2 Legit 2 Quit

Sunday has always been my chore day, at least since I moved away to college ten years ago (wow, only seven more years until I’ve lived as an independent adult longer than I lived as a child). Perhaps I will make it my state-of-the-writing day here on Ink as well.

Puttin’ on my Big Girl Shoes

I never aspired to be a writer. I think a lot and read a lot, and I enjoy discussing my thoughts but I have discovered that most people don’t enjoy listening…so I have been writing them on bulletin boards, in chat rooms, IMs, on blogs, and on forums since 1995 or so. Places where people read them and respond to them. I don’t know what a query letter looks like, the proper format for a manuscript, or how long a short story should be. I still get uncomfortable when my husband or a friend brings up the fact that I wrote a novel.

The fact is, I did. I wrote a little over 50,000 related, fairly well-plotted words. So I am a writer, whether I planned on it or not. Thinking about this has made me realize how much writing I have always done, without “counting” it. I wrote scripts for puppet shows and animated shorts, made up stories to entertain my brothers and my friends, wrote my own Mad Libs, wrote election-winning speeches and flyers . I almost won a medal for Creative Writing in junior high just because they made everyone try (I advanced through the first two rounds, but none of the topics for the final round lit my fire). It never really occurred to me that there are a lot of people who don’t do any of that stuff.

I just love stories, and I’ll tell them (and consume them) in whatever medium seems most appropriate at the time.

Now I will share a bald truth. My husband showed me a commencement speech  given by Neil Gaiman at the University of the Arts , in which he shared his thoughts and advice on creative work. Two quotes in particular stuck with me:

Someone asked me recently how to do something she thought was going to be difficult, in this case recording an audio book, and I suggested she pretend that she was someone who could do it. Not pretend to do it, but pretend she was someone who could. She put up a notice to this effect on the studio wall, and she said it helped.

I work according to this principle thanks to my 9th grade Colorguard coach, who encouraged us to “Fake it ’til you make it” while learning new choreography. I chant that to myself whenever the self-doubt tide is rising: in dance classes, while working on a new printmaking technique, chairing Student Fee Advisory Committee meetings in college. When I started writing my novel, I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d read a lot of books and had an idea of my own in the shower, so I signed up for NaNoWriMo and wrote toward that 50k goal. There was no outline, no template, and no goal beyond 50,000 words. Then I made my goal, and was hit in the face by a new wave of things I didn’t know how to do (like edit a novel). It’s time to just do it.

The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.

Despite my best intentions, I have not edited a word of my novel in more than a month. What’s more, I decided that I had edited the wrong things after I got my first-round critique back. My novel’s minutiae is heavily informed by my life, and after my Alpha told me what she thought I was suddenly paralyzed by the fear that I had put too much of myself in the book. I have not touched it since, and was seriously considering calling it a loss and working on something new. Now Neil Gaiman is saying that might be what makes it good. Crap.

The most difficult thing for me about reading that critique was that most of the things my reader found most outlandish or hard to believe, were the things drawn most directly from life. Things people actually said or did.

I just decided what to do while writing that.

Plan for the week: Today, write a rough draft for my short-story challenge. Tomorrow through the 31st, edit Grove.

5 responses to “2 Legit 2 Quit

  1. I love that your idea came in the shower. Some of my best ideas in everything come in the shower. But I did read a quote that kind of inspired me. I was on a plane going to AZ and read this article about Helena Bonham Carter. Someone I kind of respect for doing things her way and doing them well. Hope it helps, can’t wait to read your novel!

    She was giving ideas for apps, she loves apps and this is what she said to a comment from the interviewer of her maybe being in the wrong game.
    “Oh, I’ve always been int he wrong game”, she says with a chuckle. “I’ve known this for years, indisputably! As long as other people are ready to employ me as an actor. I’ll keep on doing it, ’cause it’s fun and very well paid, but…” She pauses. “everyone, I think, is pursued by a sense of impostordom. If you ever think you’re not an impostor, you’re probably rather bad at what you do”.

  2. Oh, Neil Gaiman. [Insert fan girl sigh here.] This was one of the best speeches I have heard in a long time!

    When it comes to critiques, just remember that individual truth is not black and white at all, but varying shades of gray. We humans not only send and receive information, but through our individual life experiences we are able to process information in a way that is completely unique to us. We derive our own meaning, and internalize the parts that affect us the most. That means that no two people will ever have the same exact ideas, input, or opinions. And that is what makes the process of writing such a personal thing, I think. (Also why it’s hard when a critique says, “this doesn’t sound believable” when you know first hand that what you’re writing really happened. In a lot of instances, such things end up being an execution thing, rather than something truly being improbable.) When I receive a critique, I usually have to remind myself to remove my personal attachment to the story and keep the focus on your reader’s reaction. It helps. (Though even then, you may want to tell your Alpha to take a flying flip. And that’s okay too!)

    As for unintended writing careers, and a feeling of phoniness, I know how you feel. My love of writing has always been there, however, my love of music had me planning a career in opera in my teens and early twenties. I was a voracious reader since forever, and I loved the written word, but well, life is kinda funny like that sometimes. I couldn’t have predicted it. Even being published, I still feel that way. I think that phony feeling is what keeps us honest.

    Just keep plotting through revisions. Use your gut. Siphon through what your Alpha has critted, and discard whatever doesn’t feel right.

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