That list of learn-as-I-go mistakes begs the obvious question: Did I do anything right?
Of course I did. Give myself a virtual pat on the back.
1. I kept my original protagonist, the setting, and her problem. Sophie, Munich, and the fate of the disabled in Nazi Germany are the foundation of my story, and I haven't strayed from that.
2. I researched my setting and her problem before, during, and after my first draft. I've learned more about Nazi Germany than I ever wanted to know, but the best research I did was tactile - I went to Munich with Katie and walked where Sophie would have walked, explored and smelled and tasted until I felt her heartbeat and heard her voice. I went to the Library of Congress and wore white gloves to examine actual era photographs. I opened the crackling yellowed pages of Nazi newspapers and read first-hand reports of the parade at the end of the novel, saw the way it was portrayed to the people, and photographed columns of text to translate at home.
3. I decided to tell the story in Sophie's first-person voice. As soon as I did, she began to speak.
4. I decided the story I'd originally planned was too cumbersome, too complicated, and the fantasy elements felt forced. I ditched the fantasy and multiple story lines in favor of a straight historical fiction story. Honestly, I still like those fantasy elements but they don't belong in this story.
5. I didn’t set a time frame for finishing the book, just a time frame of writing for 10 hours per week.
6. I allowed myself many many rewrites and didn’t hang onto beloved words, scenes, or characters. But I saved the various versions of my story as it evolved, and I plan to use some of my favorite deleted characters and scenes in future stories.
7. I read a lot about writing, attended the Dietrich Theater Writers Group regularly as a reader and critiquer, went to writing SCBWI workshops and conferences, and read well-written books. As I surrounded myself with writers and works that shine, I absorbed.
8. I took in everyone’s advice. But I took to heart only the advice that resonated with me. I'm not writing this book by committee. It's mine and Sophie's.
9. I loved Sophie and committed myself to telling her story, regardless of how many rewrites it took.
10. I kept practicing, kept writing. I didn’t see changes in my writing skill week to week, but gradually, I have improved.
11. I haven’t let setbacks or (many many) rejections get me down for the long term. When I'm frustrated or stuck, I put the work aside for a couple weeks. That freshens my perspective and increases my objectivity. Then I can tackle it again.
Next up, and the last of this series - what I'll do different next time.