Thursday, January 27, 2011

This is When Writing Gets Private

Would you believe me if I said it has taken me 15 years to figure out a problem in one of my novels? Maybe that means I'm really slow, but all it really means is that I had a lot to learn about writing before I could write the story the way it needs to be written.

I've rewritten this particular book probably 20 times now. I don't mean dinky, fluffy little revisions. I mean MAJOR REWRITES, probably half of those starting the document from scratch with a blank slate.

This book makes me feel stupid when I look at the stats.

People who have read a draft of the book at one time or another
estimated 50 people (Can you believe that? Yeah, neither can I, but it's sadly true. Some of those 50 people have read the book multiple times.)

Years I've worked on the book
15 (You'd think it would be really, really, really good, huh? Yeah, it's not. Yet.)

Number of rewrites

Number of places I've lived while working on this book

Number of times I've queried the book
2 (This was a brief moment of insanity, and then I realized how far off the book was from being ready. These are the only official queries I've ever sent out for anything I've written.)

The book's first word count
37,750 (I first wrote the book by hand because when I started it, I didn't even know what a word processor was.)

These numbers aren't anything private. They are the things I can share and laugh about. People, writers and readers alike understand these facts for the most part. So where does writing get private? As I was working on the book a few days ago, something clicked. I don't mean a small click. It was a huge, monstrous, earth-shattering CLICK!!!!!!!!!!

I almost stopped breathing.

I finally knew how to make the book work. I saw what had been wrong with it for so long. It's something I'd love to share, but honestly, it wouldn't make sense to anyone but me. It's strange. A part of me wants to try and explain what has happened, but it would only come out as a very long, dry, and confusing post. I finally have instincts to guide my way through writing. I've spent a long time building these instincts, and there is no way to share them with anyone. It's sad and depressing and selfish all at the same time, but a part of me doesn't care. That part of me is jumping up and down with excitement that I can finally make this book work.

I think every writer needs privacy surrounding the way they write. It's great to share some of the knowledge we have, but much of the magic which happens during the writing process can't be explained or shared. I think that's how it should be. Sometimes I read posts about rules and processes and I get so overwhelmed with all the noise. It's good to learn these things and understand them, but the only thing that's going to make your writing truly amazing is to find the place where you forget everything else and trust yourself. Nobody can tell you how to do that but you.


  1. First: Congratulations, that 'click' is wonderful news! Run with it, and don't look back!

    Second: I don't think it's at all 'selfish' not to tell everyone what you're going to do with it. Illusionists don't give away all their secrets to the audience, if they did they'd have no mystery and mystery is good. Some things are better kept close to the vest.

    Also...thank you for the remark on 'rules' and such. I don't write the way I 'should'. Maybe that means I just stink at it and maybe it means I'm a quirky art chick a'la Phoebe Buffet, either way, I'm okay with that cause it's the only way I can do it.

    Your way of doing it can only be called 'well'! So forget everything else- just keep listening to that voice and write!


  2. Yes, congratulations on hearing the click! I love that moment.

    I think there's a lot about writing you can't share simply because it's unexplainable. Like you said, it's magic.

    Good luck with polishing this one up ... finally! :-)

  3. I know the click feeling, and the feeling of needing a click but not hearing it. Congrats!

    I usually stay pretty quiet about my works in progress, partly because I'm not published and therefore don't feel valid in discussing my work methodologies, and partly because until a work is done, it's subject to change, so what I have done is less important than what I am still going to do.

  4. That's fantastic, Michelle, and I am all about writing by instinct. If you *could* share with us what had clicked, I would be suspicious that you were just making something up or that it hadn't really clicked.

    There is a stage of writing when it is necessary, I reckon, to think about rules and steps and procedures.

    There is another stage of writing, though, when you are just doing it.

    My aikido instructor used to always show us a technique, and then I'd pester him questions about this move and this turn and this angle. Then he would just show me the technique again.

    It frustrated and sometimes angered me.

    Then, when it would finally click, and someone else who hadn't got it yet would be pestering me with questions I would -- you guessed -- just show them the technique again.

    When something really works and flows from you, I don't think it usually happens in a cookbook way.

  5. There's much more to this post than a writer sharing a "Eureka" moment. What Michelle is really saying - in my opinion! - is that writers ought to completely ignore all the writing rules. Writing, like all forms of art, is personal, unique to each and every one of us. What works for one, or even twenty, won't work for all. Trying to shoehorn your creativity into a certain set of guidelines is like trying to strangle an enormous snake. It just keeps wriggling free!
    Writing has to flow at its own pace through the writer - it must be free of all constraints. I don't know for sure, but I suspect Michelle has suddenly realized that she's been trying to write in a certain way and it just isn't working. Maybe she's realized she must give her muse its own way. Maybe it's something else entirely.
    All I know, from my own experience, is that you have to give your creativity wings. You have to throw it into the air and see where it lands. Don't put it into little boxes - don't categorize. The time for all of that is when you've finished, when you can stand back, look at your creation and fully understand it. Let it take you over, allow that wonderful, crazy, silly, slightly scary feeling of not being in control. That way the thoughts and ideas can flow unchecked and THAT's when masterpieces are made.
    Good luck with it, Michelle, and enjoy!

  6. Michelle, I can soooooooo relate to this post. I know how is to work on a book just YEARS, somehow able to let it go, yet knowing it's just not "right"... and then that revelation!

    Argh, and it's frustrating, isn't it, that you can't explain it to anyone, because it's so specific to your story, your internal hope for it.

    I'm glad you had this inspiration!

  7. I'm so glad for you!

    There is nothing as wonderful as that feeling that suddenly everything you've tried to write makes sense.

    Good luck with your (hopefully) final rough draft. :-)

  8. Congrats on the Click!!

    I surround myself in privacy when I write. Even from my husband. Should he happen to look over my shoulder I minimize my open document. It's private. Go away.

    Only after typing THE END and 2-3 editing passes can I expose myself to critique. It's obsessive and crazy and you hit the nail on the head when you say, "much of the magic which happens during the writing process can't be explained or shared." AMEN. Nothing else needs to be said or can be said.

  9. Ah, an epiphany! Isn't it wonderful? With perseverance like that (those numbers are inspiring!) it's sure to pay off. Good luck with the book. ;)

  10. I'm so happy for you great and stupendous "click." It's about time, eh? I understand what you mean about the privacy. Sometimes it's hard to explain how you get from point A to point B in the process. I'm still working on my instincts. Sometimes I trust them. Sometimes I don't. FYI: I've started working on a story that I think you would like.

  11. Wow, and here I was feeling depressed because I've been working on a story for a couple years. 15 years? Now I don't feel so bad LOL. Seriously though, I'm glad you got the "click". And I agree with you about the magic, like when you're in the zone and everything is just flowing right. It's hard to truly explain it, but everyone understands - especially once they've felt it themselves.

  12. Aha moments are the best. When everything comes together and you run with it. Glad it finally clicked for you. If all we think about are the rules as we write, our writing becomes stifled. Look at it as your practice novel - teaching and guiding you through the whole process. It's your first baby so to speak and when the tlc is done and its ready, you'll release it to the world.

  13. The more I write the more private I tend to keep my work. And, the happier I am with the results. I think in the beginning writers may need the company. I know that's why I started my writer's group. I felt so lonely and it was good to have other people supporting me. Now, I still have the writing friends, but it's less about the actual writing that I'm doing now. I trust myself to make those decisions on my own.

  14. Bru: Yeah, it shouldn't feel selfish, but sometimes I feel that way, like I'm all happy and proud that I have "secrets." I get like that in photography, too.

    Rules are a great thing to consider for some writers, and I have my own set of rules that work for me - adapted and such. I hope you always go with your quirkiness!

    Linda: Magic is so true. It's why I keep writing! :)

    Rick: I stay more and more quiet about my work, but I still blab about it every once in awhile. It's good for me to talk about my books online. It keeps my selling numbers higher. Hah.

    Nevets: I think it's necessary to consider rules and know what they are - things like grammar, especially. I think being well-read helps most writers get these rules in their head - without them even knowing they are rules. They just learn what works and can then bend those things to their own creativity.

    Cas: Hehe, yeah, I'm kind of saying ignore the rules. Like I said above, I do think it's important to be aware of them. Following them is an entirely different beast! Your comment is beautifully said.

    Tara: Yes! Specific to the story. That's exactly it. It's all so interwoven with things so ingrained inside myself that I can't possibly begin to explain.

    Misha: I pretty much live for the moment everything makes sense, haha. When it comes, it's truly magical.

    Yvonne: Yeah, I cannot have people read over my shoulder - even if it's just a book I'm reading. Glad I'm not alone in saying "go away." Hehe!

    Jayne: Thank you! This book has been hanging around for a long time. Many others have come after it. I do hope to publish it someday.

    Lois: It IS about time! Haha. I don't always trust my instincts, either, but I'm working on upping that percentage. Um, get on chat and tell me about your story!

    Eric: My main villain in this book is named Eric, hehe.

    As far as 15 years goes, I haven't been working on the book straight for 15 years. There have been big breaks in there.

    Robin: Stifled is the right word, yes. I hate that feeling. Sometimes it takes forever for me to get past that point in a project.

    Davin: Isn't that the best feeling! I'm getting there, too. I still need a few people to share my work with, but for the most part the numbers are dwindling way down.

  15. Now THAT's what I call determination. I'm going to remind my husband you've been working on your book 15 years when he gets on to me for taking 3 with mine. ;-)

    Congrats on the earth-shattering CLICK. Don't you just love when that happens?

    And, ya know, a LOT of the really good books out there transcend all those pesky rules. Follow what feels natural. At the end of the day, you'll be able to tell which of those rules is better left broken because you'll know what works for YOU.

    Good luck!

  16. I definitely think the rules are important. Please, if you don't know the rules, learn them.

    The trick is that ultimately you want to absorb them so you're not having to actively think about them while you write. When you do that, you're engaging two different parts of your brain, and most of us have better creative output when we're not doing that.

    But, yes. Learn the rules. :)

  17. What an exciting place to be, Michelle! I'm so glad it's all coming together for you :)

    ...and I love the new blog header :)...

  18. Ashley: Haha, well, it hasn't been 15 years straight on the book. There have been huge breaks in between as I've worked on other things. Still, it feels like forever.

    Nevets: The rules are important to know, yes. I wouldn't be where I am if I didn't know them, try them, absorb them, and figure out what works for me or not.

    Bridget: Thank you! The header was a collaboration between me and Davin. :)

  19. I <3 the "click".
    I've had a few, like when I decided that my two main characters had to be more than cousins, more than half-sisters. They had to be more than full sisters. They had to be more than twins. They had to be identical. It's a trope I absolutely hate, but I realized that it's the only way to make the story work, so I embraced it. Completely changed the story and I had to rewrite the whole thing but it's so much better now.

  20. I don't think that's crazy. I've had the same story going through my head pretty much my entire life - different versions of it, of course - but it never really worked so I haven't started writing it. Just this week, I finally figured out what it needs to make it work. I'm going to start writing it... as soon as I have time, haha.

    Good luck with your story!

  21. Yes. I agree with this. I'm a fairly private writer anyways, I don't share my work with hardly anyone while I'm writing or the first few stages of editing.

  22. I have a fancy schmanzy Excel worksheet on which I have logged every single thing I ever sent out, from short stories to novels, over the last 20 years. And sometimes I feel good about the fact that I have been so meticulous in my record keeping but sometimes, oh my, I look at that record and shudder. So many things were sent out before they were ready to agents and reviews I wish I had not queried back then. But I console myself that it was all part of a learning process. I would hate to be either paralyzed from fear at sending things out or back where I was in the beginning with my understanding of how the whole process works. So I guess this means I'm ahead of the game,albeit a bit black and blue.

  23. That is so cool! I'm glad that clicked for you. Rah! Happy weekend!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.