developed a playlist of songs that evoked the tone, feelings and voice I wanted for the characters.  At the beginning of every writing session I put in my headphones and disappeared into another world. The music became my white noise, drowning out my own voice of self doubt and letting the characters come to the surface. The words started to flow again, and I let myself enjoy spending more time with my characters.

The new draft was better than anything I could've ever done on my own. I was pushed to places I didn't know I could go.  I learned so much about plot, story and characterization. It was the scariest, but also the best experience I've had as a writer.

No matter what happened with the book, I had turned a corner on my path as a writer.  I discovered new weapons in my arsenal, and a newfound courage. 

My editor is happy with the new draft too, which is wonderful.  But I'm already certain that the impact of this experience will be more than this one book. 

I might be able to do this writing thing after all.


Wow. I know it sounds trite, but that was awesome.

Talia, Thank you so much! Your story today was exactly what I needed to hear. I'm very grateful.

Linda, it doesn't sound trite at all. Pat, glad this helped you. I'v come to realize that very book is it's own challenge. All we can do is just keep going.

I love this story, Talia. So encouraging! I've got my own index cards up right now - they're staring at me reproachfully while I take a break from revising.

(Psst, hi, Pat!)

This is a very encouraging post. It's one thing to know that writers should improve over time. But it's another to experience the push, the drive, the terror that pumps adrenaline into your writer's veins and bring out that next level of writing ability.

Both scary and exciting. Glad you found that writing second wind.

Thanks for sharing. I'm staring down the barrel of a major revision that even I know I need to make. I've been paralyzed by it, but your post encouraged me to just start working on it.

I’m happy that you came out on top of your game. That^ didn’t sound like an ordeal. It sounded like an O-R-D-E-A-L.
I must say that whenever I read about writers being asked for a complete re-write, I wonder what it was the publisher/agent bought in the first place.
You’re a champ.

Thanks for your post. And congrats for pulling a great experience out of a scary situation.

I could certainly relate to this. One of my publishers forced me to do a revision I knew, deep inside, needed to be done, but I was too scared to try. Once my book deal hung in the balance, I gritted my teeth and did the work. Result: a huge improvement in the novel.

Pressure, when applied skilfully, can improve many things in life, including one's writing.

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