Clear Your Query Plate; or, The Benefits of Starting Over

Sometimes terrible metaphors help me understand things. Today, I’ll tell you why querying is like the dinner on your plate.

(Wait, what?)

Yeah, I know. Just…go with it.

When I first started working on my query for Firestarter, my first novel, the process went something like this: Write a query. Tweak the query. Add a new sentence. Tweak the query. Delete a sentence. Tweak the query. Rewrite a sentence. Tweak the query. Ad nauseum, forever and ever amen. It was ENDLESS, and I was out of my mind with the urge to torch something, because I could NOT arrive at something I was happy with no matter how much I tweaked, how much feedback I received, how many partners I exchanged crits with. I was doing the literary equivalent of pushing an unsatisfying dinner around on my plate until everything was mixed up, cold, and utterly unappealing. And no matter how many times you scrape the plate clean and slop a new helping on your plate, it’s still the same meal—same seasonings, same texture, same flavor, same everything. Yum.

One day, I decided to get over it and hit the delete button. And by that I mean I opened a clean document, because of course I save eight thousand versions of everything. (Don’t you?) I chucked the whole pot and decided to cook a brand new dinner. The same ingredients were there: character, conflict, and stakes, the essential parts of every good query. Rather than trying to reword the same phrasing into something that worked better, though, I scrapped all of my old wording and wrote a new query from the ground up. And it was a home run. New spices, new textures, new flavor combinations—the core ingredients presented in a completely different way.

Sometimes, I think starting over is the only way to gain a fresh perspective on your work. The same technique works well for scenes I’m not happy with; start over, forget the direction I’ve been taking, and look through the character’s eyes anew. Beginnings are a great place to try this; so much of a novel’s success hinges on a strong opening, and many early drafts suffer from simply picking the story up in the wrong place. Drafting it a few times without allowing yourself to reuse any material or wording can help you find your story’s true beginning.

What do you think, creatures? Do you have a good relationship with your delete key? Does the thought of starting over make you want to throw things? Talk out your deep-seated deletion issues in the comments.

 

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