The Still Small Voice of Doom: feeling flaky about your MS

I finished my MS the other day. I tend to edit as I go, so it was fairly clean. Everything had gone as per the synopsis. And I’d finished early. Yay! (I have four deadlines this year, I need to get on).

I told Mr KJC I’d reached The End. He said, “So have you sent it to the editor?” I said, No, I’ll send it to beta readers first. He said, “Well, have you sent it to them?” I said, Not yet. I’ll do that now.

I sent it to my beta readers. I twitched. I fretted.

Mr KJC said, “Why are you fretting?” I said, I’m not fretting.

Mr KJC said, “Why don’t just you send it to the editor, whose job it is to read your MS?” I said, I want to do some pre flight checks. Make sure the timeline’s okay. See if the readers spot anything.

Mr KJC said, “I’m pretty sure editors do that. I’ve been married to an editor for a decade, I know this.” I said, Yes, well, it’s my first book with a new publisher. I’m just being tidy.

Mr KJC said, “Are you wanting to make sure Teacher doesn’t tell you off?” I suggested he might shut up.

Then one of my beta readers texted me and said she liked it but wasn’t sure how the ending fitted the story. And I nodded and went about my business doing other things, and three days after that, I sat at my desk and said aloud, “Of course it doesn’t bloody work.”

It didn’t work. It didn’t work (since you ask) because it was making a big dramatic number out of an insufficiently significant plot strand, because it didn’t weave in the other main plot strands, because it ignored the Big Massive Existing Threat that touches on the entire cast of the whole trilogy in favour of a small localised threat that actually the heroes had already confronted successfully. It was, structurally, crap.

And I knew it.

That’s why I was finding all kinds of reasons not to do what you do with a finished MS, i.e. send it to the editor. Because it wasn’t finished, and I knew it wasn’t finished, but I had typed The End and I wanted it to be finished, and so I was ignoring the Voice.

You know the Voice. The one in your head quietly going, um, not really sure that’s…hey, aren’t you just jamming that in…what about that abandoned strand…are you sure that fits there? The one that niggles at that one little line every time you pass over it: are you just going to let this sit here? The one that is soft and mild and persistent and will not go away.

I’m not talking about the grating voice that says You can’t write books, who do you think you are? and Why aren’t you doing something better and more important, you loser? I mean the persistent little niggling wobbly-loose-tooth Voice that you don’t even really notice, except that you keep telling yourself, Sure the ending’s fine and Yeah, I can retcon it, build it up in editing and Well, it’s just a different sort of plot structure, that’s all, and That’s just a detail, tidy it up later.

The Voice talked to me a lot during the doomed first version of Magpie 3 where I ended up dumping 30K words. Hello, old friend, we meet again.

Thing is, though, the Voice knows its business. The ending was wrong, sure. But when I went over the MS and picked up the other little tiny points that the Voice had been niggling and nibbling and chewing at all along, they slotted together like jigsaw pieces to form a picture of a better ending. One that ties in the key themes to become proportionate and relevant, and which will do a hell of a lot more towards the two linked books. It’s pretty obvious this should have been the ending all along (duh), and the Voice was itching at me to see that, but I had an apparently perfectly good synopsis and a deadline, so I ignored it. More fool me.

One day I will listen to the Voice while I’m writing, rather than before I reach the end of the draft. One day. Meanwhile, the following:

  • If you’re feeling niggled at while you write, find a trusty beta reader to read the incomplete MS. That will help keep you on track and it’s always useful to have people’s thoughts on where the story is going.
  • Small pointless details that niggle at you are probably not small and pointless after all. Listen to your subconscious.
  • We all feel that this is the worst MS ever at some point. Ignore that feeling. But if you keep on thinking about/circling round/justifying something to yourself, especially if it’s specific rather than general self-doubt, you might as well face up to it now.
  • If you’re actively finding reasons not to send a finished MS off, it’s time to go hunting for the bits that made the voice say, Ummm…
  • Editors can fix this stuff. If you have an in-house editor, ask for help. If not, and you can stump up for a development editor, that’s what we do. Even if we’re not, apparently, fantastic at doing it for ourselves.

________________________________

KJ Charles is rewriting. Jackdaw is out on 17 February.

If you stop running, you fall.jackdaw small

Jonah Pastern is a magician, a liar, a windwalker, a professional thief…and for six months, he was the love of police constable Ben Spenser’s life. Until his betrayal left Ben jailed, ruined, alone, and looking for revenge.

Ben is determined to make Jonah pay. But he can’t seem to forget what they once shared, and Jonah refuses to let him. Soon Ben is entangled in Jonah’s chaotic existence all over again, and they’re running together—from the police, the justiciary, and some dangerous people with a lethal grudge against them.

Threatened on all sides by betrayals, secrets, and the laws of the land, can they find a way to live and love before the past catches up with them?

This story is set in the world of the Charm of Magpies series.

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12 thoughts on “The Still Small Voice of Doom: feeling flaky about your MS

  1. Currently on my last editing round and the “you’re a terrible writer” voice is at me. Not loving that aspect of the process.

    Reply
  2. I’ve got 20 plus unfinished MSs because my loud grating “pack it in you pillock, nobody wants to read that crap” voice is so loud that the wobbly tooth one can’t get a word in edgewise. I think I need to trade in my muse for one with a megaphone.

    Reply
  3. Ye gods, yes. And the worst is, the voice mumbles, so you get a feeling something’s wrong with X, but it stays too nebulous to fix. So you fiddle with it until the voice goes ‘Yeeeah, oookay’, even though it still doesn’t quite work. Been there, done that, have several t-shirts.

    Reply
  4. Yes! That Voice has been annoying me lately for a couple of days now while I was writing. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, but then I knew there was defiantly something that my subconscious wasn’t satisfied with.
    Today I finally figured it out. The beginning wasn’t just working at all, and I ignored that because I knew that once I pay attention to that and rewrite it, I will have to change tons of stuff afterwards. But now I realise that, it is better to focus on it and do something about it now. Otherwise, I won’t be able to write at all.

    Reply
  5. I knew I’d found the right agent when she went through and highlighted all the soft spots in my manuscript, all the bits The Voice knew weren’t quite right but I’d been ignoring. And yeah, if you figure out how to listen to The Voice before you type The End, let the rest of us know, okay?

    Reply

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