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Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Dear Liana,

After I finished my first novel I decided to join a writing group. I've done my homework on the internet. I know I probably need a second person to help me edit, just in case I missed something. But they just don't get it! One of them actually told me to take a break from my novel and try writing a second one.

You understand why I can't, don't you? This is my baby! I've spent years on this novel. I think about the characters constantly. I'm not sure I could write another novel, and I know I don't want to.

But the person in my writing group said that if I take a break it'll be easier to edit. How do I politely explain the situation to them?

Trying My Best in Mississippi

Dear Trying,

That is a bit of a pickle.

You aren't the first author to face this dilemma. More than one person lost in the trenches of editing has realized that they need to step back and reevaluate their tactical position. But it sounds like you aren't ready for that. Truth be told, I cried the first time I retired a novel from hard edits. I love those characters, I did then, I do now. But things weren't clicking. I couldn't make the book work. So I put the novel on ice and went over to a pot boiler idea I hadn't looked at in almost a year.

That was an act of desperation. I knew there was no way I could make my iced manuscript work just then.

You aren't desperate, and I'm sure your writing buddy understands that. It sounds like what they are suggesting is the standard advice to young writers to take some time off to regain perspective. When you spend every day with a book and the characters in it it's ingrained in your mind. You can picture each scene with perfect vividness. That does not mean you are writing the scene you want. Taking a break from your novel will give you a chance to take off the blinders and get a new view of your own writing.

Plan to take a week away from your book, celebrating this fabulous novel you've written. Hit the library and stock up on your favorite books and that series you've been meaning to read. Grab that bubble bath that you've been wanting, and plan to take next week totally off from writing. Consider yourself on vacation from editing and let yourself enjoy all your pre-author habits. Give yourself permission to not think about your novel.

After your week of celebrating I want you to come back and, before you look at your novel, write down a list of five ideas for new novels. Write more if you have them.

I don't think I've ever heard of an agent or editor that wants to hear, "This is going to be my only novel." When a publishing house finds talent they want to milk it. When fans find an author whose writing they love, they want more. Don't sell them short.

Some authors are bombarded by book ideas and have trouble focusing on just one novel. My guess is that you're the opposite, you are so hyperfocused on editing your current project that you aren't allowing your brain to create anything new. Give the gray cells some downtime and I'll bet you a milkshake that changes.

Enjoy your vacation!

Ready to query? Deadline Dames has Part II of their Query Special running today.
Agent Janet Reid has a list of things to *not* include in your query.
Trying to find a critique group? Here's an article of what to look for in your beta-readers.


  1. Fab advice Lei. And it's all true.

    What is now known as Misty Chaos (yet to be written) has been written 3 times already, each with radically different story lines.

    Imperial Intrigue, which I'm working on now, was shelved for best part of a year. It's going through a major rehaul.

    Some wips work (overall) first draft (Termion...is hopefully one of those). Some don't. Some need experience in writing other novels before they can be returned to.

  2. It is hard to let go of a story and move on... yet, it even *harder* to see with clarity a story that we have held too close. Some distance does us *all* good.

  3. Dear sister in writing,

    I feel your pain. Sigh! I say finish your baby and make it the best you can make it! Hold your head high and think positive thoughts. Believe in yourself and perservere! ;-) Never give up and remember that it's all subjective and there are going to be many opinions, none of which you have to believe. You are a writer...and you know that just writing a novel is, in itself, a HUGE accomplishment. (hugs)