Tuesday, January 17, 2012

the good writers

I read this wonderful post today and have to share the link. Many people have asked how long it took to write Whipped, Not Beaten (in fact, my hygienist asked me that very question this morning as she scraped away at my teeth). Shaunta Grimes speaks the truth about how writing a GOOD book is a process. I began Whipped ten years ago. I revised it several times over the course of years. It was under revision until the minute it went to the book printer.

It grates me when people say, "Oh, I've always wanted to write a book. I have an idea for one." There's this perception that writing is easy, just takes a little time and effort, right? No tougher than watching a film or trying a new recipe, right? Actual writers know better. They understand that declaring "I've always wanted to write a book" is as presumptuous as saying "I've always wanted to climb Mt. Everest" or "I've always wanted to run a marathon." Writing a good book isn't the same as learning now to knit or taking a zumba class. The commitment involved requires effort, training, time and other people helping you along the way.

Good writers read. A LOT. Good writers write. A LOT. Good writers throw out a lot of pages, decent ones even. (A fine example: an entire chapter about Sadie and a flirtation with a coffee house piano player got tossed out--it was perfectly good writing and kind of cute.) Good writers listen to other people's advice and criticism (see: "deep six the chapter with the piano player"). Good writers get rejected. A LOT. And good writers learn to manage those hard, bitter feelings after being rejected. Good writers don't quit writing.

I'm working on what I hope is a final revision of my latest manuscript--my final revision before my agent hopefully sells it and then the editors at a publishing house request more changes. The manuscript I'm revising is in it's 5th beginning-to-end revision, I've been working on it for a few years now. I've tended to point of view, verb tense, character development, setting and plot. I've fussed with word choice and sentence structure. I've fiddled with the dialogue and futzed around with motive and cause-and-effect. I'm still pulling through a few threads about the main character's financial situation and her fear of failure. I've still got to work in a sort of major plot line about a main character--he needs a misunderstanding with another character, I don't know who yet and this may require writing in a whole new character, but it's an important conflict because it ups the ante for the ending.

Good writing is hard work. Even the crappy books took a lot of effort to produce. (I could go on a tangent here about how little writing a book pays, how most authors reap 15% of the book's profits, which at $15 a paperback is reallynotmuch ($2.25/copy) so when people kvetch about the cost of buying a book I want to slug them, but I won't go there.)

I'm not writing this post out of self-pity or to convince you to buy my book (though if it does, I won't complain). I'm writing it to explain where books come from, how authors develop, how the difference between good writing and bad writing develops. I feel incredibly lucky to have a book published. It's thrilling to hear people's feedback and to see people reading it and laughing. I still smile when I see the cover and can't believe how great the whole thing turned out. Having the time and resources to write about something I invented in my head is a luxury, no question about it. But make no mistake, it's not easy. It's more hard work than luck.

20 comments:

  1. The idea of writing a book is very overwhelming - I can't imagine undertaking something like that. Running a marathon a year is a much easier process, in my book ;-) I'm proud of you for sticking with it until publication - you rock!!

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  2. I agree with what you write here. My first book was published in 2008 and my second will be published in April 2012 and the whole process is a lot of work and learning and improving. How exciting for you to hold your "baby" in your hands and send it out to the world.

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  3. Hello:
    We have friends who have had novels published and can absolutely concur with what you say here about the writing process. To be published is a long and energy sapping process and, it seems to us, that only those writers who have extreme amounts of self discipline are successful in the end.

    It is also true what you say about writers both reading and writing in quantity. This is surely an essential part of developing one's capabilities as a writer as well as opening the mind to other possibilities.

    You have obviously worked very hard to get published and we wish you every success with your future endeavours.

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  4. Love reading about writing. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. 15 percent? try 10, for me. and that's after i make back my advance. which might never happen.

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  6. Yes, writing is HARD! I do not consider myself a writer at all. I am an excellent proofreader and a very good editor, but composing anything longer than a blog post is daunting. (I do think that sometimes I write a great paragraph or two but that's about it.) I have such admiration for you and all who can use words to create characters and worlds for them to live in.

    Now that I am back in school, I will have to write quite a bit. I know that every single second of it will be difficult.

    Yay for you with your second manuscript! How lovely it is when dreams come true!

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  7. Amen, sister! I can't wait to hold my book in my hands, so glad you are having this amazing opportunity right now. I want an autographed copy! Let's get together for coffee one of these days and take care of that!

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  8. There is literally something I want to change every single time I read one of my manuscripts. But it's all about revisions, isn't it. The make the book.

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  9. It really makes you appreciate good books and good authors. I wouldn't even know where to begin if I were to write an entire book.

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  10. I've never written a book, but I know that writing is hard. I'm glad that you have been able to see the process through to a published novel. Myself, I have a lot of false starts.

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  11. I have always found the idea overwhelming--because I realize how hard it is!

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  12. I agree, but I do think there are many people who yearn for the(easy) spotlight so painfully that they do not let themselves realize any of that. ~Mary

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  13. Amen! very well said. I'd "love" to write a book, too - but I know that the work involved is more than I can commit to right now so I just have to be content with I'd love to and someday I might, but right now - I just read.

    You put it all very well. I think a lot of people might be saying it in the sense of they'd "love" to be talented enough (and believe in themselves enough) to actually sit down and begin. I've begun a few things but haven't taken the time to develop them. Maybe someday.

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  14. When I was younger, I thought I'd write fiction. It's come as a surprise that I'm actually more skilled at writing nonfiction, better known as real life.

    I'm still aiming to channel my inner Jo March.

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  15. You've just explained here why I will never write a book. Writing is hard if you do it right. It seems to me that you would need some sort of calling to be able to stick with it through all the hard work and frustration. But you did it!!!

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  16. As much as I write, I still find the idea of writing a book daunting, fiction even more so. I am in awe of what you have achieved.

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  17. Thank you. YES.

    I actually feel this way about a lot of things in life: instead of saying you want to do something, shut up and just do it. Get down to work and stop pantsing around.

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  18. Great post. When people find out I write picture books, they often tell me they have an idea for a PB also, but don't know where to start. Either that, or they think PBs are somehow "easier" to write than other books.

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  19. My aunt was at a party where a neurosurgeon said to her, "Ooooh, an artist! How nice! I've always wanted to take six months off and do some paintings, have an exhibition, you know?" Whereupon she retorted "What a coincidence! I've always wanted to take six months off and do some neurosurgery!" I always think of that when people say "So, when are you going back to WORK?"

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Spill it, reader.