Last week I was privileged to be a guest on Rachelle Gardner’s blog. In my post, “The Revision Decision,” I shared some questions writers might ask themselves before deciding whether or not to perform revisions requested by an agent, using my experience working with Rachelle the past year as an example.
Here’s the final question I posed, along with the answer.
“Was I willing to act upon my agent’s advice?
When I received my revision notes, I was in for a shock. Three-quarters of my story stunk. Not that my considerate agent said it in those words. Hers were far more tactful – she loved my writing and she could see the story in there, but I’d have to work hard to bring it out. The ugly truth was that I’d released the story’s tension at the one-quarter mark, and the only real fix was to delete and rewrite 86,000 words. (Can you say too much of a bad thing?)
A friend sent me a message suggesting I blog about “the ugly truth” and the reasons behind the rewrite. I told her I’d have to think about it because it’s embarrassing to admit that I sent a story in need of so much work to a top-notch agent like Rachelle.
I’ve had time to consider my friend’s suggestion, which isn’t the first. A number of my writer pals have expressed interest in hearing the story behind my sadly lacking story. Only a handful have heard the tale, one I made sure they knew was a secret not to be shared with anyone—even someone offering a tempting amount of chocolate.
Upon reflection, I realized that none of those I took into confidence laughed at me or even snickered. Instead, they sympathized or, in some cases, even empathized. They found hearing how I could end up with my Dream Agent in spite of sending her a less than perfect story both enlightening and encouraging.
I’m going to let you in on the secret, too. And you don’t even have to offer me chocolate.
The Reason for My Rewrite
Lack of conflict – As noted in the quote above, I released the tension one-fourth of the way into my story. What exactly did I do?
I got the couple together too fast and had no real reason to keep them apart for the rest of the story, other than the heroine’s mistaken belief that the hero didn’t really care for her. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, she persisted in thinking he had no feelings for her. Can you say clueless heroine?
OK, I can’t let my dear heroine take all the blame. She wasn’t solely responsible for her inability to see what was right in front of her. She had help from a clueless writer—me.
In my defense, I lacked the experience of a seasoned writer. Rachelle was the first publishing professional to see the entire manuscript.
While my longtime critique partner, Anne Barton, had pointed out the same weakness, I was overly attached to my story the way it was and wasn’t yet at a point where I could hear the truth. I recall telling Anne that if I took her suggestion, I’d have to rewrite three-quarter’s of the story. How I wish I’d have heeded her wise counsel. But I wasn’t ready.
When Rachelle delivered the same news, I experienced an Ah-ha! moment. Because of her years spent working as an editor, she was able to explain things in such a way that I got it.
My Reaction to the News
I was mortified.
My brand new agent, one highly respected by many, had offered me representation based on a story that needed tonz of work. When Rachelle called to go over the revision notes she’d prepared for me and told me, with a wonderful blend of candor and compassion, that I needed to rewrite the majority of my story, I panicked.
I was sure Rachelle regretted her offer and wanted to withdraw it. Summoning every ounce of courage I possessed, I actually asked her if she still wanted to work with me even though my story needed so much work.
Reassurances and Reality
Rachelle was quick to assure me that she made the offer based upon my potential. She said there are no perfect stories and that even multi-published authors receive revision notes. Some well-known authors have turned in completed books and been told they wouldn’t work and would have to be rewritten.
I’ll let you in on another secret. Rachelle can look at a manuscript and see more than what’s on the page. In the quote I shared above, she added the words, “she loved my writing and she could see the story in there, but I’d have to work hard to bring it out.”
Those words did two things. One, they made me feel good. And two, they prove my point. Agents don’t represent writers who send them perfect stories, and editors don’t buy perfect stories.
My story needed lots of work, but Rachelle believed I had the ability to turn it into one she could send out on submission. Armed with that knowledge, I plowed into my rewrite determined to show her that her belief in me wasn’t misplaced.
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What I hope you take away from my post today is this: We don’t have to be perfect.
Sometimes I think that message is conveyed, albeit unintentionally. We read posts and craft books telling us all the rules we must follow, how tough it is to make it in this business, and not to submit our work until it shines so brightly an agent or editor will have to don sunglasses in order to read it.
The truth is, our stories need to be something special. They won’t garner attention if they’re not. But special isn’t perfect. Special is a unique blend of craft, voice, and the ability to tell a story that will captivate readers, all of which can be learned over time.
One final secret. As many of you know, Rachelle sold the story I rewrote. What you don’t know is how much I had to learn to reach this point. When I showed the first chapter of my first story to a friend who loves to write, she had a hard time reading it because she couldn’t tell when a character was speaking and ever so gently informed me that using quotation marks around dialogue would help. My writing up to that point had all been non-fiction, and I didn’t have clue how to punctuate dialogue. Yup. I had a lot to learn.
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Have you written a story and learned later that it had a weakness you’d been unable to see?
Have you ever felt paralyzed by the pressure to produce stories that are perfect?
photobucket image by xohotpinkx6