We’ve all been there as writers. You write a bunch of chapters or maybe even the whole damn book, only to be struck by the sudden realization that you think the entire thing sucks. You get that awful, sinking feeling that the story is terrible and predictable and the characters are one-dimensional and boring.
You may just need a little distance from the work. Your story may actually be pretty good but you just can’t see it anymore. Step away from it for a bit. Take a breather, and then go back and reread it to see what you really think of it as a whole. You’ll never be able to be totally objective, but it helps to get a little perspective when you walk away for a while.
So, say you’ve already done that. You still think it sucks. Or worse, your beta readers tell you it sucks. Now, you’ve got a problem. Just like your mom told you about your dinner choices – take it or leave it — you’ve got two choices for your book. Fix it or trash it.
Both options are difficult. If you trash it, you’ve wasted all that time with nothing to show for it but lessons learned. There is something to be said for a lesson learned, but trashing a full-length novel is a painful way to learn it. After all that work, you’re not going to have a book to self-publish or to market to agents or publishers. If you choose to fix it, you’ve got a long road ahead of you. You may need to start completely over from scratch. In a sense, you’re trashing it to fix it, which is kind of the worst of both worlds.
Kind of a bummer, huh?
Hang on. I’m going somewhere with this.
Though it sucks to trash your work or to start over, it really is much, much preferable to publishing or marketing something that’s just no good. You won’t feel good about it and it won’t be successful, thus you’ve wasted even more time. The question you have to ask yourself is – am I still interested in this story? Do I even want it to work anymore, or am I just so damn sick to death of it that I’m ready to move on? It can definitely be a relief to decide to let go of a story that’s just not working, thus allowing yourself to move on to a fresh story and new characters that you can get excited about. However, if you find that you still want to make the story work, you must resolve to do whatever it takes to get the story right. If that means trashing the book and doing a page-one rewrite, then that’s what you’ve got to do.
Believe me. I know. I’ve been there.
(forgive me, regular readers. I know you’ve heard this story before. Probably more than once…)
I got the worst reviews of my life on my absolute favorite story. QUEEN HENRY started life as a screenplay. A bad, bad screenplay. It started with a fun, unique idea. Homophobic guy becomes gay and learns an important lesson. That is the story I really wanted to tell, but I executed the tale badly on the first try. Then the second, then the third. I loved the story and the characters so much, but it just wasn’t working. People hated it. HATED IT. People called it boring, said it had no stakes and contained “ham-fisted stereotypes”. One guy said it was “okay I guess for a first screenplay.”
It was my ninth….
I think the lowest point came when I had the stomach flu, was completely nauseated, and opened my inbox to another bad review. I never ever wanted to give up on writing, but I specifically remember thinking If I wasn’t a writer, I wouldn’t be in this pain right now.
Even in my darkest moment, I recognized that moment for what it was. A crossroads. A turning point in my so-called writing career. I really had three choices that day. Give up writing altogether (no chance. I never even considered that option. Never.), market the screenplay the way it was, or trash the whole damn thing and start over. I knew then what I was going to do. I literally put the whole damn script in the recycle bin, sat at my computer and typed “FADE IN.”
I was gonna fix that goddamn story if it was the last thing I did.
I wrote and rewrote and rewrote. I paid a very nice script analyst who charged a very reasonable rate to help me (I found out later that he used to be the head script reader at Miramax. He charged only $60 for notes. The man was a saint..). He supported me through draft and after draft after draft. He kept saying things like “it’s getting there” and “you’ve almost got it”. I finally got the story to a point where I thought it was really, really good.
I submitted QUEEN HENRY to a screenplay contest, which was terrifying. It was one of those contests that provided feedback. For better or worse, they were going to tell me what they thought of it. The pain from all those bad reviews fresh in my mind, it was horrible to have to wait for their critique. I kept getting messages from them saying that they got more entries than they expected, thus the delay in providing feedback. The wait was excruciating When, I FINALLY heard back from them, I got word that QUEEN HENRY was a Finalist.
It was a small contest to be sure, but I was a Finalist nonetheless. I’ll never forget how exhilarated that made me feel. I just couldn’t believe it.
Years later when I decided to try novel writing, I knew QUEEN HENRY had to be a book! It wasn’t difficult to write the novel version, since I’d worked so hard to perfect the screenplay. It’s amazing to me to think of all the changes that took place in the story during all those rewrites. The core story remained the same – Straight homophobe turns gay and learns a lesson – but just about EVERYTHING else was radically altered. At first, Henry was an ordinary guy who was engaged to a woman and had become gay through supernatural means and simply learns how it feels to be treated badly when he was gay. BLEH. AWFUL. In the final version, Henry is a womanizing, major league baseball player who becomes gay due to an experimental asthma drug and falls desperately in love with a wonderful man named Thomas. MUCH BETTER.
As of this writing, the book has been out for two months. Though bad reviews are absolutely inevitable, I haven’t gotten one yet. (YET.) To date, I have 14 good reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. A blogger from Baltimore OUTLoud reviewed QUEEN HENRY. The review was featured on the front page of the newspaper, and included the following statements:
“Glorious, deliciously-written work of fiction…
Fausnet’s writing is extraordinary in this fluid, fast-paced tale…
Queen Henry is a truly well-written novel with potent drama and campy humor laced throughout. Though it contains messages to LGBT folks and others, it is also a gorgeous love story and one that should not be missed. Fausnet swung and hit a home run.”
– Steve Charing, Baltimore OUTloud
In addition, I was recently invited by a local chapter of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) to do a book reading. The idea of sharing my words, my story, out loud thrills me behind measure.
The great reviews I’m getting now are so powerful and mean so much more because of what I went through on the earlier drafts. I can hardly believe how something that was once so terrible ended up turning out so good. I can’t tell you what it means to me to finally have people know and love Henry Vaughn, Jr. the way I have loved him from the beginning.
If I can do it, I know you can, too.
Does your book suck? Do you still love it? Then FIX it, and DON”T STOP UNTIL YOU GET IT RIGHT.
To this day, people tell me QUEEN HENRY would make a great movie…
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