Which brings me to the point of today's post: improvement.
I once read somewhere that you should stop querying a project when you have something better to send out. While SCARRED is nowhere near the querying phase (it isn't even finished), I have a really good feeling about it.
TANGO was the first novel I wrote with the intention of actually getting it published. Sure, I'd written a few other books, but they're all in dire need of editing and revisions. My writing has grown so much since I was a teenager, and frankly, I'm kind of embarrassed by some of the things I wrote when I was younger. For a 16-year-old, sure, it wasn't bad. But at that point in my life, I'd never taken a writing course, and while my dream was (and still is) to be a published author, I wasn't writing towards that goal.
College really changed the way I write. Originally, I started college as a journalism major. I used to read the LEFT BEHIND books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, and the main character in that series was a reporter (it probably helped that his character in the movie was played by Kirk Cameron, whom I love). I saw that when I was... 10, maybe, and that's what made me want to be a journalist. And then I sat through one giant 500 person Mass Comm lecture, and wanted to die.
I realized I wanted to write for myself, not because someone told me to. I'd been writing stories and fan fiction since I was a kid, so creative writing seemed like a natural progression. I took a class on poetry (which I will forever fail at), and then two fiction workshops, and I knew I'd found exactly what I was looking for. The first short story I wrote for class was TERRIBLE. Like, really bad. Atrocious. It was supposed to be a horror piece, but everyone thought it was a parody, and the whole thing was basically a disaster. Didn't take me long to figure out I'm not much of a short story writer.
Then I heard the magic words: "You know you can submit longer pieces for critique, right?"
So I did. Everything I turned in after that (save one or two pieces) was from a novel I was working on. Being able to expand story arcs and develop characters, I think the kids in my class began to realize what sort of writer I was, and offered some really valuable suggestions that I still keep with me while I write today. I had some really great professors for my fiction workshops (long live Professor Richard Knowles), and my writer grew by leaps and bounds.
But the real source of my improvement and maturity as a writer came with my thesis this past spring. Like I said, it was the first thing I'd written in hopes of actually getting it published. Nate was incredible to work with, and his suggestions were invaluable. He instilled in me a confidence I'd never had before when it came to writing. What's more, Mika and Marie helped to hone my writing. I realized what kinds of traps I often got myself stuck in, and I learned a crapton about self-editing. TANGO was an incredible learning experience, one I wouldn't trade for the world.
But because TANGO was a learning experience, just as every story is, I've been able to take those lessons and apply them to SCARRED. I went back and edited the first three chapters yesterday, and realized there were less things to fix than there were in TANGO (though I'm sure Mika and Marie would disagree!). There's this quiet confidence that comes while I'm writing now, and the further I get in the story, the more often I find myself nodding. I'll think to myself, "This is it. This could really be a strong debut novel if you put your mind to it."
So I am. I'll keep querying TANGO until I finish this first draft of SCARRED, and then I will shelve it for my future agent to look over once my name is out there. At the rate I'm going, SCARRED will be making its rounds to agents' emails in a few months, and I have a few who've said they'd like to see some of my other work. And SCARRED is very different from TANGO. So for now I will keep my nose to the grind, appreciate all the learning that has led me to this point, and keep charging forward. One of these days, I'll be writing a post about how I got an agent, and all this querying will be worth it. I'm looking forward to it :-)
(And, speaking of improvement, look! I finally found a layout that I like! And I apologize for all the changes lately. This one should be sticking around for a loooong time. I promise.)