If you’re struggling to control your characters, you might appreciate NEVER JUMP FROM A MOVING NOVEL, a piece I wrote for Women Writers, Women’s Books. Read it here.
Persevere! Remember that what others call your debut may very well be the third novel you write….but it’s all worth it. The journey is what you learn from, not the success. Really.
And if literary agents don’t see merit in your writing, take heart. I sold my debut and second novel on my own. It was VERY HARD, hence my deep respect for agents and what they do. This is a tough business and if you’ve got someone in your corner championing your work, wonderful! If not, you can go it alone; it just takes a lot longer.
Finally, don’t let anyone tell you what to write. By this I don’t mean that you shouldn’t accept advice, especially from your agent or editor. Just remember that it’s advice, not a command. Defend your characters when you need to but bend when it’s necessary. At its best, writing is a collaborative process – a give and take between agents, editors and authors. What matters – all that matters – is that the story becomes the best it can be. Egos are secondary. Money is secondary. The story will outlive all of that if it’s good enough.
Novel writing is a bit like gardening. Before ideas can germinate and flower, borders are trimmed and neat pathways set out to lead the eye forward. Colorful characters that complement each other are grouped together, some receiving fertilizer and others pruning. Whether viewed from above or straight on, the layout should both fire the imagination and invite contemplation. There must be symmetry and order. A plan. And yet—
So often, it is the discordant note in a story – or a garden – that intrigues. Take, for example, this photo of my iris patch. Three very different birdfeeders define the space, but the one in the center that is off-kilter (by virtue of a squirrel’s exuberance) draws the eye. Its ‘imperfection’ makes an otherwise lovely scene interesting.
It’s the same with novel writing. As tempting as it is to rebalance the world with a stroke of the pen, the literary landscape is most authentic when it is flawed. Imperfection and ambiguity; unanswered questions and loose ends; push narratives forward. They’re why we turn the page. Why we care.
The tilted birdfeeder isn’t the prettiest of the bunch but it has a story to tell. So we move closer to get a better look. We might bow to conformity and feel compelled to straighten it. Or perhaps we’ll simply fill it with seeds and wait to see who comes to call. Either way, we don’t want its story to end. We want to turn the page.
A note about blurbs. I’d love to read all the amazing manuscripts my writing sisters-in-arms are sending out into the world, but I’m simply buried in work right now. Believe me, I remember how tough blurb hunting can be. I really do. And I sincerely hope my schedule will allow me to blurb again really soon.