Things your mom didn’t tell you, but Tom did

I happened to stumble (only because the beagle added too much vodka to the chocolate martinis last night) across Sally Zigmond’s blog (with that broken leg, I wasn’t sure she was blogging yet) where she linked an article written by Tom Clare. Great article. Two points jumped out at me that I felt compelled to share because I see them lacking in too many submissions, and they end up with the dreaded rejection letter.

1. Don’t believe you dilute your vision by reading others’ work.
If Tom were here, I’d kiss him square on his pie hole. Many times I review a submission that makes me wonder if the author is well-read in their genre. Sadly, the answer that comes back to me is no; that they don’t want to taint their writing by reading their competitors. One actually told me that he was afraid of adopting an idea by accident if he read any of his competitors’ works. Gah!

Reading is how we learn. We see what types of plots have been done, what’s cliché, how to write good character development, style, comparing a good “voice” to a weak one. Writing is a solitary enough endeavor, so don’t cut yourself off even more by being completely ignorant to your fellow authors. Remember, they got published, and so far, you aren’t. Learn from their successes and what made them successful.

This whole not reading the competition reminds me of a submission I received a few years ago. It was alarmingly similar to Grisham’s The Rainmaker. I wrote the author and asked him about it. His reply: Who’s John Grisham? Either the guy thinks I’m a complete idiot or he lives under a well-insulated rock.

Tattoo this on your forehead [along with all the other things I’ve recommended you tattoo]:
If you write, you MUST read.

I can smell a non-reader at fifty paces. The beagle just growls and hides the vodka.

2. Don’t be afraid to lose faith in your original draft. To edit is not to scorn your infallible muse.
Again, Tom deserves a big ol’ wet one. Like the non-reader, I can smell an original draft from fifty paces. It’s the one with lots of clunks in it; pacing, plot, character development, backstory, fluff – the usual suspects. I’ve seen (and written) plenty of manuscripts where the author was absolutely married to it. The idea of veering away from it gives them hives, and the changes would require some fairly heavy drugs and a chainsaw.

The main thing to realize is that the original story is simply the first time you got it from your brain to the cyber paper. That doesn’t mean that it was perfect or necessarily well-thought out. Sometimes it needs to get to paper in order for us to see the warts in our writing (and our thinking).

I remember agonizing over my first draft of my own book. It was all so perfect when it was rummaging around in my head. Then I got it to paper, and I saw there were enough holes to create a wind tunnel. It scared the granola out of me because I had been married to this idea for ten years.

Then a lovely thing happened; I went out of town. For four days, I didn’t have my manuscript [and my stubborn will] sitting in front of me like a foot stuck in dry concrete. I was able to let my imagination wander over other possibilities that might improve the story’s quality.

As soon as I quit thinking about what “it is,” and changed my perspective to what it “could be,” I set about rewriting the story. Did I feel like I’d turned my back on the original draft? Not at all. I’d made it ten thousand times better. It’s like opening the window on a musty room. Don’t ever be afraid to open the window in your literary room and let in the fresh air. What you’re holding onto may be like an old friend that you’ve outgrown, and it’s time to move on. And move up.

The best way to figure that out is to walk away from your story for a period of time. If the story still gives you goosebumps, then good on ya. If not, your muse may be telling you to open the window, let in the fresh air, dig a bit deeper.

As for Mom not telling me any of this? I’ll see if I can’t parlay that into borrowing her cool silk jacket.

One Response to Things your mom didn’t tell you, but Tom did

  1. karlab27 says:

    Wow, this is such an informative blog. I’m definitely adding this to my blogroll. I started my new blog with a story about how I’m a new novelist who’s been editing the draft of my novel…and the pain of each edit feels like a root canal. It has to be done though. I had to make it better, and I know I did because it was really painful. 🙂

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