Linda Maye Adams

When I Almost Gave Up Novel Writing


I just got accepted into Odyssey’s Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising Your Novel, which is a huge milestone in the journey for book Miasma.  You see, because of Miasma, I thought about giving up novel writing and going back to just short stories.

When I broke up with my cowriter, it was messy and I was very angry.  But I realized one thing: I needed to get another book started.  That became Miasma.  I wrote the entire story in about 30 days.  Then started revising it right on the screen.

Yet, there were a couple of nagging problems.  These problems were why I had agreed to cowrite in first place, and unfortunately, cowriting didn’t fix them:

  1. The books ran too short, as in unpublishably too short.
  2. I couldn’t get subplots into the story.

So I cast about for solutions.  But how-to books are written for common problems, and these was clearly rare problems.  I posted to message boards, and this was typical of the response:

“Just add a romance!”

Uh, guys, I couldn’t get the subplots into the story.  How would adding a romance be any different?  It was discouraging because there was nothing out there.  I finally decided that subplots weren’t going to happen.  So I did every workaround I could think of to get the word count up.

A monster raises hands for the attack, bloodshot eyes crazy and wild

The Details Monster attacks!

Enter The Details Monster.

A little short on a scene?  Add more details.

I did not know I was bad with details.  I was a big picture thinker, but twelve years in the army had left me overcompensating on the details.  What I didn’t realize was that I couldn’t tell when I had gone to far.

I finally got the story up to 80K.  Barely.  I sent it out the agents, got the rejections, though I was scared to death of the prospect of getting published.  I wasn’t sure what I would do if I got published and had a year deadline and ran into more problems.

One agent was kind enough to give me comments.  When I read them, I realized that the subplot problem was really affecting the story, and that I’d gone too far on the details.

So I restarted the story from scratch and used mind maps to help me cut back on the bigger details.  I decided to only use three of the bigger details on any subject and that forced me to pick the best of what I had.  One of those was on what kind of magic the main character had.  I also decided to let the lowest level of details go because it was too hard trying to manage the Details Monster.

But that subplot problem was still there.  Maddeningly, I could see how it was influencing the story and creating other problems, and yet, I did not know what causing it.  If I couldn’t figure that out, my novels were dead in the water.

At the point, I wondered if I was ever going to be able to produce a publishable novel, and if it was worth my time beating myself over trying to solve the problems.

For whatever reason, I started looking on the internet one more time in the hopes of finding a clue, and I ran across Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel.  There’s a lot of truth it in it.  I had been line editing rather than revising, which was keeping me from seeing the story.  I signed up and spent two months pulling out my hair.  I was going through pages and pages and pages and pages of details.  There was so much I could not find the story.

I also found myself beating around the edges of the subplot problem.  Only now it also involved theme.  Class members told me that theme and subplot were there, and that I must just not be seeing them.

Finally on lesson ten, the source of the problem revealed itself to me.  I was walking through one of the steps and it suddenly hit me that I’d started the story way late.  Every writing book assumes that writers need to chop off the first 50 pages, not that the writer is starting too late.  I’d literally started in the middle.

It explained a lot.  I’d been seeing setup in  weird places, even at the end.  Because the story started in the wrong place, setup had to force its way into the story, and it was forcing out theme and subplots.

Or so I thought … my journey to the land of subplots and details was only beginning.

Have you ever had a time when you just wanted to give up because the problem seemed so insurmountable?  Tell me below!

7 Comments

  1. When I got my editoral report that listed all the things that I needed to fix. I thought I was finished! I let it stew a few days and then took a new perspective – I don’t necessarily agree, but WHY is she saying that?
    I buckled down for a solid re-write and my MS is so much better for it.

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  2. Yeah — the toughest thing is getting the comments and realizing how much work needs to be done. 😦 Even with the realization that, yeah, it needs to be done.

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  3. Sometimes I get anxious and feel like I’m never going to finish my story because of life in general. But when I finally finish, I always look back and think, “You did it! that wasn’t so bad.”
    Keep on swimming!

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    • I always get that way during first 100 pages. It seems like such an impossible mountain to climb, and then I start feeling like real progress is being made after page 100.

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  4. The book I took through HTRYN was terribly broken–the most broken book I’d written (and it was number 3, strangely enough books 1 and 2 were not as badly off as this, though they had their own issues).

    I was scared of it. I didn’t know how to tackle it. HTRYN gave me the tools I needed to delve deep into the story’s inner workings and FIX it. I ended up with a book I love, but I still remember the terror of confronting the monster on the page.

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    • I remember going through mine, just trying to do the cards. It was so messed up from the details that I thought I had all Frankenscenes, and I had to redo the cards later — didn’t have a single Frankenscene. It was all the details!

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  5. Congrats for being accepted for the Odyssey Workshop 🙂 It’s awesome that HTRYN course gave you an eureka on late start. Rare thing indeed to start from the middle. I always start way too early since I need to write the characters for some time before I get them.

    If you’re interested in taking a look at another editing system, I’ve heard great things about Margie Lawson’s Deep Editing:

    http://www.margielawson.com/lecture-packets/deep-editing-the-edits-system-rhetorical-devices-and-more

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