Four and a half years ago, I finished writing a book called A Broken Kind of Beautiful and wasn’t sure what to write next.
I’m not one of those writers who has a constant overflow of story ideas. A disconcerting thing, especially when I’m around those writers who have a constant overflow of story ideas and like to say things like:
I just started this story, but five other ideas are calling my name!
All the while, I twiddle my thumbs and whistle off in the corner, trying not to panic that I’ve used mine all up.
Anyway, I finished the story about Ivy, a fashion model at the end of a career that has always defined her, and came across this random news article.
It was about this boy who survived a plane crash.
A total miraculous survival, as the plane was completely decimated, along with every other passenger with it.
Enter The Spark!
What a relief this brings, when an idea does strike. I start petting it, cooing to it, like Gollum and the ring.
After I read that article, the wheels in my mind started spinning. I began asking the question every novelist asks, “What if …?”
What if instead of a plane, it’s a train?
What if it’s a big national tragedy?
What if the entire country becomes obsessed with this woman because of her miraculous survival?
What if, in turn, this woman becomes obsessed with the people who didn’t survive? What if this woman becomes obsessed with the dead?
At the time, I considered myself a contemporary romance author, which meant that I needed a hero to go with my heroine.
What if the hero was a man who lost his wife in that same tragedy? A man who wants to forget. Paired with a woman desperate to remember. Ooo. Every novelist loves a bit of irony.
Dredging up the Courage
I have a secret:
I’m a dreadful writer.
My first drafts are never good. Combine that with the fact that I find the blank page terribly intimidating, and well … getting the story down is never easy.
And so, I have to work up the courage to write ugly. To trust the process.
I repeat things to myself like:
You can’t edit what’s not there!
And, don’t get it right, just get it written!
Like Dory, I keep swimming. I write through all the insecurity. There are moments – encouraging bursts of, “There is something here!” – but for the most part, it’s not pretty.
I wrote the rough draft of this particular story all the way back in 2012. A good chunk of it I wrote in Galena, Illinois with my pal Erica Vetsch. We spent the weekend holed up in a hotel, drinking copious amounts of Diet Coke, our fingers flying across the keyboards.
And then I finished and I went through the many, many, MANY stages of editing. The story became functional, something I would actually show another person. Like my agent and my editor.
At the time, it was a romance. Tentatively titled Falling for Autumn, even though I always referred to it as the train story.
Waiting Its Turn
Remember, this was 2012.
Fun fact: When I signed my second 2-book contract with Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing House, they wanted the train story. They planned to publish that one first, The Art of Losing Yourself (which was only a spark of an idea at the time) second.
A Broken Kind of Beautiful was not on the docket at all, even though it was complete and one of my personal favorites.
I sent the synopsis of the train story off to my editor.
She read it, and … we needed to talk.
There were problems. BIG problems. It would require a massive rewrite.
My heart, my friends, just wasn’t in it. My heart was beating for Ivy the model and her journey down in Greenbrier, South Carolina.
So I suggested that we look at A Broken Kind of Beautiful instead. I believed in this book. Believed, believed, believed. I was still wishy-washy about the train story.
And so, we moved forward with Ivy. She was published first. In 2014, she met the world. I got busy bringing Carmen and Gracie to life, the two leads in The Art of Losing Yourself.
All the while, the train story languished in a file on my computer’s hard drive.
Dusting It Off
This brings us into 2015.
I signed my third 2-book contract with Waterbrook, this time, for two books not yet written. These were just little sparks.
I started writing the first. And boy, was it a painful, painful process. This story was not cooperating. The whole thing filled me with angst. No magical moments at all. But I persisted (stubbornly, and foolishly). I pushed through. I finished the worst rough draft ever to exist in the world, and I sent the summary off to my editor.
There were two components of the story she wasn’t a fan of. Slight problem. Those two things WERE the story. I mean, that was it. Take those two things out, and I had nothing. Not to get dramatic or anything, but the thought of going back to the drawing board for this particular book made me want to shrivel into a ball and die.
So I said, in a squeaky, discouraged sort of voice, “Hey, what about the train story?”
While this, too, needed a massive re-write, my heart was drawn to what it once wasn’t. The premise of the story grabbed me, even all these years later.
It was better for my health to work on something that grabbed me, instead of working on something that made me want to curl into a ball and die.
So the rough draft that I had just finished went into hiding. Maybe someday, it, too, will get pulled out and dusted off.
Right then, though, it was the train story’s turn.
Becoming Something New
My editor and I talked about all the various problems. We came up with solutions.
And you guys?
I rewrote this thing from the ground up.
The premise remained. The name of my main character remained. The hero remained. Almost everything else changed.
Along with the title.
While I was furiously re-writing, my publishing house was creating the perfect face. My editor sent it to me via a private message on Facebook and I loved it so much I told her to, “Shut up!”
It spurred me onward.
Finally, I finished. Y’all, I was in love. The whole process of rewriting, especially in light of how awful the previous failed project had been, felt magical. I was in my element. And so, I emailed it off to my editor with confidence.
And then I waited.
Next Level, Please
The first round of edits with a publishing house has many different names:
Content edits, macro edits, substantive edits.
They all mean the same thing.
Basically, BIG edits. I don’t know a single author whose stomach doesn’t shrink into the size of a raisin at the thought of them.
My big edits have always been extra, extra big. And I was extra, extra afraid this time around. Because I loved this story and I didn’t want to change it.
Enter: the phone call.
My editor had read the manuscript and was ready to talk.
She liked it. Of course, there were some issues. She saw ways to bring it to the next level that would require a substantial overhaul, but if I really liked it the way it was, that overhaul wasn’t necessary.
Whew! This was looking to be my lightest big edit yet.
It had been a good chunk of time since I submitted the manuscript. I needed to re-acclimate myself with the characters. I printed it out at Staples and started reading.
A funny thing happened. I was thoroughly NOT impressed. Which is thoroughly NOT a good feeling.
Afterward, I had a two hour Skype session with my editor, I rolled up my sleeves, and I got to work. Revising and rewriting once again, this poor story that had already taken on so many different shapes and versions.
My friends, I can tell you that last night, I emailed this newly revised version off to my editor, once again.
Big edits. Check!
The hardest work behind me. Check!
Sure, there are still line edits, and copy edits. Probably still some biggish issues to iron out. But the hard, hard work is through.
And while I’d love to say that it’s awesome and I can’t wait for you to read it, my eyes are too crossed and my heart too close to have any objectivity at all.
I’ll have to rely on my editors for that.
For now, it is time to start a new adventure, with a new setting and new characters. An entirely different, “What if …”