Writing a novel is a challenge. So what about writing a novel with a partner? Bigger challenge? That would depend on the people involved, which brings me to the topic of this blog—our method of co-writing a novel and how our partnership works.
OK, listen up, it’s Christmas time: time to give me a big Christmas present. I’m going to be hitting 60 pretty soon. Chances are I’m not going to be a big world famous author. I’m probably going to end up like millions of other writers, writing in obscurity, hoping to share their thoughts, their selves with others.
You see those day calendars for writers with motivational sayings on each day of the year. It is now my newest aspiration to have my words of wisdom on a day calendar. I’ve got all kinds of sayings, most of them unprintable. But one saying I do have stems from my procrastination and I find it helpful myself. So if there is anyone out there in cyberspace reading these words now it’s time for my Christmas present: tell someone who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone who can get me on a calendar so I might help my fellow struggling writers. Imagine this:
December 22, Larry Jenkins,
“Get off your ass and sit down and write.”
Now, isn’t that the most perfect writer’s saying? Tell someone!
Writing a blog about writing is kinda hard to do when you haven’t been writing.
Why haven’t I written anything?
I wonder if the lack of motivation has to do with the book being “done”. This happened to me once before when I wrote my very first novel back in the mid 90s. I started it in college in Advanced Creative Writing and was required to turn in an outline. The outline was fun to create, but then I had to actually write the story.
When it was finished, I met with an agent at a writing conference, and she said it needed to be longer. So I plotted a subplot and forced myself to the computer to write the scenes. I sent the book out again to agents and editors, received a few handwritten notes, but none squealed, “Send it to us now!” So it’s sitting on my shelf in a box.
Since then, I have completed two other novels (also unpublished) WITHOUT plotting, and the excitement lasted up until the final word. Lack of motivation wasn’t a factor.
So maybe it’s the holidays?
I kinda doubt it—one of my novels was written in November—NanoWriMo. I don’t think I can really blame the holidays.
Back to lack of motivation. It was important for me and Larry to plot the end to be sure we gathered up all the loose pieces and tied them in a pretty little bow. But the spontaneity is gone. I can’t leave any more ridiculous cliff hangers for him, nor do I face the challenge of making sense of his.
And then there is also the lack of looming deadlines. The critique group doesn’t meet again until mid January.
The urgency is gone.
The fun is gone. Maybe that’s an overstatement. I love reading Larry’s parts. I’m sure there’ll be some enjoyment in watching the scenes unfold.
And yes, it’ll be fun knowing we've written the last word.
Which brings me back to motivation. If I can find the time, yeah, I might work on it. Or not. Maybe a post-holiday (rested) brain will enjoy the process more.
So, here’s looking forward to the New Year complete with deadlines and motivation.
Last night we were babysitting two of my grandchildren, Jake, 4 years old, and Emma, 2 years old. They are both angelic little ruffians. Jake and I built a Lego tower. We were admiring it as I steadied it with my hand. Emma pushed her shopping cart full of imaginary groceries over to look at our handiwork. She put her tiny finger on mine, which was sporting a purple nail from being injured weeks ago.
“Owie?” she asked, looking at me with the sweetest concerned expression. I almost melted when she leaned over to kiss my “owie.”
That perfect moment is one I won’t soon forget. It wasn’t a weepy, break down and cry moment. It was more of an “AHHHH” moment.
But, how could I describe it to anyone else? I’d love to be able to write good enough to relay to others how that little kiss made me feel. I’m not sure it’s even possible.
Becky has a fit when I try to write something “sappy,” but I try anyway. She thinks I’m wasting my time and that my talent lies in writing humor, which, I guess, evokes emotion. I want my writing to touch someone in some way. I want them to remember or think about something I’ve written for a while after they’ve read it.
For now though, that little kiss makes everything feel better.
After a meeting, a coworker asked, “How’s the book coming?”
“Well! We just went through chapter 26 last night at the critique group.” I had to take a deep breath to keep from gushing. “We’re so close to done!” I allowed myself an unworklike-atmosphere squeal.
“So how many chapters will there be?”
“We figure about 32.” This time the squeal was internal and sounded a bit like a child on a WHAM O Slip N Slide.
We are THIS CLOSE (picture me holding my fingers up, about a quarter inch apart), and I’m PUMPED. A year ago we didn’t know if we could finish it. Six months ago, we didn’t know if the structure could hold the weight of the ending. Six weeks ago, the ending didn’t appear on the blueprint.
But it does now. This weekend we hammered out the last of the details, and now all that’s left is the writing.
And it’s the Holidays.
November and December make writing difficult. Our attention is so many places: work, parties at work, how to get your work done AND go to the parties, how to get caught up. The garbage we eat this time of year (and by we I mean I) totally saps our energy. All of this is followed by collapsing at the end of the day exhausted. On the couch. With a bag of potato chips, because you (again, I) don’t want to cook a real meal.
But of course that’s not all of it. There’s the baking, the shopping, the wrapping, putting up the tree which takes FOREVER, dragging it out of the attic, reading the instructions, putting the limbs in the wrong place and starting over, lights that won’t work, broken ornaments to vacuum up, ad infinitum.
So when are we expected to write? Realistically, can we get this novel done and be sending it out to agents by April 1? That was the date I figured we could hit if we stuck to one chapter every two weeks.
But I didn’t figure in the Holidays, the demands of family, and the demands on your energy.
Or the demands of your writing partner (and again, I mean me).
Larry needs a break, not only because of the season, but because I’m a bully. I shouldn’t push others the way I push myself. He and I are so much alike that I forget we have some very dramatic differences; primarily that he has far more family responsibilities than I do.
So for the Holidays, I’m going to lighten up. No more bullying for me. I plan to chill out, have some eggnog, turn on Sinatra, snuggle up on the couch with some hot chocolate…
Okay, who am I kidding? I don’t know how to lighten up, never have, and I don’t like eggnog. I’ll keep writing when I can find the time.
But no nagging. That’ll be my Christmas gift to Larry.
It’ll be a challenge, but I think I’m up to the task.
Ok, I’d like to expand on my writing partner’s last blog.
When we get a negative response on one of our submissions Becky gets really bugged by it.
My take on the subject: so what? Not everyone is going to like everything. I don’t like poetry. If someone gives me poetry to critique I’ll do my best, but my overall response is going to be something like, “I don’t get it,” or “It didn’t rhyme.” Everyone knows I’m a barbarian with no appreciation for poetry. It doesn’t mean the poetry’s no good, it just means but that I don’t care for it.
There are a few reasons for a negative critique.
1.Your writing is a piece of crap.
2.Your critiquer doesn’t like that sort of material for one reason or another.
3.That person just sat through a painful critique on their own literary masterpiece.
4.They didn’t read it carefully.
Every critique is valuable, but I tend to average out the comments and set aside the odd comment. Don’t take things too hard. Don’t overthink things. Don’t dwell on the negative. Fix what you can and move on. Write what you want to write and say what you want to say in as precise and pleasant way as possible.
If you like it, great! If they don’t like it, so what?
I’ve mentioned the critique group that Larry and I belong to. The value of feedback is immeasurable, and even when we receive something that is clearly well intentioned, yetnot complimentary, we keep putting our stuff out there for review—we want to make it as good as we can. Is that a fun part of the writing process? Sometimes, not so much.
Recently we received a critique on one of our chapters that started like this: “I did like some of it” then “I tried not to sound too harsh.” This immediately alerted me to cowboy up and jam my hat down over my ears. I don’t take criticism well, so even the mildest of the most constructive type still pulls the blood from my face.
It’s not that this person’s input isn’t helpful, and it’s not like I haven’t heard these comments before from others. Yes, I realize that every now and then we turn in something which can’t possibly compare to the unqualified genius of previous submissions.
Then the critiquer said, “Maybe it's just cause you were working so fast, I have more problems with my stories if I do that, too. The chapters were coming hard and fast when this was written, so maybe slowing down will help.”
It was an absolutely well intentioned comment from a very nice person, and I know he/she wouldn’t deliberately be unkind. So why am I still twisting in the wind when I read it a weekago?
Well, because the chapter in question has been written for over a year, and then rewritten a couple times recently. I even blogged my concerns about this very section in Perfection Omelet with a Side of Frustration.
THAT’s what I find so upsetting—we’ve put an enormous amount of time and effort into half a dozen pages over several weeks, and it comes back with the comment, “Not your best work.”
Yes, I have us on a time schedule, the critiquer is right about that—we’re pushing ourselves, but that’s not the same as hurrying through. I’m still as difficult and anal and controlling and perfectionistic as I’ve ever been, as I’m sure Larry will attest.
Then what’s going on here?
Maybe we’ve spent too much time on it. Maybe it’s been nitpicked to death. Maybe we’ve sucked all the life right out of the thing.
So what now?
Well, I need to reread comments from the others in the critique group and see what they had to say. Is this an isolated opinion? Or is this same sentiment voiced elsewhere? And maybe I’m just suffering from the human condition—remembering the bad stuff far more vividly than the good.
Now that I’ve managed to exhaust the bronco, (or in this case, beat it to death), I can take off my cowboy hat and get down to some serious rewriting.
Or not. Let’s see what comes out of the gate tomorrow.