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Friday, October 28, 2011

In Which I Reflect and Make an Attempt at Painful Honesty

It’s funny, when things are going great, how easy it is to forget (or not talk about) the times when things didn’t go so well. Last night, posting pictures of my ARC, which had just come in the mail, I told some friends that I was going to write a blog post about how, a year ago, I was ready to give up.

But then I immediately thought, how could I have been ready to give up when I was frantically writing Masque?

And I wondered if it was okay to write a post that would draw attention to the fact that not only is this process not effortless, but that I’m not a shiny new debut. My book is shiny, but I'm not shiny at all! 

The first novel that I ever completed and polished was published…way back at the end of 2008. I won’t say that it wasn’t a great accomplishment; I’m very proud of it. But afterwards there was a long difficult period. I struggled to keep writing in a genre that wasn’t my true literary love. I tried to write a book that would be the right follow up to a book that had come from somewhere inside of me, and had no logical follow up. There were three complete manuscripts between Handcuffs and Masque, and one of them is, in my opinion the best draft I’ve ever written. Masque in its current state is by far my best book, but the other one, the one that hasn’t happened yet, I don’t know. I opened it the other day and read a few pages and I still loved it.

Between December 2008 and February 2011, there were a lot of ups and downs.

I frequently tell the students in my creative writing classes that if I knew without a doubt, if I could look into the future and know that I would never publish another book, that I would scrap the revision process. If my stories were just for me, then they could just float around, an ephemeral haze in my head. I like making up stories and characters. The rest of it is hard work. But with no ability to look into the future, I just kept writing. Signing with my current agent was a major boost of self-esteem, but when a book that we both loved didn't sell, that was hard.

So, looking back to the October of a year ago, I can say that I was on an emotional precipice. I couldn’t stop writing Masque. I was writing it in moments of downtime, staying up to late, getting up early the next morning…the book excited me, but there was also a little edge of crazy peeking out, and my husband said more than once, if you don’t sell this one, I don’t know what you are going to do. He knows me better than anyone, and he was genuinely worried about me. 

I do think it’s possible that I need a little edge of crazy to write the things I write. But he's known me for a long time and he was nervous. If I’d had time to stop writing, I don't doubt that I would’ve been nervous too.

When I wasn’t writing, there was this hard emotion that might have been defeat. It was flat and colorless and heavy, I didn’t like it, so I didn’t give myself much downtime.

And now I’m holding this ARC. And people are adding it on Goodreads, bloggers have been kind enough to feature the cover, to say they are looking forward to its release.

It’s easy to bask in that. It’s easy to be hopeful, because this book is (I think) as dark and as beautiful as its cover. It was so well edited and polished (at my editor’s direction, I can take little credit there), that reading it makes me feel oddly giddy, and giddy is an odd emotion for me to admit to.

But as I write the sequel, I remind myself how bleak things looked last year, when this book was going forward because I was afraid of the silence when I wasn’t writing.

I’ve matured as a writer, and I’ve become less and less afraid of the dark corners of my mind. And hopefully that will help bridge the gap between shiny and effortless and…whatever I am now. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hand Writing...that is...Writing By Hand

Lately I've felt...not so much uninspired, but over-booked. Too tired to write much. It makes the few hours that I have to write superbly precious, and that makes me nervous, so I sit and stare at the screen or play around online, or look for distractions.

I don't actually know if I believe in writer's block or not. Is it a really thing? A mental thing? Is there any difference?

I have a whole arsenal of things that I try to do when I'm lackadaisical about writing. But lately, what's really been working for me is writing by hand. By which I mean, actually taking a pen (preferably an expensive one)

(I own two or three of each color). I also keep a separate notebook for each project. Sometimes I jot down scenes in the notebook, sometimes I write down ideas, or work on an actual outline of sorts. I've made no secret of the fact that I'm a big fan of office supplies.

I'd say that in general I write about 1/4 of a novel out by hand. There's just something visceral about actually writing the words down, and I sort of like having sketchy first versions. Also, by the time I type a first draft, it's really a 1.5 draft because I'm thinking about the words as I put them on paper.

The other thing is that, when the words are in my notebook, there's a certain style to them...I have this childish pleasure in filling up pages with words. In a word processor you never get that pleasure, because who ever filled their word processor up to the brim? It has endless capacities to store the words you haven't written yet. Useful and daunting.

Now, I'm writing this post on a brand new MacBook Air, so I don't think anyone could say I was anti-technology in my leanings. But...especially with a scene that I've been building up in my head, sometimes I just have to put it down on paper before it reaches the word processor.

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