I first encountered Cherry Adair at Chicago-North RWA’s 2010 Spring Fling Writers’ Conference. She presented a workshop called “Layering and Texturing Your Novel.” I’d only written 20 pages that were worth keeping, but I went anyway. So many people had raved about her workshop when she presented it at RWA Nationals that I couldn’t miss it!
Her layering workshop really is that good, so I suggest running to get a copy of her presentation from the Nationals 2008 conference recordings. Cherry Adair revolutionized my thinking that day, and it had nothing to do with the wonderful advice from her workshop.
She issued us a challenge: vow to Finish The Damn Book within a year (starting from scratch on a brand new book), polish it until it shone, and submit it to agents and/or editors. If you succeeded, you would have the chance to win an awesome prize from Cherry Adair.
There’s a reason RWA named Cherry Adair the 2011 PRO Mentor of the Year. She knows that the only way to succeed as a writer is to finish the damn book.
I’d been struggling with my manuscript (called Awakening back then) since January 2007. As a newbie writer I was plagued with self-doubts. I felt compelled to take every possible online writing course I could, and I bought and read many craft books. I plotted endlessly, wrote a good synopsis, knew my characters and story arc, but could not figure out how to get from scene A to scene B. (For the curious, I found the answer during NaNoWriMo 2012—ask yourself what the character would do next in response to what just occurred. Please don’t tell me how obvious this is. Trust me, I know.)
Before meeting Cherry, I’d had no idea it was possible to finish a manuscript in a year, not to mention polish and submit it! For the first time, the possibility of finishing my book shimmered before my dazzled eyes like a star waiting to be caught. It was only a year. That was doable, right?
I created a Finish the Book Challenge yahoogroup for conference attendees who wanted to participate. Because we were independent, we allowed people to work on existing manuscripts they wanted to finish. My goal was to finish Awakening, then work on a new book that would meet the conditions for Cherry’s challenge. By the end of the year we had several people who met Cherry’s challenge, and at least one went on to be published. I don’t remember how far I got. I lost my father that year and my mom lived half the country away. The year passed in an emotional blur.
I attended the Evanston Writers Workshop, featuring Cherry Adair. I attended every single one of her workshops, including her special plotting sessions. I didn’t sign up for her challenge this time, but that goal she held out to all of us of finishing the damn book within a year still drew me. I met with her in a one-on-one session to show her the plotting board I’d put together using her methods.
She’d been teaching practically non-stop morning, afternoon and night for two days, yet she still made time to meet with anyone who wanted input on their story. She gave me great feedback, but I’ll never forget when she told me, “I love your story but it’s so complex it makes my head hurt!”
That year I made it to chapter 8 (most of it during NaNoWriMo) before getting stuck. Then all the online workshops and years of study suddenly bore fruit. I realized pretty quickly that I had resolved all of the conflicts, leaving myself nowhere to go. I worked backwards and made notes of the changes I needed to make, and adjusted my outline. Despite this, I was still stuck.
Conflict and Suspense by James Scott Bell came out. I read that book and counted all the plots and subplots that appeared in my first chapter. I needed both hands and all my fingers. Cherry was right—my story was too complex! I winnowed out the extraneous conflicts and generated plots for three more books. This helped, but I still had nowhere to go after chapter 8. Then it hit me. The hero, heroine and villain had no reason to interact. They could have happily ignored each other for the entire book. Bingo! I added a curse.
I was on the planning committee for Chicago-North RWA’s 2012 Spring Fling Writers’ Conference. When the conference rolled around in April, I was sick that I’d only written 10K and had nothing to pitch to our fantastic lineup of agents and editors. So I signed up to attend the Emerald City Writers’ Conference in October, and vowed that I would have a finished book.
By mid-October I had only written 25K. I wrote like mad every day from that point forward, reporting my word count to GIAM’s 100×100 and Tour de Force online writing groups, as well as my own local critique group, the Aphrodite Writers. I saw Cherry Adair at the Emerald City conference and signed up for her Finish the Book challenge once again, for book 2.
Seeing her inspired me even further. I was determined to complete her challenge. But first I had to finish book 1.
I completed my manuscript (final word count: 114K) in November and won NaNoWriMo by writing 50+K in one month.
I spent December polishing my manuscript and entered the Golden Heart. My manuscript, now titled Demon’s Bane and pared to 100K, finaled in the 2013 Golden Heart contest, won the 2013 Emily contest, and finaled in two other RWA chapter contests. I also achieved Pro status within RWA.
All the goals I had set for myself back in January 2012 that had looked so far away in April, I accomplished in the last 3 months of the year.
I ran into Cherry Adair at RWA Nationals last week and had to tell her just how much her challenge has meant to me. She hugged me and introduced me around and helped me celebrate an accomplishment that is not easy. I felt that things had come full circle. I’d been at Nationals in 2008 (although I was too new to go to her layering workshop), and five years later here I was at my second National conference, a GH finalist, and meeting the woman who had inspired me to finish the damn book.
Although it took me years of repeated attempts, Cherry’s challenge gave me a concrete deadline to push toward. I’m submitting Demon’s Bane to agents and editors, but I’ve already plotted and begun writing book 2, Truth Seeker. I am determined that I will finish, polish and submit Truth Seeker before the challenge deadline is up in October. This time I will succeed!
Last, while goals are important, so is support. In March 2011 I joined a small writer/critique group called Aphrodite Writers. Where Cherry gave me the goal of finishing the book in a timely manner, they provided the encouragement and straight talk I needed to fight my self doubts. I have many other friends from Chicago-North, Windy City and the GIAM loops who believed in me and encouraged me too, and there were many who helped me through the dark periods when I lost my dad. So even though I didn’t win the Golden Heart, having all of them as friends makes me a winner where it counts. 🙂
Who has inspired you, or what was your journey with that first book?