Thursday, March 06, 2014

What Lies Within, Chapter And Verse

I've written here a couple of times before about my friend Ann, who died almost three years (impossible!) ago.  She worked in resort real estate for her Real Job, but she was also a romance novelist for Harlequin.  That fact impressed me terribly, but she said that there were plenty of people who sniffed and acted like it was no big deal. "Oh those," they would say dismissively.  "All of them are the same.  Anyone can write those."  She said she used to be embarrassed to tell people that she wrote romances until she finally decided that, hey, she was a published author and her books were making money.  What right did anyone have to make her feel bad about that?  So the next time someone gave her that lousy answer, she said, "Oh!  Well, which ones have you written?  Maybe I've heard of them. Which line for Harlequin did you publish in?"  The person was usually unprepared for this response, and even if he or she explained what the original comment meant, Ann felt she drove her point home pretty well.  If it was so easy to write a romance novel, then why weren't you doing it?

I've been retired for almost three years.  Every so often, I am urged by someone to write a book.  I have one person who tells me, "I don't even care what you write about; just write and I'll buy it and read it.  I can't wait!"  Obviously, that's incredibly nice to hear, but it puts a lot of pressure on me.  It's lovely when people ask you when you are going to write a book.  It implies that you have a book inside of you, or it says that people enjoy reading your writing, or even that people find you interesting or eloquent or both.  And, today's question puts an even finer point on it:

What is the novel inside you?

Oh, hell.  I used to tease Ann when she was between romance novels.  I'd say, "Here.  I'll come up with some titles and let you have them for free.  Then I'll even spitball some possible plot ideas."  She'd pretend to be enthusiastic and interested.  My favourite one was Free Wild Sex Tours, Unlimited.  It may or may not have taken place on safari in the Serengeti.  I can't really remember.

Like all good English teachers, I have a couple novels/stories already started (in several different word processing formats), but I'm not passionate about them.  I don't feel compelled to write them, and to be honest, I don't really care to finish either one.  The first one has some very good writing in it.  The second one has better characters in it.  And I'm lazy.  Good writers are disciplined, and I'm anything but.

It's very intimidating to be a reader of classic literature and then aspire to be a writer of books.  And I have to admit; my best writing is over at The Brian Williams Tie Report.  There is more of my fiction voice there.  Here, I am mostly chatting.

As a creative writing teacher, I still believe that honesty in writing, even in fiction and poetry, is critical.  I always told my creative writing students that their writing should read as if they tore their guts out and threw them, still steaming, onto the paper.  So I think that, on some level, the writing should come from a place of authenticity.  (Hence, the old Number One Rule Of Good Writing, write what you know.)  There is a lot of stuff I know.  I need it to settle out, sift through, distill into one crystalline idea that drives me.  I'm not to that point yet, I think.

I love writing.  It's my preferred means of communication, always.  The refinement, the revision, the polishing are as enjoyable as the original act of creating the document.  Choosing words, crafting phrasing, deciding on diction--all of it is like assembling and then conducting an orchestra.  I know without hesitation that words are my power.

What is the novel inside me?  I don't know.  Is there a book inside me?  I don't know that either.  If there is a book or a novel inside, will it even come out?  That's a better question.



  1. Anonymous6:15 PM

    Every once in a while someone will tell me that I need to write a book. As this is something that I've never wanted to do, I have to believe that there's no novel lurking inside me. And I'm perfectly fine with that.

    You, however, might be a different story… so to speak. ;-)


  2. Dear Authors,

    Suit your topics to your strength,
    and ponder well your subject and its length;

    Or lift your load before you’re quite aware what weight your shoulder will, or will not, bear.” –

    George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824)

    Isn't this pretty much what you are saying?

  3. I don't have a novel within me. Maybe because I read a lot more non-fiction than fiction. And maybe a better question to ask is if they have a memoir within them?

  4. It used to be that I had so much information to get out of my head, along with an opinion on every little thing, that I could talk non-stop or write stream-of-consciousness for days on end. These days, it's not nearly so urgent, but I can tell a story or joke really well, and can relate my experiences, both verbally and on paper, in a way that is usually quite entertaining to the listener/reader. When it comes to writing, I have always been able to take my ideas and put them down in the exact manner that feels right to me. But that is limited to relating a story that happened to me (or that I observed) or trying to persuade someone to hear my side of an issue. I can take an idea and embellish the hell out of it, but I can't make up new things to save my life.

    Like you, I like the endless ability to rest, review, and revise what I've written until it is just the way I want it to be. I can also take anyone else's writing and improve it, so my biggest actual skill is as an editor. Once I realized that a long time ago, I found that that's really what I do all the time--see something in front of me and edit it. That's the approach I use for work, writing, and teaching horseback riding and training horses. It's funny how that one clarification made such a difference in how I see my own ability to get things done.

    And no, there's no novel inside me.

  5. There was a time when I thought I might want to be a writer, but then I took a creative writing class, and I found the whole process so clunky. Not the class, but the trying to get my characters to sound anything like real was much more difficult than I had expected.

  6. J.--Just because the class made it clunky doesn't mean that you can't do it. Especially if you are doing anything autobiographical or real. You know how you sound, how people talk. Just write. "Someone" I know would be glad to help out and polish it up, if need be, later.

    LaFF--Some people, like you, are more of a mechanical writer. Not as in "robotic", but as in the mechanics of a thing or even the language itself. So, as you found out, editing is your bag, and you might even like technical writing.

    I used to think that I was only an essayist--the kind of writing I do here. And while it's true that it is my most natural form of writing, and the easiest for me to produce, I can also, with effort, do more.

    But you have to want to. And if you don't, you don't. Not everyone has the novel/book inside them. I don't have an athlete inside me, or a painting, or a great deal of other things.

    phoebes--Right. "There are no ordinary lives." I meet a lot of people who want to "learn to write" so that they can write a family history. Each of them thinks that the ancestors that came before had far more interesting lives than they did. I'm guilty of it, too, when I talk about my boring little life. Truthfully, however, if everyone sat down and truly documented the high and low points of her life, she would find that her life was by no means small. Thanks for the reminder.

    Nancy--Oh,that Byron. I find it hard to listen to any advice from him, knowing what a wreck his personal life was, and how much of an immoral snot he was. True, he produced some lovely literature, but his heart was stone.

    Yes, in part, that is sort of what I'm saying. Byron says you can either think about it or just write.

    He's a little disingenuous there; he didn't produce his work a la minute. He rewrote, revised, and babied it incessantly. He just wanted everyone to think he composed it perfectly the first time. I'm going to write you an email and suggest a book for you to read if you are interested in the Byron story. Check later.

  7. Ally--Oh, the pressure. It's a very nice thing to hear, though, isn't it?

    I do feel like a book is inside me. I am waiting until I feel as if I have no choice but to write it. It's...percolating. That's it. Percolating or simmering.


  8. O.K. so you don't like Byron. May I suggest you consider these lines by Jonathan Swift regarding the task of writing?

    Then, rising with Aurora's light,
    The Muse invoked, sit down to write;
    Blot out, correct, insert, refine,
    Enlarge, diminish, interline;
    Be mindful, when invention fails,
    To scratch your head, and bite your nails.

  9. How about a retired teacher/serial killer who kills those who use bad grammer in a public foeum?

  10. Another wonderful discussion, Nance. I'm so happy that your friend Ann came up with that retort, but I have to confess I used to think that about Harlequin romances. Perhaps it was the Harlequin romances of my youth that inspired that kind of thinking, not the ones like she wrote or others write today. A friend just published a trilogy through the Brit division of Harlequin. She writes "Brit lit" romantic comedies and is an excellent writer. Admittedly, it's not the type of writing that I have sought out most of the time, but her characters come to life on the page and their actions make me laugh, so that shows that her writing is successful and enjoyable.

    I think that many people have a book in them, but not necessarily a novel. I am always in awe of good novelists. As others have said, a novel is not really the way I write. I'm a far better editor than a writer, but that doesn't stop me from writing. My editing (by and large) has been of technical documentation which suits me better in many ways.

    Otherwise blogging via my blogs suits my needs. I had to let go of a lot of perfectionism to blog though. My readers and friends are always encouraging me to write a book (not a novel obviously), but I don't think I have the interest or drive to do that. I have ongoing notes for a novel one day, but doubt it will ever happen. Most of the time I'd rather read others' work than write my own and a novel just seems huge.

    I think you are a gifted writer, Nance. You have the ability to "document and evaluate" situations and then share what you've seen so well. Your posts in this series show that. For example, your post about your father spending time with each of you on your passions is a good example. I would never have even looked at it that way to begin with and then to capture that history so well like you did ... again you are a wonderful writer.

    Thanks for another interesting discussion. Loving your daily posts even if I'm behind on commenting!


  11. Shirley--What nice, lovely things you say. Thank you very much. It means a great deal to hear that from you.

    I felt the same way about Romances too, Shirley, until I asked Ann to tell me all about her experience with the market. She wrote for another house, too. It's incredibly restrictive, writing for Romance houses. She told me the rules, and I couldn't get over it. Like your friend, Ann's signature was humor in her books. And she loved to include her home state of Florida and its environs and history when she could, which sadly, wasn't all that often.

    She was also enormously nurturing to other writers and aspiring writers, and she was collaborative. That, I could not do. I'm more of the "lonely soul in a garrett" type when I write. Very solitary.

    And you're right--any book, novel or otherwise, seems huge to me, too.

    Sillyak--I'm not one for a killer/horror story, but the humor of that storyline appeals to me. Sort of a Defender Of The Language has a psychotic break kind of thing.

    Nancy--I dislike Byron The Person. His writing is lovely. Swift, on the other hand, gets way too much praise, in my opinion. At least this little bit of doggerel is easy to understand and not a huge puzzle. That whole century was a bit worky for me. I couldn't wait for the Romantics to arrive after struggling through Swift and Pope. Bless your heart, you'd have made my professor so happy. (I bitched PLENTY, however, throughout all of Wordsworth. He drove me batty.)

  12. I do think you have a book inside you, though the spark for what sort of book it might be has not fired you up enough to pursue it with a passion. Yet. I could see you writing/publishing, for example...

    1.) Advice from the DoN. A compilation of your favorite posts. (With a more original title.) And, hey! It's already written. At least, Part I is.

    2.) Historical biography with a focus on American lit or history. But not one person, which would be exhausting just doing the fact-checking aspect. I am thinking more in terms of a series of vignettes about some of your favourite authors/historical figures which explore very concrete (and perhaps little known) aspects in each of their lives. With a unifying thread that ties them all together in some way, in spite of having very different backgrounds.

    3.) Creative Writing 101. I'm sure this title has been taken, and you wouldn't want it anyway, but just as a means of suggesting a topic. Filled with stories of your experience through the years of inspiring students with the bug to write. What works and what doesn't. Since you are not a "keepsake" person, you may not have samples of writing to illustrate progress, but... you could always use your own rough drafts (if you kept them, lol!)

    Me: I don't have a specific book inside me (except for an idea of a children's story which has been brewing for years), but there is the bug to write something. I have thought of short stories based on things that I have experienced in life. I do see it as something for retirement, although I know that if I really wanted anything to take off I would get started NOW. When I came back from Spain, part of my culture shock therapy was to write a few short stories in Spanish. They were not literature for sure, but they sure were fun to write. I just wonder about what sort of audience there would be for anything I wrote based on my experience, since it is so odd and maybe not something that would have any universal appeal. Like most things, though, it is a question of deciding how to channel it all.

    P.S. Mr. O. has just finished compiling and editing 30 short stories that he has written over the years. I am helping him get sorted out in self-publishing, which has inspired me to get going on a project myself.

  13. Ortizzle--Congrats to Mr. O!

    It's funny that you would mention the topics that you have. #2 and #3 have been mentioned to me several times, and believe it or not, I have already embarked a bit on #3 by giving some of my best materials to a very close friend and colleague to use in her CW class. She teaches in a quite different demographic, and I wanted to test whether or not my stuff would work with everyone/anyone, or just with "my kids." I saved all my CW things, but you are correct that I did not save student work. I wrote all the assignments, however, and have my own, but the student work is limited to what got published in the literary magazine. Not all assignments, obv, were publishable.

    I'm not sure DoN stuff is publishable/book-worthy. If it were, perhaps it would already have been discovered? Not sure. But thank you so much for the encouragement and compliments. They mean a great deal.

    I think your snake story alone would make a great children's book. Really.

  14. My friends and family are always telling me to publish my poetry (they're so cute & naive). I know better - I can have a way with a turn of phrase, but the random decent phrase does not a poem make. Besides, then it would be WORK. I'm not nearly disciplined enough to write for "real" :)

  15. The Bug--You could always use one of the many Interwebs companies and make a few books for those friends and family members. They'd love it! You have a lot of poems, and it would make a lovely gift.

    I understand completely what you mean. It's a very nice compliment to hear, but the reality is quite different. "Oh, you should write a book!" and "You need to be published!" are so easy to say. Not so easy to carry out.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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