Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Never Give Up. Never, Never Give Up

I have been writing my novel, Domus, for years. Writing, rewriting, revising, reviewing. Laughing, crying, sighing. Loving it. Hating it. And, for the last few weeks I've been avoiding it. Today my daughter shared this entry from one of her chat rooms. Since it hit me where I write, I'm sharing:

...a article by Cary Tennis. It is in response to a writer whose second novel was rejected by her editor and she is crushed. It seemed so well put, it was something to share. So, if anyone out there has just gotten added another rejection to the tower, this one's for you. Oh, and thanks, Cary.

Dear Lost for Words,

You've spent five years on something and you've been let down. It is as though you've been lugging a heavy bag of gifts for your mother up a mountain for five years, and you arrive at her door, and she says, Sorry, not interested, the gifts do not impress me. Go home.

So you sit down outside the wall of your mother's castle and ask, Wow, what now? Sh--!

As a character in your own story, you must take action that flows from who you are. If you are not sure who you are, use your imagination: What would your ideal person do?

It goes deep. It goes deep because it goes to our mythic, innocent, unprotected self, our child self. But let us not stop there. It also goes to our hero self, the world-beating, unstoppable one.

This is exactly why I was writing yesterday about the connection between the infant's sense of wonder and the artist's well of creativity. The rejection is felt by your true, innocent, unprotected self, the self that requires unconditional love. At this crucial time, you must listen to the wounded innocent and feel that pain and bewilderment.

But you must also invoke the powerful, avenging hero.

It is not just the innocent that helps us write. It is also the warrior. The innocent creates these lovely things and looks up wide-eyed and says, Look! Isn't it beautiful?

The warrior sharpens her arrows deep into the night, checks her armor, practices the kill shot, surveys the opposition, steels herself against fear.

The innocent needs the warrior. Beauty and strength: One without the other is not enough. The empty warrior is like the blinded one-eyed Cyclops, flailing madly in the cave. The unworldly artist is like an infant left in the forest to be eaten. As artists, we need both the innocent and the warrior.

It is good that you have a challenge. If you write one successful novel after another, we are not much interested. We might envy you, but we don't much care what happens -- there is nothing to overcome, nothing to be discovered, no deeper inner resources for the character to find, no ingenuity and problem solving.

We're not interested until there is trouble.

So now you have some trouble. Good. We're interested. We like trouble. Sorry that it is a pain for you, but we are selfish voyeurs; we like your trouble. We can't help it. We understand trouble. We relate to trouble. We understand difficulty and hardship and resistance. We want you to succeed. We want you to succeed because your story touches us. We've been there.

So let me ask you: What does your survival instinct tell you? Do you picture pounding your fists on the wall of your editor's office until she relents? Do you picture laughing it off and finding a new editor? Do you picture going forward with the novel in hand, or writing a new one? What feels right to you? What feels right for your story line? What would your hero do?

Please note that I do not ask what you think you should do. I ask what you feel and what you see. This is not about tactics, but about vision.

Also ask this, for you are not going through this alone: Who is in your corner? Who is on your side? Assemble your army of supporters. Ask them for help. Ask them to help you climb out of this ditch. They will help you.

You do not have to triumph immediately. Such a triumph might come too early. This is only the first act. You may take many more blows yet. What pleases us is how you take the blows and counter adversity, what you show us of character and heart. That doesn't mean that you don't wander, lost, for a bit. It certainly doesn't mean that you don't feel terribly low. We would understand if you did. We want you to respond authentically, but we want you to come out of this.

Whatever your response, it must and will come from your creative, unbeatable, persistent, undaunted, unfazed, life-affirming side, the side of you that dreams of triumph and revels in every sunny day, the side of you that is innocent and optimistic and unafraid.

It might mean that you rewrite the novel. It might mean that you pour your feelings into a new work.

But that you respond to this event from a deep sense of your own truth is crucial -- not just to you, but to your kids, your psyche, your man, your family and, one might say, to your story line, which is to say, the life that you create every day when you wake up.

We, you might say, are the readers of your life.

We want a good ending. It doesn't have to be happy, but it has to be true.

Charlotte Mielziner

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I'm Feeling the Pain...

I'm a Twilight fan, I'll admit it. Books and movies. But, there's a part of me that just say OMGsh!!! Was it really that easy for Stephanie? This agent's blog hit the mark for me. Since I can't get the link to work, I copied it here.

Soapbox: How Stephenie Meyer Cramps My Style
Are you familiar with the Twilight origin story?
by Stephen Barbara -- Publishers Weekly, 12/7/2009

The main thing about Stephenie Meyer, aside from her being a megaselling author and probably more popular than the Beatles when the Beatles were bigger than Jesus? She's making my life really hard.

Four years ago I became a literary agent, and ever since then, writers have made certain charitable assumptions about me. They expect me to know things. They ask questions. They invite me to appear at conferences to share my expertise. Occasionally I even teach an online course called, ambitiously, How to Get Published. The #1 question I am asked by these aspiring writers? “How do I break in?”

A loaded question, if ever there was one, but over time I came up with a nearly airtight answer. I quoted Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 Hours of Practice rule. I told of the 100-some rejection letters F. Scott Fitzgerald nailed to the wall of his office before having his first story accepted. I dilated upon the image of a young Ben Franklin, rewriting articles from the Spectator as poetry and back into crystal-clear prose late into the night. I extolled virtues so stolid they sounded like 17th-century Pilgrim names: Patience! Diligence! Faith! I imagined my listeners, teary-eyed and chastised, readying themselves for years of persistent toil before the golden day of their first acceptance by the grace of an editor or agent.

And then I learned the story of how Stephenie Meyer broke in.

Are you familiar with the Twilight origin story? Articulated on the bio section of Meyer's Web site, it is a tale that nearly beggars belief, containing echoes of beginner's luck, Don Larsen throwing a perfect game in the 1956 World Series, and Sarah Palin almost becoming vice-president: a combination of inexperience, mediocrity, and success so spectacular as to turn all received wisdom on its head.

It goes something like this: one night Meyer had a dream, feverishly wrote the complete manuscript of Twilight over the next three months, sent it to several literary agencies, accepted representation from one of the biggest in New York, sold her series at auction for a then-unprecedented $750,000 advance, in due course knocked J.K. Rowling from her top spot on the bestseller list, and in the space of four years became the world's most popular author.

Here is a list of common tropes conspicuously absent from that story: learning how to write; persistence in the face of rejection; years of unrewarded toil; invaluable help from a critique group; hard work; a moment in which the author Does Some Soul Searching and Nearly Quits. Also, editing.

This last omission is probably the most remarkable, the crowning way in which Meyer and Twilight have proven the exception to nearly every so-called rule of the publishing business. With a self-effacing chuckle and a grateful nod to their editors, most famous writers later explain how their early drafts were overwritten, melodramatic, flatly characterized, heavily expository and indifferently written, only to emerge as being of recognizable quality in the late editorial stages. Meyer has sidestepped this inconveniently collaborative process by simply having her early drafts published, warts and all, and to no obvious disadvantage.

Given the phenomenal success of Meyer's series, the passion her work inspires in fans, and her unusual rise to the top, it becomes clear that Stephenie Meyer—how best to say this?—knows something we don't. You first see it in her author photo (seated, couch), which captures a look somewhat reminiscent of da Vinci's Mona Lisa: the close-mouthed, mysterious smile; the wise eyes hinting at possession of some enigma that cannot be divulged. Whatever it is, it's better than The Secret and more optimistic than He's Just Not That into You. Meyer can make immortal vampires love clumsy, awkward teenage girls; 800-page hardcovers profitable; and independent film adaptations compete with the likes of Titanic at the box office. Is there anything she can't do?

Which brings me back to that nagging problem I mentioned earlier. Every time an unpublished writer asks me for advice on how to break into the business now, I have a new response, but it's such a lame hedge that I'm afraid I'm going to bomb at conferences. “Read till you nearly go blind; write till your fingers are numb. Be ready to face years of rejection.” And after a pause and a sigh, I add: “Or just wait for a dream to hit you and transcribe a phenomenal worldwide bestseller in three months' time. Either way.” It's the best answer I've got, these days.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Brains and Beauty

"In the 18th century, there was said to be a man who had read every book written. But nowadays, if you read one book a day, it would take you about 15,000 years to read through the books in a national Library. By which time, many more books would have been written." I found this quote this morning by Luke McKinney on the Daily Galaxy in an article about our brains. It speaks to the notion that I'll never catch up on my reading! But, that doesn't mean I can't try.

I am blessed with a husband who understands and shares my love of reading. This week he bought me, for my professional side, "The Human Brain" a delightful full color tome I wanted for my herbal library and for my feminine side the last installment of the Luxe novels "Splendor" by Anna Godbersen--I love the dress on the cover; in another lifetime I may have worn something like that. The books are at opposite ends of the teeter totter--one appeals to my intellect, the other fulfills my girlie requirements. It's how I achieve balance. I am adding both books to my Reading list in the right hand column.

In the meantime I am approaching the finish line. That's Dec 31 when I review my years worth of reading. I haven't added the titles up yet, but pretty sure I beat last years total. Gotta's cold outside and a good day for reading.