I rarely do this, but I’ve asked a student of mine to provide a guest blog today. Please welcome Meagan Beaumont! Her story is truly inspirational as you’ll see.
Maegan first entered my life when she enrolled in a class I was teaching for Phoenix College a couple of years ago. That class has since morphed into an ongoing class with some of those Phoenix College students, some of the folks I taught for Writer’s Digest classes, some from the Skype class I co-teach with Jenny Milchman for the New York Writer’s Workshop, some from the ranks of the private clients I coach on their novels, and some from other contacts who asked if I had a class. We keep it to about a dozen writers (and unlimited auditors) and the majority of them continue on into each succeeding class. Classes run various lengths—from eight weeks to twelve—to give us a bit of variety. (And a rest! We usually take a week or two off between classes.)
In all my classes, no matter what the venue, I require two things to begin with. We begin with each class member’s novel and at the beginning and work through from that point. I ask each to submit a 15-20 word outline for the entire novel and I ask each to submit five pages for the first week which should include the inciting incident.
The thing is, if a writer doesn’t begin where their outline indicates it should—with the inciting incident—that writer continues to submit that beginning scene until they’ve created a bona fide inciting incident. Over time, class members have adopted the phrase “inciting incident hell” to describe this experience. It’s very rare for a new writer to deliver the proper inciting incident in the first week. And, they’re not allowed to proceed beyond that five-page limit until they do.
My feeling is that if the novel doesn’t begin properly, the writer is headed for the shoals of an unfinished novel, or, if finished, an unpublishable novel. It’s imperative that they begin in the right place.
Most spend from an average of 2-4 weeks before they nail the opening and get past that first five pages.
Maegan holds the all-time record.
Maegan spent NINE WEEKS IN INCITING INCIDENT HELL.
Out of a 12-week course. For nine weeks of the total of 12 weeks in the class, she never got past the inciting incident. At the end of nine weeks, she had a grand total of five pages of her novel written.
Did she quit? Well, you already know the answer to that. Did she get mad at me? Call me a no-heart bastard? Get frustrated? Of course. But, the important thing is, she didn’t quit. She hung on like a bulldog. That’s when I knew she was going to be successful at this writing thing.
Maegan had talent. That was obvious from the very beginning. However, there are a ton of people who have talent who will never get published. Talent is rarely the deciding factor in who finds their books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble.
Hard work and perseverance are what separates the author from the typist. Paying one’s dues through old-fashioned blood, sweat and tears is the determining factor, almost always.
And, Maegan had both of those traits in abundance.
She also had a 700-page completed novel in her possession when she began.
In its place, she has a top agent and a two-book deal with an option for a third. I recommended her and her work to my agent, Chip Macgregor, and Chip just placed her novels with Llewelleyn/Midnight Ink with a separate advance for each novel. Be on the lookout for the first novel, Maegan’s riveting thriller titled THE FIRST. You can be sure I’ll announce the release date here!
Kind of cool, isn’t it? Her journey as a writer is much the same as the journey of the protagonist in a good novel. As it should be.
Here’s Maegan, with her story in her own words.
From the pen of Maegan Beaumont:
My journey started as they all do—I took one foot and placed it in front of the other, foolishly believing that I had it all under control. I had a finished manuscript—a 750 page tome that I knew needed work. A lot of work. The problem was—I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I mean, really, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew enough to be certain that 250,000 words was a bit heavy for a thriller, but beyond that—color me clueless. I’d never taken any type of writing class. I’d never had any type of instruction… did I mention how utterly and ridiculously ignorant I was?
I enrolled in an online college class, and this is where I think fate (or whatever you want to call it) intervened. I read the course description for a class called Planning and Structuring the Novel and noted that I needed pre-recs I didn’t have. I contacted the instructor (Les Edgerton—sounds like a nice guy—I imagined sweater vests and Hush Puppies…) and asked for an exemption, and guess what? He gave it to me. I was in.
The first week was brutal—Mr. Sweater Vest ripped me a new one. Week two had him shoving his Hush Puppy-clad foot up my… well, let’s just say it was a tad uncomfortable. Weeks three through eight were similar. I cried. I bled. I fantasied about strangling Mr. Sweater Vest with my laptop cord.
Things were not going as I had planned.
See, he wanted me to write this thing called an “Inciting Incident”. I mean, what the hell is that? Turns out, if I’d have just stopped crying so freakin’ loud, I would’ve heard him explain it to me. An Inc Inc (as we call it in the Land of Les) is your protagonist’s catalyst. It’s the first sign of trouble—and we all know that novels are about trouble… But I digress.
Week nine was my week—the week it finally sank in. I nailed my Inc Inc. I delivered a believable scene that wasn’t overwrought with melodramatic bullshit. I created believable characters and figured out that I have a way with dialogue. All the while Les guided me, gave me kudos when I earned them and smacked me silly when I lost my way. It sounds brutal—and it was. But I needed it and looking back, I’m damn glad I was fortunate enough to find him, smart enough to realize that this is a man that knows what he’s talking about, and too stubborn to quit when things got tough.
It took me a year to re-write my novel. Three months to place it with an agent and another four to find it a home. That’s right, folks—I landed a book deal. A two book deal with an option for the third. My hard work isn’t over, as a matter of fact I have a feeling it’s just begun—knowing that makes me feel like it’s week one all over again and I’ve got Mr. Sweater Vest doing the Hush Puppy wind-up.
But I can handle it. I know I can, because Les didn’t just teach me about proper story structure and character arc. He taught me how to survive.
His methods aren’t for everyone. He can be brutal. And he’ll tell you flat-out that just wanting it badly enough—isn’t enough. It takes hard work and a willingness to check your ego at the door. A desire to learn and an understanding that the learning never stops. In short: you have to become a writer.
A real writer—and that’s what I am. I am a writer.
Because Les Edgerton made me into one.
Be that as it may, my life isn’t actually conducive to the craft. Two of my four kids are adopted. Both have ADHD and were born exposed to meth. My oldest—my only daughter—is a grade-A drama queen who will burst into tears if I so much as offer her a piece of gum (true story) and my middle son believes wholeheartedly that it is his destiny to invent time travel... so every day is a goat rodeo. I don't think of it as a struggle. That's just my life. People always ask me "How do you do it?" I think the question is a silly one. I just do it. What's my alternative? Running away to join the circus? Thanks, but I've already got one, and besides, I think clowns are creepy.
Amidst the chaos I make the time to write. I don’t find it. I make it—there’s a difference. I don't sleep. Sometimes my kids eat PB&J for dinner. Most times there are dishes in my sink. I'm late picking my kids up from school at least one day a week. Because writing is more important to me than getting a full 8 hours (or even 5, for that matter...) of sleep, or combing the tassels on my area rugs. Writing keeps me sane and my sanity is important.
My saving grace is and always will be my husband. He can be a colossal pain in my ass and is never home (he's a truck driver—home 3 days out of 7) but when I got my book deal, I could practically see the pride oozing from his pores. When I’m on a roll and he’s just come home from a 36-hour run, he slams a Monster and takes the kids to the park so I can write it out in peace. When I say “I’m almost finished with this scene,” he understands that that means he won’t see me for another six hours. He doesn’t like it. But he gets it. We’re teammates—sometimes he’s playing football while I’m playing water polo, but we make it work, because failure has never been an option for either of us and because I choose my teammates very wisely.
I’ve lost a few along the way. People I loved. People who didn’t understand or appreciate the journey I was on. People who didn’t like the fact that I was changing. Who seemed to take my growth and happiness as some sort of personal insult. Like I was doing it to them on purpose. I wasted time and energy trying to make them happy. I fought against the loss of them, because that’s what I do, but in the end, I let them go. I came to understand that what was wrong with them, had nothing to do with me, and nothing I do will ever change the way they feel about themselves.
But for every person I lost, I found someone that loved me more than their idea of who they wanted me to be. They understood if I didn’t call them for a week and a half. They’d offer to pick my kids up from school because I was knee-deep in it and knew that even though I could put a pin in it, I didn’t necessarily want to. They read my crappy first-drafts and didn’t panic when I bought books on how to poison people and spent weeks at a time researching nanotechnology. If they found my obsession with serial killers alarming, they kept it to themselves. These are the people I share my success and failure with. The ones that stuck it out. The ones that matter.
So, my advice:
Write. Don’t worry about the number of dishes in your sink or the fact that your kids might eat more peanut butter than the kid next door. Buy paper plates and put Pizza Hut on speed dial. Kids love pizza and guess what—they’re resilient.
Write. If you have a support system—use it. Your spouse. Your friends. Your family. If they love you, they want you to be happy and will be willing to go the extra mile to see you that way.
Write. Don’t be afraid to let go of the person people think you are. You are so much more than the expectations of others. Dive in, head-first. The ones still waiting for you when you come up for air are the ones that matter.
Write. Find a mentor—someone willing to offer guidance and support in things your friends and family might not understand. Join a writing group—a good one, not a cheerleading squad. A group of writers, willing to leave your blood on the page for the betterment of your craft. Every writer needs one, and I thank God everyday for mine—a group of writers that I never want to be without. They don’t always say what I want to hear, but they always say what I need to hear.
Write. You are a writer. Say it. The next time someone says, “So, what do you do?” Look them dead in the eye and say, “I’m a writer.”Because that’s what you are. You’re a writer.
Maegan Beaumont, author of the forthcoming novel THE FIRST from Llewelleyn/Midnight Ink Publishing.
…and, in closing…
Please visit Maegan at her blog at http://www.maeganbeaumont.blogspot.com/ At it, she answers questions about plotting—trust me, Maegan understands plots!
And, forget all that nonsense about “sweater vests” and Hush Puppies! Never owned either in my entire life. You can write that down…
Thanks, Maegan, for sharing your story. And thank you for providing a shining example of what a writer really looks like.