Playing it Safe
By Katherine Reay
Working on my third manuscript seems to be an exercise in conquering fear. Someone told me that my second would be the most difficult, but now that it’s behind me – and it will be to you in October – this third one has me in knots. Now it maybe because the process is so different – I have definitely not “hit a groove.” Dear Mr. Knightley or Lizzy & Jane evolved in a more linear fashion along lines of steady growth and word count. In fact, I made the mistake the other day of looking at the Lizzy & Jane’s manuscript during this week last year and found it 30,000 words! I’m not saying they were worthy words, but we all know the tempting satisfaction of the numbers game. That said, I would like to reassure my publisher if she’s reading this, that the words are more worthy and valuable this time around, even if they are fewer.
This experience has sent me back to my craft books – not that I’m ever far from them. I own lots of these books and find them immensely valuable. Sure we all know that each scene needs to have a purpose; each character a motivation; each conversation tension and each journey an arc. But when writing, it’s easy to forget those things. And it’s certainly easy to forget the beautiful alchemy that melds them together into a moving and transforming story. And, to make matters worse, if you’ve written a manuscript or two, you can become comfortable and rest in what you know or those aspects of writing with which you excel.
Don’t do it! Push yourself. If you’re great at internalization, push scene. If you adore dialogue, push action. If you create worlds beyond imagining, push character arc. Make yourself uncomfortable – down right fidgety. I know that sounds strange and possibly counterintuitive if you’re seeking publication, but I’m learning that it’s in this place – on the edge of your seat or a hiccup away from a sob – that the good writing lies. And I’m not telling you something I’m not attempting myself….
In this manuscript – titled in my head as Victoria(n), but that’s probably a horrid name and will change soon – there were three scenes that I wanted to occur “off stage.” And I was quite logical justifying those choices.
“I don’t waaannnnttttt toooooo.” – Yes, I actually whine to myself often.
But in the end, I must live and write and take the reader into each of these painful scenes. And they may be the most important in the novel by the sheer fact they are the three scenes that I DON’T WANT TO WRITE!
So join me on the edge and push your writing. Take us to place you are uncomfortable to go. Let characters fail miserably so they can reach new heights and let your worlds be so vivid and lush that we can touch the dew and feel the sun warming our faces. Have fun with it!
And, let me know what you think… Let me know if you felt any of it in Dear Mr. Knightley or when Lizzy & Jane comes out in October, tell me if I played it safe. So come find me at www.katherinereay.com, on Twitter @katherine_reay or on Facebook at /Katherinereaybooks. I sincerely want to know…
And when Victoria(n) reaches your hands, let me know if you can find my 3 scenes.
If you can’t, I played it too safe.
Katherine Reay loves Jane Austen and her contemporaries – all books really. After a few years working in marketing and a few moves, including stops in England and Ireland, Katherine and her family now reside in Chicago, IL, where she is presently writing, training for her next marathon and trying to clean the house. Her first novel, Dear Mr. Knightley is available and her next, Lizzy & Jane, will release October 28th.