It Takes a Village to Raise a Novel

We writers often like to see ourselves as solitary creatures. We imagine ourselves huddled up against our keyboards in dark, dank basement rooms with only a neverending glass of Cognac and maybe a cat to keep us company. And we LIKE it that way, dang it! We’re REBELS! We’re RECLUSES! We won’t let the man bring us down by inferring in our life’s art and work!

Well, unless that man is a publisher with a million dollar contract. Then… maybe.

But the fact is, no matter who we are or what we write, we don’t do it all by ourselves. And if we do, chances are our work is nowhere near as great as it could be.

I’m the one who wrote Dr. Fixit’s Malicious Machine. In fact, I am still writing it. It’s my baby, born from my mind and typed by my fingers. If it wasn’t for me, Nil wouldn’t exist.

But it’s not my story. Not totally, anyway.

I was thinking today about just how many people have brought Dr. Fixit to its current form (which is somewhere around the “SO-FREAKING-CLOSE-TO-PERFECTION-BUT-I-CAN’T-GET-IT-JUST-RIGHT-ARRRGH!” phase), and I thought maybe it was time to do a blog about these awesome people. So here it is!

Colleges/Writer Friends

I don’t know if you belong to a writer’s organisation  If you don’t, might I make a suggestion? Go research the top groups for your particular genre, and JOIN one. Seriously. I only joined SCBWI (aka, The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), a little over a year ago, and during that time my manuscript has seen more growth than anything I have written before. Period.

Through SCBWI I have received personal critiques and line edits by colleagues whom I would never have known without the group, conference time where I have learned to hone my manuscript even further, market surveys to know exactly where and how and what to send to agents in real time all the time, personal support and the making of new friendships with others who understand what I’m going through, and one referral to a major agency which, though it was ultimately rejected, gave me some wonderful industry insight and revision suggestions that made Dr. Fixit so much better than I alone, ever could. (Not to mention some wonderful professional references for my resume, should I have to get a job after I graduate. Heh.)

I’d like to personally thank the following members of SCBWI who have been particularly wonderful: Molly Severens, Deby  FredericksJohn Bladek, Kelly Milner Halls, Terry Trueman, and Kimberly Harris ThackerWithout the direct involvement of each and every one of these wonderful fellow writers, Dr. Fixit wouldn’t be anywhere near as awesome as it is today.

Industry Professionals

Help from these giants of the industry is few, far-between, and very valuable. I have had the pleasure of two such connections, both through SCBWI (and mentioned above).

The first was Pamela Glauber, Editor at Holiday House, whom I met at the SCBWI conference a little over a year ago. I asked her for some advice on how to market my manuscript, then titled The Curious Cogs of Nil, since it is under the umbrella of a few genres. She told me to just go with “scifi”, then asked for a full. I was over the moon, and though she ultimately rejected it (to be perfectly honest it really was NOT ready), her insight, suggestions and encouragement were a huge boon to my manuscript and my own motivation as a writer.

The second was George Nicholson, Agent at Sterling Lord Literistic. I was referred to him by my SCBWI colleague Terry Trueman (mentioned above), and right away he asked to see my manuscript. This was a wonderful experience as it was my first ever referral, and also terrible in that George decided to pass in the end. But in the time that he was considering my work, he sent me a reader report that made my current edit far better than before. George himself said my manuscript was “… certainly improved, and the characters and narrative… colorful and entertaining”. Then he then gave me more to fix, for which I am very grateful. In the end, while I will not be working with George himself, I know that thanks to him my next submission will be all that much better. And maybe, just maybe, this time it will be gold.

Educators

As many of you know, I am currently in graduate school, studying writing and literature for children. Not all writers choose this route, but we have all been educated by someone in the past. Our teachers, professors, tutors and mentors have all contributed to the writing we do today, no matter how long ago we studied under them.

I personally have learned so much from the educators in my life, since way back in middle school when Mrs. Hennessey took me under her wing as a young author in which she saw potential, to my current work under my graduate adviser Dr. Judith McDaniel who has taught me the importance of research, a strong worth ethic, and powerful writing. For Dr. Fixit itself, I have workshopped my manuscript in undergraduate classes at Eastern Washington University, and had it professionally critiqued by one of my favorite graduate professors, Dr. Woden Teachout (yes, that’s her name; awesome I know), who helped it along even further.

Without our teachers, where would we be? Nowhere. Absolutely nowhere.

AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler

It’s a huge pain in the rear. It’s full of pompous jerks. It has “Hell” in more than one of its forum names for a reason. It’s the hardest, most frustrating, most irritating writer’s forum on the web.

It’s also extremely helpful.

See, nobody at AbsoluteWrite is going to blow smoke up your butt. They’ll tell you how it is, no matter how painful. I learned the hard way that you don’t post your work there unless you really want to know the truth of its worth as literature.  So, when I posted a scene from Dr. Fixit a few days ago for the third time and it ONLY got good replies, you can imagine I was over the moon.

Honest crits + honest encouragement = win, every time.

I also met two beta readers from AbsoluteWrite who have been absolutely wonderful in getting back to me with their insights, which I have used to further improve my manuscript.

AbsoluteWrite also has some forums where you can go to read about other writer’s rejections, post about your own, and wallow in each-other’s self-pity for a while. And sometimes, when you just want to give up after the fifth or fiftieth rejection, that’s all you need to keep going.

Family

Often writers poo-poo the help of family because they are biased. And it is true that we should never take what they say in critiques as gospel (unless they’re also professional writers/editors/etc… or just hate you). But family members can be a big help in many other ways.

For example, my husband Mike has not only been patient and supportive to the point that I almost worry for his sanity, but has also given me more ideas and insights than I can remember or count by brainstorming with me when I’ve needed it. If it wasn’t for him, I believe half the scenes and 1/3 of the characters in Dr. Fixit wouldn’t even exist.

My children have also been instrumental in keeping my kid-voice natural and real, and asking them questions about what they’d understand, like, or do in certain situations has been such a boon. My eight-year-old son even created one of my characters, though I have since honed his personality quite a bit.

And I can’t end my entry on family without mentioning my mother Sue Edmiston (pictured above with the red fan), who has been a source of inspiration, support and unwavering belief in me for longer than I can remember.  It is because of her that I perused my dream in the first place, when everyone else told me it was impossible.

Non-Writer Friends

Like family, friends can often be far too biased to trust their opinions on the quality of your work. But also like family, there is more than one way friends can offer assistance. I have had brainstorming sessions with non-writer friends which have turned out to be very helpful, as these friends don’t have any educative/industry/professional bias about plot structure, narrative, character development, or any of the other myriad issues we have to deal with in our craft. These friends simply know what they like and what they want, and they’ll happily tell you. Often, they’re more than excited to share their ideas with you (to the point where you might wish you hadn’t asked!), and some of those ideas can be just crazy enough to work.

Though the biggest boon I have had from a non-writer friend is in my illustrations.

Jessica Suzanne Turner has given faces to my characters, a personality to my website, and a visual window to Nil that I myself could never create. The worth of her illustrations (which you can see all over my site), is immeasurable, and she is currently working on more. Papercut and Snot were both designed by her before I even wrote them into the story, and she is entirely responsible for the creation of the Teens’ face tattoos, as her first drawing of Emily inspired my writing further.  I am happy to say I can finally pay her for this, but she started out doing it for free because she believed in my vision. That, above everything else, is worth its weight in gold.

So no, I didn’t alone make my manuscript what it is today, and I entirely expect to lengthen this list before Dr. Fixit is on the bookshelves. Even if nobody else volunteers to help, someday soon I’ll have an agent, an editor, an illustrator, and an entire publishing team who will take Dr. Fixit to the next level.

And I can’t wait to see how great it will be, then!

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