Have you ever decided to become an expert at something, only to find out the more you spend time doing it, the less you actually know about it?
In my earlier years, I was a visual artist. For most of my childhood, I expressed ideas through drawing and painting. My first degree was a BFA in Fine Arts. But after college, real life intruded, and I had to make money. My creativity was expressed in clothing displays and sale setups. I continued to draw and create intaglio prints at the local community college.
Then came motherhood. My creativity emerged in birthday cakes and scavenger hunt parties. My creative genes were passed down to my youngest, who although she drew and painted, she preferred photography and video.
When the retail industry choked after 9/11, I went back to school to become an elementary school teacher. In my classroom, my creativity generated bulletin boards and diagrams of the water cycle. When I took on the after school musical theater program, I created backdrops and sets.
After my husband suddenly died, writing became my comfort. I could write about my characters’ struggles and pain easier than my own. Although I’d always written short stories, I had my heart set on novels.
How hard could it be?
Years later when I retired, I imagined I would crank out novels every year to make up for all those earlier years with no time for writing. My short stories appeared in anthologies. I got my first writing advance ($15).
After I finished three novels, I began to send out query letters and sample chapters. My heart was set on traditional publishing, so I knew I needed a literary agent. As the form rejections rolled in, I realized I didn’t know as much about writing as I thought I did. It wasn’t just about having a great story idea. I was responsible for creating character arcs for all my major players, as well as the villain. Novels had to be divided into acts and move at a certain pace. Forget the glorious description of the setting. You needed to blow things up.
How could I get better?
I took classes. I attended writing conferences. I hired editors. But the most helpful step was joining a critique group. It would take a long time to go through my novel in a critique group, but it was well worth it. After three years, we finally reached the ending of my novel. My faithful critique group tore it to shreds. They had permission to do so, as they had lived with my story for a long time.
Who knew endings were so hard? I made some corrections and resubmitted to my group. Still it wasn’t enough. Or rather it was too much. Apparently, I had another entire novel embedded in it.
I can’t help it if I keep coming up with new great ideas.
After much soul-searching, I now sit in front of my laptop, cutting chapters and characters, trying to salvage my novel. I’ve learned a lot. My next novel will be so much better.
As of this date, I haven’t deleted this story yet. The revision process may be painful, but it is a good teacher. You can read all you can about how to write, but in the end, you have to go through the process yourself.
And blowing up the ending of your book is a great way to learn.