Monday, January 2, 2012

2012: Dispelling Old Ideas and Trying New Things

Congtatulations to Bibliotropic, last week's commenter and winner of  THE BOOK OF LOST SOULS!

And now, on with the blog...

The longer I've been writing, the more I've had to change my perceptions about the process. The nice thing about the New Year is that it allows an opportunity to reassess before moving forward.

Here are some "truths" I've dispelled:

1. If you want to write seriously, turn off your television

This is true to a certain extent, and reality television is definitely off the table. But good scripted shows offer a look at plotting done right, and let viewers know which plot elements work (and which don't). Or, if you are looking to improve your ability to write dialects, a good documentary of the country/region where your novel takes place helps. My new mantra: "Turn off cable television and Netflix shows with good scripts."

2. If your idea is taken, forget about trying to publish it

A short trip in the blogosphere reveals that this isn't as true as I thought it was. When I was about 200 pages into my manuscript, I saw a published book that made me want to cry. The plot was similar enough to mine that I thought my work was done. But I soon wrote down more ideas and added different elements to make the plot more exciting. It even led to unexpected twists in subsequent books.

The agents I follow are looking for good writing, unique plotlines, and memorable characters. So even though dozens of stories have been told, and re-told, re-hashed, and told again, if you make your plots and characters readable, interesting, and most importantly, unique, you don't have to doom your manuscript to the trunk just yet.

My grandfather once said, "When you stop getting better, you stop being good." I think the best writers have this mindset--that they can always get better, no matter how good they (or others) think they are. Even Neil Gaiman said "yes" when asked if he thought his writing needed improvement. In the spirit of reassessment, here are some new things I've tried (and plan to try) in order to improve:

1. Write in different mediums

Literary agent Janet Reid periodically has contests on her blog that flex a writer's muscle. The most recent involved reversible poems. I was quite daunted by this, as I don't consider myself a poet, and, with the exception of Emily Dickinson, despise poetry. But, I gave it a whirl, and found it a wonderful challenge. My entry (with recent revisions) is below:

Brittle and breaking,
You hide, soft 
berneath your hard candy shell
Listen. You’re next.
Don’t criticize, because
Most people do

Criticize themselves
Most people do.
Don’t criticize, because
listen—you’re next.
Beneath your hard candy shell
You hide--soft,
brittle and breaking

Contests like this are fun, and it doesn't matter if you don't win. The practice is well worth it. I've also entered NPR's "Three Minute Fiction" contest even though short stories aren't my genre of choice, and I took a creative nonfiction class to buck up my description and structure. What outside genre would you write in? Have you tried it yet?

2. Live more outside the box

I've encountered some writers who, shall we say, don't get out much. It's like their novel is their sole purpose in life, and they hole themselves inside to weave together their masterpieces (and their skin is so pale you can see blue veins pulsing). But interaction with people and outdoor experiences is a necessary part of writing. It gives plots, characters, and settings the depth they need to jump off the page. I always take a tiny notepad with me on a hike or a day trip, and usually something catches my eye and becomes a part of a world I'm trying to build. Interacting with people also helps attune an ear for dialogue. In the coming year, I'm planning experiences that I haven't yet had, like a trip to Slide Rock (an earth-made water slide), a venture to the Grand Canyon, and, if money allows, a flight to Japan.

3. Try to be a successful learner

The best writers are successful learners, and the best way to be a successful learner is to keep an open mind. Accept useful feedback. Ask as many questions as you can. In an article from Poets & Writers, an agent stated she was surprised more aspiring writers weren't asking the following questions of agents:

a) Whom do you represent? (Sometimes this is easily accessible online).
b) Which publishing houses do you work with?
c) Which editors do you like?
d) How do you go about deciding where you're going to send something?

The best thing about being a successful learner is that it's okay to make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes can teach you valuable lessons that carry you through.

So, a happy and healthy New Year to everyone. Two questions for all: What ideas are you dispelling? What new things do you plan to try?


Eliza Green said...

Great post.

An open mind is key.

Be strong enough to know when you're on the right track and when to accept advice if you're veering off.

And always keep learning.

Onwards and upwards for 2012!

The Writer Librarian said...

Very well said, Eliza. And thanks for your useful blog tips also. :)