Yesterday morning I had coffee with a wonderful writer/friend who has become a sort of mentor to me in both my spiritual/personal and writing life. And really, these aren’t separate (unless you’re schizophrenic) but all components of who I am. This friend took the time to read my novel, Cherry Bomb, and then to read the recent editor’s overview and talk with me about how to proceed from here. What a gift.
For one thing, I’ve been struggling with some of the editor’s suggestions, and then agreeing with others. But either way, I knew I had LOTS more work to do, and frankly, I’m tired of this book. It’s no longer fun. It’s grueling. And yet I still believe in it, as does the agent who has shown such patience with me.
My mentor/friend told me about her experience with a book she has written that hasn’t been published yet. The editor at the small press where it will be published asked her to re-write the book with a completely different approach last summer. And she spent months doing just that, while disagreeing with the editor’s suggestion. In the end, the editor agreed it was a bad idea and they went back to the writer’s original approach.
So when I look at my manuscript and consider making huge structural changes—as well as adding about 20,000 words to beef it up a bit—I’m a bit daunted. My friend’s encouragement helped me see the “fun” of adding those 20K words as I develop some minor characters and follow a few of the main character’s rabbit trails a bit. But the re-structuring is what makes me tired just thinking about it.
And then I read this wonderful interview in the February issue of Writer’s Digest Magazine. Garth Stein, author of the best-selling book, The Art of Racing in the Rain, took six years to follow up with a second book, A Sudden Light. The whole interview is interesting and helpful, but this is the part I’m clinging to today, because it shows some of what it takes to write a book you really believe in:
I spent quite a long time—years—writing five generations of the Riddell family history. I thought that was my novel. I wrote 100,00 words of the family from 1890 though 1990, and I thought it was good, but then I stepped back and look at it and said, “Oh, this isn’t my novel. This is research I’ve been doing in preparation to write my novel.”
Although that might sound discouraging, it actually gave me some new energy to return to my manuscript with a willingness to look at it with new eyes.
Another thing my mentor/friend suggested during our coffee yesterday morning was to set the novel aside for awhile and do something else. My kneejerk reaction was “Noooooo!” I already set it aside for a year due to my car wreck and recovery. And I don’t want to lose this agent’s interest, or my own momentum. And yet… I’ve got another project on the back burner (editing an anthology) that’s calling my name, and I’m gearing up to host another women’s salon soon, so maybe I need some other activities to keep me from getting tunnel vision. Or bored. Again, Stein says:
I’m a big fan of telling young writers to take all the detours they possibly can, both in life and in writing. Those detours are going to lead you to where you need to be. If someone says, “How would you like to spend two years in the Czech Republic for the state department?,” you should do that. You can always get back to your novel. You need to have as many experiences as possible.
And then he applies this approach to writing:
If a new character walks in or your character does something unexpected, you have to go with that. If it’s a dead end, you can always get back to your map. But chances are, it’s happening for a reason.
And chances are I moved into a house across the street from a wonderful new mentor for a reason. I can handle learning patience much easier if I also have some detours along the way.