I completed an initial draft of the book I started six months ago. I can argue it’s a complete story, but as I start to understand the writing process, it might be more accurate to refer to it as an outline or a shell. At 101,000 words, it’s a pretty big outline, but I suspect it won’t look anything like it does now by the final version.
I know where the major holes are and I’ve enlisted some friends to help me fill them in with either technical accuracy or stories of their own. From initial feedback, I’m learning that accuracy is an interesting topic when writing fiction. Does my book really have to be accurate at all? It’s fiction. It was clear to me while writing that stories and dialog have to be accurate enough to make sense. It was easy enough for me to google subjects as I wrote to obtain correct details. Can someone really fly half way around the world and arrive when I say they do? All I have to do is query flight schedules. Is it important to get that right? It is to the reader who knows it’s wrong.
The difficult part of writing accurately, for me, was when I included subject areas I know little about and googling isn’t so easy. For example, if I’m writing a scene in a restaurant kitchen, how important is it to reference the correct titles of Chef and Sous Chef, etc. and to use the industry language when they speak to each other? It won’t matter too much to readers who don’t work in a kitchen, but I’ll lose all credibility from readers who do. And if scenes like that are a large part of my story, that niche audience might be important. What I’ve done to mitigate these deficiencies in my story is to reach out to friends who are experts and ask for their feedback.
From reading author forwards in books, where they credit their sources, I think this is the right approach. I’ve reached out to an initial group of friends for such feedback. I’m not familiar with that process, but it’s not unlike starting a new project at work where I need to talk to people to learn what it is they do. I’ve been advised on a process where I should seek out two rounds of critique from writers, and then reach out to a third group as a reading focal group, updating drafts in between. I don’t consider myself to be breaking that convention because I think my current outreach is really part of sourcing accuracy for the initial story, which is why my first draft is really still just a shell. I could have stopped writing every time I needed help and talked to people then. I chose to complete my draft and then consult with friends afterward. Six of one, half dozen of the other.
In seeking people for collaboration, I experienced some hesitation. Nervousness over the potential embarrassment that my story is goofy or inane. I got over it with the belief that the pending feedback won’t be criticism so much as collaboration. It’s still difficult to ask to be critiqued, but if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that collaboration leads to a better product. And it’s more important to me in this project to have a better book than to be able to claim 100% authorship. Which leads to another thought.
How do authors, who clearly rely upon interviews for their entire content, feel like they deserve 100% of the royalties? Some authors are really just regurgitating other people’s stories. And I myself am hoping to obtain actual content, to a degree, from my friends. This is perhaps a question in ethics to a degree, but I’m mostly thinking of it in terms of the level of satisfaction I’ll have afterward, that it’s my story. If after three or four drafts, my genre has changed from thriller to young adult, it might be hard to still claim as my story.
Then there’s part of me where I do want to include some stories from my friends. I would find that fun. I relate experiences in this book from the past two decades of my career. Shoot, I even retell some of the same jokes. I’m actually not as creative as you might expect of a writer. Same thing with my blog, I’m not always making stuff up. And this story has plenty of space left to add additional stories. The storyline itself is of course a story, but each character is an opportunity to tell yet another story, and I’ve only fleshed out about half of them. This is why I expect future drafts to be dramatically different. Trust me, some of my friends are storytellers too.
I’m discovering what a process this is. I’ve enjoyed it so far. I hope it doesn’t take me another six months to complete the book, but it very well might. I’ll attend my first writer’s workshop in a month. I hope to have a second draft before then based on the current feedback I’ve requested from friends. If I seek an agent in that workshop, which I’m not certain I’ll be ready for, I’ll need to submit my first ten pages. Maybe I will be ready for that. Time will tell. Sharing my progress for anyone who’s interested.