Luckily for me, I have had an extremely busy last couple weeks, so I haven’t had much time to think about (aka worry) what Amy, my book coach, had to say about my Blueprint exercises
As I mentioned in previous videos/posts – I wasn’t expecting to hear “oh my gosh, this is SO amazing – you’re right on track!” from my coach. Obviously, if that was the case, I’d already have my sh*t figured out and wouldn’t even NEED coaching. But I also wasn’t exactly prepared for the feedback I did get.
I realized a very important thing AFTER I got my feedback – that I hadn’t even considered when working on my exercises – the fact that I know so much about my characters, the story and the plot but that Amy does not. And it’s nearly impossible for me to tell her those things unless she was given a full manuscript. It’s her job to respond to what’s on the page (not what’s NOT on the page). So naturally, part of me became defensive when I got feedback like:
My thought is also that you'll want to be sure Tanner's not a cliché -- the alcoholic cop. Or that the falling in love at AA isn't cliché. Or that it all doesn't seem too contrived and "easy." Let's remember to figure out what's unexpected in addition to "the secret."
I wanted to say – WAIT! He’s not cliché – he’s so much more than just an alcoholic cop! And noooo - they don’t fall in love at AA! That’s the natural inclination, right? To want to defend ourselves/thoughts/actions when someone tells us what we don’t want to hear. But I had to step back and remember – Amy doesn’t know that Tanner isn’t cliché because she hasn’t seen much of him. She doesn’t know that they don’t even meet in AA. She’s just responding to what I’ve given to her. Once I thought about it like that, I was able to look more objectively at her feedback and say to myself, “she’s right. You don’t want to make the characters’ cliché and that’s something you need to be cognizant of when you start to write forward.”
The funniest thing to me was how differently I took her feedback on the premise/idea of the story versus the actual writing I submitted for the first and last chapter. Maybe it’s because there’s nothing an editor/coach could say that would be worse than what I’ve said about my writing myself. Maybe it’s because my manuscripts have been edited before and I’m used to that kind of feedback versus getting feedback on an “idea” or the development of that idea. But when Amy gave me feedback about my first chapter, I found myself shaking my head YES a lot. Especially when she commented in line about opportunities for me to enrich Tanner’s feelings or emotions. My first drafts always lack an emotional layer that I tend to add back in during second and third drafts. So that wasn’t surprising to me, and I agreed with her.
She also mentioned the problems with the starting place of my chapter – which also isn’t surprising. I’m one of those authors that rewrites the first chapter a million times until I find the “right” starting place that works to move the story forward rather than being an info dump or backstory to get the reader up to speed. It’s interesting though, that even though I wrote that first chapter thinking, “I’m totally dropping the reader in media res,” – which is technically where your first chapter is supposed to start – Amy pointed out there was still some instances of info-dumping and perhaps I hadn’t dropped the reader into the action. She said to me:
The therapy session seems mostly to be an info dump -- what I tend to call "having tea" where two characters sit together (in WF, it's often happening over coffee or tea) and rehash things for the benefit of the reader. Those scenes often don't move the story forward, which is why I say PUT THAT IN A TO-GO CUP AND MOVE ALONG! ;-) What I mean is, it has to all work together - the past, the present, and the potential future. The only parts of Tanner's life that matter to the story are the specific ones (along with their impact and his reaction) that have something to do with the story in the present and future.
So, that’s definitely something I’ll want to work through with Amy as we move forward.
As I mentioned before – the hardest part of the Blueprint exercises was writing that last chapter – I knew it was going to be a hot mess and even though Amy praised me for pushing through my blocks and hesitation, I fully expected her to rip it apart (which she did!). But the best thing was that even though I kind of half-assed the last chapter – there were still things that I did that Amy commented on that will prevent me from making a similar mistake in the future. Inconsistencies that made me go, “oh yeah! I know I need to make that clear right from the start.” I also left the chapter in a very ambiguous way which was intentional – because I honestly couldn’t write more. I was already crippled by the assignment and I gave it my best “well, I’ll just throw this here.” But Amy didn’t let me get away with that – she made sure I realized that even if this wasn’t a “real” last chapter – that I couldn’t just leave a novel with an ending that was so… unfinished. Because that’s really what it was.
As I suspected – I did fairly well on the marketing and target audience portion and her feedback was predominately positive, but she did give me some great suggestions and new ways of looking at how my intended audience might connect with the themes in my book or how I could tailor the novel even more to suit that target market I have in mind.
Now, if you’ve made it this far, you might think – WOW! She got through the feedback pretty unscathed, and for the most part, I did! But I want to be honest that not every suggestion or feedback worked for me and that’s okay. As a writer, ultimately, it is your creative choices and decisions that will make/break your novel. And if something is important to you, even if it may go against the best advice of your coach/editor, sometimes it’s worth listening to that voice. Other times, it’s best to step back for a few days or even a few weeks and consider the feedback/suggestions they’re giving and determine why it’s upsetting you so much. Do you think they’re right? Did they call attention to something you feared they would? Or does it feel just plain wrong? Whatever the case is, leaving an open line of communication is important because if you plan to work forward with your coach/editor – you’ll want to know what the other is thinking and how they plan to proceed.
HOW WE PLAN TO PROCEED:
Well, one of the interesting things about my situation is that I have a lot of knowledge about my characters and the story from doing so many rewrites. But what I don’t have is a clear path forward. I don't have chapters for my coach to critique and I don’t even have an outline to work from. So that will be our next step. To have a conversation about all of this feedback as a whole, and where to take it. And I find that so comforting because if I didn’t have that option – to talk it out and “figure things out” – this would probably end up like every other time: me in tears and calling it quits yet again. I’m confident that once I have a guideline on how to move forward, things will fall into place and I’ll be rocking and rolling with writing pages and submitting them.
Next time, I hope to share with you how we approached moving forward and how submitting those first chunks of pages on a week by week basis is going.