NaNoWriMo and “…the merging of two extremes…”

Today starts a month of writing for fiction writers across the world.  So, it’s for us who aspire to write but don’t get around to it.  It’s for us who have dreamed about writing fiction but who have allowed everything else to come first.  Or second or third.  The list that keeps us from writing is long.  Indeed, for some, it’s unending.

I have no idea how this movement to write, to encourage writing, to congregate around the written word for a solid month, started.  If you know, tell me.  But if you are a writer, if you know a writer, get involved this month.  Start writing, either along with the structured approach at NaNo or on your own.  For the supporters among us, love the writers in your life and do everything you can to help them write.  That may mean buying them tea.  Or sending them writing prompts.  It may mean waiting longer for a reply to your email.  It may mean leaving them alone.

So I’m going to include a few inspiring words about writing from some of my favorite places over the course of the month.  I’ll resist the urge to repeat some of the authors who I’ve interviewed on the blog.  But look there too, if you require great nudges.  I’m especially thankful this year for Marisel Vera who met with me a few weeks ago.  After our chat, I started writing fiction again regularly, after a very long pause.

Today’s quote comes from Richard Wright in the Author’s Note and in the text of Native Son:

In a fundamental sense, an imaginative novel represents the merging of two extremes; it is an intensely intimate expression of the part of a consciousness couched in terms of the most objective and commonly known events.  It is at one something private and public by its very nature and texture.  Confounding the author who is trying to lay his cards on the table is the dogging knowledge that his imagination is a kind of community medium of exchange: what he has read, felt, thought, seen, and remembered is translated into extensions as impersonal as a worn dollar bill.

We must deal here with the raw stuff of life, emotions and impulses and attitudes as yet unconditioned by the strivings of science and civilization.  We must deal here with a first wrong which, when committed by us, was understandable and inevitable; and then we must deal with the long trailing black sense of guilt stemming from that wrong, a sense of guilt which self-interest and fear would not let us atone.  And we must deal here with the hot blasts of hate engendered in others by that first wrong, and then the monstrous and horrible crimes flowing from that hate, a hate which has seeped down into the hearts and molded the deepest and most delicate sensibilities of multitudes.

For more information or if you aren’t familiar with National Novel Writing Month, click here.  Then, go and write.

A Book For Meat Eaters

I’m reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.  It’s giving me a needed fiction break in between two or three theologically related volumes I’m working through.  After this one, I’ll be reading Anita Diamant’s Day After Night and revisiting Native Son by Richard Wright.  Nonetheless, this novel has created quite a buzz since its publication because it’s one of those that had massive social consequences.  I’m slightly embarrassed that I’ve never read it.

The Jungle is usually on the list when people talk about United States of American novels that meant something.  Those lists are always as subjective as the next thing.  That’s why I’m slow to read what other people tell me to read.  I picked this one up because I’m turning my writerly interests to Chicago.  Sinclair’s work meets a lot of my interests in that it’s fiction, written by a person who can inspire me in my own efforts, and it tells a story about people and things near me.  I can actually go to the Stockyards.  I can walk State Street and King Drive, which used to be Park Avenue and Grand Avenue, depending on where you are.

If you don’t know much about the novel–and I’m 3/4 through it so I won’t say too much–it’s the story of a man, a family, that immigrated from Lithuania in the early 20th century.  They encounter real problems looking for work and learning a new language, and adapting to a way of life completely different from what they’re accustomed to.  Sinclair is masterful in creating the work of Chicago’s Stockyards and the surrounding neighborhoods, ethnic tensions at the time, and the pronounced ways poverty and class shaped life.

It’s a good read.  It’ll make you question whether you want to keep eating meat!  It’ll make you wonder how much has changed since the early 1900s as it relates to race, class, education, and immigration.  If you’re in my city, it’ll change the way you look at the streets and neighborhood boundaries.  You’ll experience the Stockyards differently if you drive down Halsted.  You’ll wonder about fairness and justice if only a little bit.

I’m thankful for this read.  It reminds me, like other books I’ve read thankfully, that books have power.  Words have power.  Authors are important people because they offer gifts to the world even if the world never meets them, knows them personally, or can tell what they looked like in the morning.

Are you reading anything worth mentioning?

Discussing Work in Progress

When you seek publication, one of the first steps to finding a publisher is convincing an agent to represent you.  In order to do that, you have to pitch your work to the agents.  They choose you from your pitch which comes in a one-page letter called a query or from your sample pages which usually includes a synopsis and up to 50 pages of the completed manuscript.  Jessica Faust has a great dictionary of publishing terms, if you’re interested, by the way.

Whether we’re talking about a query or a full proposal with pages, I pitch projects too soon.  I’m not the most patient person.  I blame it on the fact that I was born premature.  I blame it on whatever movie my mother was watching when I announced my early coming.

But I decided recently to restrict myself from submissions for a while.  It’s an exercise in building patience, in reading the work-in-progress better, in critiquing myself harder, and in gathering useful information to enhance my voice.  I’ve made some version of this decision several times since I started writing fiction a few years ago, making the early switch from nonfiction about all things spiritual.  But I tend to release the unrealistic goal of waiting, and I submit submit submit. 

I don’t have an agent currently.  I used to, when I was pitching a particular nonfiction manuscript that we “just couldn’t sell” at the time.  But right now, I’m agentless.  So, even though I don’t have an agent, I have a manuscript, well two of them.  But we’re talking about one of them.  One I was told to get professionally edited–by an agent who read the full (the abbreviated way of saying the full manuscript). 

Somewhere between ending one year with its records and papers and making room for the new tenant who pays no rent, I filed the rejection letter along with its advice.  I had already started working on another project when I got that feedback.  Since then, I’ve finished that historical–which I’m told I can’t expect to break into publishing with since it’s historical–and started work on something else.  Writing, for me, is non-linear as you can tell. 

I’m at the point now where I am decided to have the work edited.  It’s been read by a few members of my team.  I’ve read and revised it six times since the first draft.  I started by being in love with the story.  I’ve gone the route of hating it, cutting it, changing it, breaking it and returning to the love I once had.  And it’s time to send it off to some professional person who will give me feedback, who will check my plot, characterization, and execution, who will tell me that I am, in fact, out of my mind for thinking I could write good fiction for publication or that I am on the right path and how to strengthen the work.

I’m told that many published authors have editors review and critique their work.  Since I didn’t study writing in college, I’m looking forward to this level of feedback.  I’m choosing that editor carefully over the next weeks.

So, I wanted to share a few scattered ramblings about editing this WIP.  Things that have occurred to me as I prepare to send it to someone else.

1) Giving my work away hasn’t gotten easier.  I’ve had helpful readers give me great feedback.  Each time I’ve sent my file, it’s been difficult.  The patience I’ve exercised in the waiting period from “send” to “receive” has been nothing less than divine because it took God and all God’s angels to keep me from pestering my readers with daily reminders to read and email me.  Patience comes slowly when I’m waiting for a response.  But so does my ability to send something I’ve written.  It feels a bit like taking an unflattering picture of myself–and most of them from one angle or another are unflattering–and sending it to my the guy whose girl left him for me in second grade and asking for a compliment on the photo.  Second-graders don’t forgive. Continue reading