Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why I Write

            A couple days ago, Jim McCarthy, an agent with Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, asked a question in his blog post:  Why do you write?  Well, I thought that was an interesting question and I pondered it for quite some time before answering, though in the end, I decided there was not one clear cut reason.  But for the most part, I wrote my novel to exorcise the demons from my head.  I will admit, I am not like most writers out there who have had a love of writing since they were children.  I mean, I’ve always loved to write, but I never felt compelled to do it, as so many writers say they are.  When I had to do it, I did, and I enjoyed it.  Nuf said.  But something happened to me over the last year and everything changed.  Now I feel like if I don’t write, I can’t breathe. 
            I can’t say I’ve enjoyed everything about this process.  In fact, the only part I actually do enjoy is the writing itself.  I kind of learned this the hard way over the last couple of months.  I’ve slaved over my manuscript: editing & revising, critiquing with partners and revising, reading it over and over again and revising…ad nauseum.   I like all that.  No actually, I love all that.  I didn’t mind when critique partners were brutal with me as long as they were constructive.  It made my story so much better.  But when all that was done and I thought it was ready for the next step, I jumped into the querying-for-an-agent process with both feet.  I was excited to be moving on and making real progress towards getting published.  And while I know and understand how impossibly difficult it is to first, find and agent, and second, find a publisher, I was astounded by how much I really hated that part of the process.  I’m sure most of that has to do with the rejection factor.  I mean, who the hell likes to be rejected by countless strangers who have never even read your work?  So, yeah, that part is quite demoralizing, as I posted about last time.  But that’s not really it.  That’s not why I hate it so much.
            I hate it because I’m not actually writing any longer.  I’m waiting.  I’m hoping.  I’m praying.  And I’m blogging.  But I’m not writing.  I know you might think that blogging is writing, but it’s not.  Not really.  I don’t really enjoy this blogging crap.  I watch my stats and I know people are reading it, but I don’t really know or understand why.  What could I possibly have to say that would ever interest people out there?  Especially strangers.  And except for one, all of my followers, the few there are, (on blogspot & tumblr) are strangers.  I don’t know what the hell they find so interesting to actually follow.  But I am grateful.  Really, really grateful.  I did a happy dance today when I scored a new one.  But still, blogging is not writing. 
I didn’t really think about how much I loved writing until I actually stopped doing it.  I only discovered this last week when I stopped querying in order to give an agent her three week exclusive read on my first three chapters.  Wow, I felt so relieved to not be querying.  I found myself thinking about my next story and that really excited me.  I just wanted to jump right in and start writing.  But I can’t because I have a ton of research to do.  And then I have to crank out an outline because I am not a pantster—someone who writes by the seat of their pants.  I am a planner.  I have to have everything planned out.  Once I have that outline in front of me, then I just go crazy and write off the top of my head.  It gives me the freedom to explore within a framework.  And I love, love, love that part of writing.  The first draft.  There are no rules.  You can just go crazy and write what you like and worry about how it will all work out later when you revise, revise, revise.  My best buddy, Lisa Regan has a great post on first drafts here.  She hit the nail right on the head.  She says she is happiest while writing her first draft and I could not agree more.
 There are so many other things about the process that make me unhappy.  First off, there’s finishing.  I cannot tell you how much I panicked when I finished my first draft.  Of course, being the idiot that I was at the time, I thought:  That’s it?  I’m done?  Really?  But I don’t want to be finished.  I can’t just drop my characters—whom I love so very, very much—in happily-ever-after-land and call it a day.  I need them.  I want them.  I didn’t realize that I would spend more than four times the amount of time that I originally spent on the first draft just to edit and revise, edit and revise, edit and revise, blah, blah, blah. 
So I was far from done with my beloved characters, one of whom I fancied (okay, fancy) myself in love with.  There, I said it.  I’m in love with a fictional character.  I get it now.  Back in the day when all those Twihards (those crazy fans who love Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series) were carting signs around at the movie premieres extolling their love for either Edward or Jacob, I thought they were a little over the top.  But I do so get it now.  I think the part I hated more than anything was saying goodbye to my characters and their world.  I even blogged about it once.  (You can read it here if you’d like.)  I lived in their world for months on end.  I experienced their crushing losses, their fear of death, their sadness and finally their joy.  After all that, I found it unbearable to say goodbye.  And to be honest, I haven’t completely left them behind.  I just don’t visit as often anymore.
Second to that, I had to start the hard part, the summing up of everything in as few words as possible, be that one, three or four pages, or even worse, 250 words.  That’s crazy, summing up an 85,000 word manuscript in 250 words while in the same voice and sense of urgency.  But I did it.  And pretty quickly, too.  So then it came time for…you guessed it:  querying.  Now, I have blogged about querying several times already.  I started off very excited (read here) and have recently ended, or suspended anyway, rather demoralized, though I learned quite a bit (read here).  Simply stated, I don’t feel productive any more.  The only world I am living in now is one of loneliness and rejection. 
I’ve read on several agent blogs how important it is to start on your next project while querying for your last.  I haven’t been working on my next project yet because researching agents and writing customized query letters is very time consuming.  I at least wanted to have a complete list of agents to query before I started on my next project.  So that’s where I am now, compiling a full list.  I have sent out quite a few queries already and so I am rounding out my list.  But when I went on query hiatus to allow for that exclusive I told you about earlier, I found I was calm and happy again.  I didn’t cringe at waking up every day knowing I would only be working on that damn list.  I could enjoy my days again.  That told me a lot: that I needed something else to focus on besides querying. 
Unfortunately, I’m still not ready to start my next project.  That will require a lot of focus and energy.  I never do anything half-assed.  My ass is all the way in, even when I am screwing up.  So I still have to wait to finish my list before I can move on, but now I am looking forward to starting that process all over again whereas when I was querying exclusively, I thought to myself: why did I ever start this?  I was so much happier before when I didn’t know how much I loved to write.  But in the end, I wrote my novel to exorcise a few demons from my head.  And it worked.  I used to have nightmares about an event in my life, but writing a fictionalized account has chased those demons away, so I don’t regret it.  And besides all that, I made the friendship of a life time with my beloved Lisa, whom I adore and respect and idolize more than anyone else in my life.  She saved me.  She taught me.  She helped me stand up each day.  I would be lost without her.     
I admit this is a tough process, writing novels.  Every step of the way.  And when you have triumphed upon finishing, the hardest part is still yet to come.  Look at poor Natalie Whipple.  She has written a bunch of books and finally queried and landed an agent for her last only to go on submission and not have any publishers pick up her novel.  She was incredibly demoralized by that.  So now (read here), as she has finished the final draft on her next project, she is so nervous about being on submission while living her life in the public blogosphere, she has decided, after receiving some insensitive email, not to blog about writing or publishing until she lands a publisher because it is just way too difficult. 
            I don’t know what it is about writing and seeking to get published that wears on one’s nerves.  I can easily see why so many writers have gone insane or killed themselves in the process.  There are so many extraneous pressures and most of them are intangible, elusive or hard to pin down.  It’s crazy.  And I’m crazy to want to do it all over again.  But I write so I can breathe.  I write so I can live.  I write so I can share.  I just hope someday I will actually be able to do that.  I don’t give a shit about the money.  Sure it would be great to make money at it, but I just want people to read my stories and enjoy them.  Fingers crossed, I can do that someday. 


Laila Knight said...

Oh girl, I could swap stories with you. We have so much in common when it comes to writing. It kills me that querying gets in the way. I like visiting artist's blogs because they ooze with passion about their work. That's how I feel about writing. I wish you the best of luck. When you publish that first novel, I'll be sure to read it.

Nancy Thompson said...

Thanks again, Laila! And I'd LOVE to trade stories sometime!