Wednesday, July 30, 2008

sometimes ya just need to talk

Ask any student who knows me well what one of my "catch phrases" is, and they'll tell you "Dig deeper." The other is "Peel back the layers."

I've been reading our manuscript as a reader rather than a writer the last couple of days, and annotating question after question after question. A bit of conversation from Saturday's panel discussion and Mystic-Lit blog further directed me to some posts about character and scene development that got me thinking even more -- what does our protagonist really want?

And so, the mantra as I read is dig deeper.

I had posed the above question to my writing partner a few days ago, and she was busy thinking. I hadn't heard from her until this morning, when she wrote a lengthy email about both her thoughts and her doubts. I had spent most of today typing the questions into comment boxes (for both her and me), copied from my handwritten annotations on my hard copy. But something stopped me from sending what I had so far. Almost twenty pages in, my gut told me I'd overwhelm her (and I wasn't even done!).

I needed to talk to her.

And so, I did just that. Called her and we started to peel back the layers together. And what we discovered was pretty cool (I was scribbling furiously as we talked).

More than that, we explored completely new ways to bring about these revelations as they unfolded for the reader. Ways we're not even certain we can pull off or will make the story work. They may amount to nothing more than freewrites in the end. But we liked being intrigued. We liked the idea of playing.

We also got into a great conversation of our motivation -- why we write. She knows through my posts about querying agents and what they're looking for, etc., that it can be hard to knock an agent's socks off, or frustrating if they're looking for a certain nuance to the character or plot or genre that's different from the writer's preference. As writers, who do we really write for? Are we really writing for an audience, or are we writing for ourselves?

I said, "I can understand where the agent is coming from. As one who reads a lot of writing in spurts of time, you do look forward to that one paper that stands out." It's what I tell my students when they ask, 'What do I need to do to get an A?': Knock my socks off.

She responded in a way that I want to pass on because I think it's a great piece of advice for aspiring writers to keep in mind, especially when submitting their stuff:
"If you wanna be good, write what you wanna read. If you wanna be great, write what you wanna read AND blow me away too."

I think many writers get either too caught up in either the first or in the second. We're going all in.

Of course, the subject got around to cookies, so that's always a plus.

We're still in love w/ our collaboration and process; what's more, talking to each other this evening revealed some things that differ about our individual processes. It turns out that I indeed would have overwhelmed her had I sent those pages w/ all the questions (she prefers straightfoward statements), whereas they're helping me. Also, I need to think about the composition before I actually write it, whereas she writes intuitively. I also learned that she's never really been at this stage when it comes to the revision process and novels. When I wrote my first two (and she played a big role in terms of reading for feedback and character development), I had already done a lot of revision by the time she saw them. I had hit the wall (multiple times) and gotten over it. With her own major writing projects, she never had to work on anything of this size or that needed this level of revision (or she stopped, whether it was because of deadline constrictions or interest investment). Really good to know, and fascinating too. She's a newbie, in a way.

But we think from the end. And we no that no matter the outcome, we'll have no regrets. We love it so. And even though the revision is getting really hard and a little more like work, now that we've talked, peeling back the layers and digging deeper is something to look forward to. It becomes a challenge rather than an obstacle. A hurdle rather than a boulder.

And I think we're more patient now.

Oh, and may I do a bit of bragging? A good friend of mine who read the manuscript (for entertainment rather than feedback) called it "seamless" in terms of our collaborative style -- woohoo!!!

May you all be this blessed in your composition, be it solo or collaborative.


billie said...

One of my writing mantras is dig deep too - loved this post.

You have an award over at camera-obscura - congratulations!

The Purple Panda said...

Wow- thanks!