The kind of passion family and friends accuse us of being obsessed about because we neglect them at times. We’ve stayed up too late meeting a deadline, finishing a thought, or tweaking one more sentence. Fellow writers are the only ones who understand. We follow and friend each other for support and higher social media stats.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Harper Lee’s interview by Roy Newquist, from his book, Counterpoint (1964 by Rand McNally): “Writing is a process of self-discipline you must learn before you can call yourself a writer. There are people who write, but I think they’re quite different from people who must write.”
Why do we do it? Because a passion to tell a story rose from the depth of our souls, a character from our imagination became real. We hear them screaming for help because we left them in the middle of a disaster scene when real life interrupted.
We share our WIP with others, “wanting honest feedback,” but not really. Upon hearing the truth of flat characters or disjointed, lack luster plots, we spiral into despair. We pout, eat chocolate, and stare at the delete button, anticipating life as a normal person.
But we can’t—passion to tell the story compels us back from the brink to try again. We sigh and take a fresh look, apologize to our Protagonist, and complete the journey because we must. Maybe someday our family and friends will understand and love us anyway.
An interesting story is told about Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird (1960), by biographer, Charles J. Shields in his book, Mockingbird (2006)
(Summary mine) Sometime before publication, Ms. Lee was struggling with revisions. She opened the window of her apartment and flung the manuscript into the darkness. Years of work scattered in the snow. Thankfully, her editor made her retrieve every page.
I wonder how many writers give up months before greatness. I’ve been rewriting my “Precious” for years. Thankfully, a writing coach gave me direction and encouragement, stating, “You have a good draft to work with.” But the learning curve is huge and daunting. I’ve almost hit the delete button more than once. I almost stuffed every year’s hardcopy into the wood burning stove. But I can’t let it go. My bucket list consists of one item: Publish My Book.
Harper’s Lee’s fit encouraged me to understand the, nobody will care anyway, days. So, hang in there another year struggling writer friends.
Some moment in time the desire entered your mind, “I want to write a novel. How hard can it be?” Well…remember the first time you tried to juggle as kid? “I can to do that,” you said. The clown at the circus made it look easy but when you tossed the first ball into the air, followed by a second, reality hit you on the head. Unless a passionate seed of determination spurred you to practice, most likely, you never became a juggler.
In the same vein, throwing a string of words together on a page won’t produce a quality novel. Your first draft will hit you on the head with the reality of your inexperience. You discover your “novel” lacks: action; tension on every page; true to life main characters with emotions, dreams and goals; a do or die conflict with three major plot points…the list goes on. Without the passion and determination to learn the writing craft you will never become a novelist.
Will you hit the delete button and resume a normal life or is the passion great enough to spend years developing your skills?
Writing a novel is a journey like that described by the blind seer in, O, Brother, Where Art Thou? Dirs.Coen, Ethan and Joel Coen. Perf. George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, and Chris Thomas King, Touchtone Pictures, 2000.
Blind Seer: “You seek a great fortune, you three who are now in chains. You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. But first… first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. Mm-hmm. You shall see thangs, wonderful to tell. You shall see a… a cow… on the roof of a cotton house, ha. And, oh, so many startlements. I cannot tell you how long this road shall be, but fear not the obstacles in your path, for fate has vouchsafed your reward. Though the road may wind, yea, your hearts grow weary, still shall ye follow them, even unto your salvation.”
“Murder Your Darlings,”(On Style, chapter 12) is a quote from Arthur Quiller-Couch’s series of published lectures (On the Art of Writing, 1916) He encouraged writer’s to, “…perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it–wholeheartedly–and delete it before sending your manuscript to press…”
He failed to mention, however, that tapping the delete button would require Hershey Kiss therapy for at least a month.
Truman Capote was asked in an interview by Patti Hill, “How does one arrive at short-story technique?”
His answer applies to novels as well: “Since each story presents its own technical problems, obviously one can’t generalize about them on a two-times-two-equals-four basis. Finding the right form for your story is simply to realize the most natural way of telling the story. The test of whether or not a writer has divined the natural shape of his story is just this: after reading it, can you imagine it differently, or does it silence your imagination and seem to you absolute and final? As an orange is final. As an orange is something nature has made just right.”
My source for this quote and the full interview can be found at:
Creating a scene for a novel is like cooking something from scratch without a recipe. Add the sentence; taste it; add another sentence; roll it around with the others, then tweak the whole thing until everything blends into a savory morsel.
My “Precious” makes me insane. I have a story in my head. I want to share it with others but it must be planned and structured. Then it must be perfectly formatted, punctuated, and edited or an agent will reject it. Various writing craft books and blogs from our age tout, “Start in the middle of the action…don’t give backstory,” etc.
Therefore, I was surprised and encouraged to realize J.R.R. Tolkien would have trouble publishing The Hobbit in today’s Young Adult market. The first two and a half pages are narrative with long descriptions and backstory. The action begins when Gandalf arrives at Bilbo’s door. The first chapter is an aggravating twelve pages long—funny how I didn’t notice these things at the age of seventeen. It was the first book I ever read on purpose, not school related, and loved. Today’s persnickety set of writing rules would have eliminated the whimsical charm of learning how comfortable a hobbit home is and the important backstory about the adventureless Bagginses.
However, even Tolkien wasn’t completely satisfied with his first edition. From Douglas A. Anderson’s, “Note On The Text”, one learns Tolkien published The Hobbit in 1937. Then in 1951 Tolkien overhauled Chapter V to correspond with his new series, The Lord of the Rings. More revisions came in 1966. Publisher, HarperCollins, revised in 1995.
Perhaps he would revise again if he were living. Many published authors cringe when they look at their books again, wishing to revise. How many famous novels were almost trashed before publication because of the insanity involved in revising?
So, I am encouraged to continue honing my “Precious” another year, protecting it from the fires of Mordor and the delete key.