Is there a connection between our lives and the story we are writing?
In an obvious sense yes. And no. Yes, of course it revolves around the writer's experience, but no, it is not a poorly disguised autobiography. I'm reading The Hidden Machinery by Margot Livesey, a gift from my MFA mentor. In the first essay, she discusses both Henry James and E.M. Forester. Forester, she claims, could have finished A Passage to India when he first started the book in 1913. The pieces were all in place, he had four novels under his belt, so he had the skills, but Forester was never happy with it. Until he was.
Why did this novel take Forester longer?
"He needed certain things to happen--a war, a massacre, the discovery of his own sexual nature and of how he too could be corrupted by the white man's power in India--before he knew where the [book] was going." --M. Livesey
He had to mature, essentially, to the point where the novel made sense. He first had to experience the things which would became central to the story.
The writer's life informs and reforms the writing. I could only write Untouchable after going through a hellish divorce. I have a novel in a drawer that languished, waiting for me to get over the hurdle at the first turning point. And since I didn't get through the barrier in my life, the character failed to thrive.
"Both inner and outer events were required before he could write [the] novel."
It's not just physical events, like Forester's return trip to India. It's internal change in the mind and spirit of the writer that impact the writing. I've written eight novels. Seven are published and they are the result of who I was and what I believed at the time they were written. But that one book that's not yet published makes me wonder.
Where do I need to be, what do I need to experience, what must I observe before the book is ready for birth?
What inner or outer events must take place before I feel satisfied with this book? And can I nudge those events into place faster so I can finish it already?
I haven't gotten that far in Livesey's book, but I'm guessing that no, I can't shove myself into the fire to force the inspiration. Instead, I must keep writing and writing, putting in my time and wallowing in the characters, before those internal and external events converge.
Short stories to develop a character for a novel? To bring about a serial? To reach readers?
Good idea or not?
Writers, what say you?
Between my last MFA Residency (July 27-Aug 6) and the start of the new semester (Aug 29), I had big plans to write "lots." Yep, my plan was definitive. Lots. After all, I'm used to writing significant amounts in the found spaces of my life. I wrote 6 of my 7 novels while working multiple jobs and studying/writing for my Master of Fine Arts, so 3 weeks in limbo sounded like a finished novel. Right?
Ha. We plan and the writing gods laugh.
First, I had surgery to remove kidney stones (I'm still recovering, but in denial).
Second, I needed a break. The past two years were an amazing feat and I'm thrilled that my first book published in July 2015 has turned into two book series and seven novels, but my creative well is bone dry. I couldn't plot my way out of a B-rated horror movie right now.
Third, I had business stuff, like writing some nonfiction articles and teaching my novel writing class (if you guys/gals are reading this, I love you and I do in fact enjoy it), but that's one more "to-do" that isn't writing.
And the new semester starts Monday. 😲 Somehow I lost 3 weeks and I'll never get them back! I don't feel well rested, I didn't get a suntan or a vacation, and I didn't catch up with housecleaning (my desk is worse than normal peeps!).
I have 3 days until the new semester begins. I'll teach a full load of 6 classes. I'm thankful. I love my students and my kids like to eat, so it's a win-win situation, but... writing? New plan.
It reminded me that I didn't write those last six books with "a lot" of spare time. I wrote it in the spaces of an already crowded life. I used writing sprints, 30-40 minutes at a time to write one sentence, page, scene, or chapter at a time.
In a way, I feel as if my lost time was a waste, but maybe it was good for me to realize that excessive amounts of time actually lead me to excessive amounts of internet. I work best when I'm rushed, pressured like a lump of coal turning into a diamond.
How do you work best?
10 meetings, 1 novel writing class. 21C Writers this one is all for you. Here's the plan:
In January, we had a guest speaker discuss hybrid publishing with us. Jennie Marts is the USA TODAY Best-selling author of award-winning books filled with love, laughter, and always a happily ever after.
What is hybrid publishing? That term is typically applied to an author who publishes with a traditional publisher and also Indie publishes. The difference between the two, according to Marts, is control and timing. In Indie publishing, you have control over everything, but you do more work (and you have to pay for it all). With traditional publishing, you have zero control, but they do all the work (and they pay for most of it).
As an example, professional editing is one of the most important parts of publishing. In traditional publishing, the publishing company pays for editing, while with Indie publishing, the author pays. It's expensive, but some of the best money a writer can spend. The same with book covers and formatting.
While those are costly and important differences, the writing remains the same. Write, edit, revise, and promote (no matter if you're the publisher or you have a traditional publisher). “Writing is a marathon, not a sprint,” Marts says. It’s all about the long run.
If you're considering Indie or hybrid publishing, Marts will be presenting this topic and more at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference in April.
Writing has its ups and downs, and the downs seem a bit like torture and we fill our minds with doubts... I can't do this? Can I do this? I suck! said with emphasis when the words on the screen cannot match the images in our heads. That's when we need a friend like Sol LeWitt who wrote this wonderful letter to Eva Hess:
You seem the same as always, and being you, hate every minute of it. Don’t! Learn to say “Fuck You” to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out...
Remember, before Nano started, when you decided to say NO to perfectionism? Now's a good time to banish that perfectionism and write crap for a day or two:
If you fear, make it work for you — [write] your fear & anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things... You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to
If only someone would read us the full letter every day to remind us that writing isn't easy, but it's our choice, our calling, our special form of torment...and one that we really do love. Oh, wait, Benedict Cumberbatch did read this letter, and it's wonderful. And I'm serious. We should listen to it every day, so we remember to shut up the perfectionist editor in our heads and just write, or as LeWitt says, just do!
The full text of the letter is here.
Reposted from 2014... As you write this month, keep in mind the people who cheer you on. They are a tremendous blessing that will help you get through the hard writing times.
Once upon a time, we renovated a Victorian era home in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. It was not easy, and as an aside, I will never--never--again strip old varnish and refinish woodwork. Yes, it looks fabulous, but it is not worth it. When we finished the kitchen, at no small expense and untold amounts of sweat and tears, my mother asked if the cabinet installers were coming back to fix the errors she saw (one of the doors wasn't centered and needed a minor adjustment).
$17,000 + labor + pain = really, that's all you noticed?
My mother was not a cruel person, and I know she was trying to be helpful, like maybe we needed a fresh set of eyes, but I didn't want her to notice every uneven widget. I wanted to hear:
"You did a good job, kid."
So many people over the years we lived there commented on what a great job we did on the kitchen, but my mother was still finding the mistakes. In fact, when I showed her my creative writing work when I still lived at home, the results were comments to a middle school student that went something like, "you need to learn how to use commas," but never a "good job" or "that stinks." Her own phrase for these type of comments was "damned by faint praise." And in fact, although I loved her and made peace with her in so many areas of life, and did hear the "you did good, kid" in other things, she was still an editor up to the end.
We need editors in our lives, those people who see the fine details, but we also need the big picture people, the celebratory few who find joy in our work in whatever state that work exists. I like to think of them as visionaries. They can see where I am going and want to help me get there.
Recently, much to my joy, I had an editor request revisions on one of my novels. And in reading her revision requests, I found a nice balance between editor and big picture person.
"This manuscript is well written with three dimensional characters and a great suspense puzzle."
Of course the requested revisions weren't all warm fuzzies--that's why they're called revisions--but I didn't mind, because I could see the big picture results: a better book, one that she or someone like her will eventually buy.
Shortly thereafter, I got a call letting me know that one of my nonfiction pieces won 1st place in a writing contest. I won cash (always nice), got to read my work at a conference, got to attend the conference for free, and it will be published in a literary magazine and receive nomination for a Pushcart Prize. THIS IS THE BEST NEWS!
The judge's comments on my piece were artistic in the way she synopsized my essay, turning a short description into art, and making me feel more grand by intention than I am. It's a long paragraph, but the first line sums it up.
"The winning essay begins in the pure, blue-flame heat of the narrator's memory."
I was in a bit of a happy place for the rest of that month, but I don't think the judges comments could eclipse the one I got from my professor. You see, when I wrote this piece, it was in his class. When we workshop in creative writing classes, we notice the minutea. We get bogged down in the editing and details, but what makes him a teacher I respect and want to give my best work to is the fact that he isn't just an editor (and that's an important job), but he is also a visionary (so say I). He can celebrate the right phrase, the perfect word, the overall piece outside of the edits that may still need fixing. And because I respect him, his one line that he posted was visionary praise indeed.
Celebrate the visionaries in your world, those who see the forest and the trees. They are instrumental to your success.
National Novel Writing Month is when deranged writers commit to writing 50,000 words in November or die trying. Okay, maybe not the die trying part, but the crazy stuff is fairly accurate. I mean, what kind of loon signs up to write 1,667 words a day for 30 days? Oh, that's right. Me. And thousands like me.
I wrote Untouchable for Nano in November 2011. It was published in 2015. In October-November-December of 2015, I wrote a book each month. The October book--Unforgettable--is being released in December. The November book--Unstoppable--is set for April, 2017, and the December book--An Untouchable Christmas--is scheduled for November 14th of this year. In fact, most of my books were written using the Nanowrimo techniques. For me, that boils down to writing 12,500 words per week.
Although I didn't "win" Nanowrimo the first time I tried, I did eventually, and the skills I learned writing fast changed my writing life. To win Nano, start with believing that writing a book in one month is possible. Many have done it before. Here's a list of published novels written during Nanowrimo. And here's a list of fast writers.
So if you're one of the few, the proud, and the crazy, here are 8 guidelines for Nanowrimo:
1) Say yes to the dress: Oh, wait, wrong show. Say yes to the crazy. Make a commitment. Spread the news. Make it so you can't backdown.
2) Say no to your favorite vices:
3) Don't change your process: If you have an establishing writing pattern or ritual, now is not the time to change it. If you don't have a writing process, here's the chance to start a new one. Thirty days is long enough to start a new habit.
4) Before you start, plot your key points. Here's a quick refresher on the 3 Act Structure. Even if you're not a plotter, it's wise to know your inciting incident, first turning point, midpoint, second turning point, and climax. You'll thank me in December.
5) Writing sprints will help you write quickly. I sprint with two other writers, either in person or online. We set the timer and write. I put on a headset and play fast-paced music while I write. At the end of the 30 minutes, we compare our output. I write it down in my calendar. Working with other writers holds me accountable. As an added bonus, the competitive aspect helps me write faster.
6) Write 1000 words before 10 AM. Truthfully, this one comes from a member of my sprint group, and I must admit, I don't do this, because I'm not a morning person, but if you are a morning person, you've done more than half your word count for the day before lunch.
7) Keep the writing fresh: Know your next scene so you don't get stuck. AND Stop writing mid-scene and mid sentence. Knowing what happens next will make it easier to get started your next writing session.
8) Don't go it alone. Being around other writers helps build creativity. Whether your writing friends are just down the street or online, keep each other accountable for writing (and for staying off social media).
Good luck! Post comments below if you're planning to join Nanowrimo this November.
Finishing a book isn't quite as easy as starting one. It's like Newton's 4th law. You see, an object in motion tends to stay in motion, except when it's a novel. The book starts, we're in love with the idea and writing is in motion. And then, as writers, we get in our own way. We are the outside force that stops progress on our novel.
I'm a firm believer in knowing your process, respecting your process, and ignoring what doesn't work or fit your particular bent. Enter this wonderful and sarcastic article by Chuck Wendig (are we surprised? we are not). Here's a tease of the full article:
18. Have an outline. Or don’t have an outline. I don’t give a unicorn’s ugly butthole what you do — just make a choice and stick with it. The larger message here is: know your process. You know the things that work for you, so do them.
Writer Reference (Blogroll)
A Little is Enough
Writing 17 minutes at a time
The Unlisted List:
The best women nonfiction writers.
Aubrey Hirsh' Beginner's Guide to publishing with format templates and more
Agent Query 15 posts on writing query ltrs
Platform Action Plan
Writer, college professor, lover of story, fan of all things bookish. Plus chocolate, because who doesn't love chocolate.