Sunday, June 15, 2014

Second Book, Five Random Lessons

About five years ago now, I went to a reading by one of my favorite authors. Jasper Fforde wrote the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series. Reading his book The Big Over Easy gave me the confidence to write the kinds of novels that populated my imagination: stories of a world that is our own but different, nuttier, full of nearly impossible and completely absurd things happening every day.

At that reading, Fforde shared that it took him seven books over ten years to find his audience. I remember writing it in my notebook: "seven books, ten years." It's a terrific mantra. The specifics will vary for each of us, but the idea is the same: we must keep writing, keep putting our best work in front of readers, and nurture the small steps that add up to a writing career - and life.

I'm on book two now in my own authorial journey, and decided to share some random lessons from this phase of my story.

1. Take your time. The manuscript for You, Jane needed substantive revisions, so my editor and I agreed on a new timeline that pushed publication back but reassured us both that the final book would be that much better.

2. But then stop. You can tinker with a manuscript forever, and if you're like me, you lose perspective about what is important to revise or fix. When I sent my revisions to my editor, nearing midnight the day before they were due, I said "I don't know if it's better or worse or just different. I only know the deadline is here."

3. That's what editors are for. When we lose ourselves in the mire of revision, the editor brings crisp fresh eyes and a map to solid ground. (Or at least a nice sharp stick to poke us in the right direction.)

4. Stay away from gimmicks. I fell in love with one scene in You, Jane. I loved the way it tricked the reader into believing one thing was happening, when in fact something entirely different was going on. I thought I pulled it off beautifully. The third time my editor commented "this still doesn't make sense," I realized the only person I'd fooled was myself. I revised the scene with the intent of bringing the reader into the world of the character instead of pulling off a trick, and lo and behold, it worked.

6. And finally, remember why you love your story. Writing a novel-length work is, well, work. Painstaking and meticulous work at times. Take the time to reacquaint yourself with the heart of your story. Take your book out on a date night, just the two of you. Read it as if you're falling in love all over again. If you don't love it, who else will?

Elizabeth Fountain is the author of An Alien's Guide to World Domination and You, Jane, both from BURST Books. Read more of her thoughts on writing, friendship, music, art, life, and baseball at her blog, Point No Point.


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Good thoughts, Liz. When the book is published, it may be finished, but we aren't.

I am trying harder to pay attention to the details my editors have suggested in earlier books and not rush to publication.

Liz Fountain said...

Thanks, Julie - and me too, I'm trying to use editors' feedback to continue improving. Or at least I hope to make a different set of mistakes with each manuscript... :-)


Big Mike said...

Before I started writing, I sat down and evaluated what was it about my favorite novels I liked and what would I have changed. That list helped me many times over the past twenty stories and seven years. Wait a minute, guess that means I only have three more years till I finally find my audience (g).

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Liz Fountain said...

You never know, Big Mike - someone as good as you, it might only take nine and a half years! :-D