February 2022 Writing Update

Set-backs in writing are…frustrating. And discouraging.

I know set-backs are common for writers. Stories not working out, characters falling flat, readers not understanding something in the book, etc. There are always scenes to revise and stories to sort out. And it takes humility to see it, to say, “It’s not ready yet,” and be willing to go back to the drawing board on certain pieces.

Well, I’m back at the drawing board with The Queen of Whitman Court. Kind of. Maybe that’s an overly-dramatic description.

In my last update, I talked about how I had high hopes to pitch Whitman Court to agents and publishers first thing in 2022. Yet as I wrapped up applying my editing notes, while skimming through the story, other issues jumped out at me that I didn’t quite catch in my zoomed-in view of the story.  

Since Whitman Court started out as a single story, it is tricky to adapt it into a series of smaller books. I felt pretty confident about my vision for Book 1, The Queen of Whitman Court. I thought it introduced just enough of the world to set the tone, that the plot made sense, and, though it was a little squirrelly, that Melody’s character arc was reworked to fit a single segment of her story, saving some pieces of it for later books.

Well. I’m not so sure that confidence was warranted.

I’m uncertain if I’ve introduced enough of the characters and world. The story’s start lags. Melody herself seems to have shifted from slightly unlikeable to too perfect, in some respects, instead of the balance I was aiming for. And I’m wondering if Cadence, who basically serves as the main antagonist, goes too big too fast in this book, instead of giving her time to simmer as a manipulator from the background.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to do. I have an unfortunate habit of getting bored with my stories or just getting interested in another idea, so it’s hard for me to discern what tells the best story versus a simple weathering away of my infatuation phase. I mean, a natural part of the writing process is to start caring less about your story, in a sense. You get used to it. It doesn’t feel shiny and new. Sometimes those feelings come with a lack of fire and inspiration about your book, which can actually be super helpful in taking criticism and recognizing objective issues, in my opinion. And, because no story is ever perfect, caring less about it can help writers let go of it, to say “it’s good enough,” and move on. (Which is writing advice from one of my mentors that’s stuck with me over the years.)

However, I don’t necessarily feel like I’m there yet with Whitman Court. I still care. I still want to make it better. And I still feel like there are improvements to make, some bigger than others. Melody needs work so she doesn’t fall stale and so that important flaws in her character are present from the beginning. Some of her motivations and actions happen because they need to, not because it makes sense for her character. I need the Dogwood twins to have more page-time in the first book. Certain key dramatic moments need to happen as scenes, not mere summary. The beginning also needs to move quicker into the actual meat of the tale.

These ideas came jointly from my own reflections and ideas as I applied my editing notes and a Critique Day I participated in. I’m a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, or SCBWI, (which encompasses all children’s literature from picture book through young adult), and my region held a Critique Day in January. I workshopped the first 10 pages of The Queen of Whitman Court, and the experience was beneficial in both boosting my confidence in the story itself as well as giving me practical things to work on. Critique Day affirmed I have at least another draft to revise before I’m ready to query, though I do have a soft deadline for those revisions: April, when the SCBWI Oklahoma Regional conference happens.

The first of three pages of notes from the SCBWI Critique Day in January!

Other than wading through the setbacks, I’ve mostly let The Queen of Whitman Court sit during the month of January. I’ve worked on bits and pieces of it at the beginning of this month, but since life is busy it comes mostly in spurts. Regardless, I’ve continued to work my writing muscles every day, even if it wasn’t Whitman Court specific. At the beginning of January, I went on a little vacation to a cabin with my family, where I intended to get a lot of writing done and ended up just reading through The Silmarillion in a couple of days, which was fun. I’ve also been writing blog content for February, March, and beyond, reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and watching Netflix’s Lost in Space. I’ve even started to dabble in plot revisions to my fantasy series—both of them—through writing out potential opening scenes, brainstorming subplots, and contemplating other issues with the stories.

All the while, I feel the pressures and strain of Time, in the sense that I never feel like I have enough. Working a (very mentally draining) full-time job and trying to take myself seriously as a writer—while balancing a social life and involvement in church—is more than a little exhausting. Finding the balance between needing to push myself to work a little harder on writing and needing to rest is difficult, too. The last thing I want to be is lazy in pursuing my passion and my gifting. These stories I have—I need to write them. I need to share them. Not because I think they’re the greatest stories ever or the most original or whatever, but because there are things God has taught me and continues to teach me that I see reflected in these stories near and dear to my heart.

I hope this didn’t sound too dejected. The New Year has left me feeling like I’m just trying to catch my breath, but a lot of it has been good. Routine is nice, and I’m learning to be patient with my writing progress as I strive to take faithful steps forward. I suppose it’s all I can do: just take it little by little and trust the Lord with the time He’s given me.

Well, that’s all for 2022 writing so far. Next writing update should come in May!