Down the Rabbit Hole

Hello, my dear friends. I’ve been absent from the blog for almost a month, and since June, there’s only been the chirping of crickets round these parts. Contrary to rumor, I was not abducted by aliens (always a possibility here in New Mexico), nor did I enter the witness protection program. I have, in fact, spent the last several weeks tumbling down the rabbit hole known as REWRITES and REVISIONS.

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As many of you know, I finished the first draft of my novel in March. I’ve written quite a few short stories and one novella length piece, but this is my first full length, bona fide, Holy-Dewey-Decimal-System-Batman novel.

When the first draft was done, I thought I was done. Hah! Oh, Leigh, you foolish girl. After I edited and proofed and polished until I could no longer stand the sight of it, I sent the draft out to my eight wonderful beta readers for feedback. Then I got back to writing and stalking agents on Twitter. Oh yeah, and chewing off my fingernails and wondering what my readers would think of the book. And trying to use Jedi mind tricks to discern their impressions from afar.

Sadly, in the process I learned I have no Jedi powers.

My beta readers were a-MAY-MAY-zing. They came back with many nice things to say, but also with insightful and penetrating feedback. I took it all in like a big, absorbent sponge monster, I made notes, and then, after a week of letting it all marinate in the brain, I set about rewriting and revising the novel.

Tip of the iceberg

Rewriting and revising a novel-length piece of fiction was new to me, and a fascinating process. I soon realized that the first draft was only the tip of the iceberg, and now the real work had begun. I had insights about my story in the weirdest moments, like while watching The Wil Wheaton Project, and most of all while doing housework. And when revelation descended, I would drop everything, rush to the laptop, and write.

My revisions took nearly two months to complete, with breaks interspersed to write new stories and, well, try to have a life. Thanks to my beta readers, I believe I’ve now written a much stronger book, a novel that more fully expresses my vision for this story and these characters. And even in those last sessions reworking scenes, those wily characters continued to surprise me. I’d think I knew what was going to happen, and then they’d carry me off in an entirely different (but totally right) direction.

So now I’m dipping my toe into those shark infested querying waters. I continue to read, reread, and polish the novel. Comma placement, these days, is my latest obsession.

Yep, it’s a glamorous life.

The two lessons I take away from this are 1) listen, listen, and listen some more to beta readers. I may not take all their advice, but I’m open to every bit of it; and 2) my characters know better how the story needs to be told than I do. You might have guessed I’m not that writer who outlines and plots. Sometimes I envy those guys. Me, I just go from the hip. And I’m grateful that the story knew what it was doing, because there were many times I did not.

So, yeah. That’s my last takeaway: trust the story. And now — time for a nap.

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2 thoughts on “Down the Rabbit Hole

  1. Judith Shaw

    Leigh, I loved this blog. I’m working on my first novel, still only in my head, and it was illuminating to see how you are handling revisions. I’m looking forward to reading your novel. If it’s as well-written as your blogs it will be a treat.

    Judith

    P.S. What exactly does a beta reader do?

    Reply
    1. Leigh Lauck

      Hi Judith! I am so thrilled to hear you are working on your novel. In your head is where it all starts!

      There are some great resources about beta readers online. I chose eight people who 1) love to read 2) like to read in my genre (fantasy), and 3) who I believed would give me their honest feedback in a gentle but unvarnished way. The group was comprised of friends, acquaintances and yes, family members. My family doesn’t pull any punches, LOL.

      A beta reader’s job is to read the story as any reader would and give their impressions about plot, pacing, characters, dialogue, setting, etc. I actually created a questionnaire for them after they finished the novel to help guide their feedback. I would be happy to share my questionnaire with you if you’d like.

      The beta readers helped me see places where the story could be improved. I didn’t apply every little piece of feedback I got, but when I felt something resonate within me in response to their comments, I knew they were onto something.

      It’s a fine line with readers between knowing what is or is not right for your story. Any reader’s response to a story is so subjective. I found I needed to listen and be open, but I also had to listen to my gut about which feedback was helpful for the story, according to my own vision as the author, and which was not.

      Reply

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