Writer’s improvement hell – Is my book any good?

writers improvement

I had a barbecue yesterday. It was a good time, too much food, too much beer and there may have been whiskey near the end. I’m not exactly sure because the bottle’s empty. In any case, there was good conversation, some of which was related to my WIP. One of my friends, not on social media, was not aware of my writing or the progress of my WIP. It’s not surprising, I try hard to not talk too much about writing at get-togethers. Mostly because lots of people like to talk about writing, but never get anywhere with it, and that’s annoying. Plus, when I get going, I can’t stop – and that’s also annoying. Not only that, I only just started talking openly about my writing over the past year.

The friend congratulated me on the achievement of finishing a first draft, and asked a few polite questions. One of which stopped me. I made the comment that the book was pretty good, and if I can’t get it picked up by a traditional publisher, I was going to self publish*. His response was, how do you know it’s good? His tone wasn’t critical. The question wasn’t meant to be antagonistic or snarky. It was a constructive inquiry. For a minute or two I stumbled over saying how some folks have read it and say it’s pretty good, and I’ve put a lot of effort into it.

His question though went straight to the heart of my writer’s ego. I don’t think any damage was done, but I’ve been having a rather introspective go of things today. How DO I know my WIP is any good? – I don’t. It may be that I believe it to be true, but I don’t KNOW it to be true. Just because I think it’s going to be my break-out novel, doesn’t mean that it will be, or anyone will even like it for that matter.

All that being said, why do I believe it’s a good book? I’ve got a bunch of reasons, and it’s not just because I wrote it. Here are my reasons:

1.) The flow of the prose is pretty good. No, it’s not totally polished, and in spite of a few rough chapters near the end, it’s a readable work already.
2.) Each of the characters are unique, having individual goals and traits.
3.) The setting is rich and complicated, a highly desirable feature of fantasy.
4.) Each chapter will be driven by some specific goal of the MC for that chapter, which is relevant to that character’s overall goals as well as the plot of the book and the series. This ensures that the stakes, character responses, events, and action are consistent and readers never stop to wonder ‘what just happened?’
5.) I’ve spent a lot of time layering the plot so that as twists occur, they are believable and, in retrospect, inevitable. Every event has a cause and that cause must make sense in the context of the story. Again, there is still work to be done here, but I think I can identify where weaknesses exist.
6.) I’ve put thought into character arcs, plot arcs, themes, and back-story.
7.) I have spent a lot of time carefully evaluating dialogue to make sure it reads naturally and follows a believable conversation arc. I try to minimize the verbosity and keep the characters moving as much as possible during scenes of extended dialogue so that the action doesn’t hang up.
8.) The first half of the book has been read by more than 1 person, and I’ve gotten some good feedback – and I’m talking about stuff larger than canned things like: “show don’t tell”.
9.) Pacing – I’ve spent a lot of time making sure that the style of the prose agrees with the action.
10.) I’ve listened and responded to all of the feedback I’ve gotten. It’s not necessarily the case that a suggestion on your work should be adopted, but should be considered and the issue addressed by the suggestion resolved.

In short, I believe the book is good, well will be good – still needs work, because I’ve put in the effort to make it so. The story I’m telling may not appeal to many folks, hell might not appeal to anyone, but it will posses all of the elements necessary to tell an entertaining story with compelling characters, plot, have depth, and will not be predictable. Writing, like any craft, is improved with time, patience and a willingness to learn better technique. I’m doing all of these things, and not allowing myself to become too hung up on what I want to say in my book vs. what I need to say to tell a good story.

* I have this whole plan about shopping around book one while working on book two. Once book two is more or less drafted and ready for review and final revisions, and I haven’t sold book one, I’ll put book two on the shelf and self-publish the first one. This way, they’ll be about a year apart or so.

photo credit: Writer’s Digest Book Shipment via photopin (license)