So with the agent round almost here, I wanted to talk a bit about expectations. There’s a huge gap between knowing something intellectually and applying it to your work. You expect that you’ll get feedback, and it will tell you what to do, and you’ll just immediately see how to do what it suggests.
Except you won’t.
Most of the time, you’ll flutter and fuss and angst over how to do it before you start digging in. That’s normal, and I’d be lying if I didn’t have the same feeling every single time. I get it when I sit down to do my beatsheets, or to do a write up for a client. It’s like when your house is a mess-Dirty dishes, laundry, sweeping, mopping, taking out the trash, dusting, cleaning out the cupboards and closets, etc. It’s hard to know where to begin. If you start out dusting-cleaning up your spelling and punctuation- it’s just going to get messed up again when you start scrubbing other things.
Start with the biggest things first. If the house is on fire, figure out what parts can still be salvaged, and pull them into the fresh file. For example, I’m getting ready for Nanowrimo. I love it, I’ve done it for over a decade, and lost more than I’ve won. I decided that if I was going to try it this year, I was going to do it right. I wanted a project I was passionate about, with strong stakes, goals, conflicts, and motivations. So I started outlining a couple different projects, one practical, a romance that I could easily write up in the confines of nano. The second, a larger project that’s been stewing on the back burner since I failed at it my very first nano in ~2003.
Talk about a crapfire: This thing has one dimensional characters, a plot where I often skipped ahead to the next scene that seemed interesting, regardless of causality, and a romance angle that was, well, about as simplistic as it gets. The first version literally has 2 scenes that I want to keep. But I’ve always loved the concept of it, and wanted to redo it with the skills I’ve built over the intervening years.
I know what to do. Figure out the blurb/concept/stakes/characters. Put that into a beatsheet, develop the points, then break that into my chapter by chapter, scene by scene outline. Nothing I haven’t done time and again.
Only to discover why this story didn’t work the first time-My stakes weren’t high enough or timed correctly. It’s a portal story, and the portal wouldn’t even happen, following the normal beatsheet, until the end of chapter 5. Which is utterly ridiculous, and would cause any number of rejections. Imagine if Alice doesn’t fall down the rabbit hole in the first chapter, how dull it would be to listen to her sister drone on in her history lesson for 20,000 words?!
So I’m hitting the drawing board again, trying to find the real stakes, the core conflict that will pull her into the other world sooner, or add tensions before that, and give us a reason to care about this character and world.
I might end up doing the romance instead of this fantasy novel. At least there, the beatsheet works.
But there’s this gap, where even as an experienced editor, when I turn my eye to my own work, I have to sit there and gnash my teeth, and say “Well, that’s broken! ARGGGH!” before I can start fixing it.
Take heart- You are not alone. When the entries go up a couple weeks, we’ll be watching them for agent love, but really? I don’t care if agents request or not. I’m more interested in if the kitchen sink works, if the bed is comfortable, if everything in the house is, if not precisely gleaming, at least shiny enough that you don’t have the urge to put down plastic before you sit on the couch, you know?