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Surviving The Draft
If you are a member of a writing group, you have to figure out how to sit quietly while a bunch of people say exactly what they think about your work. It’s hard to be there and take notes with a non-confrontational facial expression while people say, “I wanted to see the mother more!” or “I just didn’t buy the boyfriend.” Instead of saying, “That’s because he’s not for sale,” you have to say something like “Thank you, everyone, for your critique. It was very helpful.” And, it turns out, that was the easy part. Now you have ten copies of your story, marked up with ten people’s opinions. What to do now?
Ten helpful hints over at SheWrites!
About three years ago, my agent contacted me to see how things were coming along with my new novel, SILVER SPARROW. I told her that is was going well and she asked me if I had a hundred clean pages that we could submit to publishers. I was very excited. Who wouldn’t want a new contract and the security (and ego boost) that would bring? She sent the pages out and.. well.. the manuscript was rejected all over town. This left me in an unpleasant predicament. I had a manuscript that was about one-third through, and was said already to be unpublishable. I wasn’t sure if I should even bother to finish the novel.
For months, I wrote nothing at all. It seemed pointless. My characters which I thought were so loveable and complicated had been undressed and shamed. (Some of the rejections were so pointed that I cried. One even suggested that I didn’t “understand fiction yet.”) And this was to be my third novel.
I’ll spare you the suspense by telling you that SILVER SPARROW will be published in May by Algonquin and I could not be more delighted. I am telling you this up front because this isn’t a success story. It’s a don’t-forget-who-you-are story.
My new post is up at She Writes. I am not a fan of NaNoWriMo. I believe that writing is like love– you gotta listen to the SOS Band and “take your time, do it right.”
To my mind, NaNoWriMo is almost like going on a crash diet to fit into a special dress. You spend days eating nothing but cabbage soup and Dexatrim and feel proud of yourself for dropping ten pounds in ten days or whatever. But have you been properly nourished? Have you learned any new sustainable habits? Nope. Why not? Because you made the whole enterprise about fitting that dress, not about changing your life.
My new “Surviving The Draft” column is up. I’ve moved the schedule back from once a week to every other week so that A) I won’t be driven deadline crazy, but also so that I can post only when I have something good to write about. Today, I am writing about choosing names for characters. Here’s a little teaser:
When a fiction writer chooses a name, you must to do so carefully, as it should be a clue to the character’s background. Don’t underestimate “invisible” names—ones that sort of blend in with and strengthen the background of the story. (Of course there are many famous authors who take a different tack. Toni Morrison’s quirky names come to mind. Milkman! First Corinthians!) Quiet names can be workhorses in a story—not flashy but they do a lot of work. The name “Keisha” was really popular for African-American girls of my generation. Nothing says “southern belle” like a woman whose middle name is her mother’s maiden name. These names might not be fun—after all they have the banality of real life—but they can do some heavy lifting in your story. To tighten the strings on your story, try for a little traction by making tension between the ambition of the name and the life of the character.
I know Tupac said “Keep Ya Head Up”, but over at SheWrites, I’m posting about keeping your head down. I am convinced that all the bad publishing news has been undermining my groove. Lately, I have been feeling sort of defeated– although everything in my publishing life is going fine right now? I realised that all the gloom and doom news from the world of letters has sort of creeped in to my mind and set up shop. (This is gross but it reminds me of those Mucinex commercials. You know the ones. Ugh.)Even up-beat articles about overnight success stories would get me down because I saw that next to none of the lucky winners were writers of color and even white women were having a hard time catching a break. None of this was helping my writing, or even my attitude. Like I said, everything is going pretty well for me now, so what’s up the the creeping feeling of dread? It’s time to tune out the negativity, at least for a while.
So, in keeping with the spirit of this week’s Surviving The Draft post, I am not going to post anything troublesome for the rest of the month. Please check out the post, and if you are a member of SheWrites, leave a comment. I love getting comments over there.
Tuesday means Surviving The Draft. This week, the conversation is all about finding the right title.
Here’s a quote:
Don’t fall in love with a title until you see it printed on the book. Ah vanity! It’s very easy to become infatuated with a title and this can affect your process. I have heard writers say that knowing the title them to stay focused, but staying focused could actually undermine your efforts to write the best story that you can. Let’s take my forthcoming novel. (It has been through five different titles, by the way.) When I started I called it “Our Mutual Sister.” I just loved the idea of two women who have a sister in common but are not blood kin themselves. I wrote about 150 pages trying to make the title work even though the book really wanted to be about two girls who actually are sisters. (The deal is that their dad is a bigamist. More on that TK.) If I had stayed committed to that title, I would have spent the last five years forcing the novel to fit it. It’s like planning an entire outfit around a belt you want to wear. Everyone knows it’s best to get dressed, and THEN pick a belt.
Today is Tuesday, so it’s time for “Surviving The Draft” over at She Writes. This week, the topic is self-censorship. I do it. You do it. Everyone that has a heart sometimes takes the edge off the hard truth for the sake of loved ones. But is this wrecking our writing? My answer– yes and no, but mostly yes. The trick is to know WHEN to pull back. And the answer is LATER.
Nothing wakes up a sleepy story quite like conflict, so that’s the topic of the latest “Surviving The Draft.”
When I was in high school, a harsh reprimand was, “Stop instigating!” (Odd diction for kids, but it’s what we used to say.) In a more formal parlance, it meant, stop provoking conflict. While this is a good rule for life, it’s not such a good rule in fiction. In an earlier post about personal problems morphing into writerly problems, one of the commenters shared that her real-life aversion to conflict, spilled out onto the page. Many of us have this same issue, so this post is going to be all about learning to be a proud instigator.
How do you know if you’re avoiding conflict in your story? There are plot tics that may indicate a problem.
To see the list of tics, and problem-solving exercises, go on over to She Writes.
She Writes has just posted my latest entry for “Surviving the Draft,” my new column about all about craft and getting your book done. The post today is called “On Writing With Empathy“, which is an expansion of something I posted here a few months ago.
One of the things I talk about was my own fear of empathizing with James– the bigamist in my new book, The Silver Girl.
The main personal problem I had to get over was the fear that I would be accused of making excuses for men, that by seeing his side of things I was somehow betraying my characters or even women all over the world. But at the end of the day, I decided that we read to stretch and grow and that we write for the same reason. Look closely at the photo that I’ve chosen to illustrate this post. Look closely and you’ll see that one of those rocks is a heart. The everyday miracle quality of this image seemed fitting with the magic of the way that the writer must find the heart of all her characters.
You can check out the whole piece here. And, if you’re a woman writer, join SheWrites while you’re over there.