Tuesday, April 10, 2012
A Writer's Inventory and Self-Assessment
When you write your focus is elsewhere, on your characters, on your plot, perhaps on your pacing. The focus is off of yourself. The only reflective, mirror-like surface the writer sees is the computer screen as he or she writes.
As it should be.
It's hard to look in a mirror. Even more difficult, the writer, at times must take inventory of where they are at and where they are going. Therefore, a self-assessment is a good idea to take stock of what changes may have occurred while writing.
If you've established a writing routine, you may have found a groove where new words find their way from the creative side of the brain onto the page, or the computer screen. As time passes, more words appear, and build up until your manuscript is ready to edit. A shift in focus allows the writer to move from one side of the brain to the other in order to edit and revise. This is the natural order of things necessary to write. Just rinse and repeat.
However, writing is a skill. Skills become more fine-tuned with practice and exercise. For the writer, you might have honed a skill as you wrote the last five chapters of your WIP (Work in Progress). If you don't routinely take inventory of new skills gained, you might miss them altogether.
From: "Apprenticeship Patterns: Guidance for the Aspiring Software Craftsman," by Dave Hoover and Adewale Oshineye
Now it's time for that mirror.
Take it out and give it a good hard look. You might even pull out a microscope, tweezers, a forensics kit or some other means of scrutinizing yourself and your abilities and how they may have changed over the past few days, weeks, months. Writing evolves over time, and those changes come and go when you least expect them.
Learn to expect change. Search for it. Don't give up until you find it.
Then, take notes and apply those changes to yourself. This is how the writer grows. Those are the broad strokes. It might sound too much like a chapter from a textbook, but now it's time to get personal.
Over the past year, I have responded to the seed of an idea that has been gestating in my mind for years, wanting to find its way onto the page. I planted the seed and watered and cared for it over a series of 2-3 months. I finished the first draft of my first novel at approximately 73,000 words.
One word at a time.
Next, came ten different cover to cover revisions, as challenging as rewriting the book ten times over. I won't even mention the innumerable tweaks and edits that didn't receive a separate numeration of revision each time. But, they were a part of this process as well. Even though I cut and cut from my manuscript, I had to add to the plot and characters and flesh out themes and dialogue throughout the WIP. It took me the better part of a year to learn and apply the skills necessary to consider this manuscript ready for submission.
At the current tally, my manuscript clocks in at a healthy 82,000 words.
Then came the time to submit the manuscript to agents, looking for representation. As expected, I received mostly passes or rejections. However, I did receive a handful of partial requests and a couple full requests as well. In fact, I was fortunate to receive an offer to publish my manuscript through a small press. This was a very generous offer. At the time, I thought I was receiving an offer of representation, until I saw the contract from the publisher directly.
This was good and bad. And, it led me to an important realization as I conducted a self-assessment in response to the contract offer. I realized I could self-publish if I wanted to. There are great resources out there for those who want to pursue publication as an indie writer.
It's just not the right fit for me. I won't speak for others and their success. To all of you brave enough to take this route toward your writing goals, I say, "Good for you!" and "More power to you!" I say this with all sincerity.
However, I have concluded that is not the path for me. I am seeking the partnership a writer attains through representation with an agent. I am seeking the traditional route for publication. Will I attain this goal? I can't answer that. My future lies in the words I lay down on the page and in the revisions I go through as I give birth to each manuscript. From there, it is up to the agents to determine if I've got coal or an unfinished diamond. I hope for the latter, and I look for the agent who can help me polish that diamond until all of its facets shine and sparkle with the best qualities of my manuscript.
When that happens, I'll let you know I have attained that important step along the path of my writing goals and dreams. Will you join me?
What are you doing to regularly assess where you are at as a writer? What have you learned about yourself and your goals as writer? How has this informed you to make changes in your writer routines?
Have you found any diamonds lately? I sure hope so! Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.