Monday, January 3, 2011

What I Have Learned

Okay, so 2010 was an amazing year, filled with amazing things. Those 365 days seemed to fly by in a blink, while at the same time laboring on and on. And on.

Today, I wanted to spill a little bit of what I've learned by doing edits with an agent and then an editor. Maybe it will help someone realize something that will make their 2011 the year of years.

I learned that the impossible is possible. No, really, keep reading.

You know how you get notes from someone, or feedback from an agent or whatever? And the first thing you think is, "Uhh...I don't know if I can do that."

24 hours later, you're full-on screaming through the house: "I can't do this! How do I do this?"

And 72 hours later, you're crying at weird moments while watching The Office and/or curled up in bed, fully clothed, eating Oreos, chanting, "I can't do this. I can't do this."

Or maybe that's just me.

All because your beta/crit partner/agent/editor made a little comment in the margin of your novel. Surely they didn't intend for you to freak out, right?

But you, the author, have no idea how to do what they've suggested/asked you to do. You know you *should* do it. It would make the novel/story better.

But, but HOW??

*insert screaming, freaking out, crying, eating, watching more TV*

If you've ever found yourself in this situation, raise your hand. And then read this: The impossible is possible.

Here's how I learned that: I did it. That's right--I achieved the impossible!

You can too. Here's how:

1. When you come across said panic-inducing note, write it down.

That's all. Don't try to fix it. Don't immediately reach for the sour patch kids. Don't go turn on Two Weeks Notice, and then proceed to be depressed for the rest of the day. Just write it down in your trusty notebook of Impossible Things You're Going to Conquer.

2. Work on the easy stuff. You know, the commas and voice and blah, blah, blah. Periodically check your List of Doom Impossible, just to keep those things fresh in your head.

I guarantee that as you're working on the other stuff, you will find the exact spot you need to fix exactly what your beta reader/crit partner/agent/editor said.

I guarantee it. If you don't, well, I'll send you a pound of bacon and a DVD to help you through this hard time.

And that's the biggest thing I learned last year re: my writing.

What about you? Tell me you've curled into a ball and watched your favorite shows. Tell me how you achieved the impossible. Or tell me what you do when you get a comment you know you need to fix, but you don't know how. How do you go about solving it?

84 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

That's great advice to just write it down and move on for awhile. Funny though that you said voice is an easy fix. Wish it was for me. Maybe you can share that in a post someday.

I tend to put difficult changes aside for awhile like you and then tackle them or discuss them with my critique partners. Happy New Year!

Heather Kelly said...

I love this method--gives the brain time to stew on the tough stuff. Thanks for being so honest!!

Katie Ganshert said...

Love this post, Elana! I so can relate. Before my book went to pub board, the editor asked me to change something. She asked me to make the voice in chapter one and two and so on....more consistent with the voice in my prologue. Holy crap. I had no idea how to do it. What if the voice in the prologue was some major fluke that I pulled from my you know where, and I couldn't reproduce it.

Well. I did. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

The impossible is possible! I went from no internet presence and no one one earth aware of my existance the year before to a whole army of people who know and support me. Now that's cool.

Christine Danek said...

So far I do the same thing. I read it, let it stew (which may lead to a tear or two of "I can't do it"), then I take it one step at a time. I tackle the problem area, put it out there again (eating a ton of chocolate) and wait (biting my nails).
Happy New Year! Love this post!

Cheree said...

I totally agree, you can't get all worked up about a single comment (which I've been getting a lot lately). It's great advice to write it down and leave it for a bit, if you try to change it straight away you'll only make it worse because you're stressing about it.

Laura Pauling said...

So true! All my problems with writing are solved when I'm doing something else! Even power napping. :) It truly is amazing how the brain works.

kellyhashway said...

My process is to panic, rant and rave for a while, and then put it aside. I need distance to let my mind work things out. Usually I come up with a solution when I finally let myself relax and "forget about it." Really, I haven't forgotten, just pushed it to the back of my mind. Then after I figure out what I need to do, I get that, "What was I panicking over?" feeling. This always happens, yet I continue the process every time.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Um, I go for a run. Even when I think there's no way I can fix the "problem," I always end up with a solution during the run. By the time I get home, I can't wait to tackle the problem. I do, though, wait to have a shower first (where I get even more ideas).

Justine Dell said...

I freak out first. It doesn't take 72 hours for me to curl into a ball. And even if I fix something, sometimes it still lingers in my head. Ah, writing. Gotta love it. ;-)

When I need a break, I take one. Read. I like to read. Or play with the kiddo.

~JD

AE Rought said...

I handed my baby off to my CPs, and then I think I fell apart, pulled myself together and then started stalking my email inbox. Each of them had concerns, some of them on the same things. Those I fixed first. But that hardest one... I pouted. I spit and snarled and swore she didn't know what she was talking about. Then the Epiphany Faery arrived and whacked my upside the head while fixing another tinker.

So, yeah, pretty much the same as you. Almost the 7 stages of grief, with a dose of popcorn and DEXTER. Then the Universe took pity on me and shined a light on the solution. ^_^

Renae said...

I love this idea...I've learned this myself that when I obsess over an idea I do get stressed out, though I'm more for the chocolate chip cookies. But once I work on something else it usually comes to me.

Christina Lee said...

I do the same thing--great advice, E! I fix the small, mindless stuff first, while everything else simmers in my brain, and then BAMMO! ;-)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Such a great point about working on the little things when the big ones can feel way too overwhelming. I've found it's worth it to give it time to work out the kinks. The mind is amazingly bendy. It can come up with fabulous solutions at the exact moment we're doubting it.

Cool post.
~ Wendy

Em-Musing said...

When the little voice in my head says, "See I knew you weren't really a writer." I @#%@% and move on.

Samita (Book Purring) said...

I guess it's really important to let it marinate for a while.

Holly Ruggiero said...

That’s great advice. I learned that it’s okay to skip a chunk and come back to it when you in the right frame of mind.

owlandsparrow said...

*sigh* (of relief)

THANK YOU for this post. I'm finally (well, currently) on the almost-solved side of a freakout, and this post resonates with me. It's just relieving to see I wasn't alone in my whatthecrapdoidowiththisiwantittobeGOODbut…um…but…idontexactlyknowhow-ness.

:) So glad to hear you worked yours out—can't wait to read the finished product!

—Kayla Olson

Matthew Rush said...

Thanks Elana! I'm not there yet but I sure do hope to be so soon.

Angela Felsted said...

I usually have to sleep on things before I come up with a solution. A swear a good nights sleep does wonders for my brain.

But if you'll seriously send me a pound of bacon for being stuck, maybe I shouldn't be so quick to get unstuck. I like bacon.

LTM said...

ahh... so relieved to know I'm not the only one who reacts in that way. :D I have such helpful crit partners. I love them so much b/c not only do they encourage me, but they help me get the wheels going on how to address comments.

and that's how I did it! ;p

Tracey Neithercott said...

Letting it sit (while I freak out, of course) is the best way. Somehow, maybe subconsciously, I always figure it out.

Cherie Reich said...

Great advice, and I completely agree. When I was doing edits with an editor, every time I got the next edits, I had to read through them and put them away for a day or two before I could pull the manuscript and edits back out and be ready to go. I needed time to get back to balance and realize she was right, which she was every time. It's always good to step back for a moment when things like that pop up. :)

Happy New Year, Elana!

Stasia said...

Great post and true advice. I actually sometimes wait to read critique comments or an editorial email until I feel I'm in a frame of mind to keep breathing through the whole experience :) Happy New Year!

Jonathon Arntson said...

This post blew my mind, and gave me a sore arm because I had it raised throughout the whole post as I read it twice.

I haven't gone through those motions yet, but I want to! Does that make sense? I want to be to the point where I have a challenge like that. I do so bad.

I can do it, even without the pound of bacon, but The Office is a great idea.

Thanks, E, for a spectacular post. I can already feel my spirits lifting. You're my soul's favorite cup of hot chocolate.

Carolyn V. said...

That's super great advice Elana! How long does it take you to finish your edits from your agent? (I guess I should ask how long does she give you?)

L.T. Elliot said...

It doesn't surprise me that you could tackle the impossible into being possible. It's just your natural awesomeness showing through. ;)

I like that you write it down and let it stew. That's way smart. I should try that.

Sara B. Larson said...

That's a good idea to write it down and wait a while. Sometimes I will just start writing down ideas of what I can change. But more often than not, I just jump in and start going for it. I'm a rip the bandaid off kind of girl. I usually think "How am I going to do THAT" for about a day, and then I get competitive with myself and my desire to accomplish what needs to happen, and I just dive in. Sometimes that ends up being messy, but it works for me. ;)

Charli Mac said...

When I think my MS is done, it never is. That's what I've learned. Never say something is DONE or a FINAL DRAFT. There is no such thing!

Sarah said...

Sometimes notes/feedback just needs to sit. As much as I'd like to be able to revise immediately and well, there's a mental and emotional process that has to take place, and for me, some of that involves rocking/eating pepperoni pizza/reading trash romance. I've learned I need that time--and it's not a waste. My brain needs to process stuff in the background. How's that for justification??

Shannon O'Donnell said...

LOL! This is exactly how I felt after I received my Shannon Messenger critique (but shhhh! don't tell her that). Oh, hi Shannon! Um, well, yeah. Anyway, She is brilliant and I knew it, but I wasn't sure I could do everything she suggested. I had a freak attack, but eventually I made it through. And my story is SO MUCH better! :-)

Jennie Englund said...

And what about this miraculous rarity -- when you can fix TWO things with ONE thing? I LOVE when that happens (am 2 complete overhauls into my YA -- with agent).

Elana, I'm so excited for your book!

ali said...

2010 was a big year for me and my writing. It was a year of almost's and close-but-no-cigars. What I learned? That I'm a damn good writer. And that stories can be tweaked. Revised. Heck, they can be totally rewritten (:D). And I'm still alive. With even more hope than before ~ and that's really sayin' something.

Shari said...

At first I thought, I've never accomplished the impossible, but then I realized that I had! I just kept swimming and I finished three manuscripts, and I completed nano, which I thought would never be possible. So, thanks for helping me see that I'm not as big of a loser as I thought!

WindyA said...

I'm going through this right now - worked on all the easy stuff first and have now spent a fair amount of time trying to sort out the not so easy, damn-near impossible stuff. But at least I've come to the conclusion that it's NOT impossible, and that's the point, right?

I feel like I just totally talked in a circle. Maybe 2011 is my year of circles ...

Serenissima said...

You are so right! My process is similar to yours. Different TV shows though--Dexter, Big Love, True Blood.

I find that journaling for a few days about the big fix I need to make as well as about all the angstiness it's causing helps me sort things out.

Christine Fonseca said...

Love this post - and for me, I need to walk and stew...stew and walk. Works EVERY time!

lisanowak said...

I think you're spot on with this. The subconscious is smarter than the conscious, and you just have to give it time to be heard.

Krista said...

I stumbled my way into doing exactly what you did. I was totally amazed and lifted to cloud 9 when I saw the fixes jumping out at me!

While You Were Sleeping, You've Got Mail, P&P . . .

Kris said...

I need to use this method as I'm contemplating the dreaded..."starting something new"...and no clue where to start. Impossible. :) Thanks, Elana!

Tamika: said...

It feels good to know a pound of bacon is available on hand! What a perfect cure all:)

I'm holding on for the impossible this year!

Melissa Gill said...

I think if you have the patience to let something sit, the solution always arises.

T C Mckee said...

Of course I've curled into a ball. Who hasn't? I usually allow myself a day of self loathing every now and then. I think it's part of the cleansing process. Ya know, lay around all day on Sunday in your ratty old Navy Jammies. Stare at the wall while your husband watches football, and occasionally mumble little defeating words of self doubt into the back of his head while I eat a years supply of tostitos. We've all been there. At some point he pats me on the leg and says: "It'll be alright babe." He doesn't even know what I'm mumbling about but I believe him. Then I pull myself up, get the dog to gather the crumbs off the bed, and go make dinner. Hey, it works.

Heather said...

LOL! This is awesome. And I mean that in a totally non-sadistic way that doesn't lessen your struggle and pain! Thank you for sharing it with us and making our struggle a little less painful. I'm totally doing this next time that happens, cause yeah, it has happened. ;)

Jennifer Hoffine said...

*raises hand* Been there, felt that...only I grab for Twizzlers or spice drops. And you're right, starting with the easy fixes...getting into the change process...brings out the perfect solutions for the impossible changes.

Melody said...

I raised my hand! :)
Thanks for posting this. The next few months are going to contain some editing on a story I'm getting so weary of, using notes from my wonderful beta, and I was beginning to wonder if it was impossible.
Now I know it isn't.
(And I'm seriously considering creating a REAL "Impossible Things You're Going to Conquer" notebook.)
Thanks, Elana! :)

Margo Berendsen said...

Oh yes I've been there and I wish I'd had your advice because twice now that impossible comment drove me so crazy that after a few months I actually completely restructured the story because I couldn't figure out how to fix it otherwise!

Now, granted it was my first book, huge learning curve, and I probably did neat to re-structure but OMG I'm not sure if I can do it again with book #2 and #3 so thank you so much for your good advice!

Jo Schaffer said...

Hahah! Yeah...my editor has sent me hurling into a snack-insomnia-tv freak out too. (=

Jenilyn Tolley said...

I'm like Howl in Howl's Moving Castle and the only way for me to do something impossible is to tell myself I'm not going to do it. If I give myself a bit of time and space (because I'm NOT going to do it), I usually come up with a solution and then somehow or other I find myself doing the impossible thing.

Also, there tends to be a lot of curling in a ball in front of the TV while I'm NOT doing it.

Angie said...

That's great advice. I love it! I hope 2011 is just as awesome for you as 2010 was!

Colene Murphy said...

You make it sound so much simpler. I really needed that right now. But still my stack of edits sings the doom song beside me at the desk. Maybe I should tell them your advice, as they can't read and all...

Melanie Hooyenga said...

Dwelling on the impossible seems to be my forte. I really like the idea of a List of Doom -- I'll have to use that for my next novel (which will hopefully be sent to betas in a few weeks).

Beth @ To the Fullest said...

List of Doom... *chuckle*

As for couch-curling...yeah, I've done that. A lot. And, sadly, it hasn't followed a critique because I haven't finished anything, so a critique isn't even possible. No, I hide on the couch with my ice cream stash when I am suddenly overwhelmed by just how damn SCARY and HARD writing is. But worthwhile, too, and that's what eventually gets me off the couch and back in my desk chair.

Jemi Fraser said...

I've got an impossible thing to fix in my steampunk. I've been letting it filter while I've worked on the nano novel. This helps. Gives me hope that maybe it's not impossible - thanks!

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Great advice. I'm of the 'leave it to stew' variety, but I do like the odd screaming, I can't do this moment.
I'm hoping this year will be filled with the possible. :)

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Great advice. I'm of the 'leave it to stew' variety, but I do like the odd screaming, I can't do this moment.
I'm hoping this year will be filled with the possible. :)

Nichole Giles said...

Yep, it's true. You can do it, and so can I. I've taken off the entire month of December (from writing) and am now jumping back in with both feet, hopefully ready to tackle those really hard issues. Wish me luck.

Marsha Sigman said...

I love this post. When I come across an issue that I think is impossible at first glance, I try to leave it alone for a while.

I'm hoping my subconscience figures it out while I am eating doritos and watching Tosh.O.lol

It seems to work for me.

Ghenet said...

Oh, I've been there! When I was in grad school getting an MFA, I had many moments when I didn't think I would be able to do what my classmates/critique partners suggested. But I'd do what you say here--get some distance, work on another area of the piece, and then at some point something would click. :)

Nicole Zoltack said...

I'm at that point right now, courtesy of a great beta reader. It's a wonder I have any hair left!

Taffy said...

You.Are.Awesome.
Elana! You are!
Thanks for the great post that you wrote just for me :)

Krispy said...

I think that makes so much sense! Sometimes when problems seem too tough to solve, you just need to not freak out about it and let it sit on the backburner for a while. That's a great mantra for 2011!

Taryn Tyler said...

I use pretty much the same method you do. Focus on the things I know how to fix and keep the big problems floating around somewhere in my head until something clicks into place. And then I wonder how in the world I managed not to think of that in the first place.

Melissa said...

I'm sending my novel to my CP's in the next couple of months and when I get feedback, I will definitely take this approach! Thanks for the advice Elana.

Emy Shin said...

This is such a great method. As with all things, the solution to the impossible often comes when you're working on other things and not thinking about it. :)

Theresa Milstein said...

Thanks for sharing. Cynthia Lord said she tackled the easy things first, and then puts sticky notes to go back and tackle the harder parts later. Sounds like it makes it more manageable.

I find 2-3 is what I need for the unwelcome information to sink in. Instead of eating or watching TV, I usually complain to another writer. By the 3rd day, I realize it will make it better. And, like Nike, I just do it.

Happy 2011!

Shannon Whitney Messenger said...

Oh you KNOW I've curled into a ball of panic. You've been on the receiving end of those panicked emails I send. But I do pretty much like you. I've learned to put it aside and wait for my brain--or the brain of one of my clever writer friends--to find the solution. It WILL happen. Eventually...

tahlianewland.com said...

I learned not to rush and to always put that ms away for another rest before sending it back out.

I Eat Words said...

Great advice! And I'm glad that you achieved the impossible! :)

I can't wait to read Possession!!
And thanks for stopping by our site. :D

Lydia K said...

I can't believe the number of times I've felt like this. Eventually, with some brainstorming (some on purpose, some not) the answer comes through.

Kelly Lyman said...

THanks for sharing this. I like the idea of writing it down somewhere and working on something else. I had to laugh when you said that voice was easy because I find that voice is so hard for me.
Cheers to 2011!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Thank you!

Patti said...

I totally agree. Sometimes I think there's no possible way, but if you just take things one step at a time, it's easier and accomplishable (I don't think that's a word, but you know what I mean)

Dominique said...

Today I consoled myself about my List of Impossible by turning it into my To Do List of Mini Impossibles. It still makes me want to curl up in a ball and eat ice cream, but now I have a checklist. Checklists are nice. And much less scary.

Susan R. Mills said...

Sounds oddly familiar! I have learned to put the impossible tasks off until the easier ones are taken care of. You are so right; usually I find the perfect solution for the impossible while working on the smaller issues.

Shallee said...

Yup, been there, done that. Pulled my hair out, ate chocolate, watched movies, and utterly refused to look at my book for two weeks because I decided I hated it.

Then, because I left it alone, my subconscious figured out the impossible. And I realized I still loved my book, now that I could fix it. :)

Thanks for sharing your advice on this!

Kelly Dexter said...

I have a weakness for white fudge covered Oreos and was looking to justify getting and eating a whole package.

Who am I kidding? Like I need a reason for that :-)

Thank you for this post. It's something I definitely need to keep in mind.

Michelle said...

great post!
Helpful - thank you
xx

Jess said...

Can I skip right to the pound of bacon? ;)

Excellent post! 2011 is going to be The Year.

Jordan McCollum said...

This made me think of a line from Bolt, where Rhino (the hamster) is giving Bolt a pep talk:

"The impossible can become possible—if you're AWESOME!"

Donea Lee said...

Well, I'm really good at avoiding the problem. Entirely. I plan to change that bad habit of mine this year. :) But, so happy 2010 was amazing for you and wishing you the best in 2011!! (ny best seller's list, maybe???)

Ishta Mercurio said...

I ignore it, for days or even weeks and months. I do other things, like take walks and shovel the driveway. I look at it once in a while, but don't do anything to it. And then one day when I'm in the shower or doing a craft with my kids I realize what I have to do, and that night I go and do it.

if I don't have months to wait, I think about it every time I'm in the shower/doing dishes/doing anything mindless and I write every single one of my ideas out and try them all. I wrestle with my words and smush them around on the page until they do what they need to do. But I prefer the first method. It doesn't feel like work the way this method does. :-P

Margo Kelly said...

**raises hand** done it... uh... doing it right now. I'm reading blogs instead of working on the revising my crit partner suggested. GAG.

Thanks for the laugh, the moral support, and the motivation to GET BACK TO IT!!

52 Faces said...

Wow, I've been like that all day. But that's because my mom's in town from China.

And yes, my first beta's comments made me go..."Oh. I don't get it." :)

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