Always Learning, Always Improving

I’ve heard it said you have to write a million words before you’re ready for publication–or something like that. Now that I’m working on my third manuscript (ok, fourth if you count the totally amateur shelved one I don’t like to claim), I really get it. I’ve learned so many things through the writing-critiquing-querying-submitting process that I can apply to this manuscript.

As some background, I wrote this MS–an MG sci-fi–last August-September. I set it aside for a month and then started revising. When I received the revise and resubmit for DUET, this one got completely pushed to the side. Now that the DUET revision is out in the world, it’s time to focus back on this work-in-progress, so I spent the last few days reading through it again.

One of the first questions I had to ask was: should this one be YA, too? When I started revising DUET, it was almost immediately obvious to me that it should have been YA to start with. The problem is, I was so in the MG mode that I didn’t even ask that question. I’m glad to say that I’m confident this one should stay MG–not because I’m unwilling to put in the work but because I’m glad I wasn’t off base on this one, too.

The whole DUET process is going to benefit this MS in another way, too. I went through multiple rounds of critiques for the YA version and used some new readers. I find that with every new critique partner or beta reader, I learn something new that I can apply not only to that MS but to others, and that was certainly the case here. I never could have let this one sit for three months without that distraction, and it’s so great to be able to look at it with new eyes.

With that kind of distance, I’ve been able to really see my weaknesses. Some of the things I’ve noticed:

  • I’m way too attached to my first lines and chapters. With both CAVEBOY and DUET, I jumped into the action too quickly, before readers cared about the characters. In both cases, I ended up revising the first chapters, backing up in the story. I already see that’s an issue here, too. I really love the first line I came up with, but I’m going to kill this darling before it holds me back like the others before it.
  • I have a tendency to open chapters with several paragraphs of internal thought summing things up. That’s ok once in a while, but I need to consider where I could incorporate those thoughts into action or dialogue instead.
  • Oh, that ever-challenging balance between too much backstory and not enough. I need to figure out how to layer it in so readers aren’t confused by too little or bogged down with too much.

And on the plus side, I know there are many other issues I used to have that aren’t a problem anymore. I’ve already learned those lessons and can move on. That’s what I love about this journey. I’m always learning and improving.

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned? Does it encourage you to know you’ve improved?

Responses to “Always Learning, Always Improving”

  1. Joanne Fritz

    I can totally relate, Michelle. I’m also working on my third novel (if you don’t count the two false starts I had back in 2008/2009). And when I look back, I realize how much I’ve learned. Not just the obvious “show, don’t tell” stuff but other things too, like the fact that it’s okay, even necessary to have a terrible first draft. With each revision and critique, the ms gets better. It’s like building an onion, layer by layer, adding characterization, adding action, cleaning up dialogue, adding interiority. There is a character in this novel who didn’t exist in my first draft! And a situation that didn’t become clear to me until about draft three. I find this to be a lot of work but an exhilarating challenge.

  2. melanie conklin (@MLConklin)

    There’s nothing like having a LOOOONG break from a book to see it with fresh eyes. I like to make a list of beta questions (and my own questions) and journal on the answers until I know what the revision requires.

    • Michelle I. Mason

      Good ideas. I use Scrivener, and I love the notes section. I put notes and questions for myself alongside each chapter. It really helps me think through what I need to do next.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)