So, I got a ‘pass’ from the agent who requested my full manuscript. I must admit, I wasn’t too surprised. I was bummed – it was my birthday after all (the day I received the email), but I wasn’t surprised. Here’s why…
Earlier this year I worked with an editor on my first novel, Set ‘Em Up, Joe. I’ve blogged about the experience, but the short of it – it was not the best experience for me. I did receive some good feedback, but I don’t think the match was ideal (editor-writer). And that’s an important part of the equation – finding someone who gets your writing, who understands your vision. As a result of the experience, my confidence suffered a bit. Enough to keep me from writing for about three weeks. After working with the editor, I felt unsure of myself (and of my story, my characters, and everything else).
And that uncertainty manifested itself when I did start writing again. Not good. I allowed my insecurity to hold me back, to hold my characters back. And it showed in my writing. As I revised, I wrote from a place of safety. I tested the waters, pushing my characters only as far as I felt comfortable doing so. At the time I didn’t realize I was doing this, but looking back it’s clear I gave my characters easy ways out. Which didn’t make for high-stakes tension in my novel. The agent who passed told me she loved the voice, but the plot was not engaging enough. Fair enough.
About a week before I received that pass, I realized that my manuscript was not all it could be. I don’t know how I came to that realization, it just hit me one day. So when I got that email, as I stated – no big surprise.
I believe in my characters and my novel. I sincerely feel the potential is there…my novel just didn’t live up to that potential. But I believe it can. Which is why shortly after receiving that pass, I contacted another editor. This editor was someone I’d contacted before – and she’d offered to take on my manuscript, but I’d gone with someone close by so I could meet in person. I was thrilled when this new editor gave me a second opportunity to get her input. We exchanged a couple of emails, and then scheduled our first phone consult (in two weeks).
How do I know this editor is the right one? Here’s one reason – after reading my first five pages she mentioned something that resonated with me so completely, I just knew I was in for an amazing learning experience. She stated that, as a reader, she hesitated because she sensed my hesitation as a writer. Let me write that again…
As a reader she hesitated because she sensed my hesitation as a writer.
Wow. Bingo. Exactly.
You cannot write from a safe place. You cannot hold back. You cannot hesitate.
You have to push your characters to places that are so beyond comfortable, that you almost (or do) squirm in your seat while writing the scenes. If you’re like me and you prefer endings not totally devoid of happiness, fine – give your characters what you want them to have…in the end. But rake them through the goals before they get there. Push them to their breaking points, give them horrible choices and make them do things that they don’t want to do. It’s the only way to create inner and outer tension – which is the only way to keep readers engaged. If everything is hunky-dory (or worse, so-so), what’s the point of reading the story?
In real life, most of us avoid conflict. We don’t like tense situations. Tension leads to stress, which leads to sleepless nights, body aches and overtime at the gym because we look to chocolate for moments of peace. Or maybe that’s just me. Whatever, what we try to avoid in real life we often seek in fiction. And that includes tension. You cannot achieve this state unless you push your characters and push yourself as a writer.
More on my experiences with this editor as the work begins, but for now let me say that I’m eager, ready and willing to not hesitate. Oh, and I’ve already thought of ways to push Joe to some very, very difficult places. He won’t be happy. But happy is not the emotion I’m trying to invoke in my readers.