Am I Making It Too Hard For Myself?

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It’s Thursday, which means we’re due for a Learning From The Masters post, but I’m taking a break from that this week. This week I want to talk about something that’s been on my mind a lot lately–something I hope you can help me with…

I’ve been feeling disillusioned with my creative process lately. If this sounds familiar, I suggest you read on. I could use some advice.

In writing class the other day, the class was critiquing my work, as usual, when one of them commented that even though she loved my story, she didn’t envy the amount of editing I will have to do to get it publishing-worthy. “It’s just so complicated!” she said.

Then another classmate, a guy with whom I actually formed a writing group several years ago (so he knows my writing pretty well) said:

“It wouldn’t be a Mary Kate story if there wasn’t a complicated plot with a big secret to unravel.”

And this got me thinking.

It’s true. In the stories I’ve written, there’s always a very complicated plot. A secret to be uncovered. The first novel I wrote (which I refer to as the Chateau Novel) has multiple protagonists and several point-of-view characters. Secrets the characters are keeping from one another which have to be unraveled. Jumps between present and past. Magical realism elements to be dealt with.

My second novel (the Jersey Shore Novel) has only one protagonist and POV character. But there are still secrets to be unraveled. Jumps between past and present. Several important characters to be dealt with, in both the past and the present. It’s complicated.

It makes writing hard.

It makes editing harder.

It makes querying really hard.

People have really liked both my manuscripts once they’ve read them–but these people are friends, family, and critique partners. People who have to pick them up and read them because they A) don’t want to hurt my feelings or B) I’m reading their books, too.

Trying to reel in literary agents (then publishers, then readers who have no obligation to you) is harder.

I have been told my prose is up to par; but now I know that that’s not enough.

I’ve actually started three other novels, then temporarily abandoned them. The first one follows my complicated formula: five POV characters, mansion, family secrets, a paranormal element. I abandoned that years ago, and don’t know if I will pick it back up. I hope to, but we’ll see.

The other two manuscripts I started do not have big plot secrets. They have one protagonist. There is no magical realism. There is no switch in POV. The stories progress in a linear fashion, time-wise. They are about students in high school dealing with high schooly problems.

The first one–I got a little bored with, to be honest. But I plan to return to that someday, perhaps with a more interesting protagonist. The second one is little more than a twenty page word document with some characters and scenes jotted down. I left it for the time being because I was ready to re-edit the Jersey Shore novel. But I fully intend to return to it when finished.

Now I’m wondering if I should have started with the two simpler novels.

This isn’t to say I shouldn’t dream big. I absolutely should, and you should too. But there’s something to be said for starting out more simply and working one’s way up to the big stuff.

The thing is–there are plenty of books I like that follow pretty simple plot formulas. But I didn’t want to write a book I like. I wanted to write a book I love. And the books I love all tend to be absolutely epic.

Maybe I should return to one of my simpler stories for now. Write a straightforward contemporary novel, then once I have that under my belt, return to my quest for the epic novel.

What do you think?

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13 thoughts on “Am I Making It Too Hard For Myself?

  1. I believe a person will write best what they love best. It may be more work but I don’t see how that is a bad thing. It will may take longer but if you are not depending on this writing for income I say stick with what you love. Or maybe you could find a middle ground for how complicated your plot is or maybe try few characters. You have lots of options!

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  2. I’m no writer, just an avid reader and honestly the more complicated plots seem more interesting. Or perhaps you’re just more vested in those an described them better? The high schoolers w/ HS’ly problems with no paranormal element… meh, I’ll pass.

    PS – I’m open to read your work and give an honest opinion.

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    1. Hey! Thanks so much for your input–and your offer! Feedback is so crucial to the process, and the opinions of avid readers can be just as helpful (if not more so) than opinions of writers–sometimes we’re too close to things to judge them objectively. When I’m done with this draft I will definitely send it to you, if you have time. Thanks again!

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  3. I can see where you’re coming from, and I think that is a tough situation. I think it depends. If, first and foremost, you just want to break into publishing, and you believe a contemporary novel is the way to do this, then do it! You like writing them, and this way, your future books that you really love may have better publicisation and reception since you’re established in the publishing world. However, it depends how long you can put up with working on projects that you don’t really love. If you find yourself yearning to write your epic stories again, then I think you should do that. Because, I absolutely agree that you should dream big, and I think eventually you will find a literary agent that will recognise your talent for complex stories and is willing to publish one as your first novel. Hope this makes sense!

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    1. Thanks so much for your feedback! Yeah, I was thinking more in the way of breaking into publishing with something simpler, then if I sell well, I’d have more freedom to do what I like. But I was also thinking a simpler plot would be easier to, well, plot. Then once I get the hang of writing a book with a coherent plot, I could use those learnings to tackle the more complicated storylines.

      But yes, everything I write must absolutely be a labor of love. I suffer through doing work I don’t love in my real job, which is one of the reasons I started writing in the first place. Still thinking on all of this … thanks again for your comments!

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