Friday, June 3, 2011

Lessons Learned from a Stubborn Novel

June Challenge: What To Do When Your Book (Project, Kids, Hips, Whatever) Isn't Cooperating

I am an expert at uncooperative books (and everything else that doesn't want to comply in life.) My particular work-in-progress has been beating me over the head for quite a while now. I totally know how to have things not cooperate. What to do about it? That, I'm still working on.

Four years ago I was sitting at my computer minding my business, when a personality came spinning through the ether, hitched a ride on my muse, and smacked me clean upside the head. The right side of my head, to be exact. And this personality started yammering: "Write me! Write me now! You totally need to write me! I have a story! Write me!" (According to the vast and knowledgeable Caleb Warnock, this was a sign that there was something only I could write.)

Let me pause here and examine that last little parenthetical statement for a moment, because it is important, for writers and non-writers alike: There is something that only you can write. Or do. Or think. Or play. Or share. Or build. Or bake. Or give birth to. Only. You. That being the case, only you can figure out how to do that special thing. Advice can and will come from all quarters, but you have to figure out what works for you.End of wisdom-imparting pause.

This little personality that had started flashing into my mind--with a sort of totality that surprised me--wouldn't leave me alone. So I started writing. I didn't know what I was writing, I just wrote stuff. As it came to me. Random scenes. Random dialogue. Random descriptions. That sort of thing. After a while I began to realize who this person was, where she was from, what her personality was like, who her friends were, and what kinds of things bugged her. I liked her. 

A lot.

She cracked me up. She stressed me out. She was a blast to write. So I wrote her and wrote her and . . . came up against a brick wall. Um. Er. Let's see . . . what should happen next? Er. What's the main plot? Um . . . I . . . really don't know.

So, after a lot of rumination, I folded her up, put her away and promptly forgot about her. Sort of.

Long story short: a friend of mine told me about this new writing class our city had started and wanted to know if my daughter--who is a fabu writer--wanted to go. My daughter? Whatever. I wanted to go! (And okay. My daughter could go too.) So we went, and I was hooked. With fear and trembling I brought my little character and her short scenes to class, where she was read, praised, and boosted up. A lot. And for the first time in my life I considered that I might actually legally be able to call myself a writer.


Well, this was incredible. I had been a stay-at-home mom for a bazillion years and had put away all the things that had screamed "JANIEL" so I could focus on my kids. I wasn't good at being creative and changing diapers simultaneously. Something had to go. And since I couldn't sell the kids, it was the writing, the acting, the dancing, the singing--everything that made my heart fly. And I learned a new way for it to fly. And I was happy. But then I went to writing class, reopened this ancient door to my right brain, and shaZAAAYUM! It's baa-aack.

I thought everything was hunky-dory (there's a pun in there. no there is. but it's secret). I started writing more and felt great. Then one night I took the manuscript to class--and it was piranha-ed. Eaten. Alive. By. Everyone. Wha? I thought you people were my friends! I thought you loved every word that dribbled from my keyboard! I thought . . . I thought . . . And suddenly, I was just stuck. Again. Like that first brick wall. And it was so frustrating, because I thought I had gotten past that kind of thing. I thought I had found the answers. But I had nothing. I was lost in the blankness for a long time. 

I had no idea what to do. I mean, I was so confused I didn't know what was good bad or ugly about my manuscript anymore. So I began to learn what real work is. What real effort is. Why I was writing. What the point was. I went to plot workshops (a brilliant one done by the aforementioned Caleb Warnock. You should go if you ever get a chance), writing workshops, read every book I could get my hands on, poured over writing blogs, memorized everything Nathan Bransford (he of former literary agent fame) said, even began to genuflect before sitting down to write. But none of it helped.

Finally I realized I either had to find the answer or give up writing. Because the frustration was creeping into my personal life, and that is way not acceptable. So, I pondered. I opened myself up to the universe and just listened. I relaxed. And eventually, it came to me: I was so worried about whether or not I was good enough, about whether this or that plot point or sentence would be the JK Rowling of plot points or sentences, whether or not my book would succeed, whether or not I was making an idiot out of myself--that I could not write. At all. I was frozen into a solid little lump of Darkspume-Gnome-Of-Self-Doubt-ness.

And then, after a bit more thinking, I figured out what the main component of this state I was in was. It's in that last sentence up there above. The self-doubt-thing. It's the word "self." For me and my writing, that word is death. I cannot be worrying about myself and how I am perceived or succeeding or being accepted or anything like it, and be successful. It freezes me up. And it wasn't until I decided I would really REALLY be okay if this book never succeeded, that I un-froze. That if the only people who ever read it were my kids and husband and nieces and nephews, that was cool too. That even if THEY never read it, and all I had was the knowledge that I had managed to write an entire book by myself, That. Was. O. Kay.

And that did it. Flipped the switch. Suddenly my brain chillaxed, words and thoughts and ideas came spilling out, and I could go again.

I don't know if any of my writing is brilliant or not. I don't even know if it will succeed. But you know what? I don't care. I am enough. And if whatever I write makes just one person happy, that's the cherry on top.

I am writing with love now. Or at least trying. Have to remind myself periodically. But largely? Yeah. That's it.

That's what I do when my book isn't cooperating.

It kind of works for the rest of life too.

How 'bout you?


CMSmith said...

I loved this. Thanks for sharing your journey. There's a lot of negativity out there in the writing and publishing world. Just write.

Caleb Warnock said...

So many great points in here. We all have to do the work that only we can do -- especially with children. And talent. And testimonies. And talent. And children. (Okay, I'll stop).

Russo said...

janiel, this piece is stunning. You nailed it, I think this might be one of the top posts of the year for me. So full of knowledge.

Robin said...

I love this piece. I never thought about that idea that there are some things that only I could write.

Then again, maybe you've said that to me before. You Are the reason I started blogging.

Heart you!

Lori said...

This is a very inspirational post - it is important to please ourselves. We forget that sometimes. Thank yo for the reminder!

Janiel Miller said...

Thanks for your kind comments, all of you.

CMS - There is a lot of negativity out there. But there is some positivity too. Maybe it's just in the YW genre, but I've been impressed with how supportive other writers are, and how generous they are with help on their blogs. So, when it gets to be too much, go hit some YA blogs. We have a bunch of links on the right sidebar over there. And your advice to Just Write? Perfect.

Caleb - Yep. And thanks for all your wisdom-y pearls. :)

Russo - you are so sweet, hon. If there's any wisdom in this post, it is the child of a LOT of dorkiness. :O That's how it works though, yeah?

Robin - Oh honey, there is absolutely a work that only you can do. One has but to go to your blog to see that. And I'm glad you're blogging, babe, because you are FABulous! Hearts!

Lori - Thanks! And thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

Kortney said...

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Have a great week,