I never thought I’d actually get to say this, but I’ve finally started querying Facing the Music. It took years of my life and more work than I could’ve ever predicted, but I’m so freaking proud of how the manuscript turned out, and I honestly believe that it’s the best thing I’ve written to date.
HOWEVER. The journey from initial idea to finished manuscript was arduous, tedious, and even downright unpleasant at times. Facing the Music took more mental and emotional energy from me than anything I’ve written to date, and it has made me determined to find a more efficient, less agonizing way to create.
Enter Susan Dennard’s newsletter, which has been an absolute godsend for both my mental health and my writing. (Seriously, writer friends, if you haven’t subscribed to it yet, you should.) In one of her winter editions, she discussed the importance of evaluating each of your writing projects after they’re completed. That way, you have an opportunity to assess both the project’s successes and failures in the hopes of doing better, smoother work the next time.
I don’t suppose I need to waste anyone’s time explaining how much that strategy spoke to me. 🙂 In any case, the remainder of this post is my project post-mortem for Facing the Music, and I recognize that it probably won’t appeal to anyone but me. If you’d like to do your own project post-mortem though, feel free to drop me a link in the comments, because I am fascinated by this sort of thing.
What Went Well
1. Off the top of your head, what are you most proud of from the latest project?
FINISHING. Between a mental health crisis and work stress and other life upheaval, it’s kind of a miracle that I ever managed to reach the end.
I’m also proud of myself for sustaining the determination I needed to tackle multiple drafts worth of rewrites on my journey to finding the Right Story, and for sticking to my guns on a number of important creative decisions.
2. What went better than you anticipated? What was easier than expected?
Uhh . . . Was there anything??
Well, whenever I had a major epiphany regarding the story or its structure, the writing and revising process became significantly easier. Cutting Leslie’s POV from that initial first draft for example, as well as axing a major romantic subplot from a later draft, required far less work than I would’ve expected.
3. Were you early or ahead of schedule at any point in the process?
Considering that my initial goal was to revise this story and have it ready to query by the end of 2013? And that almost every attempt at setting and meeting my own deadlines turned out to be a colossal failure?
No. Not really.
4. Name three moments from the project that, while happening, made you feel good–good about the project or good about yourself.
- Finishing a massive round of revisions and knowing I had a story that was almost ready to submit.
- Receiving CP feedback on that same draft and being blown away by how overwhelmingly positive it was.
- Reaching the end on the first draft I finished with just Evan’s POV and realizing how much more I liked the story when he was the only person telling it.
5. List any challenges for yourself/your writing that you also know you met.
- I finished the goddamn book. Somehow.
- I managed to portray two separate “recovery from an abusive relationship” narratives without falling back on gratuitous violence to emphasize just how bad those relationships were.
- I succeeded in depicting a relationship between two major characters that contains plenty of chemistry and plenty of potential for romance, while still keeping said relationship platonic.
- I wrote an entire novel in first person boy POV that I’m happy with.
What Did Not Go Well
1. Off the top of your head, what was the most frustrating part of this project?
Feeling like I was never going to reach the finish line, no matter how hard I worked, and all the crippling self-doubt and anxiety that accompanied those feelings.
2. Were there any aspects you thought would be easy that were ultimately difficult?
Literally all of them. I thought 1st person POV would be easy to master. I thought that plotting a straight contemporary standalone with no mystery or thriller elements would be easy. I thought the revision process would be easy.
Shows how little I know, huh?
3. Were you behind schedule at any point?
I spent the better part of four years behind. No joke.
4. List any challenges that you set for yourself/your writing that you DID NOT MEET.
The most important challenge that I set for myself was to have Facing the Music ready to query by the end of 2013, and I missed that goal by a mile.
5. What recurring issues did people such as your editor, critique partner(s), agent, trusted reader(s) raise with regards to your story?
Almost everyone who read Facing the Music from start to finish correctly pinpointed the lack of consistent character arcs or consistent character motivation. I’ve always struggled with how much to emphasize character motivation, which means I always err on the side of revealing too little. Because my characters’ motivations are clear to me, I have this tendency to assume that they’re going to be clear to everyone else.
Facing the Music was my first real wake-up call that you can’t write a character-driven novel without taking the time to properly develop your characters on the page. Sounds obvious, I know, but you’d be surprised at how many different people had to point that out to me before I finally got it.
6. Rank in order from what went smoothest to what went worst.
Idea Generation – 2 Once I stopped floundering through false starts and knew what I wanted the story to be, coming up with ideas was a breeze. My biggest issue has always been in knowing which ideas to pursue and which to disregard.
Planning/Outlining – 1 I would never finish anything if it weren’t my outlines, but I struggle with making the choices at the outlining stage that feel right for my story. Part of the reason it took so many drafts to find the Right Story for Facing the Music was because I didn’t quite know where to focus my planning energies.
Drafting New Words – 9 Ugh. I don’t always enjoy the writing stage of writing, and it was especially hard for me this time around due to internal and external factors. I could regularly knock out large word counts, but the number of words I wasted was pretty alarming.
Spotting Problems to Fix – 3 or 7 I might be too good at this, honestly. Spotting problems is easy for me. Figuring out when to lay my inner editor to rest and declare my work finished is really freaking hard.
Fixing Problems/Revising – 5 I’ve always considered myself to be good at revising, and it usually isn’t a problem for me. But Facing the Music was the book where I realized that I didn’t know half as much about revising effectively as I thought I had. Going back to the drawing board of revision methods made for a much better manuscript in the long term, but slowed me down a lot day-to-day.
Taking Criticism – 6 I struggled more with this during my revision process than I usually do. I developed a thick skin in college, but the mental health crisis I spent far too long battling also resulted in a massive crisis of confidence. Most of the critique I received was good, and I had no trouble processing it and incorporating it into my manuscript once the initial sting wore off. But there were also a handful of criticisms that missed the mark by a mile, and left me feeling about two feet tall. Those were much harder to bounce back from.
Applying Criticism/Editing – 4 Again, this is something I tend to be super good at that caused me a ton of problems with Facing the Music. Part of that was the mental health stuff and a lack of motivation. Part of it was massive self-confidence issues that left me wondering whether my story was even worth editing. And part of that was the growing realization that I had a lot to learn about effective editing before I could get to the querying stage.
Staying Motivated – 7 or 3 Considering I spent years working on Facing the Music, almost quit the story more times than I can count, and still managed to revise it to the point where I was satisfied? I’d say I did rather well. On the other hand, I spent years working on it because there were days (and weeks and months) where I couldn’t stand the thought of opening the draft, and I almost gave up. So there’s that.
Time Management – 8 Crawling out of a depressive black hole more or less shot my ability to do anything to pieces, which meant that proper time management wasn’t an option for most of the revising process. I was a lot happier and a lot more productive when I stopped trying to set goals for myself and just worked when I wanted to work.
1. Did you end up with a product you are proud of?
2. Did you have adequate help to complete the project? (i.e. Did you have critique partners, editorial/publishing support, family support, people to brainstorm with, etc?)
Not to the extent that I needed, which is largely my fault. I’m not a professional, so I don’t have an agent or editor. My family was supportive, but sharing my struggle with them made me feel kind of inadequate. Like I was spinning my wheels on this task that they couldn’t possibly understand the immensity of, instead of building a career or finding a better job or something more worthwhile. (Note that these are thoughts I had, not opinions my parents or anyone else I’m close to forced on me.)
I also didn’t have any CPs when I began Facing the Music, which presented its own set of problems. For one thing, I spent far more of my time trying to find trustworthy, compatible people to work with than I did working with trustworthy, compatible people. And although most of the individuals who critiqued my manuscript were lovely, I also wound up in a few different situations that were downright toxic to both my productivity and my confidence.
I did come away from the whole experience with a wonderful group of writer friends/CPs, so there is that silver lining. And my boyfriend-turned-fiancee was absolutely irreplaceable when it came to helping me brainstorm, listening to me whine, and keeping me sane.
3. Based on the previous questions, were your deadlines realistic for the project?
Ha. Hahahahahaha. No.
4. Why do you think your highest ranked (smoothest) step went well?
Outlining gave me back a measure of control that I was otherwise lacking throughout the revision process. As long as I had an outline, I could convince myself that the subsequent writing/revising I had to do would go smoothly. Plus, outlining/planning made me feel productive on days when I wasn’t making much progress, and feeling productive was one of the only things keeping me working sometimes.
5. Why do you think your lowest ranked (worst) step was difficult?
Aside from the fact that drafting is inherently harder than revising for me, I was also quite a bit out of practice at writing new words. Combine that with the mental health stuff and the general self-confidence issues, and it’s not a surprise to me that I struggled to put words on the page.
I need to be better at making writing a habit in the future, even when my focus is on revising or brainstorming. I’m also trying to strike a better balance between a “keep calm and write crap” style of drafting, and actually writing words that won’t all need to be cut once I start revising. It’s going to be a process, that’s for sure.
Note: This postmortem also includes a timeline recap, but I feel like this post has grown long enough. I’ve got my own personal timeline for Facing the Music squirreled away on my computer that focuses on how long it took me to complete each draft and each revision. I’m planning to go back and add some personal life stuff to that timeline too, but I won’t foist that on you guys at this point.
If you like the idea of postmortems and want to tackle one yourself, feel free to link me. And if you have a different recapping process for each project you finish, I’d love to hear about it.