When Stuck In Panic Mode, Make a Game Plan
Welcome to my Editing Update for Cemetery Boys! Otherwise known as:
How Maggie Stiefvater Made Me Wonder If I Had Even Written a Book At All.
In case you didn’t know, I wrote the first draft for Cemetery Boys in 6 weeks. I know that sounds coocoo bananas, and it WAS coocoo bananas, but we had a tight deadline and when my editor, Holly, asked, “Do you think that’s doable?” I was like, “SURE, HOW HARD COULD IT BE?”
Turns out, INCREDIBLY. Maybe even near impossible. But with obscene amounts of coffee, little sleep and zero social life, I got it done! A week or so after turning it into my agent (who was going to give feedback before I sent it to my editor), I went to Maggie Stiefvater’s Writing Seminar in Seattle, WA. It was a day long seminar where she talked to us about the writing process, what makes stories resonate with readers, and a lot of really wonderful tips. (I actually wrote a whole blog post about it, which you can find here!)
It was AMAZING and if you ever get the chance, you should absolutely attend one of her seminars! She broke down what you need in order to create a story that is beautiful, POIGNANT and has characters that will stick with readers long after they put the book down.
There was only one problem. One VERY BIG, COLOSSAL, CRISIS-INDUCING PROBLEM:
Cemetery Boys didn’t have them.
As the seminar went on and I took notes on my laptop, I kept writing things like, “Did I do this?”, “ADD THIS TO CEMETERY BOYS”, “DID THIS EVER HAPPEN???” I very quickly spiraled into a Pit of Doom and by the time me and my friend got back to our AirBnB last night, I was sick to my stomach.
I felt like all of the really important elements Maggie Stiefvater went over in her seminar were entirely missing from Cemetery Boys, so how could it possibly be any good?? Cemetery Boys meant—and still means—the world to me. As one of the first books featuring a transgender character to be written BY a transgender author and published by a Big 5 publisher (shout out to indie and small presses who, as always, are far ahead of the curve) it as CRUCIAL for me to get this story right. And now I had several reasons why it was Terrible.
That night, I emailed my agent, Jennifer March Soloway, in total panic mode. She had been to Maggie Stiefvater’s seminar already, so I listed out important points that I felt were missing from Cemetery Boys, and told her how I was in total crisis mode and asking her how I could incorporate them into the story so it wasn’t Total Trash.
Jennifer emailed me back the next day, talking through each of my points and giving suggestions, but also pointing out how I DID have those moments of Emotional Truth and Poignant Reversal, I just didn’t realize it. She also told me, “This is only the first draft. First drafts aren’t supposed to be perfect. That’s why we go through rounds of editing, to layer in nuance, emotion and lay groundwork to build to important moments.”
And, of course, I know she’s right! First drafts are supposed to be shitty! They’re there as a starting point, and you build off that to make the story better! It’s simply not going to happen all at once in the beginning. That made me feel a little bit better, but I was still worried, so we went through all the points I was panicking about and came up with a game plan for each one, and how to better it in the next round of revisions.
With that plan, I was able to go through and improve SO MUCH about the story, including giving one character more depth, another agency with a poignant reversal, and an ending that was WAY more satisfying.
So, here’s what it boils down to:
- First drafts are always going to suck! But you can’t make it better until you’ve written it!
- Get a critique partner! They’ll help you find what your story is missing, or to show you that you indeed DO have the elements you thought you were missing!
- Make a game plan! You should always be looking for ways to improve your writing—whether it’s attending seminars, taking free courses online, or reading articles—and instead of panicking because you might not HAVE what they’re suggesting, sit down and figure out ways you can incorporate them into your story to make it even better!
It can be so easy to get stuck in your own head and leap immediately into crisis mode, BUT YOU CAN ALWAYS FIND A WAY TO GET YOURSELF OUT OF IT! In the end, you and your story will BOTH be better!