Fake It Til You Make It


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.


15 comments to Fake It Til You Make It

  • Alan Kellogg


    Look up the “Dark Mysteries Campaign”, the web master could use advice like yours.

  • I agree with you 100%. In fact, I’m going through this right now with a short story I was asked to write for an anthology. Because it’s not on spec, I’ve got a deadline looming and something just isn’t right with the tale. I couldn’t figure it out, so I pushed forward, finished the thing, and had my wife read it. She saw the problem pretty quickly. Now I’m gutting things and rearranging and hoping I can make it work. Until then — fake it!

  • Diana,
    this is great advice. Thanks. I hear too often of writers getting bogged down in fiddling with the early part of the book and never moving on to the rest. For me, it’s crucial to get a first draft done before I really start editing, and sometimes that means passing over parts I know need work in order to get to what’s fresh in my head.

  • Diana,

    Thank you for the advice! It took me a long time to realize that the beginning of my latest WIP needed an overhaul. The beginning was simply not exciting enough or compatible with much of what came later.

    And I’m ashamed to admit I’ve let this WIP linger in the revision process for too long. So rather than revise I’ve been writing a bunch of short stories and revising them instead. I should have had the novel wrapped up months ago, so thank you for the gentle prod.

  • I feel like I’ve been faking it for a while now because my story deviated from the initial outline a few chapters back for the better. I just passed 85K in Song of Fury (thanks MW for comments on the title), and I really like this part of the book.

    The beginning also seems off, and I’m not sure if it’s because I spent too much time developing the unit of soldiers or not enough time on a certain aspect of the MC, but I’ll finish the draft, clean it up and send it to betas.

    Thanks for the advice Di, it’s exactly what I needed right now to push through to the end, get some distance and go back later with fresh eyes.


  • Alan: *smirk*

    Stuart: it’s almost annoying that other people can spot it so easily, isn’t it? But thank goodness they can.

    AJ: I’m so terrible about the beginning. I’m a very linear writer and it drives me up a wall (and to stagnation) when the beginning doesn’t hit the right mark. At least this was close enough to let my head and fingers keep going.

    Alistair: I think writing other things grants perspective, so you probably made an excellent choice there. You probably will get the novel whipped into shape in nothing flat now.

    Dave: deviating from the outline can be a good thing. That’s when your creative mind is building things and making things work. I like that title, btw.

  • Thank you for the encouragement!

  • Thank you for this. I’ve been lingering over this one bit in my WIP for too long, and it’s been tripping me up. Then on the way to work today, before I read this, it occurred to me, “Maybe I should just leave it as is and move on, since it’s not the content that bothers me, but the delivery.” Glad to hear my morning brain was on the right track even before my double espresso. 😉

  • Diane> This is a really helpful post. I’m working on first edits of a novel now, and sometimes I just have to step back and let stuff go. Let my beta readers tell me what is and isn’t working for them. I’ve read parts of it now so many times that I know what is *supposed* to be on the page, so I need to find people who have no idea so they can tell me if it *actually* is on the page, y’know?

    And I totally get the “be willing to rip things up” things (which reminds me of David’s point in a tunnel vision post a little while ago). *sighs* Had to do that a while ago, and, surprise surprise, my work was much much better for it. Such is life, I suppose!

    Again, thanks for this!

  • I so understand your frustrations Diana. I’m going through almost the same thing. My ending is amazing but my beginning sucks!!

    So how to fix it? Well, as you say, hammering, sculpting and shaping is the way forward so that’s what I’m doing. – And it’s working… I see a change, one I like and am sure it’ll turn out perfectly.

    Thanks for this piece. It makes me feel less frustrated to know that I’m not the only one strugglig with this subject.


  • I had this same issue with the book I recently handed in, Di. For the longest time I didn’t like the first chapter. The prose was good. I’d worked it and polished it until it gleamed. That wasn’t the problem. But the mood and the voice just didn’t work with the rest of the book. By the time I handed the book in it was close, but I’m still not certain it’s there. I’m hoping that agent and editor comments will get it the rest of the way, or that when I go back to it a couple of months from now I’ll see the answer. But as you say, the time came when I just had to send it in. It’s fine. It might even be good. But I’m not satisfied with it. Yet. Great post. Thanks.

  • Sarah

    Thanks Diane. It’s encouraging to know that pros have this problem too. I used to feel like I was slacking if I let myself push forward before things were perfect – the result was a lot of unfinished short stories through high school and college. To borrow a phrase I heard in a political discussion “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” I’m trying to learn that about my own writing.

    I think your post and people’s responses is a good reminder that the “artist laboring alone for 5 years” myth is a dangerous one both for the writer and for the work. I recently taught Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and kept thinking how different and better the book would be with a modern editor and a critique group. And it probably wouldn’t have taken five years either. (It’s not like the guy had a day job!) I know the book is immensely important historically and we can’t judge previous eras by our own literary preferences, but still the book has some serious flaws of contrivance, perspective shifts and tone imbalance. It’s good. But it would have been better if he’d had someone outside his own head telling him things like “We get it! Less telling, more showing.”

    (The literary gods will no doubt now strike me for my hubris.)

  • Diana, I have a friend who has written and commercially published over 30 books, and she assures me she still has this problem. Still. After 30+ books. (Yeah, I’m boggled.) Thank goodness for Beta readers, agents (waves to Lucienne,) spouses, and sig others who can stand back and tell us what is wrong. I remember a book I spent thousands of trees on (hardcopies) to figure out *what the heck was wrong*. The agent told me after one reading. Gotta love em.

    Great post, and I am sooo glad you got it worked out. I *cannot wait* for the next novel!!!! (fangirl squeal!)

  • Awesome advice. Not easy, but awesome. But like you said, at least you have people who try their best to help you. 🙂 Makes me want to go write. This is good. *hugs* Danke.