Hitting the Send Button

I feel like this bee--perching on the edge of something vast--now that I've sent out some pages of my work-in-progress.

I just submitted the first 85,000 words of my novel, LOST NOTES, to my trusty critique group.

Now the waiting begins–two months’ worth, in this case. We’ll meet in mid-November for my critique. In the meantime, I’ll be working on writing the final chapters.

It was hard to hit the send button. My monthly group has heard some pieces of my story, but nobody’s really read it. Until now. How do you know when a manuscript is really done? Or, in this case, done enough for others to read?

I keep reminding myself that this is a first draft. No matter how many times I go through the manuscript looking for skipped commas or missing quotation marks, that’s not the kind of thing that matters at this early stage. I want to know if the story’s working. If the historical voice is too loud. Whether my protagonist Henri, the fainting pimp, has stepped onto the page in proper fashion during my year-long process of getting to know him.

My goal is to finish this first draft in December. Now that I’ve turned in those 85,000 words, I can start moving forward with new scenes again. Most likely, I’ll incorporate the advice and opinions I receive in November into whatever part of the writing I have left, then I’ll turn around and start on an official draft two in early 2012–armed with those suggestions and my own sense of the story as a completed manuscript.

We’ve discussed critique circles here in the past, but today, because I’m feeling a little nervous, I’d love to hear some positive stories about how groups, writing classes or beta readers have influenced your work. (You’re welcome to tell me your negative stories, too, but I’m hoping for positivity, since I just hit that send button.)

About Laura Stanfill

Publisher, Forest Avenue Press
This entry was posted in Plot, Revision, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Hitting the Send Button

  1. First and foremost, don’t worry! What’s the worst that could happen? They offer you HELPFUL information to make it better.

    Trust me, I know how it feels. My book is still out there with beta-readers. (I’m anxiously awaiting their information. Nervous but mostly ready to get this novel finished!) At first, it nearly killed me to send off my work. So far, what I’ve heard about is that they love it , but unfortunately, I haven’t received any criticism yet. I know that sounds odd, but you’ll want that when the time comes. It took me a month or two to want that criticism, so hang in there. It’ll all work out for the greater good, Laura. And I have no doubt, they’ll love it and offer you some helpful tips at the same time.

    • (I hope none of that sounds condescending. It wasn’t meant to be.)

    • Thanks, Emerald! I have submitted half-novels and full novels to this group before, and I totally trust their input and welcome it. There’s just that flutter of anxiety… and the long wait to hear what I need to work on. I have no doubt that I’ll get some excellent suggestions. These group members all have different, but well-thought, perspectives as readers and as writers. I can’t wait to see how their advice helps me to push this first draft into a more polished product.

  2. Liz says:

    congratuations, laura! getting it down on the page is the hard part; revising is fun, don’t you think?
    http:pocketshrink.blogpot.com

  3. bridget harwell says:

    Well, you still have a lot of fun ahead of you. After you sort through the feedback, keep the stuff that makes sense and let go what doesn’t fit, you will have fuller ownership of your novel. I’ve yet to publish a novel I wrote but I clearly remember when I claimed by work and stopped thinking about how it was being relieved. I miss the visits my characters would make at three in the morning. Writing a novel is no small feat. Good for you!

    • Thanks, Bridget! I do love that culling-through-comments process, seeing how certain passages or plot events landed on different people and making sense of what I want to do next. I’m excited to finish the final chapters, too, so I have that sense of ownership over a full manuscript and can begin really revising.

  4. bridget harwell says:

    Hi again. Read, “how it was being relieved”. The subconscious never sleeps.

  5. bridget harwell says:

    OK, The blog wins. It doesn’t like the word with a c in it.

  6. Jody Moller says:

    I have a question for you Laura – how much editing did you do before you sent it off to be critiqued? I am thinking about the first drafts of my books, I don’t think mine are fit for human consumption until at least the third draft. Perhaps, though, I should be seeking input earlier…

    • Good question, Jody! I might be calling this draft 2 if I had actually finished the first draft all the way through. Perhaps it’s more like draft 1.5, or draft 2A, with 2B still under construction.

      It’s a pretty clean manuscript because I spent the last month or so revising small pieces and fixing things, and before that I had gone through one or two other rereads, making some major changes.

      Part of me knows I should have kept writing through to the end, rather than pausing for tinkering, which most writers agree can really mess things up. However, I am working with the idea that I should seek input earlier, as you said. With my last two novels I read chunks aloud at a class, but I’ve never had anyone read a big chunk like this so early in the process. I’m hoping to fix major issues now so I don’t spend the next five years revising!

  7. Congrats on sending it off! That is the hardest part by far! I remember when I had to submit my work for a creative writing class and for a couple workshops. It took me *days* to actually hit the send button! I’ve had mixed experiences with critique groups, but overall I would say that they’ve been very helpful. I’m sure you’re going to get tons of great feedback! 😀

    -Jana

    • Thanks, Jana! It feels so weird to hold your breath and click–and then suddenly what’s been in your mind for a long time is public. Or somewhat public.

      I do trust and adore my critique group. We all studied in classes together with Stevan Allred and Joanna Rose, two amazing local writers, and so we have that training in common and a list of tools to use when talking about language. But we all approach each other’s work with our own perspective (just like regular readers). I am so excited to see what they have to say, especially since this novel is so different from anything I’ve written before.

  8. gigi little says:

    congratulations on getting to this next step! each step is exciting and harrowing in its own way, isn’t it?

    • Thanks, Gigi! You’re right–starting the first draft process was thrilling and terrifying after so many years of revising my last manuscript, and now I’m on the brink of moving into revisions, and that feels exhilarating and scary too. I am buoyed by the reception our group has given my short pieces, and it’ll be great fun to see what the novel group thinks of the whole story fabric put together. I can’t wait to begin working out a road map (of sorts) for what needs to change.

  9. I’ve got some great feedback on the chapters I’ve posted of my WIP. Very helpful. I have suspended the process, though, because it had become obvious that the book had deeper plot problems that weren’t going to solved by going chapter-by-chapter. But the feedback answered the key question, which was whether the book could stand alone, without the reader having read the earlier books. The answer is yes, so I can go forward on that basis. So, the whole thing worked out very well.

    Oh, and I got the CD, thanks. I’ll listen to it tomorrow (I also got my sister’s new CD and I kind of need to listen to that one first 🙂 ).

    • Great news about your feedback, Anthony, and your book’s standalone quality. That’s wonderful. I’ll be curious to hear how your rewriting work comes along as you tackle some of those bigger issues. That’s one of the reasons I love revision. The chance to really get in there and tear things apart, and figure out how to build them back up.

      I heard Scott Sparling speak last night, and he talked about how over the years of writing his novel, he realized certain characters were the same character, i.e. a woman who appears early on during a ferry ride continues to be a character later in the book. There was no need for the ferry woman to be a random, separate character who didn’t advance the plot. Those connections helped strengthen his plot and keep it rolling forward.

      Glad you got the CD!

      • I agree completely about combining characters. I always go back to this blog post about that:
        http://maasmith7.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/combining-characters/

        However, it can create (small) problems as well. I’m currently figuring out how to best present my mystery stories in book form (selected stories, all the stories, one volume, two, three?) and it’s made somewhat more complex by the fact that some minor characters (and even a few major ones) appear in more than one story, so however I present the stories has to take that into account. If each story had a completely separate set of characters (other than the detective and her assistant), it would be easier. But then the stories would be as good, and that’s what counts.

        • Thanks for that link. I read Maggie’s combining characters post a while ago but was glad to see it again. It’s amazing that you have so much rich, interrelated material to work with, Anthony, but I can only imagine the challenges of trying to parse them out into collections or books.

  10. It’s nerve racking to send your work to outsiders no matter what. Even if those outsiders are insiders. 😉 But at least you have a critique group and believe me, if it’s hard to receive critiques, it’s harder to have any. So that’s something to consider as well. Be grateful for having critiques! 😉 And congratulations for sending it away. It isn’t easy and you should be proud for having done it.

    • Thanks for the insights and the congratulations, LA Speedwing! I am definitely lucky to have two amazing critique groups. One meets monthly, and we bring in pages to read aloud. This one meets on an as-needed basis, usually every three or four months, to read a whole (or half) manuscript. My writing, and my writing life, have benefitted greatly from both groups of people and the different reading experiences. I wouldn’t have braved sending an unfinished draft out into the world if I didn’t trust my group so much.

  11. JB Hill says:

    How exciting…. 85,000 is a lot of words. When I began, I had this magnificent story in my head but my characters weren’t quite clear during the first draft. They felt like images running around in my head behaving sporadically to adhere to this outline of a story I had ingrained in my head. I actually re-wrote it in different narratives as lessons in character development (some call it self inflicted cruelty). Best thing I ever did… and would do it again, if the opportunity were there. I wish you the very best of luck in the journey to perfect your voice.

    • Yes, I’ve joked about this turning into a 200,000 word novel! It’s historical, so I think I get a little word-count wiggle room, but I’ll definitely be looking for places to cut in my next draft! Your novel-writing experience is fascinating. This is the first time I’ve worked with an outline, and I had some trouble connecting to my characters especially in the first few months. My other two novels were character driven, which meant spending a lot of time exploring character, and then needing to build a plot in later. Your rewriting exercise sounds like a great way to jumpstart that process and really dig into each character’s personality. Thanks for stopping by!

      • JB Hill says:

        I think for most of us, writing in first person is really easy to do… and probably should be done for each character (leaving out the insignificant, and decorative). I wrote the story in first person initially, then in first person from the POV of another character that is important to the plot line in many ways. Then decided to do it from the POV of my villain, and by the time I was done with my character development shock therapy, I had written more than 160,000 words. But when I was done, I knew the voice of my first draft was just plain wrong. I ended up in 3rd person narrative, because I felt like I had no choice at that point. Each character had so much to say and do that could not be captured in first person narrative. Now this is my experience only, but anyone that has any writer’s block during edit, or having problems with plot inconsistencies… I can assure this is a good way fix it. Lots of good stuff here, thanks for sharing with us.

        • Wow. That amazes me. My last novel started in 3rd person limited, and I ended up changing it to first person. I couldn’t imagine anything more than that. Again, amazing! But, the lesson I learned is that if it’s not right, then you have to change it to what works. And I also agree with the writer’s block during edit bit. It would definitely help to look at it through another character’s eyes.

        • “Character development shock theory”–love it! I have never rewritten a book to change the POV, but that’s probably because my first two novels were first-person. I got to know the characters so well over the years it took to write the books. This work-in-progress started out third person omniscient and remained that way. Once I’m done with this draft, it would be a useful rewrite exercise to write some passages from my protagonist’s POV and see what I learn.

          Thanks for your thoughtful comments, and sharing your experiences, JB Hill!

  12. Pingback: Giving Myself Permission to Revise | Laura Stanfill

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