The year is 2007. I have just found my ancient manuscript for the book I wrote in junior high. The title is, "Walk Me Home."
The first thing I did was sit down and read the thing. I came away impressed. A fifteen-year-old wrote this? But in spite of being impressed, I knew it wasn't up to publication standards. The plot was good, but the presentation was totally lacking. I had incorporated all of the common conventions of the time: a flashback in the first chapter, long descriptive paragraphs of introduction for each character. And also, the characters were too young. At ages 12 and 13, I couldn't really explore the tragedy and situation of being kidnapped. I couldn't make something bad happen to children.
So I began to rewrite. I changed the title from "Walk Me Home" to "Walk Beside Me," to more accurately reflect the religious images in the novel. The characters got older, ages 14 and 15. Then I cleaned it up, taking out lengthy descriptions and random silliness that made me roll my eyes.
I left a lot of the original material in there, however. I felt I needed to pay homage to the adolescent work.
When I thought the novel was ready, I handed it to my most cynical reader: my husband. The result: Two thumbs down. He couldn't even finish it. He said it was simply unbelievable and at times laughable. Playing Nancy Drew? Going shopping when they should be hiding?
I was crushed and grateful that he didn't read on. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I realized he was right. In a major way. It wasn't enough to simply clean up. I needed to rewrite.
The Nancy Drew scene was cut. Instead I created a scene where the characters to the right thing and still end up in danger. Much higher stakes. The shopping thing? Groan. Only a kid would write such a silly scene. I cut it too. The feeling of suspense and terror needed to be in every scene in the novel. No trying on hats and going to art museums.
As I made these changes, I realized I needed more input. More help. So, in the summer of 2007, I began to search for a critique group.