Pursuing The Reader’s Standard

Motivation & Inspiration, Writing Process

Earlier this month I completed the final line edit for my fourth novel and this week I’m working my way through the final line edit for my fifth. It’s slow-going and I find myself mulling over the same paragraph for almost an hour or tweaking sentences until they don’t even read like English anymore. The fact is, my brain is exhausted but I still have two hundred pages left to go before it will truly, finally, once and for all be finished. Editing and revisions are always difficult but there is something about that FINAL line edit that is so painstakingly sluggish, I practically feel like I’m moving backwards. Probably, because in many ways, I am.

The library I work at hosted an author event this past Saturday and I got the chance to catch part of the Q&A session. Someone in the audience asked the author when she knows a book is truly finished and after responding the way that most authors do and admitting that she could work on a WIP until the end of time, she said something else that surprised me. This particular author did not have a degree in Creative Writing, nor did she study it in school, but by being a voracious reader first she came to realize something about writing and the way books are consumed by the general public.

When it comes to good writing, she spoke of it as if it were a wide canal and as if the outer banks represented the threshold or standard by which readers judge that writing. The more narrow the canal, the more limited the audience, and the wider the canal, the more versatile the book’s appeal. The author explained that readers will always have a personal standard when it comes to books but that pursuing that reader standard is not the same as pursuing perfection. In fact, the author might still be tweaking her upcoming release if she hadn’t abandoned the pursuit of perfection and instead simply focused on doing her best. That’s all readers really want. At one point she even told the audience point-blank that if she had spent a hundred more hours perfecting her latest novel, the reader wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference. Why? Because readers aren’t looking for perfection. They’re looking for a good story. They’re looking for a strong voice. A unique and authentic voice. And all of those things can be accomplished simply by doing our best.

I needed to hear those words now more than ever. I have a lot of anxiety built up over the potential success or failure of my next release and its a ball and chain so literal that I can barely make any progress on this manuscript. My production has slowed down on every WIP in my queue and even as I’m nearing the end of certain projects I’m still second guessing every single decision.

Even though it’s pointless.

I know that I’ve done my best. In fact, it’s the only thing I do know for sure, and maybe it’s the only thing I need to know in order to declare that I’m finished. Truly finished. I’ve done my best and that’s all I can do. That’s all any of us can ever do. But the good news, or more accurately, the GREAT news is that our best is good enough. We are good enough. For the people who matter most, readers, our best is good enough.

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Novellas-Everyone Loves Leftovers

Writing Process

Orphans of Paradise should be close to completion but I’m getting some mixed signals from my beta readers. There are two alternate story threads scattered throughout the main plot which combine for a total of 4 POVs—the two MCs and two minor characters whose plots intersect in the latter half of the book. The consensus has been that they’re well written and they’re interesting but something about them feels disconnected and distracting from the story as a whole.

A few readers suggested lengthening them to help ground them more in the story. Others have suggested combining the two minor character’s POVs into one. And someone else has suggested cutting them altogether. Obviously my ego is much opposed to the third option. Not because I don’t want to do what’s best for my story. I do and I will. But because I really love them (how many times do you think writers say that a day?) and I think there’s something to them; something that gives the main story an emotional depth and diversity that I’m afraid it might lack otherwise.

But the last thing I want to do is stand in my own way by presenting a story that’s difficult for people to follow and therefore connect with. So I’m considering turning these threads into a companion novella. I’ve never written a novella before. I’m currently attempting one for another book but still I’m no expert. There’s the issue of length—will ten chapters or so be too brief? I’ve read that novellas can run anywhere between 10,000 to 40,000 words but that sure is a lot of wiggle room. What do readers expect from a novella as opposed to a novel? Is the story thread strong enough to stand on its own?

Anyone out there written a novella? Can you clue me in to some of the rules or tricks of the trade that may be different from novel writing? Most of the companion novellas I’ve seen are extensions of a novel but maybe from another character’s POV or a means of providing more backstory. An organized collection of qualifiers and leftovers if you will. And everyone loves leftovers? Right?

I’m confused to say the least, and incredibly torn. I’ve made huge cuts to a novel before, but when you’ve been living with a particular story told in a particular way for so long, it’s really hard to part with that ideal. Especially when you’re not one hundred percent sure that it’s the right thing to do.

I’m waiting on feedback from three more beta readers which will hopefully provide me with some kind of clarity. But unfortunately, what I think is pretty clear is that I’m not nearly as close to being finished as I thought I was.