As a writer, you work with what you have, not with what you’d like to have. With what you are, not with what you’d like to be. Seems pretty obvious.
It comes up in another odd form sometimes: you can write characters who are not as intelligent as you are, if you’re observant enough. But it is extremely hard to write characters who are a lot smarter than you are. Even with lots of research. Because you cannot understand their thought processes.
One carrot, one stick
Two things inspired me today to look at positives in what I am and can do:
Kristen Lamb’s post – Doubt, Fear, False Alarms & “Giving Birth” To Our Dreams, especially two things she said:
To be successful we must learn to dream and to be finishers.
Criticism will always come to those attempting anything remarkable. In fact, the only way to completely avoid criticism is to never attempt anything interesting.
The second inspiration came from a post I found via The Passive Voice blog on elitism, culture, and the role of the literary establishment gatekeepers, by a link to an interview at the New Republic about ‘super-agent’ Andrew Wylie (and no, I don’t mean a James Bond-like character, although his words make you wonder if that’s how he sees himself). It is the usual snobbism that comes from people who support The Arts (nothing wrong with the arts – it’s the supporters who think that theirs is the only kind of Art with a capital A that should be supported).
These are the people who believe penny-dreadfuls, mass-market paperbacks, and Amazon ebooks from indies are the source of all the world’s problems.
There have always been elitists – there will always be people who believe they are better than other people. Divine right of kings. Chosen by the gods. Kind of un-Christian, or at least not at all Christ-like. They, like the poor, we will always have with us.
Ooops! Tangent! Rant!
Each writer is unique – THAT is why you have to write
Back to my somewhat fuzzy point: I can’t worry about elitism. I can only work on what I am capable of doing now, and capable of learning in the near future.
I have been, foolishly, worrying about whether I should be spending so much time and all my literary capital, such as it is, on writing Pride’s Children.
To finish Pride’s Children, I have to keep writing, keep editing, keep revising.
I have a long list of things that must be accomplished, and that list will not be diminished by anything other than work and time spent at the keyboard.
I can make each one of the things on the list take MORE time than it needs to, but I can’t make any of the items take less.
I can add items to the list, and, occasionally, toss an item off.
But it is a more-or-less finite list, and it WILL get finished.
Unless I stop writing.
I KNOW I can finish a novel – I’ve done it before. That is an amazingly comforting thought: most people who start a novel never finish it. MOST people. Wow. A painful statistic.
And most people in the world never even start a novel (wise people).
But this one is in me – and, I hope, many more – and it tries to tear its way out.
Kristen Lamb’s blog post makes a connection that has been made before, but needs restating frequently: writing a novel is like having a baby – and the most important part is when you get it out to the world as the product of your labor.
We are now able to put it up for sale EVEN IF we cannot persuade an agent, editor, and publisher that it is somehow worthy.
Someone other than us WILL love our baby novel: even if it is ugly, with modest amounts of publicity most novels will sell at least a couple of copies to total strangers.
If our standards are high, and we learn our marketing job, many more people may take a chance, and our secret story will be given a public life.
No one has to justify existing. And so it is with novels: they may not be loved, but they will be. But only if we finish them and do the work necessary to birth them.
I had the hope for years, as I wrote, that, when finished, Pride’s Children would be able to hide its ‘specialness’ long enough for an agent to take it on and get it published. I’ve always known it might be portion and cup for a very limited audience. After all, the subject of disability is a difficult one; the potential audience is complicated by the fact that the people who might be expected to have empathy with one of the main characters are people whose energy is so limited they may not be able to read it.
Struggle is the human condition
If you go back about 125 years, every elite person then alive – is now dead. Even the kings and captains of industry.
Struggle is struggle. I was loved and not abused, but I have read books where the abuse of a character is either a main plot line or an underlying secret. Maybe even just to appreciate that, in a big scary world out there, I was given a safe haven to grow up in, despite my oddness.
I like to think that it is because the stories are both well-written and have compelling plots, characters, and themes.
Unfortunately, without the ‘well-written’ part, I can’t tolerate reading a story long enough to find out if it’s compelling. There are people who can – more power to them.
So when I write, I have standards I must meet. It took a long time to learn how to approximate meeting those standards, and I will continue to learn. Meanwhile, there ARE stories being written by those who survive, and read by those who have either survived or want to learn how, which will remain forever closed to me. My loss.
And there are stories which have been written by far more elite? intelligent? cultured? educated? special? writers – which I can’t read, and should never aspire to write. I don’t pine after that ability: I think many of those literary novels have nuances only graduate students without a degree can be forced to see. NOTHING HAPPENS.
Storytellers for everyone
It makes me a snob. So be it. I know I have my own limitations – I stop at the low margins of ‘literary.’ There MUST be plot, and characters I can somehow relate to (I like Dexter – sue me). I carefully read Saul Bellows’ Seize the Day, but at the end almost threw the book against the wall because nothing happened that I could cheer for, or relate to, or even like
My brow is not high enough for Bellows.
There is a place for all of us storytellers and writers. And there are readers for most of us.
I tell myself that. I go forward with Andrew, and Kary, and Bianca – and a host of almost a hundred minor characters whose lives intersect – because I know I can finish. And there are people out there who don’t know my story but might like to – if they get the chance.
I have satisfied MY heart today by cleaning out the next 8-scene arc, seeing where all the pieces and scenes and characters are going to connect to the plot. And I am happy.