Saturday, August 7, 2010

A conference of introverts

I showed up early yesterday at the Willamette Writers Conference. I needed to drop off my books to sell at the Barnes & Noble table and pick up my registration materials. And I knew parking would be difficult. It was but after driving around a bit, I found a spot and got everything else taken care of in about 5 minutes. I wasn't hungry so standing in line for bagels and unripe fruit wasn't very appealing so I wandered around reminding myself of the layout of the hotel (pretty simple really) and then sat in various places and tried to strike up conversations with other attendees.

That was almost as frustrating as looking for a place to park. While people weren't rude (they were willing to give me monosyllabic answers to my questions for "Nice cool morning, isn't it?" and "Is this your first conference?"), nobody would engage and I realized it was a conference for extroverts. There's a reason we're writers and not performers, novelists instead of dancers, poets instead of pianists. We live mostly in our heards and we like it that way.

Eventually I gave up and took my tea over to a round table in the lobby and sat down and spent the next half hour thinking about my novel and some of the "what if" possibilities for further plot complications. It was a satisfying half-hour of thinking and note-taking in the spirit of Writing Friday and I felt reconnected to my book and connected to fellow writers in a way that I couldn't seem to do conversationally. I also felt proud of myself for making an effort, even if it came to very little.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Writing when you aren't a writer

This weekend is the Willamette Writers Conference and I'm going for the second time. Last year I was very nervous because I was pitching my first novel (totally unsuccessfully) and this year I'm not. I'm doing some other things, giving a workshop on Sunday afternoon, doing a booksigning on Friday morning, and I'm meeting with six would-be authors about their manuscripts.

For a fee, writers can send in 20 pages of their book and a synopsis and get an editor like me to read for them. Each year it has sounded like a good idea until I actually sit down to read them. This year, only one of them is quite terrific. It needs work but the reader is clever, articulate, thoughtful, and prepared. The other five are not. In several cases, I suspect the author had heard enough times "what a great story--you ought to write a book" that he and she decided to do so.

I hear this quite often. I'm-literate (can read and write) therefore I can write a book that surely somone will want to publish. On the one hand, this is an unfortunate syndrome as the products are typically marginal at best. On the other hand, the time put in has kept the person out of some other kind of trouble, including plain boredom. What they have not considered is the training that it takes to be a writer: the years of reading and writing and often classes that are required to learn the craft and distinguish oneself in it.

Do these manuscripts have potential? Yes, probably. Will their writers be willing to do what it takes to develop it? Maybe in two cases. The others I suspect will be disheartened, though that won't be my intention, or unbelieving, as surely their non-writer friends will have loved it. What else of course can you say to your spouse or friend or lover who has put in months and years on a project? How can you tell the truth?

Well, that falls to me this Sunday. Wish me patience and kindness in my voice.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Don't jump ship

The last few Sundays in his newsletter, my teacher Eric Maisel has been talking about writing a novel and the various speed bumps people hit. We hit snags when it isn't going well, or we think it isn't going well, or we don't know what to write next. 

Some of us, I think, are tempted at that point to go back to the beginning and start editing. I don't mean solving structural problems that might lead to a next episode but rather refinements in wording and punctuating, the kind of work that isn't about drafting new material. 

Today, Maisel admonished us to "get in the habit of completing work. If you always stop at some point short of finishing because you feel that your current novel isn’t working, that may constitute your way of not completing things. Try to finish drafts, even if you have your doubts, rather than always abandoning a draft part of the way in."

I have found myself several times in the last weeks at one of those junctures--unsure where to go next in the plot, unsure how much to reveal. So his advice is timely for me, to keep drafting right or wrong. It isn't carved in stone, what I write; these aren't irrevocable decisions, even murdering one of the characters. I can always change my mind.

So this week I'm plunging forward no matter what.