Creative Flame – How Trying To Write To Market Made Me Lose My Way

I think I mentioned, when I came back to blogging, that I’d taken some time off to work on a book called The Last Raven. It’s one of the most complex stories I’ve ever written so I needed to focus on it, and also on my goal of getting a traditional publishing deal.

So how’s that going? Well, it turns out that The Last Raven, in its current state, is an ‘almost’ book. I’ve had several full manuscript requests, from both agents and publishers, but nothing has actually come of it. Lots of people have liked it, think it’s an original concept, and have given me advice and feedback. I’ve taken my story apart and put it back together again. But still, nothing.

Apparently, when you get to this point, when you’re getting feedback and requests and people are interested, you’re ‘thisclose’ to getting representation or a publishing deal. Which is somewhat heartening. But close, as they say, only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. So, after yet another rejection, I felt it was time for me to revisit the manuscript and see what I could possibly do to it to take it over the line.

A recent re-read had revealed that there were some structural problems. However, these were as a direct result of my chopping and changing scenes around to try and fit the advice I’d been given in order to make the story ‘better.’ Still following that path, I continued chopping and changing things around until Wednesday night, when I stopped, utterly convinced I would never ever get to the heart of the story and I may as well give up on it. Not a great place to be.

I woke yesterday morning, still feeling discouraged. But then, when discussing the situation with some writer friends, I had the following revelation: I’d been so busy trying to make the story into what I thought other people wanted it to be, I’d forgotten what I wanted it to be.

This was profound, dear reader. It was as though a weight dropped from me (to use a cliché). As soon as the thought came into my head, I knew what I needed to do.

The dog needed a walk, so she and I headed out into the early morning, my head spinning with ideas. I knew I needed to revisit the original story as I’d first written it – yes, it was far from perfect, and there was a long saggy middle section that I’d been wise to remove. But there were some scenes in there that I’d chopped in the name of ‘pace’, which I now realised were integral to my main character’s progression. And there were some new scenes popping into my head that made my knees buckle and fleshed things out even further. I needed to go through the story, chapter by chapter, and piece it back together again. It would mean more work, but it was work on my terms, true to my creative vision. My heart full, I headed home.

The thing with this writing game is that it is incredibly competitive. There are SO MANY BOOKS out there. Which is a wonderful thing, if you love books like I do. However, when agents receive thousands of manuscripts a month yet only end up signing maybe five people over the course of a year, getting past the gatekeepers into the world of traditional publishing is a difficult quest, at best. Of course we can watch the market and write what we hope will be the next big thing, but what perhaps can be forgotten in such a pursuit (and certainly was in my case), is that writing is an expression of our creative selves, and we need to honour that creative flame and let it burn. There’s nothing wrong in writing to market – in fact, it’s a good way to make money in this business, so if you can do it I’d recommend it. However, in this instance, when I twisted and changed my story to try and fit an ideal, it lost some integral part of its soul in the process.

My original manuscript did need work – I do recognise that. And some of the chopping and changing did bring new threads and details to the surface which were necessary to the story. However, I went too far, and lost sight of what I’d started out to achieve. To use another metaphor, I was all at sea. I’d tried to make my story into something it wasn’t, or at least not what I’d intended it to be. And in doing so, I lost the creative flame that had sparked it into being. So now I’m heading out to buy a big whiteboard and a stack of sticky notes – strange tinder, I know, but I’m sure it will get the flame burning again.


Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.

33 thoughts on “Creative Flame – How Trying To Write To Market Made Me Lose My Way

  1. Wrapping you in much <3, Helen. Your post is heartwarming, for the simple reason that you came back to you, Helen, and how you create and your voice. It so matters. Editorial comments are one thing, but creation, imagination and plot, are all unique. Stay you, lovely and I feel the instinct, fresh air and furry companionship that steered you back to you. Hugs. Xx

  2. If a story can’t be written from the heart as well as the mind, you lose the heart of the story. Even though ‘you’ as the author are not supposed to be visible in fiction, it is the writer who breathes life into the story… and you can feel that in your books, Helen.

  3. Hi Helen. This post rings huge bells with me as I’ve just begun subbing to agents last week after several rewrites of my WIP, alpha and beta readers, proofing. Not enough time has passed for the rejections to flood in yet, but I’m already losing faith in the book, think it’s not good enough, not polished enough, that the idea doesn’t have a strong enough hook and no USP. Only time will tell but I’ve let myself get into a negative place about it for now.
    The fact that you had several requests for a full is testament to what a great book it is and what a great writer you are – and you really are, no false praise from me. Advice from others is great – indispensable – but it also has to be your story too, even if it’s not the story you imagined it to be at the outset! I hope so much that the rewrite goes well and that you get the agent and publishing deal that your talent so richly deserves.

    • Oh Lynn, you’re such a talented writer – I’m sure you’ll get lots of interest, and am so pleased you’re on the subbing trail. I’m sure your book is completely excellent, too.

      I’ll be doing the same once I get this rewrite done – it’s coming along pretty well so far (touch wood) though I must say I’m pretty sick of the whole thing 😀 However, I still have a lot of love for the story and now that I’ve remembered why I started writing it in the first place, am hopeful of getting to the end and producing a book I can be proud of. I wish you all the best of luck with your submissions, please do let me know how it goes (and if you ever need another beta reader my hand is up 🙂 )

      Thank you so much for your kind words about my work – it’s really nice to hear and tbh just what I needed after what has been a bit of a trying time 🙂 xx

      • I so admire your determination, Helen. You really have the grit and self belief necessary to get a publishing deal. The thought of restructuring is so daunting, isn’t it? I did the same with this WIP, then deleted a whole chapter and character I loved because I knew they weren’t necessary to the plot. It’s easy to be disheartened too – my first complete MS (I’ve written four, would you believe?) was a YA time travel novel which I really, really loved at the time. Sent it out to a few small publishers and agents and heard nothing at all so I shelved it. With this book I feel I’m closer, but is that close enough? We’ll see.
        Hope the rest of the rewrite goes well and thank you for your kind offer – do let me know if you need the same, though you seem to know exactly what you’re doing and where the story needs to go now. Hopefully, you’ll be sharing some great news on your blog in the not too distant future 🙂

      • Your first MS sounds fab, Lynn – you never know, you might revisit it one day… And thank you so much again for your kind words – it doesn’t always feel that way so it’s lovely to hear, and from a fellow writer 🙂 I hope we both get that elusive publishing deal – the important thing, and the thing I feel is so important in the journey, is that we haven’t given up. We’re still writing, still creating, still sending new ideas out into the world. Restructuring is a pain, definitely, but it’s part of the process, so I won’t give up now 🙂 Thanks so much for your offer, and for your encouragement. Here’s to us both achieving our goals! 🙂

      • Thank you Helen. I like the idea more now, from a distance, a great fondness for it being the MS that brought me back to writing. I just wonder how well executed it was. Ah, well, always onwards, as you say. And there are always more idea knocking around my noggin … BTW, I bought A Thousand Rooms – so well written, such a great idea. Do please keep going

      • Hi Lynn – sorry I missed this comment! Thank you so much for buying and reading ATR – I so appreciate it, and am glad you enjoyed it. It was the first and only time I ever did NaNo, so it kind of flew from my fingers 🙂 And I agree, there are always more ideas knocking around – that’s one of the best things about writing. Here’s to us both going onwards and upwards!

  4. Pingback: Creative Flame – How Trying To Write To Market Made Me Lose My Way ~ Helen Jones | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  5. I think we’ve all been there at some point in time. But you just have to get past it. If you’re writing in order to fit in with someone else’s idea of what a good book should be, you might just as well put your creative instincts to one side and forget the sense of rightness and fulfillment that comes with following them. If other people want a book that fits in with their personal views – and all views are, in the end, personal – let them write it. Meantime, you get on and write what you feel.

    • Thank you – that’s exactly it 🙂 And I’m definitely getting past it now – this has been a good reminder for me of the reasons why I started writing in the first place.

  6. Glad the creative juices are flowing, Helen. If you’re not enthused about your writing, it will come across to the reader anyway. And if the agents don’t like it, you can always publish it yourself. I’m never sure if the traditional publishers are so focused on ticking boxes that they ignore the real merits of a story.

    • It does feel a bit like that sometimes, Graeme 🙂 Self publishing is definitely an option if this doesn’t get picked up (and I’m so glad we have that option at our disposal) x

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