Last night was the second in my series of four Young Adult writing workshops. But mostly, last night was the night I shared the first chapter of my book. Thom and Piper made a grand debut! I’ve never shown people my book (except you all seeing the little clips from November…. but you all aren’t people. You are wonderful wonderful little gems who I love.) But last night I showed the first chapter to a successful current YA author and my writing group.
I have loved this writing group because we are all writing the same genre. There are a lot of variations in WHAT we are writing, but it’s all YA. It’s so helpful because you are getting criticism and feedback from people who know the genre and who are legitimately trying to help you. In my creative writing class at school, it’s just an intro class so a lot of the people aren’t literature majors or they are writing very different genres. Because the genres are so different, sometimes it’s hard for them to critique my pieces because they are coming from entirely different worlds. But this group was tailor made for me. I really hope we can all find a way to keep writing together even after the four sessions are over. Input is so valuable.
But, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s talk about the first week of the workshop. The first week we had an editor and literary agent come and talk with us. When sending out query letters to agents, most often all you are sending to them is the first five pages of your novel. And. That’s. It. So what if your writing in chapter three is flawless, all they are seeing is the first five. Anyway, one of the first things they said to us was that prologues are NOT a good way to go. A lot of readers don’t even read them (which ASTOUNDED me. If someone has written something in a book, I read from 1 to the end.) This was a crap sentence to hear because guess what my book starts with…. a prologue. Shit. They also said you can really tell when words are a writer showing off and which are for the characters. THIS. This was important. I can name so many books where writers are merely showing off.
All of this was a huge wake up call. I knew that I wrote the prologue because I felt the first chapter of my book wasn’t strong enough on its own. I need to pad my first five pages so an agent would read it and see that I really do have talent. That’s not right. It should all feel strong. I should feel proud of all of it and not try to sneak scenes through the cracks, hoping they won’t be noticed.
I also realized that my prologue was so self serving. This book is based on an experience I had. And when I wrote the prologue, I wrote it as me, not Piper. It was me mostly saying, here’s this story “not about me” and here’s why it matters to ME so suck it. It was more like a diary entry. The farther into the book I got the less that part even sounded like Piper. It was pretty words but it was all for me, not the reader or the characters. That’s not my job as a writer.
So this week before the session when I knew I’d be sharing my first five pages, I rewrote the entire first chapter. I kept a few snatches of conversation but I rewrote all of it. And the group really liked it! The visiting author (who was very cute and talented) said it felt like a John Green novel!! Getting a small comparison to my favorite author is something I’ll take lovingly! The majority of the comments were about how authentic and real my dialogue felt and they liked the characters. I’m on the right track everyone!
After I got home last night, I read through the critiques they left on my pages and rewrote the first chapter AGAIN. So now the first 8 pages have been changed. Three times. And while I was changing those around, I realized there is an entire plotline in the book that has to be taken out. I’m finally starting to understand how hard writing a book is. And I’m so excited. That’s the biggest thing I’m taking away from these workshops. I feel so inspired to keep writing. Critiques aren’t discouraging but encouraging! Readers see things writers don’t and when I see some of their critiques it’s like a huge duh moment of “why didn’t I think of that? That’s so much better than what I had!”
I always remember John Green saying that in Looking for Alaska his plot element about his main character’s obsession with last words didn’t make it into the novel until the 10th draft. WHAT. That is a main theme in the book; the book doesn’t work without it! But knowing that excites me. If I’m this proud of what I’ve written so far, who knows what this book will become by the time it is published? We will have to wait and see.
Thank you all for supporting me and watching me grow. I cannot wait until the day I can share this book with you all. I love you all.