Sunday, August 17, 2008

Novels 1, Me 0

(portrait of me after a library visit from here.)

(Ed note: I felt such a shift after the last post. I think I finally made peace with my worst impulses, and hope that I can finally forgive myself and learn from my history. Thank you so much for being there. I wish I could tell you how much it helped. Believe me, it did. Thank you!)

Much as I love them, sometimes I think novels and I are in a type of war.

Picture it: I sit down with a much awaited new tome, ready to sit down and drink from the wisdom and technique of another writer, one who reached the holy grail. A complete novel. Publication. Cue champagne corks and violins.

Before I start to read, I decide that THIS time, my reading experience will be different. I will be reading to learn. I will keep track of scenes, notice clever plot points, unravel subplot ribbons for further examination. In short, I will crack the code. Read like a writer, not like a fan.

Ah, but then...I start to read the novel, and like Circe, it starts to croon its song. “Pay no attention to the writer behind the curtain...aren't these characters fascinating? Don't you want to know what happens next? Fall in...the water's great.”

And just like that, I'm in it again, swimming in the blue ocean of the book. I'm absorbed, compelled. Under the spell.

And it's all absolutely wonderful. Until I finish, and try to return to my own story. A novel...trying to be one, anyway. But it lacks that wonderful thickness...that verisimilitude.

A bad angel voice whispers that perhaps I am best served by continuing to write short stories. Maybe short stories are my default format, but...I want to write novels. I dream of writing novels. I prefer to read novels. I have to believe that its a skill I can learn.

I shoo her away, again.

“How did that writer DO that?” I mutter to myself as I peck words slowly across the white screen. “How do you create such a rich world? Lots of scenes? But which ones? And how many scenes, anyway?”

Shouldn't someone who reads as much as I do have an answer to these questions?

So, I put it to you—all you writers. Do you have certain novels you use as models for your own work? Do you take notes periodically? Re-read? Outline favorite novels to get scene counts and the like? Or do you just trust (as I used to) that you are absorbing all of this through the pleasure of osmosis?

(Yes, I am doing That Novel Dance again. Madam is about to start preschool, and suddenly I'll have open hours in the middle of a couple of days a week. If I am disciplined [ha, more in a future post on THAT], I should be able to make significant headway of a work. I don't want to talk too much about it, yet, for fear I'll talk myself right out of it!)

(PPS: And there it 200th post! *throws confetti* I'm so grateful to have this place, and now that I am myself again [more on that bit of strangeness later] I hope it doesn't take me forever to write another 200. Thanks for reading me.)



Blogger Laini Taylor said...

Happy 200th post! Yay you! As for reading critically, I don't think you can really do it on a first read of a good book. If the book doesn't sweep you away, there's something wrong with it. But if I love a book, if I can't put a book down, I re-read it "like a writer" and make notes about what I think specifically the writer did that had that effect on me. What I loved so much. But not minutely analytical notes, more like themes that appealed to me, situations that made me anxious to find out more. I don't really notice technical stuff like structure that much.

I think there's definitely a place for this kind of analysis, but I think there is also a time to shut all other books and just focus on your own. It's too hard not to covet another writer's talent, and that can be counterproductive. There have been times when I banned myself from reading novels (or tried to) because they were keeping me from my own writing.

There was a great American illustrator at the turn of the century (Leyendecker) and I heard a story about his creative process: when he was thinking up a new illustration, he would go into a closet and wrap a towel around his head and just sit there in his own world. I've never taken it to that extreme, but I think the message is good: you already have everything you need inside you to write your book. There comes a time when everything outside of you is just distraction.

Put the other books away and be in your own mind. Write from your own mind and heart. There will be plenty of time for structural analysis later. But in the first draft, all you need is the genuine-ness of YOU and the will to keep writing.

You can do it!

12:04 PM, August 18, 2008  
Blogger Deirdre said...

Sometimes, when I'm lost in a good book, a sentence or paragraph will jump out at me as perfect. I can see the writer and the writing at the same time I'm swept away by the story. Those are the moments I want to absorb talent right through the pages into my body.

That same bad voice is picking my novel and writing skills apart right now - I'm sure the story has no value and shouldn't be written because I'll just make a mess of it. If you figure out how to make it stop let me know.

Congratulations on your 200th post. I'm looking forward to reading the next 200.

2:28 PM, August 18, 2008  
Blogger Melba said...

what I hear is that you write for the love and worry about everything else later. it sounds like such sound and good advice which is always the hardest to take.
write for the love and forget about the rest.
I want to be published too. in a different way than you.
I sometimes can't seperate the end from the process.
Here is to school starting.
Love You!

8:35 PM, August 18, 2008  
Blogger rdl said...

Congrats! Happy 200th.
As danny devito said in Throw Momma from the train - "A writer writes."
Keep on!

8:32 PM, August 19, 2008  
Blogger Jessie said...

even novels are made up of chapters and chapters are little more than a collection of short stories. i know that you would love to make it more complicated than that, but um....

;) your short stories have a wonderful way of twisting and turning and doing beautiful things. put them together and, my dear, you will have your novel.

love you,

9:59 AM, August 22, 2008  
Blogger Jamie said...

Where there is love, there is possibility. Your novel is waiting for you. You can do it, my friend.

8:46 AM, August 25, 2008  
Blogger Amber said...

What Laini said. Yep.


1:59 PM, August 30, 2008  

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