Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Writer's Blech

First of all, it's cold in my office. Very cold. We had to lock the cat upstairs last night--and for all future nights--because he simply wakes us up too many times so that we feel like we have a newborn baby. I've never met a cat so needy of human attention. We felt like guilty parents, but we slept better.

The point of my post, however, is not my cruel parenting but on the vagaries of revision. Someone asked me awhile ago if I liked revision. First I said no. Then I realized YES, I do like it. But only when I know what/how I want to revise and it's still in line with my vision.

I've taken my novel, which received encouraging, deeply positive rejections (such an oxymoron) and gutted it. It went from 360 pages to 230. Now I'm trying to fill in the caulk and build extra closets and make sure the foundation is holding with an entirely new set of blueprints tossed in long after I thought the house was done (I'm not sure why but I love talking about writing in house metaphors). My agent is waiting to read the revision. A couple of publishers said they'd take a second look. I have good reason to get moving on this.

But I have a case of Writer's Blech. Yes, you read that right. Writer's block would be a welcome condition--a familiar one at least in which I could say to myself--"honey, you're drained, you're blank of ideas right now. Don't force it. Let it ride."

Writer's Blech, on the other hand happens when you look at your work and shiver in disgust because you are quite sure you have no idea what the hell to do next, if you can make it work and who will ever care.

Which has forced me to think about a writer's vision. My vision. I started this novel with a clear vision...I knew what it meant and what I was trying to do. I acheived that to the best of my ability and with my agent's supreme feedback (and some great readers). The publishers, however, they didn't see my vision. It didn't work for them. Now, I could do whatever I want--go back to what I wrote for National Novel Writing Month which has that bouncy feeling of newness and intrigue and work on it. Nobody has locked me in my room and said "Revise or die!" In fact, I could become a buddhist overnight and renounce all ties to my ambition or desire to be published.

Obviously, that's not going to happen. So I'm rethinking this whole novel, but right now I have no passion for it. I feel flat about it. When I open the document, I think "Blech"...and I don't have a solution right now. It's just the way it is.



At 12:50 PM, Blogger L.C.McCabe said...


Maybe what you are doing is changing a beautiful horse into a camel from taking all the committee's disparate input.

I would go someplace quiet and contemplative and think about what drove you to write your story. Identify the reader response you wanted to evoke, and know whether or not the newer version does those things.

I seek creative insights from all kinds of sources. I heard Roy Schieder's thoughts on the audio soundtrack of "All That Jazz" that his ex-wife was a film editor and she had the opinion that any movie had three different versions. One was the movie as it was written, the second was the movie as it was directed and the third was the movie as it was edited.

Another pearl of wisdom that I cling to was the repeated claim by William Goldman in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade that no one knows what they are doing in Hollywood. They think they do, but they really don't.

The other thing I really came away with from reading Goldman's seminal work was that it is very easy to make a lousy movie, but it is difficult to make a good movie.

In my own mind I've recognized that so many ways to ruin a movie that might have an underlying good concept, good cast, etc. Sometimes its just the soundtrack that can be cheesy and annoying. Othertimes it is re-writing a script so that all the life is drained out of it and instead you have the same generic movie you've seen hundreds of times before.

My advice is to think hard about what you gutted from your manuscript and see whether or not it strengthened your story or if it bled it dry of what made you want to create it in the first place.

At the end of the day, it may have been the wrong publisher that you approached, because they simply don't share the same creative vision that you do. Maybe your eyes didn't need cataract surgery, but simply a new pair of glasses.

Give it a rest for a week or so, then try looking at it again. From the beginning and see whether or not the well intentioned advice was something that in another analogy would be asking you to wear a bright orange dress with a chartreuse handbag. It might look good on someone, but it's not the fashion advice you think looks good on you.

Be well,


At 1:36 PM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Linda, all worthy thoughts, thank you.

I stopped looking at it for two months actually, this is me picking it back up again.

I am all for the artist holding to her vision. The problem, if you want to be published in the existing industry, is that if you hold too tight to a vision, that's all you'll end up with. I respect and understand (and agreed with) the points of the editors, and why they felt it wouldn't sell as it was in the existing industry. As I'm not interested in self-publishing, as as anyone published will say, you'll eventually have to make some alterations or changes no matter what, and to me it was either accept that my first attempt was roundly rejected and go on to something new, or consider trying to gut and start over and see where it takes me.

Ultimately I'm still proud of the first version of the book, even though only a handful of people will ever have read it.

I just happen to be in the "waaaa, it's hard" whiny part of the process. Just today I made headway on my plot and felt worlds better.

Thanks for the discourse!


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