IWSG: Am I Good Enough?

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When I first started this round of query research, I had a dream in which an agent returned my query letter along with a do-it-yourself flaming bag of dog poop kit. Dear Author: Please ignite this on your porch. Well, I suppose we can all be grateful that, being city people, agents have very limited access to horse poop.

The first time I ever showed a novel to a beta reader… well, the first time someone actually told me what they were really thinking…. my inner pantser was hard at work. I’d been revising, but the truth is, I didn’t have the foggiest idea of how to revise, and what I had was the shiniest, most grammatically correct chunk of scrap metal that ever walked the earth.

Eventually, she gave the manuscript back, and admitted she couldn’t get through it. It was repetitive. Circular. Hard to follow. It was a disaster.

And she was right.

I won’t get into details, but the book didn’t start in the right place. It had way too many characters (most of them, corpses.). And somehow–I’m still not sure how I missed it–it had two protagonists, and they each had a partial plot line, and it was… well, sorta two incomplete books smashed together to make one complete disaster.

The picture I had in my head was so clear… and yet, what I’d written was unreadable.

After that, I’m always a little unsure if something–particularly something long–is good enough. Am I good enough? Is my writing good enough? Am I capable of holding a stranger’s attention through three or four hundred pages?

The whole “Am I Good Enough?” Question ties in with this month’s IWSG question. How do I tell if my project is ready? Well, I guess the answer is, I don’t. I run it through my revision process. Read through it a few times… and then send it out to other people to make that determination. I wouldn’t trust myself, but my friends are smart, and they have good taste. And if they like it, and if they’re able to make it all the way through… I fix the things they think need to be fixed, and ship it out.

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18 thoughts on “IWSG: Am I Good Enough?

  1. For a moment there, I thought you meant ‘dream’ in the ‘aspiration’ sense! Then my thought process went on to wonder if the smell sense works whilst dreaming. For your sake, I hope not!
    Fortunately for you, you’re already a Holly student, so I think you’re probably on the right track already 😉

    • Karen says:

      I didn’t notice the smell, but since I reached into my Self-addressed, stamped envelope expecting a manuscript… well, that wouldn’t have been a high priority.

  2. I think we all go through writing that horrible first novel to learn how to be the writers we’re supposed to be. Every once in a while when I think my current WIP is a disaster, I’ll release that first monster from it’s dungeon, take a peek, groan at the horridness, and know that what I’m currently working on is a veritable masterpiece.
    I’m sure your subconscious knows when your story is done – you wouldn’t send it to beta readers otherwise 😉

    • Karen says:

      I think my subconscious knows when I’m not learning anything new, more than anything else. The story may not be done, but if I’m not making progress, I think some part of me knows it’s time to move on.

  3. You could be describing my WIP. I’m currently trimming (OK, hacking) away superfluous subplots and characters, because critique partners and agents have (correctly) pointed out how far I’d wandered away from the main conflict. I need the help of readers to see this, and I’m lucky to have found some patient critique partners.

    • Karen says:

      I signed up for Holly Lisle’s class the day I cut 8,000 words out of a manuscript, and didn’t even feel like it was a major cut. And I’ve met a lot of my critique partners through her forums.

  4. VR Barkowski says:

    One of the biggest challenges for a writer is learning when to let go of a story. If you’re brave enough to hand your work over to beta readers whose feedback you trust, then you have nothing to worry about. 🙂

  5. Arlee Bird says:

    An honest direct beta reader–what a novelty. An outsider’s eyes see what we don’t and it’s all the better if they come out and tell it like it is so we can remedy the situation.

    • Karen says:

      Don’t I know it! I had a couple of them who hemmed and hawed, and “focused on the strengths” and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the weaknesses were.

  6. Nick Wilford says:

    I definitely find it hard to judge my own work so great CPs are essential. As you illustrate, other people’s perceptions are usually far removed from our own.

  7. Critique partners keep it real.
    Most were corpses? Now I’m intrigued…

    • Karen says:

      Well, their function in the story was homicide victim number one, homicide victim number two, and so forth. But I turned each and every one of them into well-developed characters. With life goals. And families. I should have been focusing on ONE victim, but I think… I had about eight.

  8. Whooboy, yeah, I’ve faced that question many times myself. My first novel was a wreck. My sis-in-law’s friend (my first reader) said, “I hate your characters.” Thankfully, things have improved since then. 🙂 Sounds like you’re improving too!

  9. Juneta says:

    Congrats on having such great support. I survived the hurricane and the move and I am back online making the rounds.

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