The Guinea Pig Diaries: Novel Edition
by Piper Bayard
I wrote a novel. For five and a half years, I wrote a novel. I didn’t just write it, I rewrote it, rewrote it, and rewrote it again. I ate it, slept it, drank it, and then I found some betareaders, and I rewrote it again.
Now, you would think that, during this time, I would have learned to write a novel. . . . You know. . . . Taken classes, read a few books, talked to some writers. . . . Oh, no! I mean, I was a born novelist, right? I had a technical writing degree already so why would I need to box in my creativity by learning about . . . *gasp* . . . novel structure?
I hope you’re laughing at me right now. I certainly am.
To my credit, I did hire a writing coach to help me with my query letters and my pitch before I went to the 2010 DFW Writers Conference to shop my “masterpiece,” my post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, Seeds, that would be the second coming of The Hunger Games.
That’s where I met Kristen Lamb. Always one to prefer a small group over a large one, I sought out the back patio, where I found her expounding on log lines. My first thought was, “What’s a log line?” . . . Oh, yes. I had pitched to an agent just that morning. *crosses agent off list*
To make a long story short, Kristen adopted me from the Writers Shelter to become her guinea pig. Why she chose me, all shivering and soaking wet with my matted fur pasted across my eyes . . . I’m a sheltie guinea pig–the kind with long hair . . . Well, it’s a mystery to me.
Kristen first used me to test her social media theories. She had to drag me squealing from my nutrilog at the beginning, but with much bweeping and honeytreating, she finally got me blogging. Then, she recruited me to her first online Warrior Writers Boot Camp program. I, in turn, recruited Holmes, and we began a spy novel while I still shopped around Seeds.
After a couple of lukewarm responses from agents . . . How could this be? My baby! . . . I reluctantly decided to show my work to a real editor who had helped bestselling novelists before. I hired Kristen to take a look at my first 100 pages.
When I first talked to her about the job, she said, “Oh. I know what’s wrong with it already from what you’ve said. . . .” I didn’t know how that could possibly be, but I was learning so much through WWBC that I sent it on and waited to hear how brilliant I was and how I just needed to tweak a couple of things. *cracks up laughing* . . . . Right.
To condense a five hour conversation . . . Yes, five hours. . . . I had the Cecile B. DeMille Cast of Thousands Syndrome, and I was missing a little thing commonly known as conflict. And tension? Hey. I’ve worked all my life to eliminate that. Why would I want it in my book?
I was ready to shelve Seeds and move on when I got a nibble from an editor at a publishing house who wants my full manuscript. Great! Just when I don’t have one any more. . . . So Holmes and I put our spy novel on a back burner, and I started from scratch to rewrite Seeds. (Now titled Godfire.)
The great thing about Kristen is that she didn’t just give me her Death Star blast, she backed up her WWBC program with me and started me over with my rewrite. It involved extensive character profiles and an outline that constitutes a first draft with everything but dialogue. . . .
I know all of you pantzers out there are throwing up steel walls at the mere thought of an outline. . . . I feel your pain. . . . But I was actually able to pantz to my delight and get it out of my system to find the real story in all of it.
So why am I telling you this now? I’m happy to say that, after months of adjustments, Kristen passed my draft with praise and only a few suggestions. Now, I'm close to the end of the full manuscript. All 115,000 words of it. Not only that, I no longer hide in my nutrilog when I hear words like “antagonist” and “character arc,” and my hair is clean and dry and lightly fluffed.
So the point of all this? There’s what we know, and what we think we know. What we know is always subject to change, and what we think we know only gets in the way of learning what we need to know.
I thought I knew how to write a book, and for five and a half years, it kept me from learning how to write a book. My eternal thanks to Kristen Lamb for adopting me and smacking me on the head with a rock to knock loose what I thought I knew.
You can check out Kristen Lamb at her blog, where she will teach you the things she’s taught me about writing and social media for authors. She will get even the shyest guinea pig going on a platform.
When has what you think you know kept you from learning? How have you been humbled by it? Have you ever had a mentor who genuinely changed your course in life?
All the best to all of you for finding awesome-dipped-in-glitter mentors.
Piper Bayard was once a happy and normal aspiring writer. She spent her days cleaning guns and belly dancing in between shuttling her children to and from school and crafting stories of spies and sci-fi adventure. But she felt there was more. Then, out of nowhere, White Sands beckoned with shocking visions of mushroom clouds and annihilation. Something called to Piper day and night, whispering, “The end is near.”
Piper left suburban safety and trekked through the New Mexico wilderness in search of that apocalyptic explosion. But, alas, she stood too close. Armed only with a ball cap, sunscreen, and her Maui Jim shades, Piper wandered through the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, wondering, “What the hell am I doing?”
By day, Piper followed mirages, leaving sand angels instead of footprints. By night, her nightmares returned. Mad Max and the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, until one night, the voices finally gave her the answer she sought . . . the key to the identity foreshadowed in her visions of the annihilating blast. “...and there came a Pale Writer....”
The next day townsfolk found her, tube of sunscreen in one hand and a dried rib of saguaro cactus in the other, Piper scribbling madly in the sand. “Who are you?” they asked in wonder. “And why aren’t you sunburned?”
To which Piper replied, “I am the Pale Writer of the Apocalypse.”