Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Once More into the Breach!

Well, the excitement is dying down. "Little Man" is home from the hospital. He's taking his formula, crying and fussy around four to six in the afternoons, and sleeping in four to five hour stretches at night. That leaves Nana time to work on her writing, and work it is, my friend.

I started the way I always start, from the beginning. I re-read what I'd done so far. Not bad, but I did give a little tweak here and there. Now I'm moving into the bulk of the work, attacking the main problem as I see it: transitioning time. I find that my section headings, those lovely dates at the top of one page or the other, aren't quite enough. As Big Dawg said, "The reader gets lost as to which year it is."

As the writer, I've created this community, these characters, and their living conditions. I've given them jobs, and I understand their motivations. My omnipotence when it comes to the story is unquestionable. I know the outcome from the beginning. I stand God-like above the words. No so for the reader.

The reader stumbles on the story cold, as if meeting a few people at a bar. The characters are introduced slowly, their life stories are a mystery yet to unfold, and their families, connections, and attitudes yet to be discovered. As the writer, I must forget my prior knowledge and magically become the reader. As I re-read my work, my goal is to see through the eyes of a hypothetical reader. If I come across an event, a time frame, a character that doesn't quite hit the mark, something or someone that might give the reader pause, it's time to do some word addition and subtraction.

The 'be-the-reader' segment of editing and revising is the most difficult. Wearing two hats, that reader/writer thing, causes problems because one hat often drops off without notice and it's usually the 'reader hat' that slips onto the floor. I keep picking it up and putting it back on, but alas, I look down and there it is again.

Beta readers, writing groups, crit partners: they're all important, no doubt about it. However, before a manuscript reaches those wonderful people, the writer should do their level best to eliminate as much of the interference as possible. I'm getting better at it, I hope, but after a beta reads a novel for the hundreth time, they tire of it. I'd prefer not to tire my betas, wouldn't you?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Just a Note

I haven't updated this week. There's a reason. I've been on baby-watch. That's right. Baby-watch.

After a difficult week of starts and stops, I became a grandmother for the second time this morning at 2:20 AM. My grandson weighed 7 lbs and 10 ozs. Mother and child are doing fine.

I'll be back to writing, revising, beta-ing, and all that jazz soon...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

More feedback from my second novel. And, I'm afraid, it's more of the same. The first feedback I received was about 'naming' from the perspective of point of view. The point of view in the novel is that of a main character, a woman. The story begins when the woman is still a child.

Big Dawg, the infamous leader of The Dawg Pack, has *ur-um* strongly suggested that I hit the lines one more time. You see, I've elevated my child, something common in dysfunctional families. However, my child hasn't been elevated to the head of household or overseer of all children within the household as have some of America's children. I've given her, in some cases, the perspective of an adult while she was still only twelve. Not good, so Big Dawg says. I'm back at it, my tail tucked between my legs.

However, my tail not withstanding, the repeated returns to my manuscript does more than perfect this particular book. That perfection has side effects just like that horrible 'fat pill' that's supposed to cause uncontrollable diarrhea. Instead of that horrible add-on to the general beneficial process, my writer's add-on is that since I've worked so hard to correct POV issues in this novel, I'm unlikely to make the same mistakes again.

When I'm teaching at the university, I require multiple revisions of a single paper because, like the Big Dawg, I believe we learn, not so much from all the things we read or study but from the correction of our own mistakes. If my students come out better writers (which I'm proud to say, they do) from multiple efforts at correction, then I can't help but do the same. I'll be better with the issue of POV when I finish the revisions and therefore when I re-vision the current WIP. Yes, that's what it's all about really.

The process of beta or critique isn't to allow the crit partner to release the frustration built up on the job or to exact revenge for some perceived insult. The first priority is always to create a product worthy of publication. The second priority, that side-effect I talked about, is to improve the writer's ability to perfect their own work.

Perfection. Well, maybe not perfection, but as close to it as possible. That's what the newbie is looking for when they send a promising manuscript to an agent. Without a close-to-perfect piece of work, the prospective agent will toss that promising manuscript back on the slush pile from which it came. If the piece is not too far from perfect, the agent may request revisions and resubmissions, but most of the time, he/she doesn't. They don't because they're looking for a writer who knows perfection.

In today's volatile literary markets, it's particularly difficult to make that initial breakthrough. It's difficult for an unpublished writer to become published. If said writer isn't willing to polish and prune, to listen to the voices of others, to be the reader instead of the writer, then the hopes of seeing his/her name on a book jacket diminish, become that infinitesimal chance, that one in seventy-seven million. Assuming your work will stand without crit partner comments and subsequent revision is like assuming you'll win the mega-millions with only one set of numbers.

Writing a book isn't a simple process. It's hard, demanding, and sometimes humiliating work. Yes. It's work. Exhausting work. This work is not for the faint-hearted. Many would-be novelists shrink, slink back into the woodwork. Only the courageous writer makes his/her way to the words 'The End.'

I've never fancied myself courageous. I tell my students that beneath my nine dollar shirt beats the heart of a coward, that if the shooting starts they shouldn't expect me to take the bullet while they scamper to safety. However, pursuit of the dream changes hearts. I'm close. I can feel it. I'm willing to work toward it, to take my mental machete and hack away at the vines and brambles that separate my book from perfection.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Thick Skin

Whew! That round's over. I've completed the requested revisions regarding point of view in my second novel. I've even managed to add around one thousand words to the current work in progress. All in all, a rather productive week. Provided my patience holds out, I might actually come up with something publish-worthy.

I know. I know. I talk a lot about patience, a virtue much desired but especially difficult for me to master. When my children were very young, they heard about patience. "Patience is a virtue," I'd chide each time they tried to stomp their little feet or asked "Are we there yet?" Too bad I really wasn't practicing what I preached.

Big Dawg preaches. She does a far better job than I do. She points backwards to illustrate her point. When I finished the first novel, I thought any agent would read the first fifty pages, begin to drool in that eager-agent way, and voila! Within the year, a publishing contract would be mine. I suppose most first-time novelists feel the same way. From the moment the words 'The End' appear on a manuscript, each of us find it difficult to believe that what we have before us isn't the great American novel we all want to write. Or maybe the best Bristish, French, German, etc. novel ever published. Ninety-eight percent of us are wrong.

What really rests in that envelope being mailed to a prospective agent is promise. That's it, with maybe a touch of possibility. Nothing more. Heinlein once said that only about one percent of all those people who wistfully announce they're going to write a novel actually finish one, the envelope holds promise that there is a writer in there somewhere. The possibility that the writer might be published lies there, too. The characteristic that separates the wannabe writer from the published author is the patience and perserverance to see the process through to the bitter end.

Patience is important, but another component must be added, a physical component. Good skin. How so, you ask? The skin of that wannabe writer must be thick. The wannabe must be able to take criticism on the chin without flinching. Bravely hiding his/her tears, the wannabe must be able to delete that beautiful passage that a crit partner thinks distracting. He/she must be able to add, substract, or change the appearance of their manuscript without woeful gnashing of teeth. If the crit partner or writing group feels that some element of the story deviates from the plotline, Wannabe must change that element without quarreling.

Crit partners and writing groups represent the reading public. What's more, they represent the educated reading public, the people who know what it takes to make a good book. Wannabe wants to be read. If any element of the story causes someone to put the book down, the desire to be read will never be fulfilled.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Hard at It!

I've talked a bit about my second effort as a novelist. Well, I've had some feedback from The Dawg Pack. POV. Point of View issues are lurking within my text. Ouch!

Yes, it's painful to realize that old Susie can't really see her own face unless she's looking in a mirror. That's right. Something we understand by the time we're two or three. However, sometimes we forget, especially so when writing. In our mind's eye, we see Susie standing over the dead body. We see her raise her hand to stifle a scream. We see her face drain of all color and her eyes grow wide in horror, but old Susie? She can't see a thing. She's staring down at that dead body, the lifeless eyes gone dark, and the head tilted to the side with its mouth oozing the last vestiges of body fluids. Horrible isn't it?

We see her, but she can't see herself. We sometimes forget that when we're in the throes of our writing efforts. I did. Not often, but often enough to lift the eyebrows of the Big Dawg. She howled her discontent, and scratched out a quick critique. I yelped and scurried to my computer, forced once more into the act of revision. It's painful, but hey! That's the process, the long, agonizing process of creating my product: fiction.

After months of vision and revision, there's more. Once I get that agent (from these pages to God's ears), I can expect nine to eighteen months of work on the agent's part in order to find a publisher. Then, depending on how rapidly my editor works, there's another four to six months of edits on demand. In this world of instant gratification, you won't find it as a writer.

Writing is exhausting work with little reward for most of what an author produces. As I write these words, even I am asking myself why? Why do I continue to put words on the page? The truth? It's my calling. Some people are born teachers. Some born to work with their hands, to build and design. I was born to write. I feel it in my blood. It takes that--the ultimate desire--to become what you're born to become. I am becoming through all my revisions, all my yelps and whines.

My advice to you? BECOME. Everything in life is a process from brushing your teeth to finding a job to chosing a mate. Process is always difficult, always exhausting, but to be what you're meant to be is what life's really all about. Nothing more. Nothing less. Become, my friends. Become.