Friday, September 10, 2010

Are You There, Philip Roth? It's Me, Lisa

Okay, so I've left the manuscript alone for a month and a half.  While I let it sit, I started to have second thoughts.  Who did I think I was trying to write a novel?  What nerve, what chutzpah.  It's crap.  A total waste of time.

This blog is the kind of writing I do - directionless, off the cuff, goofy essays and hack short stories.

Negative self talk is super fun, right?

I picked up the work in progress and held it in my hands.  "Just how bad are you?"  I asked it.  It stared back at me, the black letters daring me to pick up the red pen. I lay it on my bed while I assembled the colored pens, highlighters, little sticky flags and notebook.

Stalling, stalling.

I put Stephen King's On Writing on top of the stack of papers and said a silent prayer to Philip Roth that some of King's wisdom would soak through osmosis into my story.  I reminded myself that this manuscript has already undergone a major rewrite after I took out a character and plot line.  I was in deeper than I really wanted to admit.

I put my hand on top of On Writing and applied just a little pressure.  "Please don't suck."  It's a simple wish.  Just don't suck.  I'm not asking for fabulous or Earth-shattering amazing.  I'm not hoping for a Twilight or a Harry Potter.  I just want to finish this novel and find an agent who doesn't have a horrible time selling this book.  Simple.

After employing another six billion and fifty-two procrastination techniques, I sat down and plunged in.  I read aloud and marked up changes for about an hour.  Okay, I could do this.  I am doing this.  More time went by.  Was it awful?

I thought about the nine thousand and twenty-two pieces of writing advice I've read over the last few months.

Kill the adverbs.  Choose the best adjectives.  Lose the dialogue tags.  Keep the dialogue tags.  Show, don't tell.  More detail, less detail.  Don't forget to let your own voice shine through. First person, second person, third?  Alternating perspectives?  Cut out the backstory. And don't forget to eradicate that word was as much as possible.  Is this piece lyrical? Literary?

And what about your query?  It doesn't matter how good your book is if you never put together a perfect query.

It was at about that point when my lawn chair that has now become a permanent fixture in our bedroom overturned and I crawled gasping from the room.  I think I tumbled down the stairs.  A cat or three stepped around me.  The bravest sniffed my face, signaled to the rest of them and they moved delicately away. They didn't even come back with their food bowls in their mouths demanding sustenance.

MathMan came home and found me in an empty bathtub with a half-consumed wine bottle and an Etch-a-Sketch.  I wore my wedding gown that no longer zips and a straw sunhat, my red pen held between my teeth like a rose.  The work in progress was stacked neatly on the edge of the tub.  I'd planted a lipstick kiss on the top page.

In his characteristically calm manner, he surveyed the scene and gave me a half smile.  "So you're making progress then?"

Something like that.
*******

I saw this at Rachelle Gardner's blog.  It's very apropos to what I'll be doing for the next couple of weeks.


You can bet I'll be paying close attention to the word click when I proofread. 
Because it's not that kind of a story.

Happy weekend.  While I'm staining my fingers with red ink, what will you be doing?

33 comments:

  1. It sounds like your novel has vampires, sex, teenage wizards, drinking and family hi-jinx. But does it answer the basic question, "What's at the end of the rainbow?"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Go you!! Bravery is required in the slashing of the manuscript (an ancient tribal ritual I have only recently become acquainted with).

    Yes...the lies we tell ourselves in false protection.

    Rah, rah, onward!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This title is irresistible . . . especially to someone of the Judy Blume generation!

    Obviously you have moved on to the next stage of anxiety, but I can't help but be filled with ADMIRATION that you've actually written a manuscript! (btw, I'm a very good proofreader . . . should you want one)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Slogging through Revision Hell is a messy endeavor.

    And, it's okay for it to SUCK HARD for the first draft or two...after about the 4th draft, it should start shaping up. After the 6th draft, when it starts really looking good and ready for CPs to have at it...you'll be ready to torch the damn manuscript and do a tribal dance around its falling ashes.
    So, pull on your fire proof waders, stock up on cheap wine...welcome to the RH!

    ReplyDelete
  5. So the Etch-A-Sketch is they key to a future member of the canon, above and beyond Wooly Willy?

    ReplyDelete
  6. You should pick up Roth's "Reading Myself and Others" and "ShopTalk." I read "ShopTalk" about a year ago it definitely points the reader in some good directions.

    ReplyDelete
  7. May I respectfully suggest that the best person to proofread your work is someone else? :-)

    ReplyDelete
  8. What did you draw on the Etch A Sketch? Anything dirty? ;)

    ReplyDelete
  9. If your book is anything like your blog, you'll be a star in no time.

    You have a great personal backstory for an Oprah interview, as well. :)

    ReplyDelete
  10. Oh, the negative self-talk. I just entered a contest to win $5000 to accomplish a dream. My entry was that I dreamed of taking a month off to finish that book draft. After I sent it in I sounded exactly like you: "Who do I think I am...?"

    What is it with us creative people and our negative inner bitches?

    I can say this about the revising tecniques (e.g. adverbs, dialogue tags, back story, etc.), ONE AT A TIME. One at a time and then it's only a little ol' stupid adverb. Die you dialogue tag! All at once and they get with the inner bitch and gang up on you.

    You're doing it Lisa! Laugh openly at that bitch!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I love the bathroom scene imagery! Anything to get the creative juices flowing, I guess. And if that didn't do it, you just need to step away from the manuscript again.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Lisa, you are so funny! I love the title. Tell your agent I will buy one and extras for my friends. Love, LOVE your writing!

    ReplyDelete
  13. This was good medicine. And the image and dialogue at the end... I'm with some of your other commenters - if your book is ANYTHING like your writing here (your voice, your choices, your images) it will be great fun to read.

    And if I ain't sketchin' and paintin' a whole bunch this weekend I will be mighty upset. Oh - and canoing with Youngest at some point.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Kill the adverbs. Choose the best adjectives. Lose the dialogue tags. Keep the dialogue tags. Show, don't tell. More detail, less detail.

    Yes, yes. And per Phillip Roth, don't forget to add copious sex scenes, especially masturbation with various meats. O lovely Liv-ver

    ReplyDelete
  15. Your get-up in the tub sounds perfect for what you're up to. Just tell MathMan to keep the wine coming. It'll be great! Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  16. I'm picturing Fitzcarraldo trembling as he watches his ship's propeller being cast in steel.

    Only with boobs.

    Godspeed!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I can't wait to read it.

    I love, love, LOVE your editing process. That mental picture will be stored in my brain for years to come.

    I am so proud of you.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I can't wait to read it.

    I love, love, LOVE your editing process. That mental picture will be stored in my brain for years to come.

    I am so proud of you.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I don't envy you this process but you WILL get through it. Love the bathtub scene. So far this weekend I went to class, wrote a small paper (not finished yet) and got into a big fight with hubby over something completely stupid. Don't worry, we already made up :)

    ReplyDelete
  20. Good luck!

    Don't forget the ninjas and zombies.

    Oh, and Lisa; spank you!

    ;)

    ReplyDelete
  21. That first look after letting something sit always leaves the question - has it been ripening or festering? I know, in your case, it is a beautiful rose.

    This weekend, I'm contemplating life.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Beauty in an empty bathtub and cats picking their delicate way past you are both wonderful images. I'm sure too this is going to be a fine novel - just remember not to be too hard on yourself when you edit. That's what they pay the professionals for.

    We've shopped for the essential stuff - bedding for the futon that was delivered yesterday, towels, kitchen supplies (2 cups, 2 plates, 2 bowls, dish drainer, pot, frying pan, kettle, knife, cheap cutlery etc.), and groceries to last a few days. From now til Monday we'll be relaxing - something we haven't done in nearly a month.

    Be well :-)

    ReplyDelete
  23. Not sucking is a noble goal. I'm shooting for the same.

    ReplyDelete
  24. What a fabulous visual, there at the end, Lisa! I love it! I am also in editing hell and tomorrow's blog gives my PLAN (did you hear the evil cackle? Usually when I say the word Plan, one follows. BUWAHAHAHAHAHAHA)

    I wish you a TON of luck on it! I'm POSITIVE your book is already better than Twilight, and commiserate that none of us will ever match Harry Potter.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Oh my god, Lisa, that was so funny!

    And me, with my writing? I am the Self Saboteur - able to leap tall buildings but not able to figure out what I want to do with my life. Edit the damn book or pretend I never wanted to write anyway? How many more opportunities can I pass up or ruin for myself? It turns out the thing I'm best at is missing the boat.

    ReplyDelete
  26. First, congratulate yourself for writing your novel. Yeah, you may have to tweak it, but christ, how many people claim to have a book in them that never seems to get out? Second, send your manuscript out and find an agent/editor. Because it doesn't matter who you are, your work will be edited. Just saying.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Remember, Lisa, "The penis mightier than the sword."

    Now go use it, and use it hard!

    ;)

    P.S., It won't suck. Unless you ask it real nice.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Once again, I must reiterate that you are the female Iwanski. :)

    Take heart that you are not the only writer who has these doubts...but let me just tell you that your writing is wonderful and entertaining, and you should never doubt yourself one bit! :)

    ReplyDelete
  29. Oh, damn that negative self-talk. I know it all too well. I am my own worst critic.

    My mother gave me some good advice. She pointed out while watching American Idol that all of the people on that show who think they are GREAT singers and the next best thing to sliced bread, are usually the really CRAZY and tone-deaf people who are horrible. And then she pointed out how all of the truly talented singers are far too humble, way too hard on themselves and have NO IDEA how GREAT they really are.

    Im probably not transcribing it properly here [as I am sick and heavily medicated] but I hope you get the gist?



    Oh, and I have other people proof read for me because after staring at the same words/sentences for so long I cant even see the mistakes anymore. That might be beneficial for you as well.

    ReplyDelete
  30. I do the same thing with my manuscript. It is nearly five years old now and has been rejected by every publishing house known to man. I try not to cry when I think about how Stephenie Meyer had some stupid fucking dream about a teenage vampire and his human gf sitting in a field of lavender and how it all came to be TWILIGHT.

    Have you read that book? The characters are vivid but the writing is sub standard. And she is a millionaire. Sheesh.

    Not that I'm bitter or anything. Honest.

    And just in case you need it: I often come to your blog when I need a real snarky ass lift. Because you truly do write that well.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Checking out from Fragrant Liar. If she recommends you then you are already awesome. Sounds like you are well on your way to the big bestseller list.

    ReplyDelete
  32. stopped over from fragrant liar and oh my god.

    MathMan came home and found me in an empty bathtub with a half-consumed wine bottle and an Etch-a-Sketch. I wore my wedding gown that no longer zips and a straw sunhat, my red pen held between my teeth like a rose. The work in progress was stacked neatly on the edge of the tub.

    bahahahaha!

    Oh, I'll be back. Sorry. :)

    ReplyDelete
  33. You can't get to the sardine without opening the can.

    ReplyDelete

And then you say....

(Comments submitted four or more days after a post is published won't appear immediately. They go into comment moderation to cut down on spam.)