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I’m Autumn, and I’m an optimist.
There, now I’ve confessed the terrible truth, I can start the change process, right?
Optimism is normally considered a good thing. And it can be. The hope of a good outcome lets us start ambitious new projects. It keeps us going when times are tough. It lets us bounce back from defeats, because things are bound to get better. Even when we have defeats and face disappointments, at least we’ve felt good along the way.
Optimism is good. But it can also cause problems. Unrealistic expectations. Look where optimism got Mr Micawber.
Now, that doesn’t mean I want to be a pessimist. I’m married to one. Believe me, one in any household is enough. Pessimism has it’s own set of problems. I’ve had pessimistic periods in my life, and I’ve worked hard to leave that behind.
Pessimism leads to ideas that never get acted on. Projects abandoned at the first road bump, because “It was never going to work out, anyway.” Yes, pessimists can be pleasantly surprised, while optimists are often disappointed, but oh my, the misery along the way for the pessimist.
Problem is, optimism can lead to taking on too much. Overestimating what we can do and how long it will take to do it. Setting deadlines (or accepting deadline requests from someone else), that we just can’t meet. Or we bust a gut to meet, but with work that’s not as good as it could be, bent out of shape to meet the deadline. Saying “Yes” to things we’d be better saying “No” to.
I want to be a realist (better yet, an awesomist!).
I don’t have an editor dishing out writing work to me specifically yet, but I have a nasty habit of setting self-made deadlines that are just plain crazy. Like seeing a Call for Submissions with an impossibly close due date and deciding to go for it, because idea machine my brain is, I can’t see a Call without getting at least one idea.
The answer may just be to avoid reading those Call for Submissions posts on editor’s blogs. Or if I’m gonna read them, read them when they’re first posted, not a month and a half later!
That alone might not help me, unfortunately. Long deadlines do the “I’ve got ages to write this so I’ll do that first” thing for me. Without the time pressure, getting down and doing the work easily slides to the end of my To Do list, because I optimistically hope it will take a lot less time than it actually does.
If I want to write full-time, knowing what makes a realistic deadline for me and how to keep it is one of the first lessons I need to learn.
The trigger for this ramble was this post, and my Christmas story getting rejected.
The email waited when I got home from visiting my mother-in-law yesterday (as if that wasn’t enough bad for one day!).
Now at least I didn’t have a long wait. But I had hopes for this story. I worked so hard on it. I do believe it’s the best thing I’ve written. I truly thought I’d cracked it with this one. I won’t pretend the rejection didn’t hurt, it did. When I read the email, it kicked me in the guts. I had a little cry. But I can’t stay hurt, unless I want to give up writing.
Here’s what he said-
I adore your premise, but the writing is a little too choppy/disjointed, and it’s hard to get a clear sense of what’s happening.
I knew this when I submitted the story, but I simply didn’t have time to fix it. To reduce the word count, I mangled the story. Too many short sentences. Missed words that really need to be there. It doesn’t flow well. I dropped two and a half k in the first round of edits, a lot on a twenty k novella, and lost more than just excess words with those cuts.
Trying to avoid my usual sin of rambling and overwriting, I took my writing spare to the point of losing the meaning and readability. The story needed to be twenty k. Yes, I needed to trim my first draft, tighten it and lose some weak bits and strengthen other things. But I didn’t need to damage my story so badly in the process.
Anyway, I know what to do now. I’ll let the story sit for a month or so, get some distance from it while I work on something else. Then I’ll come back to it. Do another round or three of edits and put back in much of what I took out. I’ll let the story be as long as it needs to be to tell the story right, without drifting into overwriting.
Then I’ll probably self-publish it, just for the fun of it and because I’ve wanted to have a go at self-pubbing for a long time.
Anyway, that’s down the track a bit. What’s immediate is deciding what story to start on next, and learning the lesson here.
I already have plenty of ideas for my next project, rewriting the rejected Valentine’s Day novella, set in my imaginary Australian country town of Koowindra. From that starting point, I have three or four possible stories, all different enough I could write all of them without self-plagiarism. Now I need to develop each idea enough that I can see which one grabs me the most to start first.
I can write so many variations on this story. Coming home is a recurring theme for me. Whether it’s the hero or the heroine, someone who’s never had or who has lost their sense of home is finding what their home is. And who their home is with.
Finding home, finding love.
That’s the truth of all my stories. Home means love, and love means home. Either they go to the place that’s home for them, and find love there waiting for them; or they find that love gives them the sense of home they’ve been missing. Either way, the theme is the same. I have so many possible variations on this. Five or six different ideas just for Koowindra stories. The Haven Bay series, another five or six stories. All different, all with the same core theme.
That’s okay, I think. It won’t make my stories too samey. I’m writing what’s important to me. I hope that will resonate with my readers too. The key to writing authentic romance stories is coming from my own emotional truth, I believe. Not writing cynically, writing what I think will sell. Writing from my heart- what I hope and believe and know.
And that’s the lesson. Not so much “don’t set unrealistic goals”. Not so much stop being an optimist. But be true to what I know about my stories.
I knew once I got to the halfway point in first draft that the story needed around twenty k, way over the required word count. I changed the outline, to keep it going even further over. That was a good choice, it strengthened the story structure.
The bad choice was then hacking the first draft not only beyond recognition but beyond readability to get word count down.
I had two other options at that stage- let the story be what I knew it needed to be, and sub it long anyway, to the same or a different publisher through regular submission routes. Not through the Call for Submissions, as it didn’t meet what the editor requested. Or if I really desperately wanted to sub to the Call, start a new version. Change the story and the characters and the conflict enough to fit the requested word count. That’s what I’ll need to do when I’m a published writer, working on contract, with deadlines that have to be met. I need to give the editor what I promised.
It’s about staying true to the integrity of the story, and keeping my promise as a writer, both at the same time. If I sub something to an editor, it must be what they’ve asked for. If the story isn’t they asked for, I shouldn’t sub that story to them. Doesn’t make it a bad story, it just means it’s not the right story for that particular editor for that particular request. Destroying the integrity of the story isn’t the answer. Keeping my promises is.
So back to the beginning again- the need for realistic promises! Maybe, knowing I’m an optimist, what I need to do is guess the time I think something will take, and double it.
Now on to fixing up the writing shed. It needs insulating, lining, and decorating. I can do that in a weekend, right?