Friday, October 30, 2009

Last Try Draft by Christy LaShea Smith

In 2006, I’d mustered up enough courage to join a writer’s group and actually do something about this dream I had of writing as a profession.
By 2007, I’d become brave. By brave, I mean I decided it was time to turn this masterpiece I’d been working on, out to the masses. I prepared myself that everyone may think I was great. I would handle the fame as a professional, I told myself. I’d be humble and gracious.
But I’d enjoy every minute of it…
I entered several contests that year. One was the Genesis. Here’s a piece of what I entered.

The ‘69 Camaro roared as Seth Garrett stomped the gas. Tires squealing, he rounded Black Mountain’s sharpest curve, his father’s red bombshell holding her own. He chuckled, wondering what his father would say when he realized she was missing.
Seth hoped he would laugh. After all, they had a lot to celebrate and one last ride in the car his dad had spent nearly a decade restoring was better than a thousand champagne bottles popping in his honor.
Veering out of another curve, he settled back against the bucket seat and accelerated. The V8 engine roared in pleasure, a sound that was proof his father knew what he was doing when he rebuilt this lovely lady, just as he’d known what he was doing all those long hours after football practice when he made Seth run another play until it was perfect. Now all their hard work would make Seth famous.
Are you as bored as I am?

Some of the judges read the whole 30 pages (God Bless them, because after reading the full submission, I wondered why I let that version of the manuscript out into the masses and why in the world I thought it was so good.) The Judges commented as follows:

“No conflict set up.”
“Am I reading my manuscript aloud?”
“Read Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys. Work on Guy speak.”
“Study Scene & Sequel”
“Read these books at least once a year: Goal, Motivation, & Conflict by Debra Dixon & WriteTight: How to Keep Your Prose Sharp, Focused and Concise by William Brohaugh

My scores weren’t horrible, but they didn’t place me in the final round. The feedback I received from other contests was generally the same. I realized I had more work to do on this manuscript to make it enjoyable. The original contest submission I’ve shared above took place thirteen years before my story began when my hero was involved in a major car accident that ended his dream of playing football for the NFL. That’s nice and fine, but it’s BACKSTORY.
It’s boring.
I realized why I was getting sleepy reading the full 30 pages. I wasn’t entertaining myself!!! Why did I think some strange judge would be enthralled?

If someone wanted to read about a guy driving a car, any of us could rifle through our husband’s magazines and find something more appealing than my entry. While Seth may be an interesting character, he comes off arrogant and we just don’t care. He hasn’t captured the reader’s heart.

Plus, this information doesn’t need to be shared at this time. Riding in a car, unless you have two characters together and they’ve got great dialogue going on, is boring. Backstory truly doesn’t need to be shared until well after page 30 or page 50, unless you are famous or a polished writer and can pull it off flawlessly where the backstory is too exciting to avoid.

After I had put the scores aside, calmed down a bit, and realized the judges hadn’t grown two heads, I realized maybe my writing was the problem. I took the judges advice. To this day, I will never part with Deb Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict. Ms. Dixon’s examples opened my eyes to a whole new world of writing and I have never been able to watch a movie or read a book the same way since.

I began to learn about scene and sequel. I’m still studying on this aspect of it. Do we ever stop learning? I hope not.

There are two ways to catch errors or weird words and that is to read your work aloud and print out the manuscript. While I don’t print out my work before sending it to my critique partners, I definitely print out my work to read like a book before I enter it into a contest or mail it to satisfy a request. Words look different on paper than they do on the computer. Reading the work aloud enables me to hear the dialogue and listen to the flow. I want a steady stream, a raging river. I don’t want to be tripping down a mountain and fall flat on my face.

I didn’t submit my manuscripts to any contests in 2008. I worked. I reworked. I revised again. Finally, the summer of 2008 I realized the nugget that had been missing from my story. It was the root conflict. It was the fuel my characters needed to keep moving through the story, toward a goal.

My heroine went from being a single artist to a single mom. A single mom with a past. A single mom with a past and a sick child.

Enter my hero, who went from a selfish ex-football star, to a high school football coach who felt responsible for the death of one of his players. And of course the accident in the ’69 Camaro altered the way he viewed his life.

I revamped my beginning and it carried me through to the rest of the book. The goals of my Hero/Heroine changed completely, as did their motivation. And what do you know? I had developed a conflict that didn’t exist in the first version. About 10 revisions later, I had a workable story – which I labeled as LAST TRY DRAFT. Because that was what it truly was. I told myself this was IT. This attempt would be my LAST TRY. If it didn’t work this time, then I was stuffing the story in the drawer.
I pasted the first 15 pages of my Last Try Draft into a document and emailed it to the Genesis category coordinator. My goal was to get better scores. I knew I wouldn’t final or win, but I hoped that what I’d changed had put me in the right direction.

Here are the first few paragraphs from my 2009 Genesis entry…

Chapter One

Please Lord, not today. Aimee Murphy turned the ignition a second time. Click. Click. Click. “What’s wrong, Momma?” Six-year-old Luke hopped up between the driver and passenger seats, his own investigation underway. “Why are we stopped in the middle of the road? I thought we were in a hurry.” Steam burped from the hood, not a good sign. Aimee smacked the steering wheel with the heel of her hand. This makes three times in the last month her Jeep Wagoneer had stalled out. At least the other times she’d been alone, either on the way to work or home. Why now, with her son in the car? A horn blared. The rearview mirror reflected at least a hundred irate drivers stuck behind her on the bridge. “Luke,” she said through gritted teeth. “Please sit down. Fasten your seat belt.” He flung himself into the back seat, his blue eyes dancing as if they were embarking on a new adventure. Aimee couldn’t help but chuckle at him. After the last few months she and Luke had spent in and out of the hospital, it was so good to see his energy back and him acting like a normal six year old. Days like this offered her hope that Luke would beat his illness.

I hope you noticed I dumped my boring backstory prologue and dumped you right in the middle of the action, of my Heroine’s crisis. I also let you know something wasn’t 100% with mom and son and they’ve already been dealing with the child’s sickness. I hope you’re wondering what the illness is and how does my Hero come into play…

Weeks later, I got a call. Something about my Last Try Draft had clicked.
I’d finaled in the Genesis!!!
Dear Lord, Please don’t let this be a mistake!

And months later, the contest that had given me mediocre scores in 2007 put me in the top of my category in September of 2009.
I still worry someone’s going to call me and tell me they made an error and I didn’t really win. That I need to send back my beautiful winning plaque! ( I’m thinking I’ll just pretend not to be at home that day ;)

Until you and I can set sail off of unpublished island, we must submit our manuscript to contests, and be willing to endure the feedback which can sometimes be a bitter pill to swallow. I remember when I read through the feedback for the first time, I was confused, maybe a little angry. Obviously, the judge just didn’t get it.

However, once my emotions settled, I realized the feedback was constructive and pointed out my strong points. That nice balance of bad with good helped me to move forward. I remember sitting the manuscript aside for a while and tried to work on a new piece, but I knew this story had to be completed.

My advice to you: Don’t get mad. Get busy. Keep writing. One by one, we will wave to our friends as they set sail off unpublished island.

And one day, I pray, they’ll be waving at you and me.

Christy LaShea Smith writes contemporary and historical romance. Though unpublished, her dream is pursuing her passion for writing to enthrall and entertain others while celebrating the Word of God. In 2009, Christy won the Genesis Competition in the Contemporary Romance Category and was given Honorable Mention in the Inspirational category for the Maggie Award of Excellence. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and serves as treasurer for her local chapter. She is also a member of Romance Writers of America and Georgia Romance Writers. She lives in Georgia with her husband, daughter and is expecting her second child in January.


  1. Hi Christy:

    Absolutely wonderful! I’d buy your book in a heartbeat. Let’s hope we get the chance. Thanks for your post.


  2. Christy, Congratulations with the Genesis contest!

    Feedback comes in all shapes and sizes, doesn't it? I'm especially grateful when it's conveyed in an uplifting manner. I think the most difficult negative feedback I receive is when someone doesn't like the storyline. Then I have to ask the Lord, 'How can I convey my message better?' Thank you for reminding us that above all, feedback is an area to grow in humility. :)

    Great to have you posting at Seekerville!

  3. Christy,

    Thanks for sharing your writing journey with us. You put in a lot of work to win the Genesis!


  4. I am often amazed at how I read my own work and think it's good and then months, years later, I'm still finding ways to improve the same chapters Thank God for the learning curve!

    And . . .ahem, I guess it wasn't so great to begin with.
    Not sure that's a bad thing because if we thought our work stunk from day one, we wouldn't keep working at it.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I can tell you that the awards ceremony at ACFW was quite something to watch. All that nervous anticipation in the air, and cheering for the finalists and winners--very exciting. So just treasure that plaque, Christy, because in God's timing that was your night to shine and be blessed!

  5. I saw you at ACFW and thought you looked so beautiful! A young was just really cool to see you win the award.
    You're right. That opening paragraph is way stronger and very, very interesting. Thank you for sharing it!
    I love your term Last Try Draft. I do that too, don't call them that, but get to the place where I think, this is it. I'm done. LOL

    Wishing you the best with your manuscript!

  6. Loved your encouraging post, Christy! :) Thanks for sharing your writing journey.

  7. Good morning, Christy and welcome to Seekerville, as our guest today.

    Tell us what's going on with that book right now.

  8. Congrats on the win, Christy! It was exciting to be there when you received it! You're a wonderful example of watering those camels, of not giving up.

  9. Christy,
    What a wonderful post!

    Congrats on the Genesis & congrats on the new addition to your family.

    Your post was incredibly encouraging and oh so true.

    Kind of like Ruthy, I like the rewrite part of writing because, for me, the story comes to life in a whole new way and I realize all the 'extras' I didn't add to my characters in the first draft. Like you were saying, the 'single artist' becomes a 'single mom' with a sick kid. Immediately more complex.

    I have got to get Debra's GMC book. Everybody around here has been talking about it.

    Has anyone brought breakfast? I have some blueberry pancakes with whipped cream.


  10. YEAH, CHRISTY!!! And SUPER CONGRATS on your BOTY win!! Gosh, I just LOVE inspiring success stories, especially on a soggy Friday in St. Louis where it's been raining ALL WEEK!!

    Your story sure helps to catapult me into the weekend with hope and motivation -- Thank you!!

    By the way, I loved the opening to your Genesis entry, and I wish you every success with it. Gotta a sneaking suspicion you're not long for Unpubbed Island, girl, from the looks (and sound) of it.

    Happy weekend all!


  11. Christy,

    Congrats on the contest win and persistance on your WIP, which sounds like a very interesting read.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us.


    PS I brought expresso so we could jump start the day and get to the weekend faster. ; )

  12. Morning Christy, Welcome to Seekerville and thanks for sharing your exciting journey with us. The Seekers all came together because of contests so it is fun to hear more contest "backstory".

    Loved your new beginning, but have to admit I liked the first one too. Maybe not as a start, but sure am intrigued with the character. smile

    Thanks Pepper for the blueberry pancakes. Yum and Rose the expresso is a life savor.

  13. Good stuff, Christy. I liked your progression, and liked your list of helpful books.

    There's a story about two football players that collided, Brad Gaines and Chucky Mullins, in the news today. They collided on field and Mullins suffered a broken neck, died a couple of years later. Gaines has taken care of Mullins' tombstone regularly ever since.

    I go down the back story bunny trail when I some "'splainin' to do" about horses, farming, or some other pet topic. So hard ;-) to resist.

  14. Good morning, Christy!! Welcome to Seekerville.

    Christy and I blog together at the F.A.I.T.H. blog and are also local RWA chapter mates. So I was so tickled when she won the Genesis! (And also when she finaled in the Maggie.) Congrats!

    Great entry, Christy! And I'm looking forward to reading more... :)

    By the way, Christy has been really sick this week, so I hope she can make it in today.

    I have some nice strong Sumatra coffee to offer this morning--with pumpkin spice creamer. Yum!

  15. All right, this little Christy-chick is not only young she's downright beautiful...



    Christy, I love that opening. Strong. Vibrant. Grabbing. Great job and sincerely:

    Welcome to Seekerville.

    We have espresso. Pancakes. I brought fresh fruit.

    Anybody got M&M's????


  16. Good Morning Seekerville!!!!!

    Wow! I'm so excited to be here today. I'm overcoming pink eye and a very bad cold so I'm at home from work today and will get to interact online better - otherwise I would've been at work and unable to communicate until this evening!

    Thanks so much for having me! I loved meeting all the Seekers at ACFW. You all are a fun bunch!

  17. Vince ~ Thanks for your sweet comment and stopping by today!

    Hello, A.A. ~ You are right about feedback. It comes in all shapes/sizes and can be thrown in your face or gently placed in your lap. I think it's important for all of us who judge contests to remember to try and give that feedback gently. I have always been so blessed that with the tough criticism came positive reinforcement.

  18. Hi Cathy! Thanks for coming by and reading about my journey!

    Hi Debra ~ You are so right about always finding something to improve in our work. And I would never have considered myself a perfectionist, but in writing a story I think I may border on just that. God's timing is pretty amazing, isn't it? I was humbled and He lifted me up.

    Hi Jessica ~ Aww, gee, you're too kind, girl. You should see me now, I look like death warmed over. Puffy pink eyes and a runny nose. Thank the Lord I can see the computer screen today - yesterday was another story and I will spare you all my gory details...
    And yes, we all come to a point when we have to end the story and move on. I pray God gives us the discernment to know when the right time is. Of course, we can always go back to it!

  19. Christy, Congratulations on your contest win! I love your term Last Try Draft because that's where I'm at with my wip right now. It's encouraging to hear that your persistence paid off!

  20. Hey, Arianna! Glad you stopped by!

    Hi, Tina! What's going on with The Bridge Between? It's in the final tweeking stages and I'm getting some feedback from a couple of my pubbed author mentors and my critique partner. I've chomping at the bit to get it in the mail. I've been blessed with 3 requests for the full and I want to be sure it's perfect and ready. Also, bracing myself for the fact that it MAY not be what the editor/agents are looking for and preparing myself for that "REDIRECTION" letter :)

    Can you tell? I'm trying to stay positive!


    Hey Glynna! I've decided that's what this writing business is about - not giving up - it's so subjective. What one loves, another doesn't and so on...

  21. Hi Pepper ~ And thank you! I'm so glad you were encouraged. We need some encouragement - in this biz and sometimes our every day lives!

    And yes... GET GMC. I had the opportunity to sit in on one of her workshops when she came to our local RWA chapter this spring. Such a lovely woman and really gives great perspective on new ways to look at the WIP.


    Hey, Julie! It's a foggy day here in N.East GA. Supposed to rain tomorrow which isn't good for our little trick or treaters. Thanks so much for your comments - they're motivating me!


    Hi Rose! So glad you could stop by and share in this fun. I'm enjoying a cup of half-caff coffee(Gotta watch the caffiene intake for my little baby that still has a couple of months to cook!) However, I say that, then I'm also enjoying some Halloween chocolate.

    Who wants a Kit Kat or Reeses Peanut Butter cup?

  22. Revisions are thte mother's milk of writing, Christy.

    Great post.

  23. Hi Sandra! I'm hoping my journey has just begun! That's cool how the Seekers started. Y'all always have such informative stuff on here. I appreciate you having little ole me on here today.


    Hey, Ann! Thanks for sharing the news article with me. I love backstory. It's almost as if you need to write the backstory for your characters to find the "meat" of the story. That's a lot to write that doesn't get into the finished product many times, only through the POV of the character and other subtle ways.


    Hey, Missy! Sending a cyber hug your way. Thanks for calling and checking on me yesterday! I feel much better today!

    Yep, Missy is one of my GA writing buddies. We get to meet once, sometimes twice, a month at our ACFW and RWA chapter meetings. I am surrounded by some great ladies who are always a source of motivation and guidance for me! Missy and Belinda Peterson were the first ladies I met at our GA Romance Writers meeting back in 2006 and they told me about ACFW where I met Ane Mulligan, Amy Wallace, Cindy Woodsmall and several other wonderful folks.

    Pretty soon I was blogging with Missy and Belinda and was introduced to Mindy, Jennifer and Angie across the states. Together, the 6 of us make up the FAITH blog. I love these ladies! Such a great support!


    Hi Ruth!
    Aww, shucks, thanks for the compliments. Y'all are too sweet and my head will get bigger if someone doesn't cut this nonsense out!

    Pass the pancakes!

  24. Hey, Sarah!! Don't give up! And if you do put it down for a while, sometimes that's a good thing. Wasn't it Stephen King who said in his book ON WRITING that he recommends putting a story down for several months.

    I would've forgotten where I was going with it by that time... maybe that's a good thing... hmm....

  25. Hey Mary! I will take your advice and love these revisions, then!

  26. I just wanted to wave at Debby Giusti, another GA Lady (and Seeker) who is always so encouraging for me. Sending a cyber hug your way too!

  27. What a pleasure it was to be sitting beside you when they announced your name as winner. Your expression drifted from disbelief, to shock, to horror all in two seconds. Priceless.
    Keep up the good work, Twinkie.

  28. Redirection letters are good. I always say that as I get closer to my dream my rejection letters get better and better.

    and I've saved every rejection letter I ever got from short stories and essays to novels.

  29. That's right, Christy! I forgot to mention our local ACFW chapter!

    Okay, don't mention anymore candy, y'all. I'm having a craving and don't have any Halloween candy around right now!

  30. Great to have you in Seekerville, Christy. Congrats on your Genesis win! Your right-on advice to contestants "Don't get mad. Get busy." is true for pubbled writers dealing with editor revisions. You'll have the right spirit to handle them. Hoping it's soon!


  31. "Don't get mad. Get busy." I love that, too, Janet and Christy! Tough to do sometimes, but really, what choice do we have if we want to make it in this business?

    Congratulations on your contest success, Christy, and I hope those requests for a full result in something wonderful and exciting for you very, very soon!

  32. Hi Christy! Congratulations on your contest win.

    I think this post might become required reading for "mid-lap" writers. (Been at it for a while and maybe losing a bit of steam while others charge ahead.)

    Best wishes with your full requests.

  33. Fabulous post, Christy, and courageous too. Really! How many of us would be willing to post an early (and sucky) draft of our manuscripts? Not me.

    A couple weeks ago I read Jenness Walker's DOUBLE TAKE (Oct, SH:LIS). A year earlier I'd judged the story in the Genesis contest, so I was anxiously awaiting to see what, if anything, she changed. The opening was far, far, far be far better.

    In fact, of all that I read in her Genesis entry (which won RS that year), only the last scene stayed in the book. Granted, she'd made a few changes, but the scene went from page 12-ish to page 50-ish. Fitting shift.

    Reading her original version and the published version was a light-bulb moment for me. Now I know why my manscripts 1, 2 & 3 were rejected by Steeple Hill. Duh.

    Anyhoo, Christy, your new opening is well done!

  34. After I had put the scores aside, calmed down a bit, and realized the judges hadn’t grown two heads, I realized maybe my writing was the problem.

    This slayed me. And I wouldn't part with my copy of GMC by Dixon either!

    (Okay, I'm trying something new here in this comment and we'll see if it works. I'm computer illiterate most of the time, so if it doesn't work, well, I'm blaming Mary Connealy. :D )

  35. Glory be, it worked!

    And Mary, I was kidding...probably.

    Christy, congratulations on your Genesis win! Sooooo excited for you! Woohoo!

  36. Hi Christy!
    Really great post and CONGRATS!! Lol...that sounds soooo exciting!

    Sorry for being so blunt, but you guys are really creative. I need a quick, creative Halloween costume pronto! Lol! I just found out that I need it for tonight : / Please let me know if anyone has any ideas(high school girl)!

  37. Twinkie, I'm glad you were with me for that big moment!

  38. Christy, I would love to read your book! I know it will be published---soon---in fact tell me when I can order it!
    Thanks so much for this blog---so much great advice too. It hurts when a reader, whose opinion you value doesn't like what you've written. I think we all go through that gamut of emotion, from disbelief--what---how can they NOT like what I've written, as well as anger. But when we take their advice as you did, it flows and captures the readers attention. Great job Christy---I'm really proud of your tenacity!

  39. Hi Christy,
    Got your cyber hug and sending one your way!

    You've done so much work on your story and deserve the awards you've received. CONGRATS!!!

    BTW, the new opening sounds fantastic. Lots of emotion and conflict. Thanks for sharing how your heroine evolved into a single mom with a sick child. My heart goes out to her immediately. And also to your hero who caused the death of a player on his team.

    Nailing the conflict is something I still struggle to achieve. My current WIP has had me pulling out my hair, trying to get the conflict just right. In fact, I'm going back today and tweaking my heroine's GMC to ensure it works.

    From what I read on your blog today, you've mastered GMC!!!

    Hope it won't be long until you get the Call!!! Thanks for being with us in Seekerville!

  40. BTW CHRISTY!!! 17 days left to enter the Golden Heart!!!

  41. Hey, there Janet & Myra!

    Hi Patricia ~ Required reading, you think? Kewl! Thanks!

    Hi Gina ~ Good luck in your submissions. That's a pretty great opportunity that you saw Jenness' work for the contest and viewed it in published form. Of course, that's the editor's job to make the novel great!

    Hi Erica ~ Yes, Deb Dixon has quite a following! For good reason.

    Hey, Hannah ~ Tnanks for stopping by....have you considered dressing your high schooler up as an 80's chick? That could be accomplished easy and inexpensive.

    HI Kathryn!! Thanks for your kind words!

    Hey, Debby! LOL! No, I haven't mastered GMC yet. Good luck on your WIP - you'll work through it!

    Yes, Tina, 17 days!

  42. Christy, thanks so much for being with us and sharing about your road to a Genesis win. Seekers judge a lot of contests and it's nice to know that someone out there is growing as a result of it.

  43. LOL! It's not MY high was me : ) I'm a senior in high school at the moment : )

    I ended up being a hippie, but that was a good idea and someone else did dress up as that!

  44. LOL Hannah! Didn't mean to make you an old lady like me before your time. My sister in law is in her mid twenties, too young to remember the 80s, but she dressed as a Cyndi Lauper/80s chick for a dress up day on Friday for her business. Hippies can be a fun way to dress up. As a kid, I loved dressing up as a gypsy, then I could wear a lot of make up, flowing costume and gaudy jewelry.

  45. Tina, Thanks for having me on the Seekers Blog!! This was so much fun and such an honor! Happy Halloween/Harvest to everyone!

  46. I was going to reply as an aspiring writer and tell you how timely your encouragement to revise and "get busy" finds me. : )
    But instead, I have to respond as a reader. Your new version that won the Genesis smacks me right between the eyes. I was a single mother for seven years, and your paragraph opens up some memories. Well done! You've captured the mother's love and affection while drawing up a perfect picture of the daily angst and struggle she faces. A single mom is only one dark moment away from utterly collapsing under the weight of her load. I LOVE what you've done here.
    You've got the details.
    Looking forward to reading the complete story.

  47. Good Morning Kathleen~ Thanks for sharing your perspective today! I can't help but be moved by your comment and glad the piece touched you.

  48. Hi Christy,
    Great journey story, and congrats on the win. Now all that's left is that publisher that can see the merits of your work.

    Blessings, Janice

  49. Hey, Janice! Thanks for stopping by! That's right... getting this in front of the publisher is the next, large leap. Whew!

  50. Hi Christy:
    I loved the before and after entries you posted. Very helpful. Congratulations on your perseverance, discipline and hard work being rewarded. Your story gives me encouragement and inspiration.
    Jane Wells