Going backwards

I finally let someone besides me read that pile of crappy writing that I’m trying to shape into a novel. My husband, Greg, is almost always my first reader, and even though this isn’t close to being done yet, and it’s totally not the genre he prefers reading, it was time to let him read it. I need to hand in the first (or any) twenty pages to my class tomorrow so they can read it and critique it for our workshop session next week. I’m really nervous about this and I wanted Greg’s opinion first.

I’ve done workshops before, and I find them to be very valuable. The feedback from other writers and readers that are learning to think critically about the craft of writing helps me figure out what’s working and what’s not working in my stories. Usually I learn that worlds I can see perfectly in my head are not coming across as clearly to readers who’ve never seen them before.

But this time I find myself dreading this workshop and regretting that I chose this story to work on during this class. Still, I won’t let myself back down and change gears. I already committed to completing this one. Besides, the reason I’m dreading feedback on this story is because there are some very obvious flaws in the beginning of my story. It gets better. But those first chapters are rough. Or they were rough. I spent today overhauling the first twenty pages and arm wrestling them into something that I feel a little more confident about sharing with others.

So I let Greg read the first twenty pages of my raw first draft, almost all of which was written almost three years ago. He sort of puked all over it. The story is very squarely in the “YA” fantasy genre which is most definitely NOT his thing. YA SciFi or YA post-apocalyptic is more to his liking. All three of the other stories I have started are more in that genre. Of course I had to pick the one that he would hate to start with. But his feedback was exactly what I would have told myself, and what I knew he would say.

So I’ve been tearing things apart and putting them back together again. I added a new first chapter which works way better. I edited a ton of the whiney teenage girl romance crap (there’s still some, but it is YA…). And I ended up with something I feel much better about. Greg, after reminding me that the genre was still not his thing, admitted that he was actually curious to find out what happened next. Score! Outside of my own head, he is my toughest critic, by far.

Feeling pretty good about where I landed, I saved off my excerpt to send to my class and then checked my total word count. I mean, I’d done a ton of work and added a whole chapter. That had to count for something, right? The final net increase was only 24 words. Awesome. An entire day’s work and I only increased my word count by 24 words. Sigh. I think this is why authors write a first draft before they start trying to edit their work. It’s too depressing to take two steps forward only to find you actually went one step back.

(cue Paula Abdul to sing me out…)