Monthly Archives: April 2012

I Am Not Your Bitch

I know I am full of unpopular and unconventional opinions, so let’s skip the over-acknowledgement of that and get to the point.

I’m pretty transparent about my writing process, sharing my highs and lows, thinking-out-loud on this blog about how to do things better next time, or about mistakes I’ve made that we can all, hopefully, learn from. Today’s ultimate realization is this:

I am no one’s bitch.

I am not my (current, potential, or future) readers’ bitch.

I am not the publishing industry’s bitch, independent or big six.

“Well, of course you aren’t, Maddie. Why do you feel the need to waste your time blogging about that?”

Because for the last six months, on some level, I believed I was. And I’m willing to bet that there are a lot of struggling, blocked writers out there who unconsciously believe the same thing. Of course, it is unconscious, or at least so deeply denied and buried beneath the idea of being flexible and humble and market-savvy that it doesn’t occur to us. But there you have it: My name is Madeline Claire Franklin, and for the past six months I have been acting like I am the publishing industry’s bitch.

Let’s take this back a step. How do I know that’s what’s going on? How do I know I’m not just stuck on some plot problem, or out of motivation? To answer those questions, I only need to answer one basic question: why do I write?

I can’t answer those things for you, but I think that a lot of our answers are going to be the same. I write because I LURV it. I write because I MUST. I write because if I don’t write I am a cranky awful person that no one wants to hang out with. I get kicked in the metaphorical junk with Inspiration and the only way to alleviate the pain is to write the story down.

It’s this tricky little bitch called Inspiration that makes us storytellers, that takes us from mere trade professionals to artists. (I know, a lot of people don’t want to be associated with that word and all it has been used to excuse in the past, but deal with it. If you write because you have a soul, not because you are a machine, you are an artist.) And it is Inspiration that drives us through draft after draft, that makes the rejection and criticism worth it, to hopefully someday see our story in print and know that it’s reaching someone outside of ourselves.

So what happens when you get close to your goal–when agents come knocking–when editors say tell me more? For a lot of us, we come undone a bit. Inspiration is no longer what drives us through difficult times, but the gleam of gold in the distance–that greatly desired validation of selling our book to a publisher. So when Agent or Editor asks us to emphasize this, and get rid of that, we want to be willing. Often, we are more than willing. And that’s when Inspiration can get tossed out of the manuscript, like so much excess fat from a liposuction patient. (Picture that. It’s disgusting. So is losing the soul of your work.)

This is a personally motivated public blog, so I’m not going to deny that THIS HAPPENED TO ME and that’s why I’m writing this post.

Agent: “Oh we love this, and your writing is enchanting! Please change this and this and I will represent you.”

Me: “Der, OKAY!” [Proceeds to die a slow painful death in the name of her CAREER]

And now I have a draft of a book that might sell to a publisher, might get repped by an agent, but is missing the soul of what it was originally meant to be. It’s no longer fun to even think about, let alone write. And it’s the first book in a trilogy–how can I slog through two more novels without the soul of the story to urge me along?

I let myself become an industry bitch, and I suffered for it. I’m coming out of one hell of a rollercoaster ride of creative manic depression, days upon days of “I CAN’T WRITE” and “THIS BOOK IS DETROYING ME,” when all my little inner artist/writer ever really wanted was for me to be loyal to the story she wanted to tell to begin with, not the story that a few people thought would be more saleable.

I want to make a living from my writing, and I know that I have to consider my audience when I am writing a novel. But that’s not the heart of writing, and it’s not what makes me giddy when I’m struck with inspiration for a new novel. The heart of writing is the story (which is so much more than just conflict and resolution). And if I give up on that, hack off its beautiful nose because people said it was crooked, or dye it’s chocolate colored hair because someone thought it was mousy, or give it chin implants because someone else likes cleft chins and said we should too–then eventually I won’t even recognize the story that I birthed onto the page. I know, because that’s what I was looking at a few night ago: my poor, poor, unrecognizable baby.

So I’ve made a choice, a commitment, for the sake of my sanity and the sake of my soul: I am not going to be anyone’s bitch. I am going to remain loyal to my stories. I am going to do the best I can by them, even if that means reaching a smaller audience. Do I sound idealistic? Sure. But my heart cannot take another estranged novel-child, abandoning me because I tried to make her something that she didn’t want to be. 

I don’t know what my financial fate is as a writer. All I know is that I need to write, and sacrificing my inspiration in exchange for the possibility of success is a path that is doomed to fail from the beginning. Trust me.

What about you? Why do you write? Have you ever been asked to cut out your child’s heart and toss it in the trash bin? Inquiring minds want to know (and misery loves company)!

 

Small Victories

I did something this weekend that I’ve never successfully done before: I outlined my novel!

I know, I know, that’s not really a big deal for all you clever people out there who always outline your novel because you realized long ago the importance of having a track for your writing, so you at least know when you’ve fallen off of it. But I’m not as clever as all of you. I’m what they call a seat-of-the-pants writer. I get a basic idea that excites the hell out of me, a handful of characters that slap me around until I get them right, and a general idea of the ending… and then I write. I figure it out as I go, each scene as surprising as the next. This seems horrendously inefficient when I explain it like that, but it’s how I’ve always worked best.

So why outline now?

I’m beginning a second re-write of my current Work In Progress, a novel that has been an off and on love affair since 2008 (more obsessively the past two years…I kind of wrote it around The Poppet and the Lune). This new (and I hope final) version is a combination of version 1 and version 2, plus a little tweak that fixes a million different Problems I’d been having, so there is a lot less creativity involved at this point when it comes to the plot and structure of the story and character arcs. My job now is to write the scenes as beautifully and gut-wrenchingly and hilariously (you get the idea) as I can.

So I’ve outlined, essentially, to make a to-do list. Scene execution is the best part about writing–it’s the actually word play, the actual act of writing–so now it’s like I have this long to-do list full of things I can’t wait to do. Which is why this outline is so exciting!

I suppose what I can take away from this whole experience (if the outlining helps as much as I expect it will) is that perhaps my first drafts should be more like very detailed outlines. I can still write them seat-of-my-pants style, but also not lose as much when I discover plot holes or pacing issues. In writing version 3, I’m throwing away over 200,000 words from my previous versions. Which…ouch. Just ouch. Those are some really good words I’m tossing. But a novel isn’t just the sum of its pretty words–the pretty words need to weave within the structure of a well-crafted world and story.

We’re always learning about ourselves and our craft, aren’t we?

Anyway. I’m excited!

What about you? Do you outline, or write seat-of-your-pants? Do you perform major surgery on your first drafts to make the second draft work, or do you find most of the revisions in later drafts are less massive? Let me know! Sharing is caring!

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Try, Try, Try, Repeat: Lessons for a writer, from my ukulele

It just so happens that I have some (limited) talent with musical instruments–the mediocre kind of talent that means I can pick up almost any one of them and play Jingle Bells within five minutes of fiddling around (except for percussion instruments, silly). My Instruments Practiced list includes violin, piano, cello, upright bass, bass guitar, saxophone, clarinet, bassoon, acoustic guitar, and my latest conquest, the soprano ukulele. 

This is me with my ukulele. Really.

Music has never been my passion like writing is–it’s more like my therapy. I took a break from novel rewrites the other day, feeling like I’d re-written one scene a bazillion times, and decided to practice a few Radiohead songs I’d been picking up lately (I’d found the tablature on-line a few weeks  ago).

I had a moment like this:

Did I just play Exit Music for a Film, when I struggled with Three Blind Mice not one year ago?

I did!

Back when I first got my ukulele, “real” songs had seemed so out of reach it almost wasn’t worth it to keep practicing. My fingers weren’t used to the small neck of the instrument, and they didn’t bend the way the chords asked me to bend them. But has that ever really stopped me?

This is probably more accurate. I do practice on my porch, and I am a dirty hippie.

I remember a few years ago when I first got my Casio keyboard, living on my own in a little one bedroom across the street from the zoo. I would hammer out scales and make up meandering melodies and feel generally like I wasn’t learning, wasn’t getting any better, because I wasn’t being challenged. Too cheap to pay for lessons, I picked a song that I knew had a killer piano part–Ben Fold’s Brick–printed out the sheet music, and told myself I would learn it.

I staggered along learning the left hand first, then the right. I’d play through, one-handed, over and over again, then with both hands, fitting their separate notes and rhythms together like the broken pieces of a shattered plate. I would play a measure or two, mess up, go back a few measures, repeat (repeat, repeat, repeat…), until eventually the notes I was trying to play came out the way they were supposed to–the way they were meant to be played.

I had a little epiphany while I was sitting on my porch, feeling all proud of how far I’d come with my ukulele skillz: when you’re writing a novel, sometimes it’s a lot like learning to play a song. You take it slow, you go over the parts you have trouble with again and again, writing, rewriting, and rearranging until all the pieces finally fit. You know you’ve gotten it right when the story flows, just like a song, harmonious and dynamic and alive.

Too bad I can’t find the tabs for my novel online.

I don't know what's happening here. I just wanted to share this.

 
What are some challenges you’ve faced and are proud to say you’ve conquered?