A Pretty Cool Day

Today we welcome soldier and writer Jessica Scott as she shares her story as a writer and soldier.

Welcome Jess!

Today has been on the calendar for a while but it’s extra special for me. See, my agent, an agent who actually like what I write and is pretty dang supportive, is getting ready to submit my book Angels Before Me to editors. It’s a big milestone for any writer but for me, its especially poignant.

See, Angels Before Me in many ways is my first book but in so many other ways, its not. I’ve been writing since 2007, since the first time I left my kids and family and went away on the Army’s orders. I started writing to keep myself busy. I read craft books and thought this is easy. Got it. But none of it really sank in. Here’s how I knew: because if you read a craft book and go yeah, I’ve got this, you don’t got this.

When I finished that first book, months after I started writing it, I reread the entire draft. Loved it. Never wanted to change a word. Deeply resisted any changes. I wasn’t ready to send it out to agents or editors but did that stop me? Nope. Probably should have gotten blacklisted for sending that sucker out but thankfully, agents know that most newbie writers don’t listen and send out that first book anyway.

I rewrote that book at least 8 times before I put it beneath the bed. Then I wrote some more. And more. By the time I’d signed with my second agent, I had 6 books beneath my bed and that doesn’t count how many times I started over and rewrote them in their entirety.

I won’t tell you that I didn’t love writing those books. But my process was not a process that if I ever hoped to sell would work. See, even up to the last book I was writing before I submitted to my agent, I ended up rewriting the entire book and still never quite got a coherent plot, characters, and story line. It was mostly there but not like it needed to be.

I landed my agent for a nonfiction proposal that unfortunately, the Army said was unethical for me to write. So my agent said, send me some ideas.

Ideas. My agent wanted ideas. Pitches. Like I was some kind of professional that would be able to write an entire book in a reasonable amount of time for him to sell. Can you sense the anxiety building? Yeah, me too. There were many nights on the phone with my critique partners and sanity checkers but eventually, I sent him ideas for a bout 8 stories. And cue panic. What if he hated all of them? He took me on for nonfiction and now we were going to try and make me a fiction writer? When my process still sucked?

Less than a week later, he called and said he loved the idea for a young adult novel I’d included. And then I really freaked out. See, I’d cheated. I’d sent him ideas for books I’d already written. I figured he would like at least one of them and I’d be okay. I could rewrite and send to him.

Do you know he picked the ONLY two books that hadn’t been written? I was so screwed. But, I liked the ideas and they were both pretty fresh so I sat down and did something entirely new.

I wrote a synopsis. I wrote it like I was writing a short story. I tried to think through what came next and eventually got through an entire story. It was 15 pages long by the time I’d revised it enough to not completely suck. Another week goes by and my agent calls. He says he doesn’t normally read a 15 page synopsis. My heart sinks. I’m screwed. He’s going to tell me this isn’t working. We’re done. Except then he says he was absolutely riveted. So get to work.

Oookay. So I got to work. I wrote and while I wrote, I kept looking back at my synopsis. The story stuck pretty close to it actually. But then my critique partners got a hold of it. Hated the main character. Plot was repetitive. Didn’t get the world building rules.

Crap. I lost my ENTIRE novel with those two critique sessions. Literally, I was staring at the comments thinking I needed to start over completely. But instead of tearing the whole thing apart, I stopped myself. I wrote another synopsis and then told my agent that, well, yeah, there needed to be whole lot of work. I made it through the second draft and was pretty happy with it. Sent it to my agent w/o other eyes on b/c both CPs were neck deep in their own revisions.

He liked it. Except for the beginning. Crap. Again. Once more, I wrote a new synopsis, then pieced the book back together. Back to my agent.

2 scenes. 2 scenes were all he wanted changed on the 4th go round. And don’t you know it took me a couple days to nail them.

So I tell you all this b/c for me, it’s a big milestone. I wrote a book that I didn’t have to completely throw away and start over on. I learned a new method and can honestly say, I would never start writing a book now without a detailed synopsis. Even though mine are long, they’re road maps for me to keep me on track, to be able to write a scene knowing the goal, the way forward. So one might say that I’m a plotter but I don’t think I am. I think I write a shorter version of the book first in the synopsis. I have no idea what’s coming next when I sit down but writing and throwing out 15 pages is so much better than throwing out three or four hundred!

So tell me fellow writers, what has been your aha moment in learning the craft of writing? What did you resist doing with all of your power, only to discover, it was the thing you needed to do in order to break through?

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7 responses to “A Pretty Cool Day

  1. Great post, Jessica. Good luck with the editors! I started out as a total pantser too, and finished a couple of books, failed to complete a few others because I got stuck. With my most recent MS, I created an outline for the first time (not 15 pages though!), starting with the major turning points and filling in brief notes on important scenes to string it all together.

    I resisted doing this for almost two years, but it’s been the best thing ever for my writing. The outline keeps me on track when I get stuck, and even though lots of the scenes are still “pantsed”, I have a destination to shoot for. I’ll probably never write without an outline again. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Hi Gwen,
    I’ve got to say the thing I’ve resisted for so long is the thing I could no do without now! Here’s hoping its paid off with all the potential editors out there!

    – Jess

  3. Thanks for blogging with us, Jessica. And good luck with your submission.

    Melinda

  4. Hi Jessica,
    First and foremost, thank you for your service to me, mine and our country. I am indebted.

    Secondly, I related incredibly to your post and like that I am not so unique in my process (and how you ‘tricked’ your agent w/your ‘ideas’). I also loved the idea of your 15-page synopsis and plan to try one of my own–just to see where it takes me–sounds like an ‘a-ha’ moment in the making!

    Best wishes for continued growth in your process and everything that goes with it!

    And thanks, Melinda, for sharing this with us!
    Joanna Aislinn
    NO MATTER WHY
    The Wild Rose Press
    http://www.joannaaislinn.com
    http://www.joannaaislinn.wordpress.com

  5. Jessica, this is an amazing story, and I wish you all the best with the book–I’ve written 40 books and for adult mysteries, I definitely have to have a detailed synopsis, I think of it as a safety net. When I wrote middle grade and teen novels, I could get by on a half a page description that my editor would take to the publisher. I’m a big supporter of the military, so I also want to say “thank you for your service!”

  6. Enjoyed the blog, Jess! I think we all have to find our way, whatever that is. A method that works for us. It’s funny how we all have those –freak–moments, whether we admit them or not. I have plenty! LOL. Best of luck with your submission!

  7. Jessica, Thank you for guest blogging with us. And thank you for your military service. Good luck with your submission.

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