Archive for October, 2011

Bad Reviews and the First Time Author

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011 | The Writing Life | 15 Comments

“It is better to do your own duty badly than to perfectly do another’s.”

The Bhagavad Gita

Bad reviews are the tough part of being published. Not that there aren’t other things that are difficult once your first book comes into the world, but reviews from people who hate your work can be devastating, especially for first time authors. Please know that everybody, and I mean everybody, gets them.

No matter how hard we work to write a good story, to hone our craft, to develop our characters and our story arcs, even the most careful, meticulous work will not please everyone. Even when most of the people who read our work understand and enjoy it, even when most are moved as well as entertained, there will always be people who do not speak our language, who are not a part of our tribe, who simply will not like our books. Sometimes the voice of the author bothers a reader, or the author’s style. Sometimes a reader does not like the protagonist. As hard as it is to read those reviews, those people are entitled to their opinions and to their voices, just as we are. Hard to accept when they hate what we do, but accepting the reality of bad reviews and differing opinions is a necessary part of being a professional author.

Those are the people who read a book and genuinely, honestly, and openly do not like it.

Then there are the destroyers.

There are some people in the world who live to tear things down. They don’t seem to have much interest in what they attack, or whom. They do it for sport, because they like the taste of blood, because they can. I don’t pay much attention to these people anymore.  It’s easier for me now simply not to read these reviews, but when I began this work, they were very tough to take.

In this world of opposites, destroyers have their place. But remember always that you also have yours. Every writer, every artist, must face those who would tear down their work simply because it is there. Creators have always gone on creating in the midst of destruction. I think that will be the true harbinger of the end of the world: when creative people lay down their pens, and allow themselves to be silenced.

Do not be silenced. Keep writing. The world needs your stories. No one else can speak with your voice. No one can tell your stories but you.

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Climbing the Mountain

Friday, October 14th, 2011 | The Writing Life | 4 Comments

I know I have spent the last weeks obsessing over first drafts. Their joys and difficulties, the work that goes into them, the satisfaction that they bring. Today, on a completely different subject, I would like to muse on the moment when you send a semi final draft to your editor.

Turning your work over to another is always daunting. No matter how many times you have gone over it, no matter how well you have crafted it, you always know that it needs to be fixed. No manuscript is perfect, no matter how hard you work to make it as perfect as you can. And the day you send your baby off to your editor is the day you have to face that reality in spades.

Of course, it is exciting, too. The thought of the book you have worked so hard on going into the hands of the woman who will read it, who will later pass it back to you with queries, clarifications, questions, and suggestions. Sending a manuscript to the editor is the next big step in making the book better, the next step in bringing the book into the light, where others can read it.

It is a wonderful moment, standing on a plateau, looking down the mountain at the distance you have already climbed in the process of creation, the path you took to write and revise the book in its present form. The day will come when you get your notes back from your editor, and begin revising. That is the next step on the mountain, on the path you climb to bring a book into the world. But the day you send your manuscript to your editor is a wonderful time to stop and remind yourself of all you’ve accomplished. It is hard to remember sometimes, when there are so many deadlines, so many other projects, and work that needs doing.

But I try to stop and savor the moment. Standing still, looking back at what I’ve already done is a wonderful thing. A time to catch my breath before I begin the climb again.

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Finishing the First Draft

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 | The Writing Life | 2 Comments

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

(William Shakespeare, The Tempest, IV.i.148–158)

I have finished the first draft of my latest work in progress, and it is an amazing moment of bliss. It is also a little sad, because those characters that I have come to love so much have faded. As soon as I turn my computer off, they vanish, just as Shakespeare’s visions in The Tempest. That is the nature of fictional characters…they come to enchant us, then they step back into the dark, and new characters rise take their place.

The beauty of working on a novel, one of many, is that the first draft is just the beginning. I will start again tomorrow with the second draft, and the characters I’ve come to love will live for me again. I will have to be more analytical, more careful, the internal editor will be in full force, out of retirement with the red pen in her hand. But I’ll still get to enter another world, and when the book comes into my readers hands, hopefully they will be as enchanted by that world as I have been. That’s the goal, after all. Not just to tell ourselves these stories, but to offer them to each other.

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First Drafts and the Need to Flee

Monday, October 10th, 2011 | The Writing Life | 5 Comments

Is it just me, or does every writer get to a point in their first draft where they want to run away from it? I am closing in on the finishing line of my latest project, and for some reason, the closer I get to the end of the book, the harder it gets to stay in the chair. I am fascinated by this phenomenon, because it has never happened to me before. Or at least, I don’t remember it happening. Hmmm…

Could it be that I don’t want the book to end? I love these characters…they have brightened my life. So perhaps part of my mind is reluctant to put those words down, the most blessed words in the English language, The End.

There is certainly a build up of tension as I approach the climax and denouement of this novel. Just as the tension builds in the story, it seems to build beneath my skin, making me jumpy, compelling me to rise from my work to make a cup of tea, grab another bit of bagel, to turn on the internet and see what my friends are up to…

You get the idea.

So how do I avoid this need to flee? I don’t. I do often get up for a bagel. I do make endless cups of tea. But always, no matter how tense I get, I come back to the chair. That is how we win in the end with every piece of writing. We keep coming back until it is finished. I haven’t found a magic formula to make this aspect of the writing life any easier. I suppose it is simply one of those times when I have to accept that something is hard…and then do it anyway.

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