Although there’s certainly plenty of evidence threaded subtly (or not-so-subtly) through my posts from the last year or so, I don’t think I’ve yet made this point outright: the business of writing something with the intent on getting it published is
not easy hard.
How’s it going, you ask? Well, the revisioning part of writing my novel is moving right along. Admittedly, not quite as quickly as I’d have liked; I wanted the first pass done by last weekend. As it turns out, though, I have a full time job, a family with no shortage of nightly responsibilities, a blog to pen content for, and a wife that doesn’t care much for being ignored whilst I pursue my muse.
No, no, not like that. I said "muse". You know, like this made up personification of your inspiration?
What do you mean you can’t have a made up personification because it’s like saying "pretend real person"? Sure I can. It’s just…you know, when you, um…I mean…
Never mind, it’s a creative thing.
Tomfoolery aside, edits are progressing slowly, and while I’m not done yet, I hope to get there pretty soon. And after reading a very pointed blog post about taking one’s time, I’m not in the hurry I was a week ago. Also, I’m finding that the later bits aren’t as needy for changes as the earlier bits were, which makes the process move faster. So that’s something.
Of course, even when things are going well, there’s always the possibility that a huge Black Obelisk of Potential Doom might spring up in the middle of your ochre-tinged road when you least expect it, throwing the brakes on your whole convoy of creativity. Then your tomato truck slams into your peaches, which then plows into your swine hauler and pretty soon your head is full of unrestrained, slippery, marinara-covered pigs gobbling up your now-bruised peaches, leaving you with nothing but red stains and a some slobbery pits.
That seemed less he’s-gone-round-the-bend when I wrote it, I swear.
Anyway, for example, I met The Guys for a beer and a little MNF Monday night. Turns out the football was pretty awful, but the beer was good and it’s always great to see The Guys.
At some point in the evening someone asked about the novel, which I’m happy to discuss to some degree now, having finished the draft. One of the fellas then turned to me and asked "You know that show <recent popular show>?"
"Oh, sure," I replied.
"I just started watching the first season."
"Oh, I’ve been meaning to see that, how is it?" I asked.
"Well," he said, "it’s not bad. It turns out that in the first 15 minutes of episode one, they do <very familiar plot device> to get things going. Now, didn’t the part of your novel I read start with <very familiar plot device>?"
I then favored my friend with a blank stare while I had fever visions of my hopes and dreams circling the toilet accompanied by a flushing noise (apparently audible only to me). Thankfully, I somehow managed to suppress the infantile wails that bubbled up from my cockles.
"Um, yeah. Yeah, it does still start with <redacted> in <redacted>. So they did that same thing, huh?"
"Yeah, but it’s not exactly the same, and it’s only right in the beginning, it’s not really a big part of the show."
And that’s when I began the maniacal, almost-about-to-snap, head-thrown-back laughter. Which seemed arguably more constructive than option two: ordering a full bottle of whiskey and a shot glass.
Disclaimer: I might be somewhat exaggerating my reaction.
But you see? Just like that, my plan to conquer the publishing world has met with the first of undoubtedly many external setbacks. Honestly, this really isn’t even a big one; I’ve yet to encounter the Path of Countless Rejections.
Besides, the truth is, every story is made up of pieces that have been written before. The magic comes in how you put those things together, how you weave the patches into a nice, warm quilt. Did you make your quilt square, rectangular, or amoeba-like. Did you use all the same colors or does it every hue found in the garbage can at a county fair?
Honestly, it doesn’t surprise me that here I find <plot device> used someplace else. It’s been done before, it’ll be done again. The question, then, is do I need to replace it?
It fits so snuggly into my story that I’m hesitant to change it. But the timing kind of blows. If the show referenced wasn’t so new, I’d almost certainly not bother. But, I don’t want to have agents I’ve queried or editors considering the manuscript think, "Oh, this doofus lifted this from <unnamed show>" before summoning a minion with a dismissive snap to clang the ponderous Crimson Rejection Stamp of Woe upon it.
I want my manuscript rejected on its merits, because I wasn’t good enough. Not simply out of happenstance.
I want to earn that rejection, by gum.
For the record, said friend, being a fine, upstanding person, proceeded to apologize for "ruining" my night with the revelation. It took me some time to make him understand that, for real, it was better to know these things now, especially during revisions, then later, after 50 rejections letters with comments like, "No thanks, you worthless hack."
Have you ever had something like this happen? What did you do? Should I rewrite that bit or stick to my guns? Ultimately, is it likely to matter?
Oh, hey, and if you’re an agent or editor, I’d love to hear what you think. I’d even purchase the beverage of your choice to get your two cents.
Maybe I won’t hold my breath on that, though. Starving my brain of oxygen isn’t going to make those revisions any easier.