I bet you’ve heard that phrase before–fake it til you make it. Usually it means something like pretend you are the thing you want to be until you achieve your goals. Well, the same can be said of the book writing process.
A couple of months ago I finished and turned into my editor Crimson Wind, the sequel to Bitter Night. I did so even though I didn’t really like the beginning–a good seven chapters. That isn’t to say that I didn’t like pieces of it. In fact quite a bit of it I did like. But I knew it wasn’t right. The pacing was off and there was far too much backstory to slow the action, and then there was something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I wrote those chapters from scratch four times or so and finally decided that those chapters would have to do until I could figure out the problems.
I finished the book and sent it in because I had a deadline, and I still couldn’t figure out the problems. It isn’t that the chapters didn’t work, it’s that they didn’t do what I wanted them to do. In fact, my beta readers all said they liked it and they didn’t see what I was dithering about. What it came down to was that this wasn’t my best work–this wasn’t the best opening it could be. I just didn’t know how to fix it and what I was doing was faking it until I could figure out how to make it work.
Usually some time away from a book allows me to really re-see it and all of a sudden the fixes seem obvious. Like when you are away from home for awhile and come back and see all the dust and the dirt you missed cleaning. That didn’t happen this time. It was an appalling feeling. A helpless feeling. So what to do? I knew my editor would give me the feedback that I needed, but I didn’t want to wait and I also wanted to fix it before she actually looked at it–I was embarrassed to a certain extent that I, a professional writer, couldn’t figure out how to write my own book. So I asked my agent to get me feedback as soon as she was able and she did.
She agreed with me. There were problems. But she had some specific criticisms that helped me take the step back that I needed to fix it. Or so I hope. I’m not done yet and I still have a few days to finish. But I think I’m getting closer to the making of it rather than the faking of it. I’m hopeful that my editor will have more to tell me about the new chapters so that I’ll get all the way to the making point.
The thing is, sometimes not every part of a book works. For me, when the beginning doesn’t, I have a hard time going forward and I get bogged down. But a lot of times, getting through the book and to the end will tell you how to fix the beginning. The important thing is to finish–even if you have to fake it for awhile. That’s what I did. I knew the beginning wasn’t there yet, but I moved on anyhow to see if I could find the answers to the beginning problems in the end. I did and I didn’t. Not until my agent pointed out some things to me, and then I knew what I needed to do.
It’s different for everyone of course, and you have to be careful not to fall into the trap of endless revising and never turning the book in (or submitting) or moving on to the next projects. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when you need to give up and move on (of course, if you’re under contract, you don’t have a lot of choice). But sometimes you need to keep hammering and sculpting and shaping until it’s not just good enough, but it’s right. You have to be willing to rip things apart and reconsider your approach. I think that’s what had me stymied for so long–I couldn’t think outside the narrative box I’d written and so I couldn’t figure out another way. Hopefully I’m on the right track now.