Last weekend was rough one. It always is when the universe hands you a lesson. Although, in this case, I kind of begged for the lesson … without realizing it. My current work in progress (WIP) is something that came to me four years ago. I have been in love with the concept from the moment it came to me, but I knew there were some technical hurdles I had to overcome in order to give the story its due.
Flash forward to this year, and my excitement that, once I had taken care of some other obligations, I would finally have the opportunity to work on the story living in my head for so many years. I had even juggled the obligations so I could work on the story and keep working on the other things as well. I managed to get the first three chapters completed. Which makes me ecstatic because this book is really happening. And I was getting so close to being able to put it as the number one priority.
Here’s the thing … the technical difficulties I mentioned were the most difficult to address in the first few chapters. I had been thinking for four years about how to effectively address the issues I saw inherent in what I wanted to accomplish. And somewhere over the four years, my focus had shifted from how I could best serve the story to how achieving my goal with the chapters meant I could point to them as an example of my technical skill. My problem? I didn’t recognize the shift. If I had, I would have known better. The only thing with a story that matters as far as the writing is concerned is how best to serve the story.
I stopped writing and re-read the first three chapters, tweaked a few words here and there, and went back to writing the next chapter. But I had doubts, and it is critical that the beginning be right, so I sent the chapters off to my critique partner for her opinion. She promptly came back and told me what needed to be done. I heard what she said, but didn’t know pride was blinding me, so sent it off to my literary manager, Italia Gandolfo, for her opinion.
When Italia gave me her response it was almost word for word what my critique partner stated. And I got mad… not at them, because the very first thing I said was I’m not arguing. I wasn’t. Because they were both right. Here’s what they said … “Take chapter 3 and move it to the front because the first two chapters won’t pull the reader in.” And they were absolutely right. Unequivocally.
I had known for four years those first chapters would be extremely difficult to pull the reader into the story with, and I gave it my best shot. And I was furious with myself because I had not accomplished the goal I had set. Italia is known as the Mama Bear (for good reason) and I’m sure while we were corresponding back and forth over the changes she could have cheerfully taken me by my scruff and shaken me. She kept her focus on what was best for the story, and I was having a hizzy fit over not having achieved an arbitrary goal. And that’s what finally got through to me. The realization that I was upset because I had taken a blow to the pride — nothing more or less. And that’s not the writer I want to be. I always want the story to be the primary focus.
Fortunately, since this face-plant was four years in the making, I had my guardian angel on my side. He ensured I had the right support structure in place to make sure my stubborn pig-headedness didn’t get in the way of doing what is right for this story. I have been working with my critique partner, Linda Welch, for several years now, and I value her opinion greatly. So when she told me what I didn’t want to hear, I knew she was right, but wanted my agent, lit manager, and Mama Bear extraordinaire, Italia, to validate it for me.
Her exact words when I got upset about what I viewed as missing the mark: “It’s more important to grab a reader and publisher and I’m concerned they may drop it by chapter two. I have to sell it and you’re selling the story short by laying it out like this. No one else will know, care, or understand why you want it opening the way you have it.” And “It’s not that your opening is bad at all. Quite the contrary … but I prefer the tone [Chapter 3] sets.” And she was absolutely correct. And this is why I am thankful every day I have her by my side, guiding my career. She doesn’t hesitate to say what I need to hear. To be told I was selling the story I love so much short hurt … but I had to hear it to put things back in perspective again.
I could have kept this to myself, and no one would know I had taken a sharp smack to my pride, but through sharing I accomplish two things:
Maybe someone else will be able to escape this particular lesson learned. I’d really like for that to happen and save someone else the pain.
Putting my experience out here ensures I am less likely to repeat it. My execution of the first couple chapters accomplished exactly what I had set out to accomplish, but it didn’t matter because the story was not served best by starting at that point. I had written something else which will cause the reader to care far more about the character and what is going on in her life by the time they reach those chapters now. And that was the right place to start the book. At the end of the day, the technical difficulties inherent in the first couple chapters destined them to a slightly later point in the book.
And now I’ll go back to my writing cave, commune with the characters and get more of this fabulous WIP completed.