Saturday, July 27, 2013

Tenacity--the Successful Writer's Secret

I went to the Solstice Writing Conference a couple of weekends ago. Not only was it delightful having a conference in my home court, but the invited authors, including Ann Cannon, Louise Plummer, and Dean Hughes, were a delight as well.

In Thursday's panel discussion, the topic of bad reviews came up. Louise Plummer mentioned how a bad review (from a random person posting on Amazon, not a knowledgeable critic) stopped her writing for some time. Even Louise? Ann Cannon made a great point. "If you want to write, you have to be tenacious." She said not everyone is going to like your writing, but the writers who make it have one thing in common: they don't quit.

The next day I got to test this maxim when I made the mistake of discussing a current plot idea with a non-writer. Bad idea. After hearing the message that my plot had completely unrealistic, impossible ideas, I changed the subject and spent the next hour depressed.

 I tend to be too concerned about what people think, according to that same plot-wounding family member. I take critique suggestions seriously, and have learned to listen rather than argue. I've never been the it's-my-story-and-you-just-don't-get-it's-brilliance type. So why wasn't I scrapping the entire book?

 I finally went for a walk in light rain that turned into a thunderstorm. As I darted from awning to awning, my brain sifted through ideas on how to rework my plot egress. Soon I had a potential solution, and felt good that I hadn't quit. But how do you know when to keep working on a book, and when to realize an idea just isn't worth continuing?

 At WIFYR, our workshop asked Martine Leavitt that question. She told us to hold onto the stories that are in your heart. If we're going to put our work out there in knowing it may end up with critic heel marks, it has to mean something to us. We have to believe it in knowing not everyone else will. If we are writing just to meet someone else's expectations, our ideas will shift as quickly as the newest trend. But when we write the story that means everything to us, it's different. We may shelve it for a time, wait for the ideas to ripen or even for our ability to write it to increase. But if it keeps coming back to us, we must at some point get back to the story.

Don't get me wrong. I refuse to blindly move ahead with a bad idea. I will continue renovations to make sure the plot is solid, the story line doesn't wander, and in this case, remove any plot twists too unrealistic to allow the reader to continue her path of suspended belief. But I can't give up the book itself. Because even as I'm taking a long, pouting walk through a rainstorm, the story is in my head with every step. It's stuck there, because my heart can't let it go.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Historyrectomy and Plotting Your Novel

My husband, who frequently reads health histories, often gets a good laugh out of peoples' creative spellings and interpretation of medicals. A rotator cuff surgery becomes surgery on a rotary cup, sounding like some civic award. Another term that confused me is "stent." Here in the west, the doctors say it like, "Stint." But it isn't a stint in jail, although the painful tubes they put certain places may make it feel like that.

Today a woman reported having a female procedure she wrote down as a "historyrectomy." After I finished laughing about painful ways to have your history removed, I thought that all of us, at times, may wish bad experiences could be surgically extracted.

Sorry,history removal isn't yet a real procedure. However, writers may at times need to do some serious surgery on our characters' life.

I'm doing a draft revision of my latest book. Yesterday I sat eating ice cream and feeling frustrated. I knew there was something wrong with my latest plot event. I've made some big revisions, but part of me still longs for the "history," or old parts of the story that no longer fit. I put down my spoon, picked up a notebook, and started writing questions:

  1. Is this event true to my character's true inner desires, or is it something I'm twisting to make fit?
  2. What are the main character's desires?
  3.  What will happen if he doesn't get them?

Then I tried some brainstorming alternate plot ideas based on advice Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette gave us at WIFYR in June, "Brainstorm three ideas, then pick the fourth. Don't go with the easy solution."

I brainstormed several ideas, once elaborating one idea and then suddenly writing, "bleh!" But as I wrote more ideas, I realized my character should have to do the hardest thing, not the one that helps me avoid having to research criminal law. (Teeny tiny plot hint).

 Martine Leavitt said we have to be open to our book and its characters enough to let go of our preconceived ideas of how we want the story to go. I've still got work to do. But stepping back and having the courage to do some historyectomizing (yes, I know it isn't a word) helps get my characters back where they want and need to be.

P.S. I have several blog drafts I need to post, including the final notes from the WIFYR conference. I'm still typing in a sling, and have other varied excuses too, but maybe this confession will help me finally get them edited and posted.