Some of you have asked about the countdown calendar on the right side panel of my blog page and what it’s all about. It is a countdown to the day my editor will get back to me with her comments on my manuscript. Needless to say, I am excited, nervous, and scared all at once. (99% scared. 0.5% nervous. 0.5% excited.)
Been having nightmares about what her feedback will be. Recently, I dreamed that I got my manuscript back in the mail with a single Post-It on the front, displaying the only comment my editor had: “I don’t get it” (with a big frowny-face drawn next to it.) Other nightmares have produced such comments as: “I know this was your 7th draft, but as they say in publishing, ‘8th time’s a charm’!” and “Your mother was right — law is a much more practical career choice.” And my personal favorite: “This sucked harder than Snooki on spring break.” Ouch.
Though I had initially intended for the countdown to be a self-motivator, I realized as soon as I put the widget on my panel that this could end up being a big mistake. After all, there’s enough pressure in trying to break into the enviable business of being a mid-list author who lives paycheck to paycheck, peddling her stories to anyone in need of something better to read on their morning train commute than the free copy of RedEye. Do I really need the additional pressure of blundering through the process in front of my friends, family, acquaintances, former co-workers and classmates, and the 948,204 people connected to me through them (according to FB)? And, of course, at the heart of that question lies another question almost too scary to even ask: “What if, in the end, I fail?” For someone who in grade school used to hide any less-than-perfect grades on homework from her parents by flushing them down the toilet, that’s a scary thought.
One thing that I noticed while writing the first draft of my book is that I had a tendency to want to make sure that my hero was always ok. I crossed out many a plot scenario where I felt the stakes were too high or the risks too heavy, especially if I hadn’t already figured out how my hero would overcome the danger in order to achieve her goal. Why? Because the kinds of conflicts that plagued my hero in those scenarios made ME uncomfortable. As the possibility that my hero might fail increased, so did my desire to watch my hero flail in such scenes. The result: crappy, boring plot where nothing happens, featuring a hero whose most exciting movement towards personal growth was learning a new crocheting stitch.
First draft was promptly flushed down the toilet. First draft also gave rise to necessity for new toilet plunger.
Six painful drafts later, the lesson has finally sunk in: A story is only as good as its hero, but more importantly, the larger the stakes, the more difficult the obstacles, and the more powerful the antagonist, the more heroic the hero. That, in addition to a fatefully timed dinner of Chinese take-out, which ended in a fortune cookie message that read: “Art imitates life and vice versa,” convinced me to keep the countdown widget on as a gesture of raising the stakes for myself in this endeavor.
And, hey, if it is not yet known whether I succeed or fail at the end of Act 3, it will, at the very least, make the scenes in Acts 1 and 2 a little more interesting to read :)