First Novel Experiences: Breaking up with Your Story

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Breaking-Up - Heart

I had been hiding from writing, ducking away from it like the B-list friends you run into at the grocery store but don’t want to make small talk with. Every time I had sat down to craft a sentence, I felt restless. I didn’t have writer’s block so much as I was in relationship limbo with my first manuscript that is still in the submission process. The ambivalence of its fate left me brooding over my writing because there was no closure. I’m still fretting, but I’m not letting it arrest my writing anymore. I’ve realized that the road to publication involves writers retrofitting their pencils as spears, their flesh as shields, and adopting a phalanx formation. Its war, hoplite, and rejection is the enemy! To arouse my battle lust, I rode up to the front lines and got all Braveheart on my writing minions. My rallying speech was more or less along the lines of don’t take rejection personally. To never take rejection out on an agent, editor, or friend, and most importantly, myself. And to alter my definition of rejection. It’s not failure. Instead of perceiving it as a disapproval and dismissal of my work, I turned to think of it more as that person I was querying wasn’t a good fit for my writing style and/or story.

Another thing that’s helped me with getting closure from my first manuscript was to recap. I went through all the things that I uncovered either about the writing process or myself as a writer during the time I wrote my novel. It was essentially a very chill performance review. You can include any number of topics in yours, but here are some ideas to mull over with your writer self:

  • Your favorite character(s) from your past story
  • Scenes you thought you nailed
  • What genre you want to try next
  • Elements from the previous story you’d like to revisit in a future story but with a new twist
  • A plot synopsis for your next or future story
  • An idea for a character
  • Workshops you want to attend
  • Things you want to work on as a writer –> better dialogue, characterization, or tighter prose

Keep it casual; it’s a conversation free of outside judgers. If during the discussion you find yourself thinking about all the things you could have done better in your previous story, then you are going to have to face the fact you are not actually done with that manuscript. You have to go back and fix all of those regrets. Don’t send out a manuscript until you feel you have done your best. And I know things can always be improved, but there is a vast difference between feeling you could have tweaked things here and there and completely regretting putting in a certain character or scene because it derailed the vision of the story.

After you finish your recap session, you need to prepare yourself for the worst: your work might never be published. But that’s not why you’re in it. True writers are in the game because writing has become part and parcel of who they are. They would slowly unravel without wordsmithing. Whether it’s because they love the process or they love having written, writing is inevitable for them. And no matter how easy or muling the process can be, they would still do it anyway, even if they were not published. So start another project. Just make sure you’re still writing. Getting into the mode of constantly writing, editing, and submitting will help you in the long term. Most professional writers have to get used to that kind of task switching to maintain longevity. And that iterative process will give you closure. Or rather, you will not have to rely on publication giving it to you. It becomes something more internal instead.

If you’re feeling like another novel is too daunting, that’s completely fine. Some writers need time to rejuvenate between large works. Write a short story instead. There is no excuse these days, especially with flash fiction being a thousand words or fewer. So get back in that chair and think about other things you want to write about. Other messages that you need people to hear, other characters or worlds bursting to get out. Compare those ideas to what’s already out there and see how you can make yours different. Obviously that bit of advice comes with the disclaimer that you shouldn’t write for the market, but you should be doing market research to differentiate a story to other things out there.

I got into writing because humans can be sad, complicated creatures that people need to understand. I have a talent that allows me to give people a glimpse into another. And I would do that, without fail, serving the characters I want people to see, even if there were no reward for me in the form of publication or monetary compensation. Call me a fool. Call me hopeless. I call myself a writer.

[Featured photo credit: Nicolas Raymond]

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