Sometimes You Have To Go Down The Wrong Road To Get To The Right One

I’ve been working on the first 500 words of my YA novel in preparation for the writer’s roundtable critique day at the Winter SCBWI conference Jan 27-29.  These two pages have taken up over a week of my writing life.

I wasn’t unhappy with my beginning. It was the umpteenth version of it. And it garnered requests for the full. But no offers of representation.

No harm in trying something new since I’d have a day’s worth of captive audience at the conference.

But I really liked that beginning. It was the best beginning I’d written to date.

So I thought, let’s make it more YA-ey. Let’s talk about the clicks in high school.

I warmed to the idea and reworked the first two pages. I got deeper into my protagonist’s head. Her voice came through so much more. I didn’t say she’s an outsider, but I showed it.

I was super excited after 2 days of laboring over my words.

And then I read it to my dad.

Silence.

Then he says, “I’m not connecting with it. Too kiddish.”

Okay that was what I was going for. But it gives me pause.

I read it to mom.

She says, “I hate it.”

Double pause. Maybe I did something wrong.

Wasted two days going down the wrong path.

So the next day, I thought about it. Didn’t touch the keyboard. Read a paper version.

Since the book isn’t really about high school, it was not a good idea to open with high school clicks.

But that left me with zero ideas of how to revise it.

I ruminated over it for a day. Then I decided to focus on the mystery. Play it up more. And I changed the opening again. But this time when I got stuck, I pulled stuff out of the bad revision. Because even though the concept didn’t work, the execution rocked.

There were some beautiful lines there. Cool ideas I could tweak. So I leveraged the first rewrite to get to the second.

Then I read the new one to my mom.

She says, “I love it.”

My beta reader read both and said he loved the new one best, although the first one was well written. And he could see how the first version gave birth to the second.

I kinda knew I was going down the wrong road with the clicks, but I didn’t have another idea. However, movement always feels better than inertia. Even when you’re going the wrong way. Rather than sit in my car thinking about where to go, I followed it to the end.

And it led me to a better idea. The idea I would run with and keep.

Every time you toss out an idea and lose several pages of work and lambaste yourself for wasting time, keep in mind that tossed out idea might have been the only way to get to the next idea. The one that was for keeps.

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14 Responses to Sometimes You Have To Go Down The Wrong Road To Get To The Right One

  1. snagglewordz says:

    It’s accepting the difference between critique and criticism too. It is excellent that you are willing to go through the re-work process and have gained so much. I hope your first 500 words are a real hit at the conference!

    • Very well said! Critique is hard and my parents aren’t ones to sugar coat it. My feelings do get hurt, but I’ve learned to listen and consider. Sometimes it takes me weeks even months to see the validity of every point raised in a critique.

      Thanks! I’ve been working on this manuscript on and off for four years so I’m hoping that happens too! It’s my first manuscript so it was my training wheels and most of the earlier versions were ghastly.

  2. Good for you, Kourtney. (And what an honest mom you have!) I think too many writers fail to write or finish anything for fear of everything coming out “bad” when in fact we’re writing our way toward something terrific.

    Best of luck at the conference!

    • Thanks, August! She’s one of my toughest beta readers, but I know she wants the book to be the best it can be. I agree with you. I alwya remind myself that I can only edits what’s on the page, so I make myself put down words and even place holder cliches that I know need to be fixed. The hardest thing to realize is that the novel is never finished until it is published. Up until that point anything and everything is still changeable.

      Thanks so much! Having some moths I my tummie but excited too!

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  4. jmmcdowell says:

    Excellent post and attitude! It’s always tough to “chop” or “lose” something we’ve written and invested a lot of time in. But those words and sections aren’t wasted. Like you, I’ve recycled bits of them into new scenes. And creative writing is never wasted. It’s the practice, practice, practice that leads to good, polished work that others enjoy reading, too.

    Good luck at the conference – and enjoy it!

    • Thanks JM! It was one of those little epiphanies that slip your mind in the revision quest. This time I stopped and saw all the links and was grateful for the time spent on a wrong direction.

      I’m amazed at how much practicing has improved my drafts. That and reading well crafted books.

      A little nervous about the pitch but excited too. I like having the possibility of requests and maybe even getting an agent. Already laid my clothes out for tomorrow. 🙂

  5. It's the little things that make life great.berry says:

    U are so lucky to have a mom and dad who care about ur writing. Mom is blunt. But that’s good. Glad it worked out. Moms are always right.

    • I’m super lucky to have supportive parents who tell me the truth. Even when it hurts. Sometimes I’m too close to my writing to see what isn’t working. Feedback is critical from trusted and blunt readers. 🙂

  6. ottabelle says:

    I think this is why we keep old versions, right? 🙂 I’m glad you have something you are happy with.

    • Agreed. 🙂 But when I turn something around in a few days I don’t always keep an electronic vision, especially when it’s two pages of changes. This time I happened to. Glad I did.

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