Disclaimer: This blog will be LONG. But it will be worth the read. I think LOL.
Five years ago I had a weird autoimmune reaction causing extreme vertigo. Yes, I was a “dizzy blond” for a good five or six months. Before I had the reaction, I was an uber volunteer at my daughter’s school, at church, and in the community. All of these activities required driving in the DC suburbs of Virginia. And they all required me to, well, stand. A “dizzy blond” should not drive in heavy traffic. And this “dizzy blond” was wiped out by about two in the afternoon.
I was officially sidelined. I had to quit all my activities and focus all my energy on accomplishing the few tasks that I could during the morning hours when the vertigo attacks didn’t hit me. Oh, those were the days. Lolling around my townhouse in my pajamas, sleeping all afternoon, having an excuse for takeout on a regular basis, maids were hired (I miss them), and I was blissfully recuperating.
Ha. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I do not accept or like enforced periods of inactivity. I am a “doer.” A “fixer.” A “busy bee.” And if I am not doing, fixing, bee-ing, I get BORED. It’s a good thing social media like Facebook was foreign to me back then, otherwise I might not have done the following thing: write a book.
Yes, one day I dusted off the first pages of a novel I started, ahem, eighteen years ago. My goals were simple. Write two hours a day, five days a week, ten pages a week (actually there were twenty pages cause I was single spacing at the time *shoulder shrug*). I finished my first novel LOVE BUILDS A CHANCE (you can stop laughing now) in five months.
I sent my novel to two trusted friends who are avid romance readers. They liked it! And they encouraged me to keep writing. And they’ve continued to do so. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude for not deriding my dream. They encouraged me to try to get it published.
I dutifully went to the Harlequin website, read about the word count requirements for the line I wanted to target, followed their instructions for writing a synopsis (what? I have to condense this!!???) and query letter. I queried the line, Silhouette Desire, and guess what? THEY REQUESTED A FULL. Yes, my very first novel, without the benefit of any support, was requested after I sent only one query.
I didn’t know about revising. I thought revising was copy editing. Ha. I was wrong. Heck, I didn’t even read through the hard copy after I printed it and sent it to the editorial offices at Harlequin. The editor sent it back to me with a very nice rejection letter which also encouraged me to keep writing and to join the ROMANCE WRITERS OF AMERICA.
I joined RWA in 2005. I read the RWR Magazine every month, I started entering contests and to this day I owe those judges a big hug for their constructive criticism. They were so kind. They didn’t write mean and nasty things on my document, nor did they tell me to take up knitting instead. They gave me craft suggestions, and book suggestions. I followed their advice.
I wasn’t writing in a vacuum, but I was still very much alone. I bought a craft book about how to write a first draft in a month. I used it to craft my next novel, ROCK ON. I queried ROCK ON, I entered contests with it. I didn’t final or win, but I did get a few amazing scores from the judges. I got a few more rejections, but I continued to write. I didn’t revise it because I still didn’t know that revision meant going into the GUTS of the story and ripping it apart (fast forward to my current novel in progress–I’ve had four plot revisions and numerous layering/polishing revisions).
Enter an amazing duo of writers whom I was fortunate to meet through my daughter’s school. I was working on my third novel at this point. They began reading my contest results for the second novel. One day they invited me to join their critique group. I was thrilled. And they encouraged me to join my local writing chapter, the Washington Romance Writers of America. I was not writing in a vacuum anymore.
Fast forward: more craft lessons, more meetings, critiques, books about craft, my first retreat, the Moonlight & Magnolias GRWA Conference, two RWA National Conferences, PRO, moving and joining three new writing chapters HEART OF DIXIE, SOUTHERN MAGIC, GEORGIA ROMANCE WRITERS OF AMERICA, workshops, more craft books, meeting other writers, adding critique partners, reading and writing, writing and reading. I enter more contests. I start finaling. I learn to pitch, to hone my query, to keep sending darts out into the world. I get more requests for partial manuscripts, full manuscripts. I get more rejections. I keep writing. Now I have a “future list” of books.
A few months ago, my CP, Sharon, encouraged me to revisit my first novels and revise them for the Golden Heart. I knew LOVE BUILDS A CHANCE would present the most challenge to revise due to copious head-hopping, and tons of bad dialogue tags and comma issues (yes, I know I still have comma issues–but I have a book about them so I hope to improve–and if you think I am bad now, the early books show a marked improvement over time).
So I crept back into ROCK ON! (I know, I know. I have “title issues.”) Oh, boy. About the only thing I can say about this story is that I should never write about a virgin who is rescuing her bad boy crush who rejected her feeble seduction attempt 10 years ago. Nor can I write a story about a woman who has nice parents and a perfect life. I can only stretch the bounds of “fiction” so far. Yes, cliches riddle this piece of work. But the bones of the story are good, the POV is in place, and I have learned a thing or two about writing.
Why? Because I no longer write in a vacuum. I have a community of writers to draw from today. Yes, I had to go back into the book on my own. I imported ROCK ON! into Scrivener, broke the book into scenes, cut the two villain scenes, cut the first three chapters of BACKSTORY, and got to the real beginning. And I got to work on digging through the GUTS of this story, the characters, and discovered that my virgin is no wall flower. In fact, she’s not a virgin (I hate to admit it, but my gals have pasts *shoulder shrug* again). She’s no pushover. And my bad boy? He’s a layered, complex guy. I love him. I know he’s the right man for her.
Okay, now we are at the crux of the blog. I decided to do something I have never done before due to extreme shyness (no, I’m not shy about people, but letting people read my stuff publicly? Criticize it anonymously? Rank it? Uh uh). But when I learned about the MILLS AND BOON NEW VOICES CONTEST, I had to enter. I waffled (read again the bit about the extreme shyness–I have my own vulnerabilities though I rarely show them). Then I thought, what the heck? Go for it. So I did.
And now I am going to do something I’ve never done before either. I’m going to share the opening paragraph of my first chapter for ROCK ON! before I revised it:
Here is the original story’s first paragraph after cutting the first three chapters:
Here are the revised first paragraphs:
I’m still a BEFORE working toward her AFTER. I will never be finished learning about this glorious obsession. ROCK ON!