Your story is probably going to be crappy. Until, suddenly, it isn’t.
“I reread book four.”
“And? How does it read?”
“I hate it. It needs to go into the dumpster”
*Cue the O-o expression*
Nearly every writer goes through this. If you don’t, you probably live in a delusional state that I would love to be a part of and please give me an all-season pass that gets me through the gate. “This” refers to when your story is one you hate. Your Fraud Police (thank you Amanda Palmer for that term) comes blaring in the front door, bashing it in, shrieking at you through a megaphone that you and your writing suck. Not just suck. But SUCK (good on me for stylish points made). You sit there, stare at your pages before you, at the midpoint or even the climax of your book, and go “I have a steaming pile of book crap and I need to put my head in a hole and scream”.
Seriously, if you don’t do this, I’m a bit concerned for the real state of your book.
One aspect of what we do as writers is tell a story. That, inherently, isn’t really the hardest part. I know, I know. We all scream ‘WRITING IS THE HARDEST THING EVER’ while melodramatically flinging ourselves down on the nearest surface in a tantrum worthy of a five year old. But then we somehow finish the book. We’re writers. We finish books (repeat this five times every hour if you have to because this is the essential part of being a writer).
But what happens after is that we edit. We reread our first draft and our second drafts. We scrub that sucker but invariably we will find where our two levels of consciousness seemed to part ways. You stare at it and whisper to the Ether ‘shit’. Because what IS THIS?
And it sucks.
You want to throw the book down and walk away. By all means, if you were doing something less important than expressing your muse’s demands, fine that would work but it…it really won’t. Abandoning a work you did like writing with a disgruntled ‘I don’t wanna do this’ is a cop-out and way too easy.
So what do you do? Well, I mean, you can do what I used to do in my twenties, which was drink an awful lot, throw on a movie and konk out and forget it in my drawer never to see the light of day. That’s not the best. Don’t be me at twenty-five year. That’s bad. Do you throw it at an editor with shaking hands and go ‘fix this pwease?’. No. Don’t recommend that (and I’ve done it complete with big shiny anime eyes of desperation).
Here’s what you do. You set your copy down on your desk or pull it up on your screen. You grab a non-alcoholic beverage. You set a pad of paper down next to you, one that does not have your editorial notes on it. You start to, essentially, developmental edit. Which means you are going to write down what you like and what you don’t like. Does one character resonate more than others? If that’s not your main character, should your story be told by the other character? Is a setting stereotyped (this is getting more and more common I think)? Is the motivation clear or muddy? Is your romance believable? What about the token character you threw in there? Maybe you need to develop them more?
It also helps, on a different piece of paper, to write out your plot points. Does going from point C make sense when you jump to Q? Are they even in sensible order? Is it your usual three-act structure or are you trying out a new type? Are your tropes working or are they pretty dang stale? Gosh I’m making myself antsy already.
The reason I bring all this up is that I’ve been working on book 4 of the Unseen Chronicles. I finished it in March 2021 and stuck it in a drawer to ferment. I started editing September 2021 and it…is still ongoing. The overwhelming issue has been my recent illness that I’m fighting but perhaps the actual reason is that I’ve felt suitably stamped on in the past year and I want everything else to suffer that won’t take it personally.
Good plan? Not really.
I reached the midpoint of book four editing and snapped at my friend ‘I hate this. It just sucks. I might scrap it and start over.’ She blinked at me, shook her head, and just changed the subject. Because you see when you do this long enough with the same friends, they’re used to your bullshit. Because it is bullshit. She knew it and deep down I knew it. I kept reading, wrote my notes as I went, and reached the end of the climatic action and went ‘ok I like this book’. Ugh. Pointless tantrum wasted. I only get so many a year. I went back into my notes where I had starred the part where I started to dislike everything and did my review. The part I hated was easily fixed.
The point I am trying to stress is that no book is perfect and no book is really un-fixable. You might rewrite it a hundred times but you will get it eventually. You need to actively take the time to become a better editor and to get better at your craft. This means you need to read a variety of books, you need to learn to sit there and decipher what makes a story work, and you basically need to become your own champion over your worst critic…which is unfortunately you.
This doesn’t absolve you from going to editors and beta readers. Because they will help. But if you go to them with the ‘this sucks, fix it’ mentality, you are just going to build resentment and no one will want to work with you. That’s not their job. Their job is not to ‘fix’ but to help your story improve. Why can’t they ‘fix’? Because I don’t know enough writers who aren’t egotistical enough about their writing who will take an editor fixing their work with a sense of true humility. Sad truth and take it on the chin. There’s no shame in it.
So. Get writing. Go over the lumps. Get editing. Do some surgery and therapy on your book. You might find you like it far more than you realized.