I live in a fictional world where the main question is often "What happens next?" What are the characters doing, where are they doing it, and why are they doing it and does what they are doing matter to them and to the story?
What happens next? Sometimes I don't know. Sometimes I think I know. Sometimes I fool myself about knowing which leads to many revisions. I believe this is because I haven't sat down with my characters and discussed why they are doing what they are doing next. What drives the characters drives the story forward.
More than anything in the past year I have learned that if I play Goddess of My Manuscript, my characters rebel. This means slowing down, looking at what I've written and asking is this really what they are doing next? How do I know for sure? Well, I don't. I just have to write it out, mull it, look at it again, and play with the story until the manuscript gels.
And even then I know that someone will come along a poke holes into what I believe has been the solution all along. First it will be critique partners. Second it will be contest judges. Third it will be editors and agents. And I know I will have to write again. And again. And again.
BUT I do know one thing--I must first write the story as I see it unfold from beginning to end before I make monumental changes to it. I must first revise it at least once before I start sending it out to my critique partners. I need to discover my story before I let other people tell me what the story should be about and mess up my relationship with my characters.
Oh, I can brainstorm. I can call up a CP and tell them I have an idea about a scene in the current WIP and what do you think? They might agree or disagree, but it's called bouncing ideas off someone to see if the ideas can work. There's not point in writing something if it won't work.
I have to be in my characters' heads. I have to think with their thoughts. I have to react as they would react. And I have to do all of this on blank pages by filling them with words. Words I have written to the best of my ability.
So here are my basic rules for writing:
1. Write the first draft for YOU and the CHARACTERS. Don't let anyone TOUCH your story or CRITIQUE IT without knowing it well enough.
2. Brainstorming is a good thing. Bounce ideas off people to see if they will gel with the story regardless of where you are in the process. They'll either be affirmed or not. BUT ultimately, it is YOUR STORY so you must decide how to fix it in the end.
3. Be prepared to MAKE CHANGES after you have completed your manuscript.
4. Even when you think you're finished--even if it you are published and have an editor--be prepared to make MORE CHANGES.
5. In romances CHARACTERS TRUMP EVERYTHING. Write them well, make them jump off the page and YOU WILL GET INTEREST. And then guess what?
6. Be prepared to make changes to YOUR CHARACTERS based on editorial and agent input.
7. Stay with your story and think about it every day so you can be open to the revelations your characters send you when you are in the shower, in the bath, driving long distances, sitting through boring meetings, putting on makeup, cleaning floors. Trust me. If you stay with your story every day, you will find ideas popping into your head at odd times.
8. Judges comments are to be taken with a grain of salt. They are NOT THE FINAL WORD. They CAN BE WRONG. They CAN BE RIGHT. But ultimately, the reason you enter a contest is to get to the FINAL JUDGE--an editor or an agent. I personally have incorporated GOOD COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS into my writing, but NEVER UNTIL I GIVE IT THOUGHT AND TIME.
9. Editors and agents send revise and resubmit letters. It is up to you to decide if they are right about their suggestions. If you decide to Revise and Resubmit, YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING THEY SAY EITHER. They are giving you suggestions based on their instinct and knowledge. BUT ULTIMATELY IT IS UP TO YOUR CHARACTERS TO MOLD THE STORY.
10. Trust YOUR INSTINCTS. Trust YOURSELF. Trust YOUR CHARACTERS.
So this is what I have learned. I hope it helps. Happy Writing!