The Mother/Daughter Artist’s Retreat Returns; Writer’s Block, Why the Novel is Like a Lover, and Conclusive Research Demonstrates that Walking on the Beach does not Solve your Problems

Since Friday, I’ve been in Morro Bay, California, on our annual mother-daughter artist’s retreat, in which I try to write and Scarlett paints and draws. On the one hand, we’ve been having a great time. On the other hand, as I’ve noted in the past, going on a writer’s retreat doesn’t always result in getting everything done you hoped for.

The truth is, I’ve been struggling with the rewrite of my WIP that was indicated by my last bit of agent feedback. I know I have to revise again, but it’s the very last thing I want to do. I’d rather do anything, whether it’s walk on the beach, make sandwiches and tea, take a nap, or ride bikes across town, than revise. And now, thanks to using my best discipline, I’m on page 144 out of 320 pages and I’m sick of it.

Sick of it.

Sick of it.

This book is awful! I think to myself. Awful. What did I ever see in it?

I read Alexander Chee’s essay, 100 Things about Writing a Novel, and it helps. The novel wants to be written. It’s not a thing, it’s a character in your life. It’s like a lover you’ve had a fight with. It argues, it cajoles. It takes up more of your time than you wanted to give. It is an interloper, an interruption.

It will not be shut up. You have to finish it or you will not have any peace. You can go walk on the beach but that will not get it written any faster, it will just keep you from writing for the time you were on the beach.

Alexander Chee: The conclusion to 100 Things About Writing A Novel.

Writer biographies I read talk about this: the taking of time you don’t want to take. The discipline to write when you don’t want to. Hemingway dealt with this, it’s why he said you should always stop somewhere when you know what happens next so that you can start again the next day.

Yet in the end Hemingway was brought to despair by writer’s block.

I write a poem about horses. I submit some shorts I wrote last year to literary magazines. I look at the novel itself. It rises like Morro Rock in front of me. I believe it can be finished. I must show up to the computer. I can do this.

Morro Bay at twilight last night.
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The WIP: The beginning 50 pages, and the rest of it

I was getting ready to make a pie for my son, and as I was standing in the kitchen peeling apples, I reflected that three agents have seen the full of my novel, and that I’m not sure whether they got past the first 50 pages or not. 

But it’s worse than that: I was reading at at writers.com and found that here, too, the first fifty pages of the novel were the focus of a class taking 6 weeks, in which instructor Sandra Novak posted “if those first 50 pages, which lay the groundwork for the entire plot, aren’t working, more problems will often mount up … “

The whole thing is a concern.  And while, I would argue, for the type of book that changes the world, the first fifty pages are rarely the focus (ever heard anyone claim that “that first fifty pages in War and Peace, without it, the book wouldn’t be the same) nevertheless, books which never get published never become the Great American (or Great Anything) novel. Thus, the first fifty pages merit special consideration. 

So what did I do?  Started rewriting my first fifty pages.  I wasn’t sure about taking the class (the temptation to do so was tempered by the $360 price tag) but I stored the possibility of the class as something that could be purchased with my Christmas money.

As for the rest of the novel, the last 250 pages, well … it’s better than the first part.  I don’t know if this is typical and I don’t know if it’s good or  bad.  But I knew this already, from when the book went through the workshop.  So … the goal is to get the first 50 pages up to the speed of the rest of the book.  And start submitting again. 

How will I know whether it’s time to send the Manuscript out? And what will I do once it is?

Since I started querying my novel last week, I’ve had a couple of conversations with friends on twitter and everywhere else too about the querying process, when you should send out you book, how many people should you query at a time, how long might it take, how will you feel, and how will you know if this is the final edit, the final agent, etc … it’s left me with the feeling Whitney Houston sings about in her famous song:  How Will I Know?

I found a blog post on The Debutante Ball this morning by Martine Founier Watson, debut author of 2019, who tells us of her own experience of getting an agent, including within the post all those intangibles (not how to write a query, but how to get the fortitude to send one out, for example) that you and I need to know to keep querying and keep revising.  I heartily recommend this blog post.  I have read a lot of blogs about writing and this one really delivers the goods. 

Thank you Martine!