Is it time to quit your novel? Have you ever wondered how authors keep going with a tough book project… or, maybe you’re a writer, and you’re not sure if it’s time to quit a project? When you arrive at that pivotal moment where you wonder if it's time to give up your novel... What happens next?
That’s exactly what we’re addressing on today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly!
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TUNE IN NOW to find out what happens next when you realize your book needs way more work than you thought... and how to keep moving forward when you're stuck!
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Hello and welcome back to Indie Author Weekly! This is the podcast for indie authors, aspiring authors, and curious bookworms who want the inside scoop, tips and motivation, and the behind-the-scenes journey of writing and self-publishing books. I’m your host, Sagan Morrow (or @Saganlives on Twitter & Instagram), and I’m an anti-hustle productivity strategist and an author of polyamorous romantic comedies.
Now, have you ever wondered how authors keep going with a tough book project… or, maybe you’re a writer, and you’re not sure if it’s time to quit a project? Well, that’s exactly what we’re addressing on today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly!
But first, don’t miss an episode: You can now get all Indie Author Weekly podcast episodes plus book and writing updates delivered directly to your inbox each week at SaganMorrow.com/behindthescenes—link is in the show notes.
Now let’s get into this episode of the Indie Author Weekly podcast. Today, I want to share an update on my current romcom work in progress, Small Town Stilettos: a modern marriage of convenience. Find it on Goodreads for a blurb and sneak peek excerpts and add it to your Want to Read list!
If you’ve listened to previous episodes here on Indie Author Weekly, you may know that I have been quote-unquote “working” on Small Town Stilettos, on and off, for over a year. It’s a story that I adore, and it’s also been mired with a lot of life changes and confidence issues and all kinds of stuff.
I had an awesome breakthrough just in the last couple weeks on the novel, while I was working on it. What happened is that I was sitting down with my manuscript, sorting through ideas, and I decided to begin reading it from the beginning…
...and I realized that the first chapter wasn’t that great. It felt flat. Lacklustre.
I’ve been toying with the idea of submitting this manuscript to an agent, and the one that I was looking into, who happens to be open to queries right now, specifically requests the first chapter of an author’s manuscript. And as I was rereading the first chapter of Small Town Stilettos, I asked myself, “If I were the agent, would I want to represent this novel?”
And my answer was “Eh. Probably not.”
The first chapter wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t great. Like I said, it felt flat.
This is a point where it’s really tempting to chuck the whole book out. I have been there before. If you are a writer, I’m guessing you’ve been there, too: You’re working on a book, it’s something you’ve put a lot of time and energy into, and one day you realize… “Oh. This isn’t what I wanted it to be. Now what?”
It’s an interesting and pivotal moment. We get to make an important decision: Is this book worth continuing on, when there might still be a ton more work to do… or is it time to just let it go because I don’t want to put in the amount of effort that’s required to get it to where I want it to be?”
Oof. That is tough! It’s not a fun feeling to have.
And yet. Another part of me actually loves this moment, because it brings to light that which we hadn’t been paying attention to before, or that which we didn’t see before. If I didn’t have this moment with Small Town Stilettos, I might have been stuck with a fairly weak first chapter, by the time that publishing day comes around. Yikes. Who wants that?
Now, this experience isn’t only something that happens to authors. We all experience it in our personal or professional lives at some point or another: it’s a turning point. Do you keep going… or do you say that enough is enough?
It’s okay to say that enough is enough! It’s okay to decide you don’t want to carry on and keep moving forward with a given project—again, whether that’s writing a book, or something in your personal life or with your professional work. But unless we are willing to experience these moments and actively make the decision, we won’t be able to make the best choices for ourselves.
So, what did I do, when I had this experience with Small Town Stilettos? I’m not gonna lie—I had that moment of wondering, do I just give up on this story? And the truth is, I really didn’t want to. So I asked myself, “Alright, Sagan, what would make this first chapter really awesome? What is wrong with it—and what would make me, as the reader, want to keep reading the rest of the story?”
And my answer came pretty immediately… What was missing from the first chapter was dialogue.
Dialogue is my strong suit. With this novel, it’s the first time I’m writing a book in first person, and because of that, I assumed that the inner monologue would negate the importance of dialogue in my stories. But that’s a big nope. My main character, Margaret “Peggy” Malcolm, is pretty snarky. And something about her level of snark and my writing style makes her a much funnier and more likeable character when she’s interacting with other characters, rather than being internally snarky with her inner monologue.
This is something that was brought to my attention a draft or two ago with the manuscript, but I don’t think I realized how extremely important it was until reading the first chapter this time around.
Now, when we’ve been working on a story for a while, sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that we need to keep a particular scene the way it is. And in this instance, I found myself in a dilemma: I really liked the opening scene, with Margaret arriving alone in the small lake town, and her first impressions of the apartment. It would have been easy for me to say, “I need to scrap this entire scene,” or, conversely, “Oh well, guess the opening scene just won’t be that good.”
Instead, I asked myself, “How can I keep this concept for the opening scene, but add more punch to it? How can I add dialogue to this opening scene so that Margaret has more dimension, so that the story is funny and light and engaging right from the beginning?”
That’s when I realized I could take a later scene and combine it with this opening scene. So that’s what I did! The story now opens with Margaret arriving alone in this little lake town, while she’s on the phone with her best friend. What I love about this change is that we’re introduced to her friend right away, they’re able to have a conversation about why Margaret is in the town without her narrating everything to the reader, and you get the humour and curiosity about the story immediately.
And now? It is a great opening scene. Like, legit, great. I am so happy with how it turned out. In fact, this first chapter is now my absolute favourite first chapter I’ve ever written. I don’t know how someone could pick up this book and read that opening scene or the full first chapter, without wanting to read the rest of the story.
As a result of this pivotal moment and breakthrough, I’ve decided to work through the rest of the manuscript very systematically from here: I’m working on each chapter in order until I’m as satisfied with it as with that first chapter, and I’m working on this draft’s rewrites like that all the way through.
I have a lot of things going on with my life and business right now—as we all do, all the time, right? So, because I have other business commitments and such, I’m making a point of working on Small Town Stilettos every weekday morning right now, before I officially start the rest of my workday.
As you know, when I’m not writing novels, I’m a Productivity Strategist & Success Coach. And what I’m doing with this manuscript is to apply my productivity & success strategies to writing this book… Rather than committing myself to a full hour each morning, for example, I’m instead focusing on a particular question: “Is the story better now than when I sat down?” It might be 1 hour or 10 minutes later. If the answer is yes, then I carry on with my day.
The amount of time we spend on something does not automatically equal progress! Some mornings, I’ll have a great breakthrough and adjust a few sentences, and the story is already better. Other times, I decide to rework whole scenes, in which case it takes more time before I’m satisfied with that morning’s progress.
This particular method of writing is working great for me right now, so I’ll keep doing it as long as it keeps working.
By the way—I have some super powers at this kind of thing. My university degree is in Rhetoric, and basically that entire department is about critiquing and developing analytical skills. And, as a Productivity Strategist & Success Coach, I am very good at identifying exactly what you’re doing wrong, why you’re doing it wrong, and how we can fix it—just like I did with this first chapter of Small Town Stilettos. So if that’s something you need help with in your personal or professional life, then just send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can book your productivity strategy & success coaching session.
All right. That, my friend, is a wrap for today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly. As always, you can access the show notes for this episode, including all links and additional resources, at SaganMorrow.com/podcast.
Thank you so much for tuning in. Please take 2 minutes to rate and review Indie Author Weekly on Apple Podcasts—I really appreciate your support.
Until next week, this is Sagan Morrow, signing off the Indie Author Weekly podcast.