critique groups

The Official Un-obligatory Project Update

2017 project title plate: Namesake

I finally finished my experimental manuscript. I’ve battled this beast for over a year, and my brain wanted it done a long time ago, so the last stretch took a lot out of me. I typed “The End” on April 4, exported the text to Word, and closed the Scrivener project file.

And I haven’t opened it again.

Gleefully.

I’ve learned enough of my writing patterns to expect a creative depression to hit me after I finish a draft. The focus required in that end-game sequence of tying all my plot elements together really jacks up my everyday life. I forget how to live outside of my craft, and when the project closes and I have to come back into the real world, I experience a loss of purpose and become despondent for a spell.

Not so this time around.

The Boondoggle Project

When I started into Namesake, I didn’t think much of it. I had jotted the idea down almost a decade ago. I even sketched out some scenes, gave some characters names, and outlined a couple of major events. But I did it almost flippantly. The concept seemed too predictable and the conflicts too trite, so I hadn’t considered further development a good use of my time.

I can’t remember why I picked it up again. I think the throes of real-life drama made me want something brain-candy-ish to experiment with. It was an escape. I changed the POV from 3rd Limited Omniscient to 1st Lyric Present and made my protagonist a sarcastic little punk. I wasn’t going to do anything with it, so why shouldn’t I play?

The plot merited a novella, a quick there-and-back-again adventure where my bitter protag could get some perspective knocked into her. For kicks, and because I wasn’t working on anything serious, I brought it to my critique group.

And that’s where I ran into trouble.

The Questionable Joys of Critique

Critique groups are awesome. They make you accountable for your work and help you refine your craft. And sometimes—sometimes—when you phone in a brain-candy draft, they demand that you get your act together and develop it properly.

I didn’t want to. Rachel and Jill insisted. When I told them last summer that I was five chapters away from the end, they looked at each other in alarm and said, “No you’re not.”

I balked. They lectured. I revised characters and scenes and villains and plot points and lived in dread of that weekly meeting.

(Sometimes accountability really bites, y’know?)

But the process refined me. I had to take my craft seriously instead of flouncing through self-indulgent mediocrity.

And the end-result? This story is wayyyyy better than I ever expected it to be. Color me pleasantly surprised.

 The Moral

My grandfather used to say, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right,” but in the literary world, “right” can be subjective. The road from Mediocre to Fantabulous requires slogging through a lot of hard work. It definitely helps to have course checks along the way.

(And yes, “Mediocre” and “Fantabulous” are both subjective as well.)

Further Reading

Curious about Namesake? I’ve posted a couple of excerpts over on my critique group’s site, Novel Three:

From Chapter 1, here.

From Chapter 6, here.

Look for the book sometime this summer. If I get my act together, I should announce more specific dates soon.