Friday, February 05, 2010

Back on the Blog Chain--Your Best Mistake

I'm back with another edition of the Blog Chain. This round, Rebecca wants to know, "What is the best mistake you've made so far in your journey as a writer? How has that mistake helped you grow?"

Check out Amanda's and Eric's posts to follow the other links in the chain.

This is a tough topic for me to answer. As a perfectionist, I hate making mistakes, not to mention admitting them. Of course, I do make mistakes, and I've had a lot of time to make them with my writing. The problem is I really can't point to a specific instance and describe it as a light bulb moment. So I'll discuss a few that are worth mentioning.

My very first attempt at a novel was pretty awful. I had what I thought was an interesting premise (characters who refrain from speaking to build up magic inherent in language encounter people who speak a different language), but the heroine was a bit cliche (white-haired female magician), and I tended to avoid conflict. They traveled, but it wasn't an exciting journey. I'm glad that one will never see the light of day.

I'd like to think my second novel, Day of All Seasons, has a better plot and setting, more characters, and more conflict. But it's also very long (about 170,000 words), and features a lot of viewpoint characters. I'm amazed it worked out as well as it did! My first mistake with this one was to submit such a long novel. I had a couple of partial requests, but I never got farther than that. Lesson Number One: learn to write shorter novels.

A few years ago, I dusted Day off and posted some of it on the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. (The link is in the sidebar.) I tried reworking the beginning a couple of times according to suggestions, but I felt they were changing the story into something I didn't want it to be. Eventually the novel went back in the trunk. Lessons Two and Three: Sometimes you can't go back, and you can't change everything to please other people.

Many of my most memorable mistakes involve critiquing. I don't want to go into too much detail, but there have been misunderstandings by people who didn't understand what I was trying to do with the story. I've run into problems when I've tried to critique a genre I'm not familiar with. I've brought in stories that weren't thought through enough, I've made characters too unsympathetic in the beginning (my intent was for them to change over the story, but perhaps I went too far with their flaws) and made characters sound younger than they were. It took time to overcome these problems, and I'm sure there are others out there I'm not aware of. And while I'd love to start submitting Across Two Universes as soon as I finish this draft, I know I need some time away from it and a fresh reviewer to read it. Impatience can lead to some pretty big mistakes!

Mistakes are inevitable anytime you try something new. It's commonly said that you first have to write a million bad words before you can start writing good stuff. I guess that's one good thing about writing long novels in the beginning; it helped me speed through my first million words faster! I have no idea how many words I've written by now, but I hope they're starting to add up to something good.


Michelle McLean said...

Ah, impatience is a problem I have. I get a book done and immediately want to sub it. I've learned to walk away from it and not submit until I am ready and have had much better results :) Great post!

Cole Gibsen said...

I've had similiar experience with critiquing. I love my SCBWI group but when it comes to critting picture books I always cop out with the "I like it." Shame on me, I know. I just feel like I don't know enough to give any advice on the genre..

Mandy said...

Learning that I can't please all of the people all of the time has been one of the biggest hurdles for me to overcome. I totally get where you're coming from!

Christine Fonseca said...

Such a great post Sandra - and as one perfectionist to another, I know how hard this post is!

Eric said...

Great answer. I think you really hit it though with this: "Mistakes are inevitable anytime you try something new."

Okay, now I'm off to do my own entry to this chain.

Shaun Hutchinson said...

Ahhh, impatience. I know how you feel.

B.J. Anderson said...

Impatience kills me sometimes. And I used to write characters who sounded too young as well, so I switched to writing YA and middle grade. Great post!

Kat Harris said...

I like lesson three: You can't change everything to please other people. That has been one of the hardest things for me to learn.

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Ooh, I agree that impatience can lead to some big mistakes - a lot of my mistakes have come from my refusal to just wait a little longer and get it right!

Site Meter