Friday, March 5, 2010

The Different

Quote: “You’ve never been to the moon
But don’t you want to go?
Under the sea in the volcano
You've never looked into my eyes
But don't you want to know?
What the dark, and the wild
And the different know.”
The Different, by Melissa Etheridge

Song: “The Different” by Melissa Etheridge

So! Two more lovely books came in the mail, and I now have a stack of *counts* seven books to read about writing! Huzzah! Three of those books are slightly more technical books on editing, but I am excited about ALL of them. *whispers lovingly to her books*

I entered another contest, this one thanks to Christi Goddard. It’s call “Dear Lucky Agent”. You email the first 150-200 words of your finished manuscript and an agent reads it. The winners get a critique of their first 20 pages. This round is for urban fantasy and paranormal romance only, but they have this contest several times, so be on the look out for more contests like this. It’s at Guide to Literary Agents, a site I have added to my blogroll. I would have anyway, but that’s part of the rules to enter. So! Go check out this great blog!

Having just worked on a long series of posts about writing, I have been thinking about the process of writing a lot. (the stack of writing books helps too)

Editing really forces you to stop and analyze your writing process. The book I am editing right now was written a year ago, and I can see the marked difference between my writing then, and my writing now. This progress makes me feel more confident about my writing, because I worry I’m not “good enough” just because I don’t have my MFA in writing, or even my Bachelor’s in English.

But over the course of last year up to this very second I have been devouring books about writings, writing, reading blogs, taking writing classes, doing everything I could to improve my writing. And that effort has paid off. I can see the difference between my writing then and my writing now, as clearly as I can see the difference between my writing three years ago, and my writing now.

I could chose to feel depressed about this, and decide to trunk the book I am editing and write another book, telling myself it will be “better” but I have already blogged about that misnomer. Hopefully you will always see the improvements you have made in your writing from project to project.

Which brings me to the thought scampering through my brain: am I ready for publication? It’s almost a silly thought. I want to be published so bad I can feel the longing in my heart like a vise (a vise). But that’s not what I am asking. Not, do I want to be published? (Does the proverbial bear do his proverbial business in the proverbial woods?) but am I ready?

Natalie Whipple blogs about this, and I knew what she meant when I read it, but now I think I can understand it as well. Because the brutal truth is the book I am editing isn’t ready for publication. It will get there, but it’s not ready. I have been so focused on getting published, “getting serious about my writing” is how I thought about it to myself, feeling slightly guilty for all the time I “wasted” earlier while I was goofing off with novels, and characters, and short stories I started to feel bad. Inferior. My dream was so close—so close—I started to panic about my writing, and my stories and my current WIP, and agents, and publishers…a silent panic started inside me, and it’s been brewing for a few months, ever since I started editing. I wasn’t having fun anymore, I wasn’t enjoying the edit. It was a means to the end of publishing, and that’s not what editing is supposed to be like.

I would forget myself in the edit, forget about the publishing thing, and really enjoy the words and the process. I found myself loving the writing, the words again. I realized I need to stop worrying about publishing, and what other authors are doing, and focus on the book. It’s gotten me this far. I am not writing for money, or fame or glory. I am writing because my stories matter, because I love my characters. Because I love reading and I want other people to feel the same way after reading one of my books as I have felt reading a favorite book.

Sometimes it’s heartbreaking work. I have been working on a series for ten years now. At first, I was just making up characters and stories to entertain myself while I was sick in bed (I was sick for about three months straight when I was in high school), but soon afterwards the characters lived and breathed on their own.

These characters are different today than they were back then. The world has grown, and matured. The physics actually make sense now. I actually have a magic system. It’s been hard, because I have this idea in my head how the series would go, I had a lot of the events already set out, and then sometimes catastrophic would happen. The first major catastrophe was the end of a friendship. My best friend started to collaborate with me on this series, adding in his own characters, and ideas, and plot events until everything was intertwined. When I realized he was a huge downward influence in my life, when I saw how he pulled me and those around him down to his level of misery, and found the courage to tell my one time best friend I didn’t want to talk to him anymore, it was devastating to my baby, my series. I was left with characters and ideas that weren’t mine. I didn’t want to plagiarize, and I didn’t want the dead weight of someone else’s ideas on my series, so I cut all of his character and plot ideas out.

Let me tell you, I learned the meaning of “murder your darlings” the day I finally got the courage to do the cutting.

The characters and plots ideas remaining were a bloody mess. I thought I killed them.

But they didn’t die. I moved on to other stories, and all the while, new characters and plot ideas came into the series, and soon it was growing, healthier and better than ever, like a bush that had been properly pruned.

It’s hard to redream the dream, as James Frey calls it. It’s hard to have an image of a character or plot in your head, and change it. But you have to be able to change it. It’s call revision and editing. If you can’t see your novel beyond how it is RIGHT NOW it’s not going to be anything more than what it is right now. I still mourn the loss of some of the plot events I cut, the death of some of the scenes that will never happen now. It’s still painful to even think about, much less talk or blog about. But I can see how much better my series is because of it.

The same philosophy must be applied to the writing life in general, not just with revision. You may have imagined yourself getting published a certain way. I know I have envisioned plenty of fake talk show interviews where I tell Oprah or Letterman or Leno how grueling the publication process but how happy I am to finally be published.

Heck, I imagined myself to be already published, with a house and two kids by now. Obviously I need to redream my dreams. It’s okay to be ambitious. Just try to roll with the punches too.

Writing is like walking a tight rope. There’s a long fall beneath you, but you have to have courage. You have to have the audacity to walk out on that rope and keep going. Looking down isn’t going to help, so don’t bother. Just focus on what you’re doing, right now, and you’ll get there eventually.

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