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The Gift of Perspective

Last fall and earlier this year, I spent a great deal of time working on a project that for all its potential, wasn't quite coming together. What's worse is that, I was so close-in, I'd grown myopic. I couldn't mentally take the step back I needed to see it as a whole and do anything but minor tweaks, when in reality, I needed to fundamentally rethink the story's plot.

Fortunately, fate intervened, in the form of a couple of manuscripts that absolutely, positively had to be dealt with before I could return to the revisions. Now that I'm finished (until edits arrive, anyway!) I've gone back with eyes refreshed and a mind more open to what, as it turned out, were some fabulous editorial suggestions. Suggestions that might as well have been communicated in the buzzing of gnats or the trumpeting of elephants for all the sense I was getting out of them before.

This isn't the first time the gift of space (and the perspective that comes with it) has done me a great favor. I remember back in 2003, when I was struggling to sell my first contemporary romantic suspense (after writing a number of historicals.) I had a proposal that was literally going nowhere. Idiot judges failed to see its brilliance in contests. Idiot editors passed failed to recognize my genius.

Except, months later, I had one last chance to put this discarded masterpiece in front of an editor. I then pulled out the proposal, along with all the feedback I'd received -- and suddenly realized that, now that I'd gained sufficient distance to get my ego out of the way, those judges and editors hadn't been the idiots. My "baby" needed work, changes several of them (RWA contest judges in particular) had been kind enough to point out to me.

Having no time at all (my agent needed the proposal yesterday) to second-guess these revelations, I quickly put them into action, and the results, I thought, made for a much more engaging book proposal. So I shoved it into an overnight packet and sent it out that very day.

In less than a week, I had an offer, and that book, FATAL ERROR, went on to launch a line and garner a RITA nomination and a Texas Gold Award. All because I had finally gotten enough space to see my story in perspective.

Will perspective do me as big a favor this time? I have no way of knowing, but I can tell you that whether or not this project sells, I'll have done my best for these characters and this story. I'll have learned and grown as a writer, and in the end, that's what really counts.

Have you ever shelved a project that wasn't working, only to have an insight later that arrived to save the day? Or do you currently have a project that's frustrating you that might benefit from a few months' distance?

Setting aside such a project and working on something fresh to clear your writer's palette could turn out to be the best decision you ever made.


Jeanna Thornton said…
Your are *right on*... writing about perspective. After receiving my edit for Beulah Springs, instead of jumping into it, I wanted to write the prequel. Hopefully, my perspective will improve when I tackle the suggestions my edit produced...maybe in the spring.

Thanks for sharing your wisdom! You are a big inspiration to me, my friend!
Thanks, Jeanna. Here's hoping that when you get back to Beulah Springs, you'll be in a great place to absorb your editor's wisdom - or at least make good decisions about what works and what doesn't.
Joni Rodgers said…
You're so right, Colleen. It took me a few years to learn this, but yes, I've set projects aside on several occasions. The first couple times weren't by choice, so it felt like a defeat. Now I've seen a few things come off the back burner and bear fruit, which makes it easier to be patient.
I periodically return to my short stories and work on them, and you're right, the change of pace is good, AND I see things I missed before.
Unknown said…
Yes! I've come to realize this as well. I wanted to write a book for a line where my voice doesn't fit. I thought I could neuter myself and be happy with it. I mean, the book spoke to me, I wanted to write it. The characters were loud and I knew it would sell.

I got 22K in and I was miserable. It wasn't me. So, I scrapped it. I started over and what I'm working on now, it's got that magic, that extra something.

Sure, it could be ego, but I don't think so. I don't feel that same spark with everything I write. It's always feels magical to write my stories, but that spark is something else. :)

Good luck with your new project!
I can think of many projects I've returned to after setting aside that later sold. Sometimes, perhaps, we're not "ready" for an idea when it first occurs, or we're coming at it from the wrong angle. And sometimes, the market's just not ready for us. :)

Timing means everything in this business.

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