Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Training Wheel Novel?" or "Why I Heart My Critique Groups!"

post by Jennifer Carter, courtesy of Lynn Carlson

Last week Kathleen, one of the members of my online critique group, posed a question to us when she submitted her chapters for the week: Should she keep going on this (her first novel) or chalk this up to her "training wheel novel" and move on to something else? Another member of the group, Lynn Carlson, responded so eloquently that I wanted to share her advice. I think it can apply to just about any writer (except the parts where she specifically refers to Kathleen, of course) who is facing the same daunting question as we struggle to reach that milestone of getting published. Enjoy!


Oh no, you don’t. You can’t push the decision whether to continue with The Land of LeVan off on us. You created this world – brought Corey, Mandy, Aurelia, et al. to life, so it’s your call. Of course you’re just asking for input, right? Since I consider writing to be both an art and a craft, I’ll have to go at it twofold.

ART: Sounds like Kathleen the writer/artist has momentarily lost her writing mojo. We all know that happens. Boy, do we know it happens. So we can commiserate, but only Kathleen knows what it will take to get her mojo back. Me, I’ve got to step away, let the writing cool, then go back so I can see the piece with fresh eyes. Sometimes I decide the piece has died a natural death, only to have it start speaking to me again through an image, a snippet of dialogue, etc. I’ve read of authors who have got to go garden, ski, travel to a foreign country, do some thing to get away from the page and refill the creative well. This is such an individual thing that I think we novices just have to do trial and error to see what works for us. Although life experience tends to provide us with clues about how we recharge best.

I also think a good dose of self-knowledge can help you decide whether this loss of momentum is a temporary thing, or a signal that you’re done, done, done with this story. I’ve noticed that lots of people believe that the writing of a novel is a charge-through kind of thing, like many projects in the workplace. Published authors seem to vary on this: some will write from start to finish, working on one story only. Many others bounce around from image to image, scene to scene, and move fluidly from one story to another – whichever one is “calling” to them at the moment. How about you? Are you a multi-tasker, juggling more than one project at a time? Many women are, by necessity and as a function of the way our brains are wired? Or are you a focused, linear type? Don’t quit on this novel until you’re sure you’ve sucked it dry of all the writing process lessons it has to teach you.

CRAFT: If you’re working on the logic that all writers have that obligatory training wheel novel (and it’s a common phenomenon, but plenty of first novels have been published) and you consider The Land of LeVan as meeting that criteria, then I ask you to reconsider. You’ll probably hate me for saying it, but if the adage of “all writing is re-writing” is correct, then ask yourself if you have TRULY written this novel, all the way through the novel-writing process? Or are you hung up in the revision process? Following your original logic, abandoning this novel at this point may mean the next novel you write will still have to be the training wheel novel. Up for consideration, my friend: you ain’t done yet. But only YOU can say.

Are you like me? Did you think this whole writing thing was going to be easier than it is, move along more quickly? When I started creative writing four years ago, I was in a hurry. The longer I write, the slower I go, because it has become obvious to me that my creative process can’t be rushed. It will take its own sweet time. There is so much to learn and I can only sip a little at a time.

You have lots of options:
Option: Muddle through, keep on keeping on. Set a small goal for this week, complete it, set another. There’s an Alcoholic’s Anonymous slogan that fits: “What’s the next right thing to do?”

Another option: Decide not to decide right now. Do something else, write something else. Be patient and wait for further instructions.

Yet another option: Stop with the story. But don’t bury it yet. You don’t/can’t yet know if it’s really dead.

All of this being said (yakety-yak), please remember that I’ve never reached the point you are at in the writing of a novel. I’ve got a couple in the “discovery draft” phase, but I can’t know what you’re going through right now because I haven’t been there. My personal opinion on The Land of LeVan? My middle-aged, non-experienced in YA genre, opinion? All I can say is you have brought the story to life for me. I find myself with an image of the snotties cavern in my head at odd moments, and I was more patient with my 14-year-old step-grandson this summer because I thought, “Oh, he’s just like Corey, a little spacey and unsure of himself.”

Your story impacted a reader’s life, and it hasn’t even been published yet. What more could you want from it?

Thank you, Lynn, for letting me steal your advice! And a note from Kathleen--The Land of LeVan is a working title.

What is your take on the "training wheel novel"? Is it obligatory? Have you put yours away or do you keep working at rewriting it? Or did you perhaps publish it?

1 comment:

Patricia Stoltey said...

Every novel I have finished (six of them) is a training wheel novel because I learned something new and did something better each time. Only two have been published in print so far, and one as an audiobook but never as a book. So basically I have four manuscripts hanging around in various stages of revision, or resting, or just waiting for me to decide they're worthy of more attention. I might let something sit on the back burner for ten years while I write other stuff, but I would never, never throw it away or consider it dead. Someday I might get the urge to revisit the idea.

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