2/16/2010

Neuroses and Writing

It makes me nervous to watch Seinfeld.

It's not that I don't like the show - I do. It's just that I know Jerry or George or Kramer or Elaine is going to do something entirely inappropriate or wrong and then they'll have to pay for it in a completely humiliating way.

And this makes me nervous.

As for what this has to do with writing ...

I'm still waiting on a revision letter for HOURGLASS, so I've chosen to pass my time wisely by working on book two, tentatively titled TIMEPIECE. I'd love to have my rough draft good and banged out by the time my revision letter comes, or at least have the plot solidly nailed down.

Working on TIMEPIECE prior to having a revision letter in hand for HOURGLASS is freeing. I don't have any direction from outside influences except the most basic of instructions from Awesome Agent Holly and from Regina Griffin, the acquiring editor from Egmont. I can explore my characters, ask them what they're thinking, see where their answers take me.

So far, they've taken me places that require me to go back and do a bit o' tweaking on HOURGLASS. As I've looked back at my Firstborn Book Baby, I've realized there are places where I could make it stronger. Places where I've glossed over things - emotions, fears - that I could have taken deeper.

So I should take it deeper now. Right?

Hold on. If I fail, that might make me look inappropriate or wrong and would most likely resolve itself in a humiliating way. (Like in a horrific Kirkus or Publisher's Weekly review.)

I finished LINGER by Maggie Stiefvater last week and it had the same effect on me that SHIVER did. I'm carrying it around (figuratively). I turn the words and the plot and the characters over and over in my mind. What about it did I love so much? What made it so unforgettable? I started SISTERS RED by Jackson Pearce. It feels like it might translate the same way. I can tell you I've already read the ending.

I have to wonder ... do my words do that to a reader? If not, could I do that to a reader? What if I try it? What if it SUCKS?

Voice is what distinguishes writers from one another. I'd call my voice wry and humorous with depth underneath. I'm drawn to stories with similar voices, because I'm comfortable there. Occasionally, and very selectively, I read a story with a voice that makes me sad, makes me think, makes me uncomfortable. I can't read books like that all the time. They make me hurt too much.

I can handle stories like that much better in short doses. Merry Fates is a short story blog featuring work by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton and Brenna Yavanoff. The fiction there is gorgeous. It's the kind of writing that pulls all the good adjectives, haunting, lyrical, beautiful, etc. (Tessa is especially good with the haunting. I might have to read her book - BLOOD MAGIC, Summer 2011 - while hunkered down with a pound of chocolate and some good liquor. Skillz. She haz them.)

If I tried to write a whole story similar to those, I'd give up in less than twenty minutes and curl into a little ball underneath my bed, most likely mumbling incoherently about the need for a bigger thesaurus and multiple unabridged dictionaries and ... I don't know ... better explanations for denouements and ... iambic pentameter.

But sites like Merry Fates provide an opportunity for me to learn how to weave some of those elements into my own work through observation (in tiny bits that most likely won't kill me). Sucking it up and reading Cynthia Leitich Smith and Saundra Mitchell and Holly Black - who are all excellent and write "deep" in completely different ways - teaches me things about language and setting and emotion that I wouldn't learn without expending the effort.

Writing well is about taking risks - being willing to stretch out of your comfortable self and submit to something bigger than you. James Scott Bell tweeted this today, "Great writers are a mix of confidence, hunger, dread and determination."

If it's a risk to read a book that makes me "dread" (even if maybe I read the end first) then I should take it. Because I WILL learn something. And if you aren't growing in your work, you're dying in it.

As for watching Seinfeld ... well. I'll leave that to you.



13 comments:

  1. I just finished reading Shiver. Oh man. I don't even have thoughts yet. I'm in such a state of awe still. I'm trying to process so I can write my YA central review...but I'm lost.

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  2. I know exactly what you're talking about. LINGER will do the same thing, and the writing is even better if you can believe that!

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  3. I guess I'm like you, I get really nervous when characters do something that's going to be humiliating. I cringe at I Love Lucy, can't watch it. Seinfeld is a bit easier on me. Is it comedies mostly that do this?
    I'm trying to take bigger risks, too, in my writing. Thanks for the link to Merry Fates. I'll check it out.

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  4. Tricia - I feel the SAME WAY about I Love Lucy!!! The marathon over the weekend made me a mess. Go you with the risks! We can do eeeeeeeeeeeeet!

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  5. *blush*

    Also, yes, THIS: "And if you aren't growing in your work, you're dying in it." YESYESYES.

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  6. I have Shiver on tap to start tomorrow. Can't wait!
    I think Seinfeld was so funny because they did inappropriate things that common people want to do but know better and don't actually do it!

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  7. I can't wait to read Shiver and then sit waiting on pins and needles for Linger! :-)

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  8. Love the post and I really get what you are saying. I am a "writer want to be". I have so many ideas.... none that have taken root.

    I look at great reads the way that you describe. What makes them likable? What themes really impress me? What do I love in characters? Who are my favorite all time characters? Why? What books are still with me years later?

    I think the fact that you are asking the questions makes you a better writer. Best wishes!

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  9. That you care enough to ask if your words do that to a reader is a good sign that they probably will!

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  10. Try. If you hate it, you can change it. ♥

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  11. I appreciate your honesty in this post. At the NY SCBWI conference, Libba Bray talked about taking risks with our writing. I watch Seinfeld, The Office and 30 Rock and my husband hears me mumbling, "So brave, so brave." I want to take the same risks with my characters, to challenge them (which, of course, means challenging myself). Thanks for sharing your neuroses. I look forward to your debut :)

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  12. I appreciate your honesty in this post. At the NY SCBWI conference, Libba Bray talked about taking risks with our writing. I watch Seinfeld, The Office and 30 Rock and my husband hears me mumbling, "So brave, so brave." I want to take the same risks with my characters, to challenge them (which, of course, means challenging myself). Thanks for sharing your neuroses. I look forward to your debut :)

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  13. Tessa - Give me pompons. I'm a fan!

    Kelly - Can't wait to hear what you think!

    Shannon - Totally get the pins and needles. It's going to be a loooong time until FOREVER comes out.

    Shelia and Heather - Thank you. I certainly hope so. If not, they can make a new sitcom featuring me. Right?

    Beth B - Or I can turn up a bottle of cough syrup or some such thing. ;)

    Laura - YES. The Office KILLS me. I can barely watch. Train wreck - and yes - brave.

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