Writers aren’t supposed to talk in detail about their Work-In-Progress. It might jinx the flow, or bring the project to a halt. But I’ve decided to risk pissing off the Snow Queen because, well, the process is driving me a little crazy, and what I’m learning might be of use to someone out there reading my posts. Is anyone out there reading my posts?
Four notebooks were needed to complete the first draft of my WIP. The working title: I’m Not Nora Ephron, but I Might Be Virginia Woolf and Other Mortifying Tales of Writing. It’s a memoir that details why it took me seventeen years to write what I still hope will be my debut novel. A comic exploration of the obstacles— personal and external— that derailed me from latching onto the story I needed to write. It also shows how developing my craft as a writer transformed me as a person and ultimately saved my life.
Is that even vaguely interesting? Well, it was and still is to me, which is why I’m working on the second draft. But before I start babbling about that process, I’d like to share why I believed this project would be worth the time.
About ten years into my journey with my New Orleans novel— Treasures of Ruin— I experienced a little Network meltdown. I was mad as hell over the thirty-something rejections that made me feel like I wasn’t a good enough writer to compete. But mostly, I was mad at myself because whenever someone asked me about the story all I could do was stammer and haphazardly toss out plot points. I’d finished eight drafts of the New Orleans story— each one better than the last— but I still found it impossible to condense the story into a simple intriguing logline. I was disheartened and mortified.
My son said, “You should write about this.”
“Write a book about writing this novel. It’ll probably get published first.”
“Why? Because my novel isn’t any good?”
“No. Because it’s marketable. People love to hear how things come into existence.”
True. But what would I say?
- I wrote a novel.
- It was boring.
- I rewrote it with too many characters and storylines.
- It made agents’ heads spin.
- I made the protagonist the only narrator.
- Nobody liked her.
- THE END.
I definitely wasn’t ready. But the idea was worth toying with. I loved the “Making Of” Shorts that were in the bonus section of all the DVDs I watched. I also loved those mini-interviews with debut novelists on how they ended up breaking in. I read them religiously for inspiration. But by the time of my Network meltdown, they pissed me off more than inspired. The interviews boiled down to something like this:
I wrote a couple novels nobody wanted. About halfway through another, the idea for my debut bonked me on the head. I dropped the other story and dove in. Finished the first draft in six weeks. Spent three months revising and polishing. Drafted a rock-solid query letter and got six offers of representation. Then my dream agent landed a book deal in three weeks. What I did right: Kept writing and trusted my instincts.
I was happy for them. Really. I was. I wanted their story to be mine. But it wasn’t. And that pissed me off. What was I doing wrong? What did they know that I didn’t? What did they know that they weren’t talking about?
Exactly. I wasn’t pissed off or jealous because they were getting published and I wasn’t. What annoyed me was how they glossed over the process.
The idea just bonked me on the head. But what was it specifically about that idea that made you believe it was the story you needed to write? How did you know you weren’t just going down another blind alley? What was the revision process? How were you able to determine what needed to go and what needed to stay? How did you know the story was ready to submit? Did you hire an editor? Work with Beta Readers? Did you study craft books? Or did the idea that bonked you on the head come with detailed instructions on how to write a publishable novel?
Why wasn’t anyone talking about the struggle?
I wanted to know how writers navigated the struggle. What mental gymnastics and emotional pitfalls did they need to overcome to whip their story idea into a marketable product? I longed for someone to share the process of how they learned to write a novel the way Neil Simon shared how he learned how to write plays in his memoir Rewrites.
Hello— if that was the story I wanted to read, then that was the story I needed to write. And so, once my New Orleans story came together, I dug into the memoir. I’m in the middle of the second draft. It has its own learning curve that I plan to share with you. But not today.