Friday, September 18, 2009

I don't need a map, honey, I know where we're going

Word of the day: alacrity - A cheerful or eager readiness or willingness, often manifested by brisk, lively action or promptness in response.'s word of the day appears in my inbox every morning, a little treat for me to remind myself why I love the English language so much (although some words remind me why I hate it). The word of the day today seemed particularly apropo for me, mainly because I've been feeling nothing but the opposite the past week or two.

I've been working on writing for the past few months now, and although I finished up a YA novel a few weeks back, I knew it wasn't good enough to pass onto anyone else yet. My aunt, a very good editor and published author herself, gave me the best and hardest piece of advice: don't let anyone else see your writing until you think it's perfect. You can't go back and make them unread the bad, and even when you change it they'll still have that old version rattling around in their head somewhere, influencing their opinion of the current manuscript.

So yes, good advice. Except that as a young, burgeoining, impatient writer, I want to share my craft with someone. I want someone to look at it and say "wow, this is incredible, I need to know more RIGHT NOW" or "this makes me want to scratch my eyes out." I need to know I'm generally headed in a direction, whether good or bad, so I can clearly map it out for myself. I'm sure those writers who have been in the trenches and worked the field for ages now can do as they like; they have the experience and control to know where their story is headed at all times, and they have the good sense to stop and take a breather when they hit a snag in their storyline.

Me? Not so much. Everything I read says to plow through as many words as possible, and even the venerable Stephen King said the first million words are just practice. Which makes sense, because what I'm working on now and what I wrote for my first manuscript are miles away from each other, so I can't imagine how my writing will improve over the years. I also read vociferously now (when I worked for a book publisher I didn't so much as want to read a menu when I got home), which helps me learn how to craft little details of characters and scenery that I usually skip with impatience.

But still, sometimes I need reaffirmation of direction that can only come from having someone else look at it and say "awesome!" or "quoi?" I certainly do not feel alacritous about anything I write; at this stage in my writing, it's a painful venture. Each line spoken by each character, each turn of phrase, is an agonizing wringing of cleverness I'm not really sure I have, and there are about a million ways I can end any scene and I'm never really sure which of them is the most interesting. So I pass my work on, chapter by chapter, to my one current loyal reader to get his feedback. Is it cheating? Maybe. Am I still doing it? Totally. It helps give me deadlines and keep the steamer rolling along. Which is hard to do in general, but even harder to do when you feel adrift in a sea of possible storylines and not one of them throws you a lifesaver.

Rachelle Gardner has some unique and wonderful tips for helping make you (and me) a better writer, and I think I'll take her up on her suggestions. I love the idea of putting one of my main characters in a situation where aliens have landed in their backyard. Natch! Priceless.

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