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Thursday, 9 October 2014

Throwback Thursday

I was talking to my editor today - she has a cold, so there was no wine involved. It was also 10am, so strike two for wine. She's reading the first two acts of Changing Nature while I sprint through the last chapters, and she had a couple of notes. When I'm done sprinting (which basically means writing my fingers off) - hopefully in about two weeks - I'll make some changes to the draft as a whole, then get the entire thing back to her by Halloween.

In my conversations with her I recognized a couple of things about my writing process, and this is where the Throwback Thursday part comes in. My first Marking Time notes were made in March, 2010, and I eventually published it in November, 2012. I was done sooner, but had to go through the whole agent-query process just to make sure my ego and confidence were firmly stuck around my ankles. The short answer to why did I publish Marking Time independently is that agents wouldn't look at a debut YA novel over 100k words long because publishers don't believe young adults would ever read something longer. The more honest answer is I had let the traditional publishing process steal my confidence. Actually, I'd just tied my self-confidence up in a nice package with a shiny red bow and handed it to strangers. With every form letter rejection the package got more battered and dirty - the paper tore, and the ribbon began to resemble something limp and dying.

A little background on me - I don't do insecure well. It's never pretty when it happens, and I learned early how painful it is, so I just don't do it. And yet, there I was, letting strangers decide if what I'd written was worth reading - not by reading it, but by reading a personalized form letter about it. A few were intrigued, a few even read the pages, but inevitably, the word count stopped them in their tracks. A very long and boring story short, the minute I remembered I'd written the book because it was time to put-up-or-shut-up, I learned everything I needed to know about formatting and cover design, and a month later, Marking Time was published.

So then began the year and a half-long process of writing book two. I have lots of excuses for the length of that one - marketing book one, kids, husband working out of town - you name it, I had an excuse like it. But the fact of the matter was I was scared. What if the lovely reviews I'd been getting for book one were a fluke? What if I hit a sophomore slump with book two? What if I'd used up all my wit and good dialogue with Marking Time and Saira was doomed to be boring? What if I was boring? I didn't say any of this out loud, of course, because that just looks like insecurity, which we've already established I don't do well. So I slogged along with what I thought was a good story, but was afraid to really test in case I was actually delusional and nobody had told me yet.

Enter Angela. My editor, who also happens to be my neighbor and one of my best friends in the world. She beta read Marking Time for me - probably every draft but the final one - and is a reader of the same books I read, so she clearly has good taste. She's also, I discovered, very, very meticulous. When she agreed to edit Tempting Fate for me, the insecurity didn't go away, but the fear of looking ridiculous with a badly-written second book did - because I knew Angela would never allow it. By that time I'd found additional support in the form of an amazing and wonderful online book club, where daily word counts made me accountable, and interesting paragraphs garnered praise. So at the end of the first draft of Tempting Fate I was sprinting. My goal was 10k words a week, and I finished that book breathless and proud.

So, book one - 2-plus years. Reasons for lollygagging - too numerous to count. Book two - 1.5 years. Reasons for delay - insecurity, uncertainty, and all the same reasons as book one. Book three - 3.5 months. Reasons for speed - the confidence that readers want this story, book two didn't disappoint, and the certainty of working with an editor who understands my characters, my style of writing, and my stories as if they were her own. And also a second book that was utterly clean and free from typos - a never-to-be-underrated thing in the world of independent publishing.

So how is this whole blog post relevant to Throwback Thursday? Because my evolution as an author is a little like looking back at the cringe-worthy photos on Facebook. The insecurity, the excuses for not writing - like the bad perm or the 80's wardrobe - are embarrassing, but they just aren't my style anymore.

Confidence in my story, my characters, and my ability to write a book I'd want to read are.