CP: My Novel Is Out for Submission!

Creative ProcessThis post is part of the Creative Process series, in which I will whine, cry, and philosophize about my life as a fiction writer. In the worst case scenario, fellow struggling artists will be heartened by my constant failures. In the best case scenario, a best-selling novel just might be written. 

I didn’t think it would happen so soon, but my novel is currently out for submission at various publishers. My agent just sent me the submissions list and I think it looks great. So, how did I arrive at this point? Good question. When I left for China, I had only finished a little over half of my manuscript. At first, it was hard to find time to write, as I was adjusting to jetlag and excited to be traveling. I also stopped in Taiwan for a few days to visit my relatives there for the first time in four years. While I had a lot of fun, I didn’t get any writing done, since my schedule was so dependent on others.

At last, I arrived in China. I’ll be continuing the AATA series soon with my escapades in the PRC, but for now, I’ll just tell you guys what happened with my book. My dad was extremely busy with work while I was visiting, so I ended up tagging along to his office and many business lunches/dinners. Each time, I lugged along my laptop and banged away at my keyboard while waiting for food. If you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you know that these are not my ideal conditions to write. I prefer to write first thing in the morning, before I’ve spoken to anyone. I also like to work in cafés, not noisy Chinese restaurants. But I didn’t have this luxury in China, and I was still determined to make my goal of 900+ words a day. Soon, I found that I was hitting 1500 words a day regularly while only writing two or three hours.

When I had two weeks left in China, though, I was only at 60,000 words on my manuscript. Since I had planned to finish the novel before my return to America, it was time for something drastic. I buckled down and what happened next was a miracle, because I still don’t know how I did it. I managed to finish my novel two days early, which ended up around 80,000 words. Surprisingly, that had been my target word count from the start. Considering that I don’t write on weekends, I averaged 2500 words a day. When my dad and I took the highs-speed train down south to Guangzhou, I holed myself up in our hotel room and made 3000 that day.

After this immense effort, I glanced over the manuscript, got a massive headache, and sent it off to my agent and Phineas. I expected quite a bit of editing/revising, which I hate with a passion. At that point, I was too close to my novel to judge it with an objective eye, so I didn’t even know if it was any good. I figured I’d wait for my agent’s feedback to start hacking away at my first draft. When I returned to Ann Arbor, I was really struggling physically. I’m normally good at adjusting to jetlag, but this time was particularly difficult. Within a few days, I found out what the problem was — I was simultaneously coming down with a bad cold.

Soon, though, good news came. My agent called and told me that she thought my manuscript was amazing. She didn’t think I needed to revise much at all. There were two words out of the whole thing she didn’t like, and that was it. In the end, the only revising I did on the first draft was to change a few names, make Phineas edit my Korean (spoiler alert!), and add to a few scenes.

If you’re a fellow author reading this, please don’t hate me. I’m sure that my potential editor will want me to make more changes. I should also add that I’m the type of person who subconsciously edits as I go along, so my first draft is usually fairly polished. The lack of revision was definitely a surprise to me, too, and I’m still afraid to look at my manuscript for fear that I’ll suddenly hate it.

Anyway, now the fate of my novel is out of my hands. I can’t do anything but try with all my might to distract myself. If I don’t, I’ll be constantly worrying. What if I don’t get published? What if I do? Fortunately, I have quite a bit of work to keep myself busy. Unfortunately, it’s rarely enough to take up all my time. Therefore, I’ve been enlisting Phineas to preoccupy me at all times. Right now, that means playing video games and watching Korean dramas.

How long does it take you to finish a novel? Do you usually do a lot of revisions?

Au revoir,

R

CP: Can Writing Be Taught?

Creative ProcessThis post is part of the Creative Process series, in which I will whine, cry, and philosophize about my life as a fiction writer. In the worst case scenario, fellow struggling artists will be heartened by my constant failures. In the best case scenario, a best-selling novel just might be written. 

When my writer friend Cristian Mihai posted about his belief that writing can’t be taught, plenty of people were offended. My first instinct is to agree that writing, like all art forms, can’t be taught the way calculus can. No matter how ungifted you are at math, if you work hard enough at it (or if your Asian mother beats you enough with a stick), you can master it. With painting, singing, and writing, though, if you have no God-given talent, you’re never going to be great at it. However, and this is where I disagree with Cristian, I believe that you can be taught to be better with an art medium. In painting, you can be taught composition, brush techniques, and thinning/thickening paints. In singing, you can be taught to keep a rhythm, stay on pitch, and increase your lung capacity. In writing, likewise, you can be taught to avoid clichés, restructure sentences, and develop characters.

I also agree with Cristian that writers (like all other artists) are not necessarily the best teachers. I think it’s a bit extreme to say that they’re all bad, but Cristian is right that many of them can’t teach because they don’t understand their own creative process. The skill set needed to be a teacher is very different than the skill set needed to do whatever is being taught. I know this because I’ve been a ACT/SAT/GRE teacher at the Princeton Review for years now and, while I can solve any problem, it is much harder to teach someone else to solve it. This is probably why many were upset that Cristian claimed that is much easier to teach than it is to do. To teach poorly is, of course, easy. Just look at all the useless life improvement gurus out there. To teach well, however, is an art. To be able to teach well, you not only have to master the “doing” part, you also have to understand your process well enough to teach it.

With that said, I’m going to attempt to teach you my creative process. The fact is that it’s not a science and it works for me because of my particular personality/ability, but some of it might help you if you’re somewhat like me. This process can be applied to almost anything — visual arts, filmmaking, computer programming — because creativity is present everywhere. In fact, I even apply this process to writing papers for school.

My Creative Process

  1. Creativity comes first. What I mean by this is don’t wait until the end of the day, when your mind is cluttered with work, grocery lists, and your mom’s annoying phone call, to be creative. You need a blank slate, a fresh head, in order to produce your best work. This is why I always try to write in the morning, before I’ve even spoken to another human being.
  2. Don’t create when uninspired. If you’re not in the mood to be creative, then just don’t do it. The result will look as painful as you felt when you created it. When I write papers, I never pick the easiest topic — instead, I pick the one I’m passionate about. Creativity is always easier when you’re inspired. But the problem is that when your creative outlet is also your job, you have to create on a time crunch. To solve that…
  3. Learn to get inspired. Certainly, creativity isn’t a faucet you can turn on/off at free will. But you can develop tactics to slowly coax that inspiration out of you. Sometimes, I get inspired for my writing when I experience other art forms. My favorite is music, but watching a movie can also be helpful.
  4. Don’t get burned out. This should be the golden rule for artists. You need to know your limits and end each day when you still have a little juice left. Take time off and don’t push yourself to take project after project. You’re human and you need breaks. This is why I always take the weekend off.
  5. Push yourself. On the flip side, you also need to know your limits so that you can push yourself to, say, 90% capacity every time. Don’t let yourself be lazy and don’t succumb to your insecurities.
  6. Rest your mind. When I’m working on a novel, I tend to obsess over it every moment of the day, even when I’m not writing. I’m tempted to gush about my plot to everyone who will listen. However, I’ve learned to entertain other hobbies (such as playing League of Legends with Phineas) to take my mind off of writing. If I focus all my thoughts on my writing, then I quickly exhaust my creative juices.
  7. When it comes, do something about it. Sometimes, creativity comes in the shower. Or the few seconds before you fall asleep. Or when you’re in the middle of a job interview. I’m the type of person that can hold an idea for days or even months until I get the chance to develop it. But if you’re the type that loses ideas quickly, then always have a notebook with you where you can jot things down.

You know what the best part of teaching is? When you’re finished, if you’ve done it well, you actually learn something about yourself.

Do you believe writing can be taught? Do you consider yourself a good teacher?

À la prochaine,

R

P.S. The next time I’m posting, I’ll be in China! Get ready for the new travel series.

CP: Better Than Tabula Rasa

Creative ProcessThis post is part of the Creative Process series, in which I will whine, cry, and philosophize about my life as a fiction writer. In the worst case scenario, fellow struggling artists will be heartened by my constant failures. In the best case scenario, a best-selling novel just might be written. 

Guys, I’m so sorry for my prolonged absence! Some of you might have started to think I was serious about quitting college. But alas, no I’m not in Switzerland — I am still slaving away at the U of M. To convince you that I’ve been productive and not simply ignoring you, let me present to you:

Exhibit A, my painting. I’m totally at a lost as to how to finish the background, so maybe I’ll leave it blank and call it modern art.

Horse: I'd like to have some grass to eat, thank you very much.

Horse: I’d like to have some grass to eat, thank you very much.

Exhibit B, my new bad habit. I never thought in a million years that this would happen, but somehow Phineas got me hooked on a certain video game called League of Legends. If you care for your sanity, never ever download LoL. Especially if you’re a perfectionist, like me, you’ll be determined to prove yourself to the world and get that pentakill, goddamnit!

That's me at the top. Unfortunately, I'll never be that good again.

That’s me at the top. Unfortunately, I’ll never be that good again.

Exhibit C, the thing that actually matters. As many of you already know, I’m working on my second novel now, since my first ended up being rejected by publishers. As of today, I’m up to page 61 and 17,026 words and I’ve only been working on it for a few weeks. You know how people wish for tabula rasa in life? I’ve realized that, when it comes to writing a novel, there’s something way better than a blank slate — an agent. Whereas I freaked out every hour of the day over my first novel, now I’m having lots of fun with my second. Knowing that I have someone who believes in me and who gives me immediate feedback on chapters lets me trust my own writing. As a result, I think this one is actually turning out to be better than the first. So keep your fingers crossed for me and perhaps in a few months, you’ll be able to pick up my novel on the bookshelves!

If you have suggestions for my painting or tips to play LoL, be sure to let me know. 😉 Lastly, I wanted to thank all of you readers for the support you’ve given me. It’s been incredibly encouraging, and sometimes it’s all that gets me through a bad day. To those of you who’ve been here all along, I really appreciate it. To the new followers, welcome and enjoy.

Au revoir,

R

CP: Facing Failure

Creative ProcessThis post is part of the Creative Process series, in which I will whine, cry, and philosophize about my life as a fiction writer. In the worst case scenario, fellow struggling artists will be heartened by my constant failures. In the best case scenario, a best-selling novel just might be written. 

Sometimes, I wish I was born to be anything but a writer. Now, certainly I have other career options. If I wanted that badly to avoid a writing career, I could always work at McDonald’s. Fortunately or unfortunately, though, my writing is what I live and breathe. When I can’t fall asleep at night, it’s because I’m plotting the narrative arch of my novel. When I leap out of bed rearing to go, it’s because I have beautiful blank pages of Microsoft Word awaiting me. When I can’t escape from the grasps of my covers, it’s because today those blank pages are more intimidating than anything. When the neighbors hear me shrieking like this:

[youtube http://youtu.be/HLI4EuDckgM]

it’s because I was just freshly pressed.

Today, I just want to rant about how fucking hard it is to be a writer. To the non-writer, it seems easy peasy — type out 80,000 words and make $80,000. Hey, that’s a dollar a word! Wish I made that much for writing English papers. What they don’t know is how much psychological torture writers experience to finally get a book published. After publishing, you still can’t guarantee that anyone will read it. Perhaps, through a cruel twist of fate, nobody will give a shit about your novel until you’re dead. Some people say that you shouldn’t judge your writing by the number of readers. But how will you ever know if your writing is the best or worst thing to happen to mankind? Your own unbiased, objective opinion? Ha! Check out this Venn diagram, courtesy of Ted McCagg of the Nervous Breakdown.

Writers Explained

Basically, if you’re a writer, you might as well be bipolar. One instant, you think you’re de la bombe. More often than not, however, you feel ashamed to call yourself a writer. Then, when you finally (finally!) find yourself an agent who thinks your latest novel is not so bad, guess what? Nobody else thinks so. After a month out at the publishers, I’ve been informed by various editors that:

  1. Your novel is too literary. Uh, wasn’t aware that I was the next Steinbeck. 
  2. There’s not enough romance. Did you miss the obvious love triangle?
  3. We want more sexiness and emotion. Did I accidentally label my book as erotica?
  4. We want it to be edgier and angstier. You probably didn’t read past the first chapter…
  5. You have a lot of potential. Sigh, did you say that just to be nice?

While my novel is still out with a few editors, it looks like this one isn’t heading down the publishing route. Which means I’m back at square one (plus an agent) and back to the drawing board I go. This also means I’m back in novel-writing status, so if you see me walking towards you on the street, it’s best to run in the opposite direction.

Bye bye, serenity.

Bye bye, serenity.

How do you deal with failure? Is it hard to get back on your feet?

À la prochaine,

R

CP: I Have an Agent!

Creative ProcessThis post is part of the Creative Process series, in which I will whine, cry, and philosophize about my life as a fiction writer. In the worst case scenario, fellow struggling artists will be heartened by my constant failures. In the best case scenario, a best-selling novel just might be written. 

After briefly agonizing about the possibility that my novel is an abomination, I can now say that I’m not the only one who thinks I’ve written a masterpiece. Har har, just kidding — my book is far from a masterpiece, but I believe in it and it feels amazing to have found someone else who believes in it too. So, without further ado, let me introduce you all to my awesome agent, Irene Goodman.

Actually, I found Irene by a complete stroke of luck. I had already sent out queries to my ideal agents and I didn’t know who else to look for. On a whim, I googled “University of Michigan literary agent” and ended up on Irene’s website. It turns out that she got her B.A. and Master’s from Michigan and I used this as an icebreaker in my email query. Obviously, she didn’t agree to take me on as a client just because I’m a Wolverine. In fact, she emailed me back, saying that while she was attracted to a fellow Wolverine, she was more attracted to my good writing. Then, the magical words: “Can you send me the whole thing?” Of course, this is where I started screaming and jumping up and down and then lying on the floor as if I were having a heart attack (I kinda was).

This is how excited I get for food. Multiply by 100 and that’s how excited I get when someone likes my writing.

The next day, I crossed my fingers, made some last-minute changes to my manuscript, worried that I wasn’t supposed to do that, attached the word document, and pressed send. In the meantime, I appeased my neurotic tendencies by putting myself to work like a draft horse. AgentQuery.com informed me that the average time for an agent to respond to a full manuscript was two to four months. In their cruel words, “If you’re not a patient person, become one”. I almost set my hair on fire — my impatience is a raging dragon that breathes flames down my neck. I spent the weekend trying to convince myself that four months was not a long time (and failed miserably).

Fast forward to Tuesday morning. I woke up at 8:00 am, rolled over, and checked my email on my phone. As I scrolled through spam, certain I’d be disappointed yet again, there it was: a long ass email from Irene. She explained that she’d read my manuscript over the weekend and remained very interested. In fact, there was an editor that was eager to read my book and Irene had already sent it to her. Finally, Irene said that while she couldn’t predict the fate of this particular novel, she thought I had great promise overall. Somehow, I made it to class without tripping over myself in shock.

Fast forward to today. Yesterday, we finally heard back from this editor, who decided to pass on my project because it wasn’t “romancey” enough for them and it was too “literary”. Essentially, my novel wasn’t Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey. Which, you know, is what I want! God knows America doesn’t need another trashy romance novel. Fortunately, Irene agrees with me and she’s already sent my manuscript off to seven more editors. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that someone will take the risk on something original.

This is my face when someone tells me they read Fifty Shades.

If all goes well, several editors will offer and we’ll hold an auction in which publishers will bid for my book. In Irene’s sage words, “Anything is possible”.

Salut,

R

CP: Fear of Rejection

Creative ProcessThis post is part of the Creative Process series, in which I will whine, cry, and philosophize about my life as a fiction writer. In the worst case scenario, fellow struggling artists will be heartened by my constant failures. In the best case scenario, a best-selling novel just might be written. 

After receiving feedback from my awesome beta readers, I began the torturous process of revision. Today, I can say that I have a draft I’m satisfied with, though — as any writer will tell you — there’s really no such thing as a “final” draft. I was going to write a post on the editing process, but realized that I would have no idea what to write. I didn’t have much of a strategy; I simply reread and rewrote until I was satisfied. The only thing I could recommend is to take a month off to get a bit of objective distance from your work. Then, just take a crack at it and work in the suggestions from your beta readers (but only the ones you agree with, of course).

In any case, I’ve sent out queries to 11 literary agents thus far. I might write a post on querying if you guys would be interested, because that’s something I put a lot of research into. This post, however, is about the agony of waiting. In the past, when queries were sent snail mail, you would at least receive a form rejection via your SASE. Now, agents simply ignore your email query if they’re not interested. The fact that agencies usually take weeks to even get to your query means that you’ll never know if they’ve reviewed it or if they’ve already rejected it!

This is enough to drive someone like me (i.e. impatient, perfectionist, neurotic) crazy. I’ve been checking my emails obsessively and going on a rampage deleting spam (J. Crew you won’t be able to tempt me!). I actually received a very encouraging rejection email from an agent who told me that my premise was interesting. This morning, I got my second official rejection. It was nice of both agencies to actually reply, but the sting of rejection hurts. Currently, my mind is going wild wondering if I’ve already been dumped by the other nine agents.

The silent treatment sucks. Won’t anyone care to read this lovely manuscript?

Printed Manuscript

Then again, Picoult herself was rejected by 100 agents before being published. Garth Stein fired his own agent because she told him she couldn’t sell his book. Sigh. I will have patience, and not let my fear of rejection get the best of me.

Have any of you queried agents? Do you have advice for me while I sit tight and wait it out?

Au revoir,

R

CP: How to Write a Novel

This post is part of the Creative Process series, in which I will whine, cry, and philosophize about my life as a fiction writer. In the worst case scenario, fellow struggling artists will be heartened by my constant failures. In the best case scenario, a best-selling novel just might be written. 

I apologize sincerely for the lack of posts lately, but these past few weeks have been hellish for me. NaNoWriMo, the University of Michigan, Thanksgiving, and stomach flu have all conspired to decrease my blogging. Fortunately, though, I did finish the first draft of my novel! At 68,258 words and 242 pages, it’s still rough around the edges and needs a lot of filling out, but it’s a complete manuscript. That means that the tough part begins now — editing.

While I’ve tweaked a few things here and there, I’m leaving the heavy duty lifting until after my beta readers have had their fun. Do any of you use beta readers? Essentially, they provide the first feedback on your writing so that you can improve. I’m really scared, though, because this is my first novel and I’m terrified that people won’t like it. But I’m rounding up a great group of readers whose advice I trust. First, there’s Phineas, who has a very low tolerance for my bullshit. Then, there’s Fabrice, my wonderful Parisian friend who will edit the portions of dialogue in French. Thirdly, my fellow WordPress blogger, Dennis McHale, has kindly offered to read for me. That means I’m still looking for two more readers…if you’re interested, please comment below!

Now that I have successfully finished my manuscript, I feel slightly more qualified to offer novel-writing advice. I’m sorry if I wasn’t able to help much with your NaNoWriMo attempts (as there are three days left of November), but I’m sure many of you will continue working on either the same or a new novel. So here goes wisdom learned the hard way:

How to Write a Novel

  1. Start with an idea. While this may seem intuitive, it is really important that before you begin writing, you have an idea that you are passionate about. You don’t have to know all your characters or all your plot twists. You can start with a setting or with a feeling. For my novel, I was inspired by several works of art — the documentary  La domination masculine, the film Parlez-moi de la pluie, and the picaresque novel Don QuixoteIf you’re not able to think of anything, then expose yourself to as much creativity as possible. Don’t limit yourself to literature; try TV shows, musicals, etc. Above all, write a novel that you would want to read.
  2. Make a schedule. If you only write when you feel like it, your novel will never get written. For me, I had to carve time from being a full-time student and part-time tutor in order to write. In order to make this happen, I set my alarm for 7 am Monday through Friday and put in a solid 2 hours of writing before class. To keep my sanity and creative juices flowing, I took weekends off. Figure out whether you write better in the morning or in the evening, and stick to your schedule no matter what.
  3. Practice. As if anything, practice doesn’t make perfect, but it certainly makes better. At first, start with a number. I recommend something between 500 and 1000 words a day. I chose 900 somewhat arbitrarily, but I found it worked for me. Then, proceed to manipulate, blackmail, and bribe yourself in order to achieve that goal every day. Trust me, you’re going to fail a lot. Most days, reaching your target number will feel like death. If you fall short, though, don’t worry. It gets easier. Towards the end of my novel, I was reaching 2000 words a day regularly.
  4. Don’t edit. In fact, try not to think about your novel at all when you’re not writing. This is much harder said than done and if you’re anything like me, you’ll be constantly critiquing yourself and berating yourself for being the worst writer on the planet. Try your best to quiet the cynical judge within you. It also helps to keep your lips sealed about your novel. Even if you’re excited about your characters and your plot, don’t talk about it to anyone. You might think that it’ll encourage you, but in the end it will only slow you down.
  5. Finish. No matter how badly you’ve failed at following the first four rules, none of it matters as long as you finish. Even if you end the novel well short of your target word count, do whatever you must to finish. I wasn’t sure how long my novel would be, but I wanted it around 90,000 words. I’m about 20,000 words short of that, but I’m planning to flesh out my first draft significantly in the next few edits.

And voilà you have your first draft. When I survive the editing process, I’ll be sure to post a guide on that too. Are any of you finishing up your NaNoWriMo novels as we speak? Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?

Bonne chance,

R

P.S. For those of you waiting for part three of Greatest Man, don’t worry! It’s coming soon.

CP: From Ashes to Phoenix

This post is part of the Creative Process series, in which I will whine, cry, and philosophize about my life as a fiction writer. In the worst case scenario, fellow struggling artists will be heartened by my constant failures. In the best case scenario, a best-selling novel just might be written. 

Recently, I compared novel-writing to pregnancy because most miscarriages occur in the first trimester. Once you get through the first third of the book, you’re much less likely to abandon it. Every day that passes, you are more and more enthralled with your “baby” as it begins to take shape. However, while pregnancy miscarriage has a rate of about 15%, I would bet that novel death has a much higher rate. I just passed the third-of-the-way mark and I’m absolutely thrilled. Yet sometimes I doubt that the road ahead has gotten any smoother and the thought of discarding my work entirely does cross my mind from time to time.

Mostly, I feel like a proud parent because I have the most unique opportunity to watch my novel flesh out before my eyes. In the beginning, it was difficult to get a grasp of the characters and the plot. Slowly, the plot has built itself and the characters have driven the progress. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not the type of writer to plan everything out beforehand. In fact, sometimes I feel the way Elizabeth Gilbert described in her excellent TED talk on creativity.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA]

The worst affliction that could possibly manifest in a writer is the disease of narcissism. More than one too many a writer has loved his or her own writing a tad too effusively. Worse is when a writer is in love with himself because of his creative talents. The second worse writer’s affliction is self-doubt. The leading cause of novel death, this ailment is as common to artists as athlete’s foot is to runners. Since both narcissism and self-doubt contribute to the demise of good writing, the question becomes: what is the cure?

The answer lies in Gilbert’s fascinating look into historical views on creativity. When you give up the idea that you are the end-all, be-all of your art, you save yourself from the two primary causes of bad writing. When you accept that you are merely the vessel — the pawn — in the grand scheme of divine artistic connivery, you relieve yourself of the burden of being either God or Satan. Dear fellow writers of the world, accept that you are neither brilliant nor pitiful and then your work will speak for itself.

Do you suffer from either of these two ailments in your art? Will you participate in NaNoWriMo?

À bientôt,

R

CP: To Plan or Not to Plan

This post is part of the Creative Process series, in which I will whine, cry, and philosophize about my life as a fiction writer. In the worst case scenario, fellow struggling artists will be heartened by my constant failures. In the best case scenario, a best-selling novel just might be written. 

This morning, I passed the 20,000 words mark on my novel. It feels like quite an accomplishment, but I know I have a long road ahead of me yet. Thankfully, though, with each passing day the writing gets easier. Although the old adage “practice makes perfect” may not be completely true, practice definitely does make things easier. That’s the thing with discipline, I feel. When you look at someone who is incredibly driven, motivated, and disciplined, you are intimidated and think that you could never do what they do. However, it’s not necessarily any harder to be them than it is to be you. Like any sport, it takes constant training to live a disciplined lifestyle, but once you get there, maintaining a high level of discipline doesn’t require more effort than maintaining a low level of discipline.

In any case, today I wanted to write about approaches to novel-writing. Specifically, should you or should you not plan the entire novel before you write it? Or, at the very least, should you know the general structure of your book? You see, I hated English class all through high school because our teachers forced us to brainstorm, write outlines, create character descriptions, etc. I would always bullshit through those “required” steps. Oh god, the thing I hated the most was having to write multiple drafts. In order to get a “good” grade, I’d purposely sabotage my first draft, hand in the real first draft as the second draft, and then revise the first draft slightly as my final draft. Throughout the years, I have gradually accepted the importance of revision, but it will never become my forte.

Now, without a horn-rimmed-glasses-wearing English teacher breathing down my neck, I do absolutely no preparatory work for my blog posts and short stories. I write them the way one writes poems — I start with a feeling, put pen to paper, and let it flow. So far, this technique has worked wonderfully for me and often I come up with better ideas than I could have ever planned. However, is it possible to write like this throughout an entire book? I’m somewhere around 1/5 into my novel and I haven’t planned anything as of yet. But I worry that when I’m halfway through I’ll realize that it’s a complete mess and my ideas are scattered all over the place. I also worry that when I ultimately finish, there will be no overall structure. Finally, I worry that I won’t be able to finish because I’ll just write in circles.

However, since the other old adage goes “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, I’m going to keep using my Blundering Fool Technique for now. Isn’t there a quote from some famous author that writing a novel is like walking through a pitch-black tunnel with only a lamp to guide you? In my interpretation, he or she means that it’s impossible to plan for more than what you can see immediately before your eyes.

Calling all novelists: do you plan out your writing? If so, to what extent? If not, do you find yourself having to do more revisions as a result?

À la prochaine,

R

CP: What It Means to Be a Writer

This post is part of the Creative Process series, in which I will whine, cry, and philosophize about my life as a fiction writer. In the worst case scenario, fellow struggling artists will be heartened by my constant failures. In the best case scenario, a best-selling novel just might be written. 

Nobody ever chooses to be a writer. Sure, third-graders who read The Magic Tree House and The Boxcar Children, or even Bridge to Terabithia or The Giver (how intellectual of them!) may become enamored of books. They may even go as far as to pick out their pen name (Mark Twain or Avi?) and start penning stories of their own. They may accomplish quite a bit, such as a 100-page novel manuscript on multiple floppy disks. By high school, they may even win the district library’s short story contest and pocket a cool $250. However, they are not writers. How do I know? Because I was one of them, and I was not a writer.

Today, I am a writer. It is not glamorous, it is not particularly respected, and it is certainly not well-paid. Every day I coddle, bribe, and threaten myself until I produce a satisfactory 900 words. Some days it comes easily and I am pleased with my work. Most days it’s like excreting a brick and I spend the rest of the day convincing myself that I will not starve to death. I don’t write because it’s amusing, because it’s an excuse not to work a 9 to 5 job, or because it’s artsy-fartsy. I don’t write because I’m a narcissist who believes that my words are God’s gift to mankind and that I will influence modern culture for generations. I definitely don’t write to hear people sing my praises — there is no other profession that is as soul-crushingly lonely and self-esteem shattering.

I write because I have to. I write because if I don’t, I feel that a monster will eat away at me from the inside until I take a pen to paper and let him have his way with me. I write because if I don’t, I feel that I am drowning in the thoughts, sentiments, words that demand to exist. I write because if I don’t, I feel that I am failing some spiritual part of this universe I don’t quite understand. Because you see, my writing is not mine. The ideas that pour forth onto blank pages don’t come from me. If you told me to sit down and you proceeded to interview me about my creative process, I would tell you, “Something just comes to me. I don’t plan anything; I don’t create anything. I am merely the medium through which writing passes.”

You see, to be a writer is at once a gift and a curse. Either way, it is never a choice. Throughout a writer’s life, she will be tormented by the need to write and the process will be agonizing — it will claim a piece of her soul, a portion of her life, a bit of her innocence. However, once she has finished, she will briefly experience the most blissful, ethereal sensation in the world — the knowledge that you have done exactly what you’ve been put on this earth to do.

Do you consider yourself a writer? What does being a writer mean to you?

À bientôt,

R