I have never been a patient person. I’m not sure that many of us are, but for me it has always been something I’ve known I need to work on. Writing forces you to become an expert.
A short story commonly sits with a magazine for three months before they give you any indication about if they like it. Even if they pick it up it can be another six or twelve months before they actually publish it. And that’s a short story.
I had a novel sitting with a publisher for two years before I pulled the pin. The six month query elicited a ‘we are still considering it’ response, but all other queries went unanswered. I’m assuming they didn’t want it. It has been six years now with no response.
It has nearly been a month since I subbed my novel for the Ampersand Prize and I know that I probably have another two months to wait before I might hear something. I thought I’d be able to distract myself by working on another project, but my patients isn’t so easily fooled.
Every day I wonder how the story is going. Have they read it? Do they like? Is it on the ‘to be considered’ pile? It isn’t interrupting my work on the new project, but I wonder if I’ll be better or worse when I’ve got two, and then three of these out in the market? I guess I’ll become a master of waiting eventually…
I’ve been reading a few philosophical texts recently that have talked of living in the now. I’ve always found the whole now/future thing to be a balance that I never knew if I was getting right. There is no doubt that I’m more of a living for the future kind of gal, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe I’ve got that wrong?
Living in the now isn’t just about cleaning your floors now because you can, it is about really embracing life and going for that long walk when it is a beautiful day instead of prepping for the team meeting you need to present at on Monday. It is about spending your savings on that computer that will help you get on (and off) line faster so you have more of your time back.
I always thought of living for the now as being a life where your mortgage doesn’t get paid, you retire with no savings and one day everything you didn’t plan for comes crashing down on you. Maybe that is not so.
I’m not an existentialist, nor do I think I ever can be, but I do think I need to take a leaf out of their book. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow (more likely now they have moved the bus stop next to the part of the road where everyone speeds) what would I regret leaving behind? Is that the ‘now’ I need to work on?
Perhaps the best way for me to work this out is to live a week of questioning what is the now thing to do? The past five years feel like one very long year, I’ve spent nearly all my time on work, I don’t want the next five years to feel the same. After all, who knows when that bus is going to lose control.
I read many novels which go into a lot of detail about what characters looks like. Some even go so far as to tell me what they are wearing and usually it does nothing to move the story on. If a person is dressed inappropriately or extravagantly that will tell me a bit about their character, but describing the softness of the shoulder pads in their shirt and the ripple of their stone-wash jeans when they are sitting around home just mires the story in a time period. Fine if you want us to be in the 80s, but a lot of stories could easily go across times if the fashion didn’t get in the way.
Then you get stories at the other extreme (which probably most of mine fall into) where you are lucky to get a name for the character. I’ve actually done it once where I was writing a first person story and didn’t even drop my character’s name into it. This can be done successfully (mine wasn’t), but I think there are two important things that you (usually) need to specify about your character; gender and approximate age. All the rest can be up to the reader.
The book I’m reading at the moment did not mention the main protagonist’s age, so for some reason I got it into my head he was a middle-aged man. It was only at the half-way point in the book that I was told he was in his early 20s. That went some way to explaining the excessive running and apparently inappropriate relationships with a (I thought) much younger woman. I wish the author had mentioned it earlier. The character underwent a painful morph into a younger self in my head, but he keeps slipping back to his portly, balding older self as I get back into the story.
Of course different readers want different levels of description, so all I can recommend is write what you like. I often get told off for not showing my readers what colour my character’s hair is, how tall they are etc. The way I see it is if it is important to the story, or if I’m going to mention it again later, then I’ll tell you when you first meet. Otherwise, make the character your own. Every book is experienced by each reader differently and that is part of what I love about books over movies.
Well, it’s done, I’ve completed the edit and submitted my YA novel for the Ampersand Project. I’m proud of the novel and hope that my enthusiasm shows in my writing. I guess the next two or three months will let me know.
This novel writing process was pretty intense, if it wasn’t for all the lists around the place (on my computer screen, the fridge, my bedside wall) I don’t know that I would have been able to complete it on time. Knowing exactly where I needed to be with the word count and the edit meant I hit all my due dates. And that was without knowing what the storyline was going to be.
In true me style, I tracked everything about the novel. I know how much time I spent actually writing the story as compared to just sitting at the desk thinking about it, how many words I averaged each sitting and how many days of writing per week gave me my best per-hour output.
There was one thing I did not measure; chocolate intake. I know I started the process with a pile about six blocks high in the pantry. I also know that I bought a few more along the way, and by a few I mean a lot. The cupboard is now empty.
So perhaps my writing spreadsheet needs an extra column added? Then again, maybe it is best not to know. I am so pleased I managed to get this finished on time and submitted that I really don’t care about the chocolate.