Friday, October 10, 2014

Writing to Work, Working to Write

Way back in the wee dawn of my first book--written during the time I should have been working on my Bio for Liberal Arts Majors thesis paper (no worries, I got an A! I'm a good bullshitter...) I wrote this fantastically awful romance novel.

So bad.

Like imagine the cheesiest romance with lots of blushing and stammering and contortionist sex and let it drag on for a good hundred thousand, hundred fifty thousand words, and you're halfway to understanding how awful this book was. It was kind of that cathartic, frenzied, "I'm doing it! I'm WRITING A BOOK!" kind of experience. Also I was 19, so I'm not about to be super hard on myself about what a wreck that book was because I was sitting at a computer, sober, creating really awful (reeeaaallly awful) ART, and that was more than I could say about the majority of my hopped-up, slacker classmates.

When I was done, I felt like, "Holy crap, this better sell for a million dollars, because I'm not sure I'll EVER BE ABLE TO WRITE ANOTHER BOOK AGAIN." It was hard. I was 19. I had no clue.

I HATE spoilers, but I gotta spoil this tale for you. Hold on to your seat, okay? Here we go:

THAT BOOK DIDN'T SELL.

I know! I was just as shocked as you are! All smug hindsight-based mockery aside, it is a truly crazy thing that I actually did manage to get an editor at a reputable publishing house to ask for the manuscript based on a very earnest, starry-eyed query letter (and possibly the fact that I milked my relatively young age in the letter).

This was back in the day, so I had to shake my coin jar out to buy ink cartridges and steal paper from the college computer lab so I could print the equivalent of a phone book's weight in pure, sappy, melodramatic garbage. I sent it in and just waited for the gold to rain into my open palms.

Bet you can guess what happened next ;)!

So I felt like, "Alright, I'm not cut out for this. I quit. I WILL quit. But maybe just one more try. Just one."

I wrote seven short contemporary adult romances. Some got traction with editors based on pitch, some got encouraging rejection letters, none made it any further.

I skipped tracks, did some retail, dabbled in education, read TWILIGHT, drank so much of that crazy KoolAid, wrote the world's most boring vampire book. But some editor was going to appreciate a YA clocking in at one hundred thousand words, heavy on the philosophical musings of a guy based on Edward's curmudgeon old fart uncle in a young hot body...I was sure of it!

Take a guess about how many editors were racing to scoop that sweet story up? (Hint: If your guess was "zero" you are very good at this game!)

This sounds sad, right? At this point in the tale, I've been working my ass off for a straight DECADE writing the books I wanted...to sell...

Ahhhhh....

That's the thing. I was such an industrious kid, raised with old school immigrant work ethic, holding a job since I was fourteen, and I had this very stoic, earning-based idea about the books I was writing. It was a job!

Which is a weird way to try to start a career writing novels.

And a stupid one.

It took howling, desperate homesickness and a near personal breakdown for my brain and heart to start screaming out the opening paragraphs of Brenna Blixen's story, which would eventually become DOUBLE CLUTCH.

Brenna was the first voice that wasn't coming from the mouth of some flat puppet on paper I was in control of. She was a living, breathing, confused, in-love high school girl who told me her story in between sobs and laughs and breathless confessions. I couldn't scramble fast enough to get the words down. My fingers ached trying to type as quickly as her words poured out. Something in me snapped, changed, and my writing did to, in a blink, in an instant. I was writing what I loved, and THAT MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

Fast forward to now, more than a dozen gorgeous books later. I just handed in a manuscript I'm so damn happy about. The book came to me slowly, based on experiences I witnessed and people I met firsthand. It breathed into me with the same life Brenna's story had, but just a little softer, a little slower. By now I know how to pace myself and let the story grow the way it needed to. I was writing to get the story down, not for word count. And I never thought about showing it to anyone until I was done and read it and reread it and honestly felt confident to share it because I loved it first.

I think I'm lucky that I've moved, book by book, into the art of writing. I will never regret the way I started. The early books were exercises in mechanics, mimicry, perseverance...and they built a solid, stable writing foundation for me to stand on when I was ready for story, art, passion.

As for the college senior who wrote her first book and thought she'd never have it in her to write just one more, I wonder what she'd say if she knew the book I just finished, the one I worked so hard on and love so damn much, was technically completed two years earlier.

95,000 words, polished, edited, beta read...and somehow not right at all. I worked so hard, but that was when I was starting to get the glimmer of what it meant to be a writer who listened to her characters versus one who had the adorable idea she could just force them to do what looked good on paper. The entire book--characters, events, setting--I scrapped it all. This was POST Brenna, when I really thought I knew what the hell I was doing.

And it's not a badly written book...it's just not real, and if it's not real, it doesn't feel worth any effort at this point. And the work-horse part of me can appreciate where I am, because I always knew if it really mattered it would be hard, but I understand now that it's got to be work you love. And I'm glad I found my way.