Saturday, November 14, 2009

So You Want to Be a Novelist

You think that it would be a pleasant life to be a published novelist, do you? Allow me to let you in on a thing or two about the act of writing a novel that no one may have told you.

Have you been reading the entries below concerning the editing process? It isn’t pleasant to spend weeks of your life writing scenes and sentences and paragraphs that are actually wonderful, and then have to take them out because you realize – or your editor or your writers' group points out quite correctly – that they don’t fit the story.  t’s horrible! It’s horrible! I loved that character. That was a brilliant line. But the vicious truth is that a well constructed novel does not include anything that does not advance the plot or reveal something about a character. You want that story published? If your publisher/editor says to change or delete that scene you love, you suck it up, wipe your eyes, and take it out.

If you have signed a contract, and you have agreed to deliver an acceptable manuscript by a certain date, you will undergo a period of hair-raising terror and desperation as the deadline approaches, mark my words. You will offer your first born to the muses if you can just get the requisite number of words on the page by the deadline. You will pray that your manuscript is at least good enough that your editor won’t throw it back in your face and tell you that you’ll never write in this town again. Once the MS has been read and approved, and even praised, you will be relieved beyond measure while at the same time swearing that you’ll never put yourself through this again. Until another damn good idea pops into your head. I promise you that Toni Morrison, Steven King, and William Shakespeare have all had this experience.

You will undergo actual physical pain. I’ve just spent the past week in a writing frenzy. This frenzy includes long interludes of staring at a computer screen, waiting for just the right word to occur to me. (see photo) Aside from doing what is necessary to keep myself alive and fit for human society, I’ve spent day after day, hour after hour, in this chair, typing away. When I cannot take it any more, I wrench myself up into a standing position. I’m bleary-eyed, and have a headache. My back hurts. My butt is numb. My wrist hurts. Where did I put that wrist brace? My husband asks why I’m walking like Quasimoto. Take a stretch. Get a drink. Get a pillow for the chair. I go to the bathroom, splash some water on my face, and examine my face in the mirror. Oh, my God. No more writing today. I have to have something to eat. I sit down with Don and have a bowl of soup and some crusty bread. He asks me how it’s going.

Well, my dear, I wrote a scene in which Alafair visits her mother-in-law’s house and discovers a clue in the bedroom. I worked on it all day, but I’m not happy with what I’ve got. Perhaps if I approached it from another angle. Perhaps it would be more effective if it weren’t at her mother-in-law’s house, but in her own. I’ll have to rework that whole scene. Maybe I don’t even need it. Four hours of writing, shot.


Vicki Delany said...

Ah the glamour. Perfectly illustrated by our correspondent.

Nancy J. Parra said...

So lovely, and sadly, so true! Cheers~

Rick Blechta said...

I love the photo!

Jill Edmondson said...

So true. All of the above, so true.

I think it also must be said that the pleasant life of being a novelist (hell, not just pleasant, let's go with glamorous and jet-setting) includes a lot of grunt work and schlepping.

Writing my first book was relatively easy, finding a publisher was relatively easy. The hard part, the time-consuming part, the furstrating part is promoting the book.

I have honestly spent much more time promoting "Blood and Groom" than I did in writing it. And unlike writing - which was (eventually) done, finite, over... it's off to the printer- the promotional duties don't really have an end point, nor can you shut them off for the day when you've had enough.

"Killing my darlings" and "googly eyes" after looking at a laptop all day are hard & unpleasant to be sure, but even more daunting is trying to find ways to get the word out about your book, create a buzz, generate word of mouth. After all, my Dad can only buy so many copies!

Cheers, Jill

Donis Casey said...

I didn't even get into the promotion part. That's a whole other level of hell.

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