My young adult novel, THE MAGIC QUILT, is still in progress. The end. I have not yet written those two little words that would see her finished. Regardless, I am happy with my recent writing progress. Except for Christmas and New Year’s Day, I wrote for several hours on each of the twelve days that I was off from my day job (December 21 – January 2). I polished my way through chapter 13, of the 24 chapters in THE MAGIC QUILT. Because of the trickle down effect from the later chapters, the first half of the book needed a lot of rewriting. Fixing minor plot flaws, correcting some point of view issues and deciding which minor characters need bigger and smaller roles took up most of my editing time. The ending chapters will not need as much work.
In the original version of THE MAGIC QUILT, Katharine traveled to several places and time periods, both in the past and future. Minor characters from those places, including Jamestown, Virginia, visited Katharine in the present. As a result, Pocahontas was in several scenes. I had decided to remove her character from the novel, including a middle chapter where she had a central role. I thought the chapter slowed down the plot and didn’t add anything. The women in my writing critique group felt differently, that the chapter is needed to both lighten the novel and show another side of Katharine’s character.
So, I decided to let my thoughts on the novel percolate in the background for awhile, and I did some organizing. Looking though my computer files, I was shocked to discover that I have written 19 stories, of which only 3 are published! Yikes. I had neglected these stories, some for several years. Why? Short attention span. I hate editing, polishing and submitting. I love the thrill of first draft writing: getting to know the characters, discovering where the story goes. After that the story and the characters get cold to me. This is why my YA novel is not finished.
Looking back over my older writing, I discovered something else. I have really grown as a writer. I recognize some novice mistakes in my older work, like POV issues–I couldn’t seem to find the MC’s voice, plot holes and leaps, telling instead of showing, needless description, repetition, dialogue tag problems, and tense changes. In fact, some of my older stories are real stinkers. Back when I wrote them, thinking they were awesome works of art, I sent each to friends and family. I apologize for that—I should have sent a clothespin with each story. I even submitted some of these stinkers for publication. Many stunk as much as the bad story JA Konrath wrote to illustrate newbie mistakes. Not surprisingly, I accumulated many rejections
So, over my 12 days of Christmas, I polished three stories, submitted two to a contest and one to a periodical. In so doing, I cut 1,450 unnecessary words from Stand-in Santa, a whopping 40% reduction in the story. Eh gads. Similarly, I cut almost 400 words from Project Golem, a futuristic story about WWIV. I apologize to anyone who read the earlier versions of these stories.
I’ve got a lot more work to do. My new edict for 2008 is: Write. Edit. Polish—Submit. With this in mind, here are my New Year’s Resolutions.
1. I will finish THE MAGIC QUILT
2. I will choose my next book length project and begin working on it
3. I will research the market and agencies representing YA historical fiction/fantasy and search for an agent
4. I will always have at least three stories—YA or adult—(and one article idea) on submission, while working on a fourth
5. I will finish every story I start
6. I will submit every story I finish
7. I will subscribe to the magazines I submit to and read them
8. I will read the Newberry winners and finalists from the last two years to grow in my YA writing
9. I will continue to blog – the process improves my writing
10. I will update my website after reviewing other YA writer sites
11. I will attend at least one writer’s conference, and introduce myself to agents, editors, and other writers
12. I will refuse to get discouraged, even in the face of daunting odds. I love to write and my imagination contains stories that only I can tell. For now, that is my reward. I will not dwell on the fact that I have written drafts of three novels – not finished any, penned over 175,000 words. Although I have earned 135 rejections, I have sold only one story and one essay. I received nada in the way of monitary compensation for the rest of my publications.
I am a better writer than I was when I received all those rejections. To illustrate the point, here is the original opening from “Her Sister’s Ghost,” written in 2002:
Ashleigh Richards stepped into the rear of a small commuter plane and walked past an attractive man, with long, wavy, black hair and sunglasses, who was seated in the last row of the plane. She glanced at him as she passed him; an intense look indicating her attraction for him, which she noticed was reciprocated. She immediately cleared him from her thoughts as she walked toward the front of the plane. She was relieved that seat 4D was a window seat; she would be able to look out the window and think. She stowed her black cashmere coat and carry on bag in the overhead compartment. Ashleigh had her driver’s license and $200 cash in her jeans pocket. Her Gateway, Solo 1200 notebook Ashleigh kept with her. The laptop computer barely fit under the seat in front of her and Ashleigh didn’t have room for her feet with the computer there. One of the drawbacks of being tall is there is never enough legroom. Ashleigh knew that even a shorter person would have trouble compacting themselves into the small seating area of the Express Jet.
I am embarrassed to admit that I submitted this story for publication. The one long opening paragraph screams novice: telling instead of showing, needless description, repetition … Who would want to read more?
The new opening, while still not pefect, is much stronger:
The police would find him, dead in her house. It didn’t matter that he had deserved to die.
Ashleigh Adams shoved her crutches into the back seat of her Cavalier, wincing in pain as she lowered herself carefully into the driver’s seat. She accelerated down the long driveway, tires spitting gravel. As she entered the onramp to the highway, she was already traveling at over eighty miles per hour, speeding to get away from the fear that caused her hands to tremble on the steering wheel.
“Ashleigh, I had to kill him. He gave me no choice,” Erica said.
Sighing, Ashleigh turned toward her sister.
Erica was gone. The passenger seat empty. Ashleigh was left only with the image of Erica standing over her husband, holding the .45 with two steady hands. A bullet hole between his sightless eyes.