Why attempting the perfect novel may be hindering you

Why attempting the perfect novel may be hindering you

For everyone who writes there are a million ways to get those words down on paper. If you’re anything like I am you stress over the perfect word wondering if your reader will get it. Is it as compellingly written out as it was in your head? You may even be tempted to labor over every paragraph for days at a time moving from page to page until the last chapter rings in your head like prose from a NYTBS. And even then, you aren’t sure, so you rewrite it—again. You could take months or even years with this routine and still not have a finished novel. The truth is, although there is no right or wrong way to edit and rewrite, working that prose like a drill sergeant with OCD can kill your flow and leave you feeling creatively bankrupt.

The problem with perfection is that it truly does not exist. But that is not the only problem. Passion and creativity are the driving forces of fiction. Sometimes it is easier to simply let it flow to get it out. Trust your instincts. If you think the first scene is too early to kill of the father, you’re probably right.  You may think, well, I’m new at this so I’ll get the opinion of a couple of other folk. Well, you’ve seen that show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Remember the episodes when the contestant asks the audience and gets practically the same margin in response for all choices presented to them?  It is then the frustrated contestant actually has to make his or her own decision. Imagine. Go with your flow. One false move, such as fixing it to please someone else well inevitably lead to another false move and then another and then…well you get it the idea.

I try to keep in mind while I’m writing that I could indeed be wrong. This entire novel could be headed in the wrong direction. But I also know the worse that could happen is that I’ll have to rewrite. But once the story is done how will you know when you are indeed finished? You will know. The story will be told. The issues will be resolved. You will have created tension and your characters will be developed. When this sense of completion hits you, stop writing.

Perfection

Writing is like housecleaning—there always something left to do. There will always a paragraph that could’ve be written tighter, stronger. There is always room for more intense character developed. Stop. Save it for the next novel. Now it is time to send it off to your editor and let he/she take a stab at it, or, even better, take it to your beta reader. But stand in the confidence that you have written the best story for the experience and skill and creativity you now possess.

And look on the bright side—the next novel will be even better.

The benefit of doing it everyday: Establishing a Writing Routine

The benefit of doing it everyday: Establishing a Writing Routine

My daughter is bent on becoming a connoisseur of musical instruments. She started in sixth grade with the flute—a dainty little instrument and a favorite among girls (probably for its size and sound). I was so proud of the fact that at their first band concert she not only had a duet but also a beautiful solo. We videoed and took pictures; we were beaming proud parents, cousin and grandma. She was on her way to becoming quite a flutist. She enjoyed the idea and liked being a part of the group.

The band director suggested at least an hour a day for practice—gets you acclimated to the instrument and you only become a better player. One hour. It doesn’t seem like much until you have to do it every day—everyday. Then she met the trombone. Perhaps what she didn’t quite get with the flute is that practice is a fundamental task with any instrument—long after the concert is over and no one is asking so how do you like band? And no one is saying, Oh, neat, you play flute. Trombone? Awesome!

It was a commitment–one hour a day including the days her favorite show was running some ridiculous marathon, days when she couldn’t have cared less about a flute because she had a ton of math, days when she realized that lugging that trombone around was no joke.

That’s the thing about being repetitive with any task there are some days that you just don’t want to—including writing. I suppose if I only wrote when I felt like it, I’d be an old woman determined to finish that second chapter. But contrary to what you might believe habit not only creates momentum but it also creates a rhythm of sorts. Everything in life has a rhythm, a cycle, a cadence. Some are established and cannot be changed like the Earth revolving around the sun or the changing of the seasons. But others we can both establish and change, like a 40-hour work week, or a part-time job. Both mentally and physically our bodies and minds adapt to the change and suddenly the kid who crammed for physic exams on the weekend and worked part-time all through college is propelled into the real world and is working 40 hours every week without fail.

For those who say that they don’t have any time to write I say writing is not important to you right now. But if you feel that it is remember it’s not the quantity of time, it is just making time. Period. If it is 15 minutes in the morning before you go to work, commit to it—everyday. If it is 20 minutes after the kids are put to bed do it. Once you establish a time you will suddenly look forward to it. And by looking forward I don’t mean you’ll always be ecstatic about it, but your body and mind will know it’s coming and suddenly you will become focused if only for 15 or 20 minutes.

When I started to write my novel it wasn’t time but pages I used as my focus—five days a week, three to four pages per day. I found that over time I could do no more and no less. But over time, within a year I had written a book. The rhythm of a thing propels it forward and keeps it moving. Established habits keep your story moving and even when it feels like you are stuck you will sit and be able to write something. It may not be stellar or perfect and it may require a rewrite, but your body and soul will know that this time is for writing. Over time you may be surprised at what you achieve.

The Corner Office: Developing Characters in Fiction

The Corner Office: Developing Characters in Fiction

The building in which I work is designed in such a way that you get a perfect skyline view of the city from many of the big offices–big, breath-taking views of the sculpted skyline. I remember years ago that was the thing to aspire for—the coveted office with a view. And then there was the corner office—more spacious, panoramic, posh and oh, so desirable. Those that possessed such a space were privileged, envied, their status quantifiable. And now many buildings are designed much like mine, in such a way that corner offices are plentiful, multiple, almost common.

It is interesting the events, the things that we wear as badges of success. We solidify it moments by the things that accompany those moments—luxury cars, company lines of credit and spacious offices. And then we wait for it–to feel accomplished. Only we can never evolve by our external possessions but by that which is already in us. We are that best-selling author, CEO, director, CFO long before the world sees it and long before we feel anything. As our gift is being nurtured, our success is already in the making until the world officially recognizes who we really are.

ernest hemingway

Character building in our fiction writing works in the same manner. By the very nature of the term character building we are working toward the realization of the truth for two parties: Our reader and our characters. We are working out those external and internal blocks which disguise the true nature of who our characters are. Secondly, we are unveiling our characters to our reader—slowly, deliberately and in detail. Sometimes the reader knows at the beginning (before the character knows) these people detailed on the pages of our book. But they love the journey. Who doesn’t love a road trip? They love to read through the bumps and bruises along the way. They want to laugh and cry and celebrate right along with our characters. And if done superbly they will grow and learn and perceive along with them. It is the ultimate experience when a book changes its reader.

As you are developing your characters I encourage you to include those aspects which are necessary for personal growth:

Get rid of influences that don’t add to life

  1. Gather the courage to try something new
  2. Be true to yourself – this one is in crucial, because we must look at life in respect to our heart’s most intimate longings, as our hearts seek after God.
  3. Move forward in faith and confidence in the One who loves us most.

Sometimes our characters’ journey will mirror ours in many ways and that is OK. It makes it easier to write and adds to the story’s authenticity.

In today’s world we realize that occupants of corner offices are booted out and must find new places to sit and work. And it just may be where they were meant to be all along.

Creating the unlikeable character

“I write because the world is an imperfect place, and we behave in an imperfect manner. I want to understand why it’s so hard to be good, honest, loving, caring, thoughtful and generous. Writing is about the only way (besides praying) that allows me to be compassionate toward folks who, in real life, I’m probably not that sympathetic toward. I want to understand myself and others better, so what better way than to pretend to be them?” Terry McMillan

Terry McMillan says she writes to find out why people do what they do. Why do they behave the way that they do. And this means getting into the heart and soul of people we don’t like, people we avoid. Most of us see others as one dimensional; they are either bad or good; they either have good motives or bad ones. I disagree. Good people can make bad choices on a given day. We are complex individuals who move and think and act and react based on our hearts. Sometimes our hearts our pure and we move towards good, other times we are selfish, self-serving; even bitter or angry. The complexity of our makeup causes it to be impossible to say we are good or bad.

Even within the confines of a story characters are often the nemesis to one character and the best thing to happen to another. When we develop characters that are all good or all bad our stories tend to become stale, stagnant and predictable. One thing I like about McMillan’s stories as that she has mastered the art of creating those types of characters that I would call misunderstood. To understand why a mother would abandon her children does not mean that you will like her once you know the reason; it just means her story is not as simple as it seems. And that is all. No judgment. It is just the way it is.

We all have motives and corresponding actions, hang-ups and childhood issues, fears and doubts that we express in a number of ways. To understand them and even feel a sense of compassion doesn’t mean that we will embrace them but only that we will not jimmy them into stereotypes. They will not be forgettable, carbon copies of like characters from other stories.

I try to create believable characters—describe people at their worst and then seek to understand why they can’t be their best. Sometimes you won’t completely get them until you see their development over time. And sometimes you will never get them. Our personalities and makeup often make embracing us all unrealistic. But it does broaden your perspective and give you a better understanding of the world in which you live.

When developing your characters try to seek motive or understanding for their makeup. Don’t be afraid to shine an unfavorable light.  And we may never fall in love with them, but we certainly won’t forget them.

Writing Your Truth

I was recently watching a television show about how to tell when someone is telling a lie. Somewhere during the hour the host stated that most people lie about themselves or exaggerate the truth when talking with others. He even went on to say that many people lie to themselves about themselves.

I believe lying is actually a form of self-preservation. Lying is a way to protect ourselves from shame, guilt or harm. We say that we’re O.K., because the truth may be that we are falling apart and that is too much to bear. We convince ourselves that he is not cheating, the alternative being we will lose him; and we can’t phantom such a thing.

To be open and honest about who we really are, our motives for doing things—even the good things that we do–may put us in a light that is unfavorable or even downright painful.  The truth can be uncomfortable but it can also be liberating and beautiful because falsity and all of the upkeep that comes with it can be exhausting and depressing and we will eventually find ourselves living an unfulfilled life.

Just-tell-the-truth-600x448

Writing demands the same level of authenticity as life does. You will connect with your reader when you can bare the souls of your character. The thing about reading well- written fiction is that if you indeed see your truth within the characters of a book that revelation is personal—it is powerful, unnerving and wonderful. It is the reason readers are drawn to such writers as Amy Tan and Terry Mcmillan. That connection helps us to know that we are not alone and that our experiences are not isolated. And even though you are reading fictional characters you are still reading the soul of a real, live, being—the writer.

The more authentic you are in your writing, the more you will draw in the reader. Suddenly, he or she forgets that it is fiction because it feels more like he or she is peeking into the personal, private world of someone else’s life.  Authentic writing means you do away with stereotypes, and go deeper than superficial motives. For example, our way of thinking, the spouse we choose, the way we raise our children are not haphazard actions done on a whim. They are in many ways subconscious decisions based on the way we’ve been raised, our life experiences, beliefs, fears and expectations. Strive to reveal these attributes when you write. You will find your writing is more robust, exciting and that your characters come alive.