Saturday, October 13, 2012

Write What's in Your Head, Not What You Think Should Be on the Page

I’m back!  So soon!  And I’m deviating from my normal posting-once-per-decade because I said I had a post for another time, and it’s another time, so here it is. 

What I said was: “you write what’s in your head, not what you think should be on the paper”.  And you may have said: “duh”.  Of course a writer writes what’s in her head.  What else will she write?  Unfortunately I can state authoritatively that too many writers, those with dollar signs where their work ethic or devotion to craft should be, think, “YA is selling.  Paranormal is selling.  Erotica is selling.  I’m good at the words-putting-together-to-make-sentences.  I will arbitrarily choose one of these to write.  I wonder where I’ll put my TV in the Tuscan villa I will buy with all that crazy author money?”

When I see things like this I want to drink gin until all the letters look like squiggly lines.

Because the fact is if you try to write to a trend, you are a) already too late and b) going to end up with something crappy.  (Sorry.  It’s my job to be honest with you.  Well, one of my jobs.  I teach, tutor, write, and I’m honest with you.  I’m a busy gal.)  I speak from experience.  Once upon a time, I was a member of the query-weary ranks.  Sick of rejection, I noticed that YA seemed so much more successful.  Hey, I’m a good writer, if I write YA then I can trick an agent into representing me.  Mwuhahaha.  And so forth.

Needless to say, it didn’t work.  It wasn’t the worst thing ever, but it was just blah.  It got requests, but it got rejected.  Then one of my friends, who reads everything I write, laid it on the line.  (Don’t you just love friends who are truthful with you?)  He pointed out a couple of weaknesses, but said in the end he just didn’t enjoy reading it as much as he enjoyed reading Blessed.  Can you guess why?  Because I didn’t enjoy writing it as much. 

I wrote it because I thought it was the easy way in.  And there is the harsh, ass-kicking truth: there is no easy way in.  There is one way in, and that’s good writing.  And you’re going to have a hard time writing something well if you’re doing it for dishonest reasons. 

I misspoke (miswrote?) when I said you have to write what’s in your head.  You do, but it has to be in your heart first.  I read widely, so I feel comfortable in a couple of genres.  I read some YA, but not nearly as much as other things, so I didn’t have “it”.  It wasn’t in my heart.  Blessed is in my heart.  Class of 98 is in my heart.  And believe me, the next one I write will be in my heart. 

If you really want to write a story then the characters will burst out of your head unbidden, ready to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting world.  And if you try to hold them back they’ll host a cagematch in your head.  The only loser is you.  But if you prop up cardboard characters because you think they’re your ticket to fame and fortune they’ll fall right over the first time a stiff breeze comes along. 

Now you might be saying, “Good one.  Thanks a million.  I already wrote what I love, and the phone just ain’t ringing”.  Yeah, that’s a tough pill to swallow.  The only thing I can point to is my own experience.  It’s the speedtrain that spirited Blessed away from Rejectionland and into Happytown (which, as it turns out, is Self-Doubt Village adjacent—but I digress).  It’s a three-fold plan.  Stay with me.

I wrote.  I wrote stories that weren’t Blessed.  I wrote whiny blog posts.  Words, words, words.

I read.  I read On Writing, Bird by Bird, Self-Editing for Fiction Writing, and Writing the Breakout Novel.  I actually read Bird by Bird multiple times, way before I actually decided to get into writing seriously.  It’s just a good guide to life.  If you haven’t read it, quit reading this and get it—it’s magnificent.  The point is, I studied what professionals had to say about writing.  And then…

I edited.  I Flipped This Novel.  I put into Blessed what I had learned and took out what made it weak.  Voila!  Better novel.  Funny how that works. 

So my point is: write what you should be writing, not what you think will make you a big shot.  And if what you should be writing doesn’t help you achieve your goals, then study, listen, and learn.  Do the work.  Fix it.  Make it shine.  Because that’s all there is.  Readers (this includes agents and editors, they read) don't care what's "dead".  They respond to what's real.

“The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse”*—don’t you want that verse to be something true?  Something personal?  Above all, don’t you want it to be the best it can be?

*Shout out to my homie, Walt Whitman.  Well, not my homie.  He and I don’t get along most of the time, truth be told.  But he occasionally said some stuff I can’t argue with.

1 comment:

  1. I love reading YA and it's very popular, but I don't generally write it and there's a reason. My writing self is kind vulgar and that just isn't a good combo with YA, so I tend to avoid it.

    I love writing speculative fiction because I'm obsessed with world building. And romance/drama because I love writing and reading about both of those things!

    I have an idea for a paranormal trilogy and even though I know paranormal novels are "out", I'm going to write it anyway because it's who I am.

    Sometimes it sucks though when who you are isn't what is selling at the time.