Have you ever heard of the Kubler-Ross 5 Stages of Death and Dying? Well, as an editor for many years, I’ve seen a similar phenomenon happen with first-time novelists, especially when I was called upon to stage an intervention. Not pretty. I call this process of extracting a writer from her first bad novel, The 5 stages of Edits & Crying, which looks eerily similar to what Kubler-Ross observed:
Denial–My novel is perfect. Agent ready. You just need to keep reading. You haven’t gotten to the good parts yet. Those 67 flashbacks will all make sense on page 282.
Anger–How dare you say anything is wrong with my novel? What have YOU had published??? Huh? You don’t know everything. I haven’t seen your name on the NY Times best-seller list.
Bargaining–Okay, granted, I might not need all 139 characters, but at least 111 are essential, or the ten-book series I have plotted in my head will fall apart.
Depression–Can we talk later? I kind of need to go drink some Listerine right now.
Acceptance–Do what you must *hands me the red pen*
Science has proven (okay well, not proven, but kind of suggested, and all right all of this is made up and LOOK SQUIRREL!!!).
Where was I?
Oh, yes. Science has proven that Little Darlings are highly addictive and, if left untreated, can lead to manuscript paralysis, coma or even death. This addiction is real and real books are hurting.
Little Darling addiction is a serious problem in the writing world, and is estimated to kill at least 900,000 novels a year. Most novels never make it throught the entire gestational process. Little Darlings cause horrific mutations in the manuscript. The birth defects are often so severe that the novel fails to thrive. It is always tragic having to console a writer parent during these times.
So, how does the addiction work? Glad you asked. Apparently, when a writer weaves in friends, loved ones, exes, witty pieces of banter from real life, a Little Darling often forms, much like a tumor. The Little Darling once embedded into the prose, then stimulates the Dopamine response centers in the brain, giving the writer a high not unlike chocolate, winning scratch-offs, or finding a forgotten five dollar bill in the laundry. The writer then likes this high and wants to repeat the feeling.
This is a dangerous cycle that can lead to a metastatic explosion of Little Darlings in a manuscript. The Little Darlings aggressively seek out and then take over actual healthy narrative points and, in the end, the original story is so corrupted with Little Darlings that the story develops Terminal Little Darling Syndrome and death is the most likely prognosis.
There actually are life-saving surgeries available, but it involves so much cutting, bleeding and extraction, usually most writers cannot endure the process. Also, not all
surgeons editors have the skill to help the writer remove the Little Darlings without killing the underlying healthy story.
There is generally only one alternative. Writers who are unwilling or unable to obtain WIP surgery are then forced to take the WIP off life support or place their WIP in a home near the computer Recycle Bin.
WIPs then spend their days drooling and eating Jell-O in some forgotten Word folder that the writer never visits. She can’t bear to. She feels too helpless and guilty. So, the WIP with Terminal Little Darling Syndrome spends the rest of its life playing Bingo with partially drafted short-stories and bad break-up poetry.
Little Darling addiction works rapidly and can affect more than just the WIPs. The addiction hurts the writer as well. The writer keeps inserting more and more little precious pieces of prose, OR often will just keep rereading the same pages seeking that first-time high. This behavior then paralyzes the writer and keeps him from moving foreward and finishing the work in progress.
It is a terrible addiction and the only way to fight this is to educate people. TLDS is deadly, but it CAN be prevented. This is why I blog. It’s why I’m here and today, I want you to meet a friend of mine.
A year and a half ago, I met a young promising writer, Piper Bayard. She was one of the most tragic cases I’d ever seen. She was so addicted to Little Darlings that she’d pushed away close friends and family, because they cut into time playing with her imaginary friends. It was an ugly scene and we had to dose Piper regularly with caffeine and let her stroke a shiny bookmark so the DTs didn’t kill her will to write.
She is here today to share her story and how she beat her life-threatening addiction to little Darlings. She canonized the process and created Little Darlings Anonymous for those struggling to let go of this terrible addiction.
Thank you Piper for being here….
Thank you, Kristen. I would like to start today’s meeting with the 12 Steps of LDA:
12 Steps of Little Darlings Anonymous
- We admit we were powerless over our imaginary friends, and that our Works Progress had become unmanageable.
- We came to believe that an Editor greater than ourselves could restore our prose to sanity.
- We made the decision to turn our will and our manuscripts over to our Editors, whoever we understand them to be.
- We made a searching and fearless critical inventory of all of our Little Darlings that were wholly irrelevant to our stories.
- We admitted to our Editors, to ourselves, and to our beta readers the exact nature of our self-indulgences.
- We became entirely ready to have our Editors remove all the Little Darlings from our Works In Progress.
- We humbly asked our Editors to mercilessly slaughter all of our Little Darlings when we had not the strength.
- We made a list of all persons we had subjected to our original manuscripts and became willing to make amends to all of them who had not killed themselves with sporks by page fifty.
- We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would cause them to injure themselves or others at the mere memory of our manuscripts.
- We continued to undergo edits, and, when our Editors sniff out Little Darlings, promptly submitted them for termination.
- We sought through study and daily word count to improve our conscious contact with our plots, as we understood them, seeking only the knowledge to distinguish between Little Darlings and actual elements of our stories.
- Having had a literary awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to other Little Darling Addicts, and to practice these principles in all of our written endeavors.
Hello, My name is Piper Bayard, and I’m a Little Darling Addict.
Thank you. I’d like to say I’m happy to be here today, but that wouldn’t be true, and I know that, if we aren’t honest with ourselves and others, we’ll never recover from our addictions.
The fact is, I really didn’t want to come. I made up a hundred excuses as to why I didn’t need this meeting. Why I didn’t need to share my story. Why I really didn’t need recovery at all. I was fine. Sure, I knew I had one or two Little Darlings, but I could get rid of them any time.
And then the little voice inside me. . . . You know the one. . . . That little voice that calls us on our crap and keeps us from enjoying the denial we wallowed in before we first logged on to Kristen’s blog and saw the light of Novel Structure. . . . That little voice told me that if I was fighting this meeting so hard, it was because this was where I needed to be. So I’m here.
Thank you. So this week, I want to share my Step 7 with you. I humbly asked my Editor, Kristen Lamb, to perform Radical Little Darling Surgery on my WIP and extract all of my Little Darlings. *shudder*
I was so proud of my manuscript when I first sent it away. I had colorful characters, exquisite action, and details about everything from trimming pottery to the nocturnal habits of pet mice. Every clever joke I had ever laughed about while partying with my friends was deftly woven in and disguised as meaningful dialogue. And the best part? All of my favorite people I had ever known were right there in one place. Of course, none of that had anything to do with a huntress who must befriend her worst enemy to overthrow a theocratic dictator before he exterminates her people. But it was all so sparkly and shiny.
I didn’t understand at first why Kristen took one look at it and broke out her surgical instruments. But when she placed her scalpel at the throat of one of my favorite-but-forced jokes right on page one, I jumped in front of her, falling to my knees and pleading, “No. Not that one.” I could see she was considering extracting me from the room along with my ill-timed humor, but instead, she mercifully lowered her blade and guided me through a process I now use to help others in Little Darlings Anonymous.
I worked the first six steps for months, fruitlessly attempting to justify inappropriate violence, psychotic character behavior, and excessive verbiage that rivaled the unedited version of The Count of Monte Cristo. But it was no good. The truth is the truth. One Little Darling is too many, and a thousand are never enough. I had to “Let Go, and Let Editor.”
It got bloody fast. . . . *sob*
A tissue box appears and arms embrace me.
It’s ok. . . . I’m ok, now. *deep breath*
Just as I had humbly asked, Kristen showed no mercy. She sliced and diced my cool “reminiscing over every book we own as we’re hurriedly packing them into hiding” scene. She obliterated my two whole stunning chapters on “finding the fugitive in the hidden cave.” She even vaporized my detailed recitation of Mexican border laws in a post-apocalyptic world, just because none of the action takes place at the Mexican border. Can you believe it?
But that wasn’t the most difficult part, and I know this is going to be hard for some of you to hear. . . . Believe me. It’s even harder for me to tell you. . . . She removed then biopsied 74 of my 87 main characters. Even after I named them all and gave each of their backgrounds and habits in depth!
At first, I was stunned. I thought I was ready for that 7th Step, but when she started cutting, I didn’t know if I was going to be strong enough to bear it. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I even thought about running home to my writing group that met every Saturday for fifteen years with no one ever getting published, so I could hear them tell me just one more time how one day, those 587 agents and publishers who turned me down were going to be sorry.
But then, as Little Darling parts flew around me and the scent of blood and burning flesh filled my nostrils, a strange transformation took place. Deep down in my gut, I realized something. . . . This felt goooooood!
Before I knew it, I was right there by Kristen’s side with a laser scalpel of my own, popping off monologues, sniping at adverbs, and hunting down three more of those 87 characters who’d hidden in some redundant metaphors. It wasn’t easy, and I had quite the mess to stitch up by the time we were finished, but now, I have a real plot with relevant characters in place of “tea time with my imaginary friends.”
After a lot of bleeding and pain, my story was saved. My WIP went through six months of WWBC rehabilitation to build strong narrative points and she’s now on the road to full recovery.
I’m living proof, folks. The program works when you work it.
Thank you for listening today.
Grant me the
serenity to accept that things have got to change.
The courage to
change the things I can.
And a good
Editor to help me know the difference.
Thank you, Piper!
What Little Darlings are hiding in your work? Are you ready to have them removed to save your WIP? All the best to all of you for letting go. Do you want to share your own struggles with Little Darling Addiction? Do you have friends or loved ones who need help? This is a safe place to share. Also, feel free to ask Piper any questions about her journey to recovery.
What are your thoughts? Opinions? I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of August I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.
In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.