Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Because I didn't know.
"What is your book about?" Can be a deceptively difficult question for many writers. It is usually asked when we are least expecting it and then we're left driveling some barely comprehensible answer that ends with our audience looking around the cocktail party and sorry they bothered asking in the first place.
As writers, we need to be able to tell people, all kinds of people, what our books are about without freaking out. Over the years, I've come up with a few tricks that help me.
1. Actually know what your book is about. For me, this started to happen when I started planning my books out to some degree. They had more structure and I was able to better wrap my brain around what they were about.
2. Pretend you are talking about a book you've read, not a book you wrote. When I talk about other writers' books, I'm relaxed. I have very little emotional investment in the work beyond loving it, liking it, or hating it. When I talk about my own writing, my brain sometimes decides to take a rapid flight up Mount Anxiety and comprehensible verbal expression often goes along too. So take a breath, then pretend you're talking about just another book you've read. You'll stay more relaxed and your book will sound better.
3. Pretend you are talking about someone you know. When you're telling a true story to another person, you use a certain tone of voice, you have sympathetic inflections, you're not trying to SELL someone a story, you're just telling an engaging truth. You can also talk about your book's main character that way. I know you've spent (too much) time carefully crafting those short, medium, and long pitches, and those probably sound great--on paper. But they don't always translate that well into the rhythm of a natural conversation.
4. Talk about your main character up to the point where they encounter the inciting incident--STOP THERE. This is where it helps to know what your book is actually about AND what the exact event is that sets the bulk of the story on its way. Like when Dorothy gets caught in the tornado and lands in OZ--what event shoves your main character onto their journey? If you find yourself rambling about themes, twists, and secondary characters, you've probably gone too far.
5. Get in and get out. Keep it brief--if and when your audience changes the subject, follow the change and don't keep trying to steer the conversation back to your book.
6. Relax, breathe, and don't forget your facial expressions and body language say much more than your words ever do.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
"Sure," I said, waiting for the specific question to follow in the next email.
And I didn't ask.
But the mystery question worried me, nagged at me, made me paranoid even. WHAT DID SHE WANT TO KNOW??
We met at a local coffee shop, ordered, smiled, hugged, asked about family. She seemed nervous, she was making me nervous. I assumed we were meeting to discuss writing, so I moved in.
"How's the writing going?"
And then, we get to it.
It turns out, her question for me was as simple as it was complex.
How is it done? How do you write? How do you find the time?--were the obvious questions that were easy to discuss. It turns out, however, that the real questions went a little deeper.
My friend has an amazingly supportive husband who had set their basement up as her writing cave complete with computer, printer, writing software, and a DOOR! I don't have a DOOR! He had even purchased her domain name for her!
Except, even in this seemingly perfect writer world, not much actual writing was getting done.
So, back to her real question: How do you maintain enough belief in yourself to start and continue writing BEFORE there are many (or any) external reinforcements (Agent, Editor, Book Deal, Readers)
Here is where the writer/psychologist took a sip of coffee, looked at the ceiling bewildered, and shrugged her shoulders, "Hell if I know," I said. Okay, no it wasn't that bad, but I'm pretty sure I sighed and nodded my head in a sad acknowledgement of the writerly conundrum.
Because how indeed?
It has to be a different answer for everyone--right? How did I keep writing, WHY did I keep writing when there was nothing to be heard on the horizon besides a Greek chorus of, "NOOOOO!"
All I have are a multitude of answers that all sound equally hokey:
- I didn't want to stop (Mostly. Sometimes I cried and swore I was done, only to come crawling back, begging Thoth for forgiveness the next morning.)
- I believed it would (eventually) happen.
- Some people (besides my mother) did like my writing (albeit they were not publishing professionals with the big brass keys to big locked gates.)
- And finally, the most annoying answer of all: It felt right.
Now back to her question: How?
Show up (no bullshit--SHOW UP), take out your pen or your keyboard, set an achievable daily goal, and do it.
It's not glamorous, its rarely tangibly rewarding, but the words get laid down and, eventually, if you've shown up to your writing most days, and worked REALLY hard, all those individual words add up to a big pile of crap you will now have to revise--extensively.
But that's really another post all together.
Up next: How To Keep Revising!