Recently, agent Rachelle Gardner blogged about the break-in novel. Jody Hedlund then picked up the ball and started talking about break-in novels versus the traditional break-out novel. Rachelle very aptly pointed out that for many authors, a break-out novel can be preemptive – in this tough market, what the savvy author needs is a break-in. And what’s a break-in? Pretty much the same thing as a break-out, except a break-in novel is one that takes into consideration the current writing market. A break-in goes with current tastes, but also establishes itself as original and fresh. As quoted from her blog:
Some writers have several completed books, and wonder which one to start submitting first. It's easy: the one that has the best chance of breaking you in. The one that presents the fewest obstacles to publication. The one in which your writing shines the brightest. The one in which the genre and subject matter are closest to what seems to be selling right now.
It’s a very informative post. Jody Hedlund’s continued discussion of the topic was great to read as well.
But I’d like to add a little word of caution. When I read those posts, I got all excited. They make me think, “Yeah, she’s right. I need to break in. I need to pump this little WIP of mine up!”
I got so excited that I barely caught myself making a big, big mistake.
Yes. I said it. Listen close, I’ll say it again – MISTAKE.
For a lot of people, in the first couple drafts, your novel is still learning who it is. It’s a little child trying to swing a baseball bat, sing it’s first songs, ride a bike without training wheels. It’s not ready to bike a 10k race. It’s not ready to start up opera. It needs time to breathe and grow and fumble around on it’s own. If you don’t give it that time, and put too much weight on it’s baby literary shoulders, it’s going to loose the innocence that makes it so unique.
That’s what began happening to me. In March, I started a new novel entitled Mirrorpass. She has a great little personality. A bit quiet, very different, and maybe just the right amount of special. We’re teetering at the 30K mark. For me, that’s no great accomplishment—Mirrorpass is coming slow, and I have to admit I get impatient sometimes. Hitting the 30K mark was like reaching her first birthday. Suddenly I’d gotten somewhere. Mirrorpass wasn’t an idea anymore, she was a novel. It was the first time I’d thought of her like that.
And of course, this is when the break in/out posts appeared.
I sat reading the posts, and getting all excited, and of course I started planning – well, maybe Mirrorpass is special, but she’s too slow. I need more action. And that issue with the ending HAS to get resolved. Boy, what will I do with the middle? I wasn’t even thinking about the middle yet. What will I write? Why haven’t I plotted this out yet? Okay, that’s it, time to get out the drawing board and –
And I caught myself. I stopped right in the act of yanking the training wheels out from under my poor little first-draft novel, who hadn’t even decided what she wanted to be yet. I took a step back, and looked around. What was I doing? Who cared if I didn’t know what would happen in the middle, yet? Once I got there, I’d know, because that’s the way this story worked. Mirrorpass is not loud or shocking or impatient. She’s a quiet, daydreamy little story unfolding as natural as could be.
In an instant, I’d tried to force her. I was already acting like she was in the fifth draft, and I was trying to impress an agent with her mad skillz. The scary part was, I could feel the process crumbling. As I started picking at her faults and preparing to overhaul her, little Mirrorpass lost all her charm and sweetness, turning stale inside my head.
It was like, whoah. I never knew I did that. I never realized what happened. Freaky.
Does Mirrorpass have faults? Yes. Will I probably add more action someday and make her a little less quirky, a little more streamlined? Almost certainly. Someday, but not right now. She’s not ready. She’s not even written yet.
I tend to take the industry too seriously. I hear people talking about break-out novels and break-in novels and the importance of writing for the market and the importance of doing it all, now! And I think they mean it. I jump up and do it right now. What I should do is say, “that’s good advice, I’ll remember it when I cross that particular bridge.”
I have to make myself take a step back. I have to remind myself that there’s a timing and a place for everything. A first draft is not meant to be perfected. It is meant to be explored.
I know the process is different for some people – my good friend Chandler Craig seems to do very well keeping the professional aspects in mind, and didn’t get an agent until she got serious about being a novelist. So I am definitely not the rule. But I know there’s a large group of writers out there who obsess over the rules, the shoulds and shouldn’ts, and well…maybe we shouldn’t.
My point is that it helps to keep your perspective. Since Shatterbox, I’ve been getting better at this, but I still have to remind myself of the whole first-draft thing. A first draft can suck as much as it needs. It can take as much time as it needs. It shouldn’t be overanalyzed, tested against the market, put against a deadline, or pressured in any way. A first draft is exempt.
It’s you and the story.
Me, and my quiet little novel.
Truly and always,
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