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Once upon a time, I had a finished novel.  It was clean, the characters were good, the writing was strong.  Even the plot was interesting and appropriately creepy, and there was humor in all the right places.  My beta readers read, commented, and gave their respective blessings.  Good enough to be published, I said to myself, and I began the Query process.

I gained a partial, and the lovely agent kindly offered some advice.  Yes, she said, “your writing is strong” (note how we cling to those words, like the spider in the shower who manages to grasp some sort of lifeline) “but the plot gets a little off track…”  Denial.  The book is Good Enough, she just isn’t the right agent for me.

And then the brilliant and talented Lauren Groff (if you haven’t read her novel, the Monsters of Templeton, get a copy now.  It’s awesome) generously offered to read the manuscript for me.  “Your writing is strong,” she said, and then she pointed out a few things that made my denial crumble into dust around my naked feet.

The dilemma?  The book is Good Enough, but I now know how to make it Better.

I’ve wrestled with this fact for the last few weeks.  It seemed to me that my options were these:  

1) Continue to market it.  After all, I’ve read worse, I really have, frequently.  So, if it’s better than a lot of stuff out there, somebody might buy it, and I don’t need to go back and do major surgery.

2) Abandon it.  This is a legitimate option: I have several novels in progress, so the logical thought is to chalk up ‘Remember‘ as a learning experience, move on, and make the next book better.

3) Go back and make major changes.

Of course, inevitably, my personality weighed in, along with my own personal code of writing ethics.  My reality is this:  if I know how to make a piece of writing better, that is what I have to do.  I can’t just deliberately leave something lying around flawed; it will haunt me.

Besides, let’s face it:  in today’s publishing market, Good Enough is simply Not Enough.  And so, here we go again.  I’m facing a whole new conception of the novel.  The characters remain, and most of the plot.  The secondary character, the irrepressible Yates Jefferson Baker, becomes the protagonist.  Denny, the Social Cleanser, moves to the forefront.  And my former protagonist, poor old Murdoch, with his missing memories and dark past, takes a back seat.

I’m not abandoning the other projects, mind you.  Swimming North is out to two fearless readers for the first round of input on this second draft.  Losaria is almost ready to go: I just need to retype 75 pages of corrupted files.  

What about the rest of you out there, writing your books.  When the dreaded ‘envelope’ comes along, do you push it, or offer suggestions as to what it can do with its inconvenient self?  Speak up – share your struggles.  I’m off to do Saturday projects, with hopefully some writing thrown in.

This weekend, in amongst all the writing and other things I’ve been doing, I finished reading what I consider a truly wonderful debut novel – The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff.  I loved this book.  It is beautifully and insightfully written, for one thing, with the sort of sentences that found their way, arrow straight, to my heart.  Lauren has that rare ability to capture the whole of humanity, with its jealousy and generosity, fatal flaws and capacity for greatness, all muddled up together, and she is able to write about this with great compassion.

The point of this post, however, is not to review the book, (but please do have a look at it here.) What I want to share is a reminder crucial to those of us who write: opinions may vary.  The book was given to me by a co-worker, who reads widely and well.  He dropped it on my desk and said, “maybe you’ll like it, I couldn’t get into it.”  He said he’d read the first 60 pages, didn’t care about the protagonist or her family, and didn’t see the point in reading further.  Based on this recommendation, I took the book home and left it lying around without even opening it.  Several nights later, David was out of one book and rather desperately in need of another, so I handed him this one.  After the first two chapters, he told me it was a wonderfully written book and he was loving it.  But toward the end, he said it had gotten “too convoluted” and he was a little bit bored.  My turn.  I picked the book up, and loved it from the opening sentence to the very last word.

As a writer, this experience is an important one, I believe.  When you complete a manuscript and hand it over to your readers, however sympathetic they may be, they simply aren’t always going to love what you’ve written.  The key point here, and the difficult one, is that they might be wrong.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but if two of my readers were to read something I’d written, and one said the beginning bored him, and the other one said he didn’t like the end, I might very well either tear the whole thing up or frenetically revise it, based on their opinions.  And, in doing this, I might be horribly, terribly, irreparably wrong.

I don’t have a solution to this dilemma, other than making sure that more than two readers give me feedback, and always, always thinking criticisms through before acting on them.  I suppose there’s also a tie-in with learning to trust the writing.  Or maybe it means I should never, ever let anybody read my manuscripts at all!! (just kidding).

At the moment, I’m reminded that nobody can disagree about what I’ve written until I get it written, so my current task is to actually get a few words in on Gatekeeper.

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