Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Epiphany’s An Epiphany, No Matter How Small

…and even at almost eleven at night. Well, okay, when I’m beginning this it’s only 9:50 PM. And no, I didn’t particularly intend to put off writing this long. But Wednesday night is normally Bathroom Cleaning Night, and I did owe the bathrooms a good swish and swipe…and with litter boxes in them, the floors need constant attention. (Kind of like the cats. But, I digress.) That is, of course, on top of the normal things one does when one gets home from work: the bubble bath (not necessarily a long soak, but a soak is necessary), the making of the dinner, the washing of the dishes…and so on, and so on. You get the idea. So here I am to blog, at last. With any luck at all, this will be the first day of keeping up with this thing for a change. My epiphany? Yes. Let’s get to that. I’ve had various revelations over these past several years about my particular corner of the writing life. But a frequent, and constant, aspect of a lot of this navel-gazing has been…how do I put this delicately? Okay, forget delicate. I’ll just come out and admit it. It’s been…whining. I can’t do my writing because of ______, or ______, or _______. This is getting in my way, or that is, or I’m hacked off at my work situation, or I’ve got these clients who are driving me out of my tree, or… Yeah. That whining. Now, within limits, it’s not whining to admit that you’re having some challenges. And I have had…er…a few challenges over the past several years. I did feel on top of things for awhile there. I think. I don’t remember for sure. I have fleeting moments of it now and then, in between the dropping of 16-Ton weights of various types in my path. (That’s for all you Monty Python fans, and you know who you are.) Beyond whining, however, was the real concern about whether I had the heart to write fiction any more. Whether I had the heart for romance was one question; but over the months, it’s become a much more basic question about a much more fundamental issue: whether, in fact, I really have what it takes to be a novelist at all. In any genre. I used to think I did. And then…something happened. A lot of somethings happened. I succeeded in selling a book that totally bombed, AND wasn’t really my most comfortable genre to begin with. I won a Golden Heart, but couldn’t sell that book. I joined ACFW, and promptly found a whole new set of hoops I was supposed to jump through, was slapped around for several instances of simply being myself, and… …I ended up in a place something like, "I guess I really don’t have the talent to write and sell a novel in today’s market. And I ain’t getting any younger, and it ain’t gonna get any easier, and…" But I didn’t use to feel this way. And today, I figured out what the root is, finally, of all this nonsense. It all stemmed from the day I learned that Writing Is Hard Work! You see, when I went to my first writers’ conference in 1988 (yeah, it really was that long ago), I didn’t know Writing Was Hard Work. I knew it took time, but hey, that was fun time. Even more important, I was good at it, because writing came easily to me. I had all these story ideas that were just popping all over the place. I dreamed books, for pity’s sake. And I knew—I knew—they were all good. I knew that even if they were a little corny, that was okay…I could make ‘em more realistic with a little tinkering. The important thing was that I not only knew I could write…I knew it was easy. I KNEW it. You know how Robert Redford’s character in The Natural (movie) hits that last home run that shatters the lights? That was me, as a budding novelist. I knew that eventually, I’d walk down the street and people would say, "There goes the best that ever was." Why? Because writing was easy, and I was good at it. So it was only a matter of time before I cracked the code, and sold a lot of books. If I’d stopped at that level of development of the craft—if I’d stopped in 1988—I probably wouldn’t have gotten to the Golden Heart stage. But in the process, I started learning…and learning…and learning. I learned about character arcs, and archetypes, and the 26 basic plots (or the 100, or the 8, depending on whom you talk to)…and the "hero’s journey"…and the "three-act novel," and GMC, and Snowflakes, and… And all of a sudden I figured out why people kept saying that Writing Was Hard Work. Because even though they all gave lip service to "Do what works for you," the fact was that they could fill three to five days from 8 AM to 5 PM with "classes" on how to do that. And they could do this year, after year, after year…. …which certainly doesn’t translate to anything like walking to the field, putting on my spikes, and "sittin’ on red" all the way out of the ballpark. Here I was…a writing "natural." I could write. I could tell stories. I blew away people in my English classes, even in high school. It was easy to do that. It was fun. But somehow in there, somewhere in learning more about this wonderful field of putting those stories to paper…I found out that no one was a "natural." Not even me. Especially not me—the proof being, all those rejection letters I was getting. Never mind that my rejection letters went from form paragraphs to personalized pages. That meant I was So Close…so if I just learned a little more… Little did I know that that "learning" planted the seeds of this crisis I’m in now. Because, you see, I have all kinds of "head knowledge" now about writing—but it’s so much knowledge that over the ensuing years, it drowned me. I lost my way. I’ve been paddling as fast as I can, trying to keep up with all this stuff, trying to find the "key" that will turn the lock…because, you see, Writing Is Hard Work. Which means that, if I thought it was easy…I must have been wrong. Right? I’m here to tell you that, as of today, I realize that’s a crock. I had been had, and didn’t even know it. It’s going to take me awhile to lose all that head knowledge and get back to the heart of it all. It’s going to take me a few readers to look at my stuff—people who don’t know anything about the craft—and lose themselves in a story, and rave about it. I’ve had that experience with one friend already. I need it with many more, I suspect. But today, I remembered, on a flash of insight, why I went into this business. Because it’s easy. And it’s fun. And I’m good at it. The world needs more "naturals" to step up to the plate and, with one swing, give people something they’ll never forget—and there’s nobody better than me to do that and show them all that telling stories doesn’t necessarily have to be so dangblasted complicated. If writing’s that hard for you, maybe you were never meant to do it in the first place. But for those of us for whom it’s easy? Maybe we "experts" should all resist the urge to clip the wings of people for whom it isn’t so difficult, and just rejoice in the gift they have. Even if the main person for whom we need to rejoice the most, and that we need to appreciate the most, is looking back at us in the mirror. Thoughts? Janny

Monday, July 20, 2009

Screw It.

I need to update this blog, and desperately. Look for more entries as the week goes on! There’s been much to mull over in my writing life and a lot of both good—as in encouraging—and bad—as in depressing—news out there. I think I need to focus more on the former, because the latter just makes me want to throw in the proverbial towel and forget I ever heard of the publishing business…

More in a bit...