Ello ello all. Here I thought I was going to be “good” this year, and post every single day on this blog.
*insert obnoxious buzzer noise here*
Truth is, I have been working on Infernal, but part of my process is to slave over it with good old-fashioned pen and paper first. I learned a while back that even if I’m having trouble getting the words out, whatever I pen is a skeleton. Once I open up a word processor, said skeleton fleshes itself out. Maybe it won’t be dancing a jig, but those trouble spots, those jerky bits of dialogue or exposition where I stared for fifteen minutes at the blue lines, wondering if I’d written myself into a corner, those little buggers become highlights when I start transcribing. Like Jodi Picoult says, “You can’t edit a blank page.”
So, I’ve been penning quite a bit, and when that became too difficult (read: my characters decided to stop talking to me. Why? What did I do?) I gave myself license to read. I have several writing magazines piling up, and even taller stacks of books on writing. For a time, books on craft were all I allowed myself to buy, and I see now, unfortunately, that I equated the number of “how to” books I bought and could quote, with actual progress. “Oh, I’ve bought another book on how to write the next best-seller, I’m getting really close now!” Or “Wow, now this is the book that is sure to have all the secrets I’ve been searching for!”
And so on ad nauseam.
Whether I fell prey to marketing gimmicks (“Write your novel in 30 days even if you work 16 jobs!” or “Write unforgettable characters even if you’re more vanilla than vanilla!”) or I allowed myself to be caught up in the process of writing a novel (likely, as I enjoy research), I have realized – and forgive me for stating the obvious, but it is a conclusion every author must reach on their own – nothing, and I mean nothing, takes the place of actually sitting down and writing the bloody thing.
Novels are living, breathing, ruthless creatures. They are the most tedious of teenagers, wayward and apathetic to all overtures of love, deaf to all pleas, and obstinate for the sake of obstinacy.
I have (and continue to) learned that writing a novel is not unlike the societal norms/expectations of today, in that the process reminds me a lot of a quote from an episode of CSI. (Forgive the paraphrase.) “Young people today don’t expect privacy. They value openness.” What has that got to do with novel writing? Everything. A quid pro quo if you will: if you reveal yourself to your novel, throw privacy out the window, you will learn more than you bargained for about your characters, because your characters are, whether best-selling authors want to admit to this or not, reflections of the people we know best:
Now, I can’t attribute this past week’s moments of clarity to a single passage in a book. This is the result of several years’ worth of rumination and note-taking, but I do want to give credit where it is due.
Sometime last year I bought a book called Writing the Breakout Novel: Insider advice for taking your fiction to the next level. It is written by author and literary agent Donald Maass, and I highly suggest it to anyone and everyone embarking on that most daunting of literary journeys: the novel.
Yes, the book’s title is specific, but with only a handful of pages left, I can honestly say the questions Maass raises to help you decide if your novel will make the grade, can and should be tools every serious writer has in their arsenal, regardless of whether or not you’re writing with $ucce$$ in mind. This book invites you to step back and take stock of what you have, where you’ve been and where you might be headed. The topics of plot, theme, subplots, characters and premise are broken up into their own chapters, and I found myself taking notes as furiously as though I expected to be quizzed on the material.
Writing a novel is a considerable investment of time, emotion and thought, and once you get towards the end of the process, a bit of money too. With this book, Maass has given us a veritable buffet of food for thought, and to continue the metaphor, I for one will be going back for seconds.
That’s all for now I think. Some reflections and a book recommendation. In the coming weeks I’ll be attempting a bit of a facelift around here, so don’t be surprised if the homepage looks younger and fresher when next you swing by.