Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tucking it away gets you nowhere

By R.J. Harlick

Do you have a novel in a drawer, a first novel (or a later one) that never saw the light of day? Tell us more.

I have short stories tucked away in the far reaches of my computer, written during my brief sojourn into short story land. During my initial forays into fiction writing I tried short stories thinking it was easier to hone creative writing skills with 5,000 words than it was with 100,000. I even managed to get a couple published in anthologies and won third prize with another.

But most remained untapped by the publishing world and probably rightly so, although there was one story I was particularly fond of. Cat I called it because a Cheshire-like cat acted as a catalyst in the unfolding of the crime. Every once in a while I dust it off, make more revisions and send it out only to received the rejection weeks, months later. I keep telling myself one day someone will say ‘Yes’.

But sorry Art, my real love was novel writing, although I did have fun flirting with the shorter form. Congratulations by the way on your Anthony nomination. So when I set out to write my first novel I was bound and determined to get it published. I was so thrilled when I actually finished it, that I immediately sent it out to agents and publishers convinced it was the next great Canadian novel only to have it summarily rejected months later. One agent suggested that though the story showed promise, a rewrite was in order, so I rewrote it and sent it out again. While I waited I attended a weeklong creative writing course, which made me realize that another rewrite was needed. At this point I joined a critiquing group of other aspiring writers who helped me hone in on where improvements were needed.
In the end I rewrote the book four times. And by rewrite, I don’t mean revisions to the existing text. I mean starting over again each time. While the essence of the story remained the same, as did the characters, though several disappeared when I realized they added nothing to the story, the words changed and improved with each iteration and the story became much tighter. Finally after six years of persistence a publisher finally said ‘Yes’. That first attempt at writing a novel is Death’s Golden Whisper, the first book in the Meg Harris mystery series.

So no, I don’t have a novel in a drawer waiting to see the light of day. I figured if I was going to put so much time and effort into the writing of a book, I was going to bloody well get it published. Besides trying to make this manuscript more readable and more saleable with each successive rewrite taught me more about writing fiction than tucking it away and starting anew would have.

I'd like to congratulate Catriona too on her Anthony nomination. Way to go guys! 


Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for sharing your story, RJ. Rewriting from scratch four times seems tough, but it definitely proves that writing is not for the faint of heart!

Art Taylor said...

A great post, a great story of perseverance! And thanks so much for the shout-out for me and Catriona too. (I'm just the opposite of you; several failed novels tucked away here and there, as you'll hear later on this week.)