The Making of Wisdom Hunter - Part II (By Randall Arthur)
The published writer - who critiqued my partial manuscript and told me it was worthless - kindly made a list of necessary "ingredients" that go into the making of a good novel. She gave me the list and said, "If you really want your novel to be published, then you will need to trash the manuscript you’re holding in your hands. You will need to start over at page one and write everything all over again. And don’t forget to use my list as a guideline."
Needless to say, this was a discouraging critique.
Because of where I was in my life at the time, it was not convenient for me to immediately start reworking the manuscript. So the project remained tabled.
Within the year, however, my wife and I packed up our belongings and moved back to Europe. This time we moved to Munich, Germany to attempt to plant a second international church. Sometime during our second year in Munich, I pulled out my old manuscript—along with the list of ingredients for a "proper novel." The desire to write the story of Wisdom Hunter started to burn within my heart again. So, sometime in 1987 I starting writing again at page 1.
When I finished the new draft for chapter one, I quickly found four people to test read the pages for me. I said, "If you will, read these pages and tell me if they would lure you into a second chapter."
All four test readers read the new chapter and said, "No, these pages would not lure us into a second chapter."
I asked them to explain their reasons. They did. I took mental notes. I then rewrote chapter one a third time, using the list of ingredients, plus incorporating the suggestions given by the test readers.
I then found a new group of test readers. I gave them the third rewrite of chapter one. "Can you read it and tell me if it would pull you into a second chapter?"
They all read the chapter. "No," they said. "It wouldn't pull us into a second chapter." At my request, they all gave me their reasons.
I rewrote chapter one a fourth time, making significant changes based on what I was hearing from the test readers. I was trying to learn with every rewrite. I gave the fourth draft to a fresh group of readers. "Will you please read this short chapter and tell me if it would draw you into a second chapter."
They all read it, and they all said "No.”
Finally, after the seventh rewrite of chapter one, all the test readers asked, "Where is chapter two?"
I eventually got around to writing chapter two, only to be told multiple times that it was not as well written as chapter one. I ended up rewriting chapter two at least five times before the group of test readers wanted a chapter three.
I worked my way to chapter seven following this same procedure.
By the time I was ready to begin chapter eight I had written and rewritten so much that I had finally found my own unique style, voice, and pacing. I had labored so hard to reach that place that I decided to go on a “reading fast.” I did not want another author's good style of writing to inspire me or to sway me to mimic them. This, of course, would have diluted my own style. So, I did not read another book, with the exception of the Bible, for the next two years, not until I completed the first entire draft of Wisdom Hunter.
On a side note; I have never been a full-time writer or a fast writer. Writing has always been a side hobby for me. My missionary career has always taken precedent over my writing. This is why it takes so long for me to complete a manuscript.
Anyway, when I finished the first draft of Wisdom Hunter I selected fourteen new people—representing a diverse cross section of the general reading market—to test read the entire manuscript. I chose young and old, American and European, Christian and non-Christian, men and women, and black and white. I convinced myself that if ten out of the fourteen test readers were not pulled through from beginning to end then I had done something wrong and would need to do a major rewrite. Fortunately, eleven out of the fourteen test readers of the hefty manuscript were pulled through to the final page. They did, however, suggest a few particular changes. So I did go back and edit the manuscript slightly.
To finally hold in my hands a finished manuscript, and to honestly feel satisfied with it, was a huge emotional relief. I cannot explain in detail here just how healing the project was for me. To have succeeded in taking all the abstract thoughts and feelings running through my head and heart—regarding my struggles with legalism—and forcing myself to put those feelings into written and sensible insights was absolutely therapeutic. Feeling a sense of great accomplishment, I promptly put the manuscript away in my closet and set it aside.
A few months later the fourteen test readers started asking if I had submitted the manuscript to a publisher. I said, "No, and I'm not really sure I want to."
"What?" they responded. "You just can't leave it sitting on a shelf and not try to get it published."
"I'm not sure I want it to be published," I explained. "It was enough to just complete the project. It’s brought a lot of healing to my heart. I'm content with that."
But they insisted.
So, one day I pulled out the manuscript and asked, "Who should I send it to? Who wants to publish Christian fiction?" Back in 1990 there was not a big selection of Christian fiction. Janette Oke had six or seven books in the marketplace. And Frank Peretti's first novel had just started to soar in sales. I saw that Crossway was the one publishing Frank Peretti's novel, so I packed up my manuscript and sent it off to Crossway in the United States.
Eights weeks later Crossway returned my manuscript with no letter of explanation. So I placed the manuscript back in the closet where I thought it would stay permanently.
To be continued...