On December 5, 2013 I sent my first chapter of the book I’m writing to my critique group. I was revising another book at the time, but had this story idea that needed to come out.
In June of 2014, I realized I had started the story in the totally wrong place. I was over 40k into it, and nothing was salvageable. I paced my backyard, swore, sent a venting email to my critique partners (there might have been more swear words), paced my backyard again. Then, I bought me a fresh Diet Coke, broke out my colored post-it notes and started re-plotting the book.
Because the story that I have been writing for a year and a half is a story of my heart. When I first had the idea for the story, I sat at my laptop and jotted down some scenes, getting a feel for the characters, and connected with three of them so deeply that writing their experiences made me cry. Because when I closed my eyes, I could see these women like the tangible people of my life.
But it is more than that.
The Art of Work by Jeff Goins discusses the manner in which a person need to pursue a craft, hone a talent, discover a passion.
I have had writer friends talk about “the book that tried to kill them” on several occasions. The plot was hard, the language challenged them, creating the desired emotional impact took a toll. But these people soon discovered they had put their heart and soul into the book, the quality of their commitment became lovely through the challenge, and the thing they were creating would not let them settle for less. They put in the time.
This is why good writers revise.
This is why good writers receive feedback from critique partners and writing groups.
This is why good writers revise again.
This is why good writers receive feedback from beta readers – preferably those who frequently read and/or write in that genre.
This is why good writers revise again.
Because, you see, your story, just like anything else worth having, requires you love the work. And it will be work. Two more thoughts from The Art of Work.
You must love the work. Not until you find something you can do to the point of exhaustion, to the extent that you almost hate it but can return to it tomorrow, have you found something worth pursuing.
True practice is not just about learning a skill; it’s about investing the time and energy necessary to discern if this is what you are meant to do. It’s about using difficulty to discover what resonates and what does not.
Think about the story you are writing. Has it frustrated you? Made you talk to electronics? Created a whisper of self-doubt that at times grows in such strength that you question if you can write the story at all?
Do you still come back?
If you are at all like me, you come back because the thought of not completing it to the best of your ability is worse the the screaming self-doubt.
You have come back because you see a spot where you can start fixing, where you know what you meant to say, and if you know how to fix that part, you can probably fix it somewhere else too.
You come back because you know that hard things in life are often followed by great joys.
And you come back because you have a story to tell. A story that only you can tell. A story that means something to you, that might, maybe, mean something to someone else, and maybe, just maybe, what you wrote will allow readers to engage with you. Maybe you’ll have, what Cheryl B. Klein calls the ultimate engagement, which is “when readers care so much for the characters that they feel everything the characters feel in the action of the novel: their triumph, their love, their excitement, their pain” (from Second Sight).
When you hear about someone who created their story in months or weeks or days, when you are tempted to send out a query too soon, when you think about quitting, ask yourself if you can?
If you say yes, there is absolutely no shame. Find a passion that stirs your soul, that makes you want to be better because life is to short to be passionless.
If not, listen to the passion lying in you, yell at the computer if you need then treat yourself to something as a reward for dedication and perseverance, and make your story the very best it can be.
Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.