Sit down. No, you’re not in trouble. This isn’t about dangling too many participles or ending sentences with prepositions. It’s not about your premise or your plot. It’s not about your characters (they’re all really very lovely). And it’s not about your craft.
You want what? A drink? Sure. What would you like? I have tea and coffee and…
Really? This early? How about just the orange juice without the vodka?
Okay, where was I? Oh, right. You’re a good writer. Your novel is competent, smart and entertaining. You’ve obviously read lots of books on how to write. I bet you read all the really popular agent and editor blogs, too.
Hmm? Yes, you can move to the couch if you want. No, I don’t have any Xanax.
Like I was saying, your novel is good, but it’s missing something.
Yes, I know, I know. You’ve labored on this for months. You’ve poured every available minute into the writing and the re-writing. Your husband thinks you’re having an affair with someone named Strunk N. White. Your kids are wondering what a “crit group” is and where to find one and do they really need more feedback on their two-paragraph “what I did last summer” essays anyway? And your dog, Pulitzer, is afraid to ask to go for a walk because, apparently, his whimper sounds excessively adverbial and this causes you to scowl like Stephen King and it makes him nervous when you scowl like Stephen King.
No, you haven’t wasted your time. All that study has paid off. Surely you can see how you’ve improved. And if not? Go back and look at the first story you ever wrote. You’ve come a long way. I’m impressed. You should be, too.
But your novel is still missing something. Something really important.
It’s missing you.
You’re looking rather pale. Maybe you should lie down.
Let me say again – you’re a good writer. I’ve seen manuscripts from contracted novelists that aren’t as well-written as yours.
Good. You’re getting some color back. You were making me nervous there for a moment. I’m not trained in CPR.
It’s quite possible that your novel is good enough to capture the interest of a good literary agent. And maybe even good enough to get published someday. Of course, that could take a while. You know how tough it is for writers to break through. Of course you do, that’s why you’ve been so diligent at the craft and so dedicated to learning the business.
Maybe persistence and patience are all you need at this point.
But I can’t help wondering about that “missing something.” Where are you in your novel? Where’s the smart, slightly snarky writer whose email correspondence always makes me smile? Where’s the clever wordplay? The knowing smile? The arresting blend of confidence and vulnerability that I think of every time I think of you?
All that great writing advice might have kept you off the page. I like you. I like the way you think. I think readers would like you, too. And if you found you – if your novel had more of you in it – I believe that might just bump your manuscript from the “good enough to be published” pile into the “wow, I love this!” pile on an agent’s desk.
Ah, yes, that’s the million dollar question. And there’s no easy answer. I’d suggest these three steps:
- Let the manuscript sit. Don’t obsess over it. Forget about it and do something else for a while.
- Stop reading “how to write” books and websites. Instead, read novels. Good ones by authors you admire. Fresh ones by authors you’ve never met.
- When you finally do go back to your manuscript, forget the rules. Just (re)write as you hear the story in your head. You already know craft – that will come naturally now. This time, listen to your inner voice, follow it. Trust your instincts with word choice, pacing, rhythm, attitude. And here’s the real key: have fun.
That’s not as easy as it sounds. And if you find you’re still struggling, start another novel. Yes. From the beginning. The more you write, the sooner you’ll find yourself on the page. When you do, you’ll not only be “good enough to be published” – you’ll be the only person who writes like you.
That’s the book I really want to read.
Yes, you can have the vodka now.