Couples Therapy

Marriage is like trying to write a novel. This could be said about life, raising children, etc.— but for the purposes of this post, I am only talking about marriage. I have been married for six years, so, yes, I got married very young. We have a solid partnership. We like each other a lot. Of course, we love each other a lot too, but liking him is often more valuable than loving him because it means we laugh together and we connect. We were watching a movie yesterday. We usually try to do that on the weekend when Sam is napping because by the time he falls asleep, we too, are pretty beat.

It was one of those indie-comedies where you always feel like, at any minute, someone is going to die. The plot centers around two brothers, one whose marriage is falling apart, the other whose world has fallen apart and he needs it to be redeemed. Overall, the movie was only a B, but there was a moment where the wife of the first brother says, “We’ve just gotten so off track, what’s any of this even for?” My overwrought writer brain grabbed a hold of that.

Many people get married because of passion, or the chemical thing called love. They get married because of a baby, or the fear of loneliness. Some marry merely because others around them are, and it seems the natural progression to their life. I’ve seen those marriages, they’re rocky. I’m not saying they won’t eventually level out, but they are always in a tenuous state. Marriages that start out like mine can end up destroyed, too, lost to the roaming world. Because marriage is like writing a novel.

Many writers start out really strong, with a clear reason for what they’re doing, an idea defined. The writer then sets off on the winding road to the end, and they lose their way. They forget what they started writing this for, what the goal and motivation of the protagonist is, and they end up very far away from where they wanted to be. They digress then — this can last for weeks, years, or forever. When it is the latter, a sort of divorce happens. They give up the project, not quite able to pinpoint where the love was lost, but losing it nonetheless.

I do this sometimes even when I’m blogging. I begin a post because I have a spark of an idea, and then in the writing, or because I’m distracted by other life factors, I forget the thesis statement of my post. And I’m then staring at the computer scratching my head and wondering, What the hell was I trying to do there? Like that character said, I’ve gotten off track somewhere.

Most marriages, even the train wrecks, are worth saving. Not every novel is. Or not every novel is in the state that it begins. It will need a new life, a slice with a red pen, and a diligence to finish. In this way, marriage and writing a novel are the same. The challenge is always in finding your way back to the heart, to the reason you began this journey in the first place. All of us are susceptible to getting off track, that is human nature — following rabbits down holes thinking it will lead to a better road — and all of us are capable of finding our way again.

Acceptance

Sometimes I very much wish I was writing something else. I wish it was lighter, gentler. I wish it made me feel peaceful to have these voices in my head. I’ve been reading a book lately that has a decidedly sad tone, but somehow it renews my romance with the world. My book is not like that. My book is a journey, and that journey begins in darkness. And that darkness is overwhelming.

I’ve been thinking about this struggle, this inherent desire to be in someone else’s process, to feel what they feel when they write something lighter. I read a lot of YA, and the trend in young adult fiction is to be a angst-ridden, to create a dystopian world, or to talk about teenage sexuality. When I set out to write my book, there was no choice in doing YA. The book just happened that way. The idea, the voice that came out, it was more for the teens than the adults. Not that adults won’t like it. All my early readers are adults. A lot of adults swoon for YA. But it wasn’t my goal to write YA, it was an accident.

So, I think what I’m trying to say is, you must accept that you will write what you write. You can’t change that. I don’t mean we write what we know. Jo March did, and it worked for her. I mean we write what comes out, we commit to a work of fiction because it exists within us and it needs to get out. It’s not always a journey we understand, but most of the time, it’s still the search of our own life. It’s the good and bad of us, or of us in our current state.

Be OK with your work, whatever it is. Let it grow in you. It may not be literary fiction. It may be a summer romance read. It may be a crime drama. It may be the next Harry Potter. (There will be a next one, someday, when the world is hungry enough for it.) What you write has a purpose, and on some level, for someone, it will be exactly what they need. Acceptance is the first step to writing…or recovery…or dieting. Let it nestle you in a warm, gut-squeezing, cartoon style hug.

Resting like a Writer Should

I wrote a couple weeks ago about how I was filling my time in between this draft and the inevitable rewrites to follow. I expected it to be gruesome. Rest can be a phantom to the mind of a writer. Thinking like a writer is pretty hard to turn off. It bubbles within your subconscious even when you are trying to just watch The Avengers and eat some Sour Patch Kids. The brain of a writer is constantly searching, and it will keep you in a wandering bliss of never-ending rewrites if you let it.

Right before I took my break I was certain that the story was good enough to take the next step, but time away proved me wrong. I received some feedback from an early reader friend. She loved it, but she felt it could be improved. My first reaction was sort of adolescent. I felt like firing back with, Well, I rubber your glue, or some sort of nonsense like that. Instead, I took a breath and reread her comments again. This time I remembered that she was a good reader, and she was also being really gentle. She didn’t tear it apart (as an editor would) she just thought there were kinks.

I took more of a break. I decided that I needed to wait to act. I needed to stew a bit in my dissatisfaction. Every writer wants immediate, glowing reviews. We want our readers to pitch their response at us with such fervor we bend over backwards. They may, or some may, and those who do will be the ones who come to your book signings and follow your blog just to bask in the words of the one who created for them characters they wanted to live with. My friend found a character like that in my story, and this was the greatest compliment she could have given me.

I waited. Watched some more movies and tried to read some more books. Reading was hard. Reading just made me want to write. I am pretty susceptible to the power of suggestion. Someone talks about cheese, my mouth-waters for brie. Someone mentions coffee, I suddenly feel sleepy. I read beautiful writing, I need to put some words together. It’s a viscous and inconvenient truth. So I tried another movie. Another superhero movie. Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring the brother of the guy who plays Gale. The way beefier, kind of shockingly studly brother of the sort of boring guy who plays Gale. Why Thor? It was on Netflix streaming and I’m on a kick from The Avengers. Stop judging me.

Thor was the answer. (Maybe because for two hours I wasn’t thinking about holes in plot or prose, but was drooling over a pretty, pretty boy.) I don’t know why, but something clicked, and once it did, I knew I could start writing again. But I am not yet rewriting. This work will not be seen (or not in this form anyway), but it is work that I have needed to do and never seen a way to begin. It is work that changes how I see things. This work also makes a few sections of the book complete scrap.

Taking a break means letting your mind just be free. Stop writing in your head when your on the subway. Stop relating everything you experience to the plot of your book. Stop looking for answers in other writers work. Stop pretending to listen to your friends when really diagraming their sentences in your head. All these things are the crutches of a writer, and we lean on them to get through the time when we aren’t actually tapping out words. But sometimes, flopping on the couch with a glass of wine in the afternoon and watching a movie is the medicine your overworked writing brain needs. This advice goes for mothers, and students, and working professionals who live on their cell phones. Shit clears when you let it. Stop worrying you’ll lose it if you check out for a few days. Chances are, you may actually find it.

Pure Baggott

This post is really about two things, but they overlap, so it will be written as one. I recently read a YA book called Pure, by the New York Times Bestselling author, Julianna Baggott. I don’t know if I would have known about the book if not for my agent friend Julie. I read YA, and more so now that I am writing YA, but a lot of really amazing stuff gets by me because I don’t always have the drive to search. Pure could have been one of those.

I read it a few weeks ago while I was finishing my novel. In some ways, I think this was a mistake. I was in the throws of romance, all hot and sweaty for my own story, not necessarily absorbing what I was reading. That said, I still think about it with an eye twitch and ache in my chest. I will not review it. I do not feel qualified. I will tell you, if it is not on your radar, let this blog post put it there. Pure was stunning. It was written in third-person, which is not widespread habit of YA writers. It is a lot more literary than some of the YA we may all be used to. It also deals some pretty loaded hands, paints some pretty graphic pictures, glares at some pretty real issues. Some of the description required multiple reads (again, this may be because my head was full of my own book) and even then sometimes the result was more of a brow knit. Don’t let that deter you, because upon another read (now that my head is clearing) I am feeling very differently.

I was perusing the web for blogs on writing, wanting to build my knowledge of what other writers are saying, reading, coloring, and I came across Julianna Baggott’s blog. Baggott writes under three names: Julianna Baggott (her legal name), Bridget Asher, and N.E. Bode. She has published over seventeen novels and poetry anthologies. I chose to check out her blog, and that is what this post in really about.

As a writer, Baggott is prolific. She is not only renowned in publishing, but she is a scholar of books and teaches that craft to future writers by way of Florida State University. She is long married with four children (ahh!). I set about reading some posts and promptly fell madly in love. Her voice as a human being is really bold, full of ballsy goodness and knowledge. And better, she writes not only about writing (publishing, agents, books, authors) but about real life. She writes about herself, her kids, and her vulnerability and humor befits a person that has seen many things of the world and still believes in it.

I have just been clicking through her blog, absorbing her words, laughing, nodding. In one particular post, I found myself nearly tear up. Not from sadness, but solidarity. The link to that post and the rest of her blog is here. She beautifully describes the road to a publishable manuscript as being gutted. I also have described it this way, and I was shocked by it. I will continue to feel completely vulnerable, all exposed nerves and blazing skin, for years to come I hope. And I know, Baggott would agree with me. I also hope for it to all be worth it. Not by monetary calculations, but by the assessment of worth in readers. For all our scowling, we really want to connect.

I highly recommend you peruse her blog. It’s a good read. And, as she says at the end of many of her posts: go buy Pure!

Filling time

Lately, (and by lately, I mean, since Wednesday) I have been faced with a dilemma. Patience is a virtue I am usually bankrupt in. It is also something I must do as I wait for feedback from early readers of my manuscript, including an agent friend of mine. The first couple of days I felt like my skin was being picked at by tiny, flame fingered trolls. I could still feel my narrator inside, running parallel with me, screaming that I couldn’t leave her that way. I know this sounds insane, but truthfully most writers are a little bonkers.

I also began to balk at the idea that this book I had written with ambitions for publications and widespread distribution (lofty goals in this market) was being read by very close, and trusted friends who wanted me to succeed. There reaction will be real, but they are kindly invested in the future of my work. (I hope, I don’t generally run with backstabbing b*tches.) How will it be for me when others with no care for my well-being or knowledge of who I am, read this.

I know what you’re thinking, “You will suck it up and be thankful they read it at all.” I think you’re right. If you aren’t thinking that, and are giving me a virtual edifying kiss on the cheek, I would like to thank you for the sentiment and promptly cry on your shoulder.

In the whirlwind of writing my manuscript I have often been captured by the narrator, drawn in as prisoner by the world she lives in and the fight she fights. Now that the bulk of the work is behind me — unless the consensus is that my book is not worth reading  at all, a reality writers are faced with everyday — the next step will be much different than the last. There will be times when I will have to actually participate in my life without thinking about my book.

It’s been nine months of solid work. Some authors work years on a manuscript, some spend a decade writing one huge story arch (see JK Rowling), while others still pine away on unfinished projects with no hope of an end. In the grand scheme, this experience so far has been relatively smooth. Though from the inside it felt very messy.

So…what am I doing to alleviate the stress of being patient in earnest?

  • Reading
  • Blogging
  • Gathering knowledge about my genre
  • Watching movies! Finding TV shows on Netflix and harping on about how nothing on TV is as good as Mad Men.
  • Playing with Sam — he has had to endure a lot of Zombie-Mommy since I began writing my book. He has handled it with great grace and piles of new superhero figures.
  • Crying. This is involuntary and not at all helpful.
  • Relaxing. Getting brows necessarily waxed, toes painted, back massaged, hair highlighted. All things I let fall during the mad dash.

Now I leave you, but not empty handed. You can ponder with me the cuteness of this pig. (Where do I get one and how can I sneak it past my landlord? ) Also, what makes a person wear stilettos? And should we petition for Pluto to be a planet again? (Ah, the things I think of when I am not working…)

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Confusion Querying

The time has come for the next step — the Query step. I will not pretend this step will be any easier than the step of constructing the manuscript. This step could be the part that induces me to drink. To see a riotous breakdown of what writing a query letter on gin looks like, follow this link. The first time I read this, back well before I was going to write a query letter, I laughed so hard a little coffee came out of my nose.

The internet is ripe with tips on querying. What to do. What not to do. How to look like an amateur. How to look like a pro. How to be a pretentious snob no one will ever want to work with. There are different styles, different do’s and don’ts, some incredibly helpful, others complete nonsense.

It’s actually amazing how much contradicting information you can get on one subject, but then, isn’t that the problem with researching on the internet in the first place? My sister-in-law and I just had the same discussion about pregnancy advice. One article said yes to chamomile tea, the other a firm no. I told her valerian root (which is found in Sleepytime Extra) is a no-no, but I drank chamomile through my pregnancy and never heard any different from my doc. My son did come out a little sleepier than expected, but what the hell?

Apparently, writing a Query is harder than drafting a novel. Some even describe it as an art form. I don’t really get that. It’s a letter. It requires that you can compellingly summarize your novel in a few concise paragraphs. OK, this is harder than it sounds. To summarize, as defined by the infinite wisdom of Webster, means to give a brief statement of the main points. This should not be too hard for the author, but authors are notorious for being fluffy headed and wordy. Those qualities make summarizing a lofty goal.

There’s also the mysterious question of do you or do you not compare it to other books on the market in your chosen genre. This requires a skilled hand, a dose of humility, and a knowledge of the many possible books you could be compared to. As a YA reader, I know a few, but since I have been writing my own novel, I have been remiss is my duties as reader. This leaves me wondering what the hell to compare it to and if that is a good or bad sign that I can’t?

Finally, the author bio. Some say you must absolutely include a brief history of you as a writer. Others think this is superfluous as they are hiring the book, not you. I say, let my material speak for itself. Plus, I’m unpublished, so I have very little bragging rights. Unless I can include this pic of my son:

 
But I don’t think that is the kind of accomplishment they are looking for.
So, therefor, the choices are endless and the likelihood of being rejected even more vast than that. (More vast than endless? Hyperbole.) The choice is mine as the writer, and the right is theirs as the agent to say no. Ok, bring on the gin, and lets get crackin’.