Thursday, September 15, 2011

write from your... kidney.


You know how they tell you to, "Write from the heart?"

Hogwash.

It's better to find a less conflicted organ and write from there. Like your kidney, which would be helpful as a filter. Or possibly your tonsils, since they're somewhat mysterious and vestigial. Or, as House would argue, a sphincter

See, I recently wrote a YA book that was... far too close to home. It was twisty and deep and drew on the best and the worst of my teenage life.

I bled for it. I cried for it. I was proud of it. I was in love with it.

Aaaaaand that's where the problem started.

Sometimes, when you write from the heart, as when you're a doctor treating a friend or relative, you get too close to be objective. If you want to be published, you can't just go into labor, push and squeeze for a while, and then toss a moist and heaving pile of papers on the table and call it done. Finishing the book is the easy part. It's the revisions that are the hard part. And revisions mean looking critically at your own work and inviting others to rip it to shreds.

If the book is too close to your own heart, it's very difficult to do that.

They say, "This isn't realistic," and you shout, "BUT IT HAPPENED!"

They say, "Move it around; massage it," and you shout, "BUT THAT'S NOT HOW I ENVISIONED IT. THAT'S NOT THIS BOOK!"

They say, "The main character is too conflicted and wishy-washy," and you say, "YES, BUT THAT'S EXACTLY HOW I FELT AT THE TIME!"

In short, they bring up perfectly reasonable points... for a book.

And you defend... your life.*

And you know what that doesn't produce?

A good book.

If you want a book to survive, you must be willing to put it on the operating table and cut it wide open. It will stop breathing for a while. You will think it is dead. You will use those outrageously horrible rib-spreader things to open it up and expose the hideous disease within.

And then you'll shock it back to life and set about fixing the mess.

It's a lot like watching House, actually. Accept that your book is not a special snowflake. It's messed up, and it lies, and it's going to freaking DIE if you can't figure out what's wrong with it.

The good news is: IT'S NOT LUPUS.

The bad news is: It's got to crash at least once before you can figure out the problem.

But if you can rise above it, you can save it.

That's your job as a writer: To rise above the personal and keep the book alive, no matter the cost. And if you have to play catch with a tennis ball or break into someone's house or get hooked on valium to do it... well, I wouldn't do that. I would stick with coffee and cupcakes.

And next time, do yourself a favor. Write from the sphincter.

Or just write up your last dream about vampires.

It worked for me and Stephenie Meyer.


***

* Kind of like that Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep movie with the angel togas-- Defending Your Life. I hated that movie.

9 comments:

bethany said...

I don't know you, but I needed to tell you how hilarious and true this post is. At least it's not lupus.

delilah, the unruly helpmeet said...

Well, we "know" each other now, right?

(See what I did there? TOTALLY UNNECESSARY.)

Thanks for stopping by, agency sister!

jarvenpa said...

So, is this the book I recently beta read? If so...I disagree, character is not wishy washy. But then, I like your writing a lot.

delilah, the unruly helpmeet said...

Yep, jarvenpa, it is. But it's a good point, considering the character has to make a transition from goth/depressed --> wishy washy --> happy/optimistic instead of just being at wishy washy the whole book. She has to have a starting and ending point.

Still, thank you for the compliment. My ego bruises all too easily. =)

jarvenpa said...

It's important to remember that editors and agents and such are not SuperBeings with Perfect Understanding, but merely people with tastes and quirks. Sometimes, yes, they are right. But sometimes they are wrong.
(though good editors are right a lot, I'll admit it).
Looking forward to seeing new version some day. In print, perchance.

charissimo said...

Wow, do I resonate with this one. I've got an entire script teetering on the edge of the recycling bin because I based characters on my three friends and wouldn't let any of those characters do anything really underhanded (which was necessary for good conflict) because I wanted to be faithful to them as friends. Aaand I based the main character on myself. But on the flip side, it's great therapy. So there's that...

Silver Thistle said...

Hi! First time caller, long time listener...

Actually, that's a lie, I just found you :P

But, you just got a new follower who's here to stay and after reading every snippet, post and link that I can find about 'Wicked As They Come' I had to come by and let you know that... I-CAN-NOT-WAIT for it to hit the shops.

As it happens though, there's not many snippets, posts and/or links out there yet so I figured the best way to stay ahead of the game was to get it straight from the source. :D


{just read all that back to myself and I sound like a total weirdo...who's probably making it worse by drawing attention to it...meh}

Seriously looking forward to it though! :D

delilah, the unruly helpmeet said...

Thanks for stopping by, Silver Thistle! Your blog's fabulous-- I'm following. =) Hope Springs gets here fast for both of us, and hope you like the book. Thanks so much for the pre-order!

linda said...

Ooh, great post. I think this is something I'll need to watch out for since many of my ideas come from my own experiences. Very thought-provoking; thanks!