Sunday, February 05, 2006
Whenever I interview an author, I always ask them how they plot their books. Stuart MacBride uses mindmaps. Laura Lippman belongs to the distant shores camp. Other writers I know prefer to plan meticulously.
And some fly by the seat of their pants.
A few days ago I received a newsletter from an author.* In it, the author talked about having trouble with their last two books, how the usual approach they had to plotting just wasn't working.
"I was so embarrassed about the whole thing, I pretended it just wasn't happening. I was nonchalant when asked about the book, insouciant about its potential delivery date. It was awful. I wasn't sleeping properly, I was avoiding other writers and I felt like a fraud. It was desperation in the end that got me moving. I couldn't go on pretending to write the damn thing forever. I forced myself to my desk and made myself do it."
Now, this is an author with over twenty books to their credit. And here they were, struggling, feeling like a fraud. How could anyone with the sales record and track record for awards and positive reviews that this writer has feel like a fraud?
This writer eventually discovered that what they'd been going through had been a shift in plotting technique, described like this: "Imagine you're setting off at night to drive somewhere. You know where you are heading, you know the way there. But you can only see a small part of the road lit up ahead of you. And as you drive forward, the road reveals itself piece by piece until you finally reach your destination.
And that is the kind of writer I seem to have become. I am now, it appears, a night driver."
I am so touched by the humility I see in authors on a regular basis. Oh, I'm sure there are some who don't want to hear even constructive criticism, who never seem to question their talents.
They just don't seem to be the authors I know. This same author said in the newsletter, "Now, I have always maintained that writing is a process in which we never arrive at the destination. Every book is a challenge to do better or to do different than before. Every book is an opportunity to learn the mistakes of the past (and of other writers!) and to push harder at the limits of one's capabilities."
Indeed, every single thing we write is a new challenge. We can't rest on our past success. We have to keep working at our craft.
It's like muscle development. Use it, or lose it. It's that simple. And if you want the defined six pack, you're going to have to do more than regular sit-ups to get it.
I'm the type of person who wants to go give someone struggling a big hug. I wanted to go over to this writer's house and bring cookies and tea and sit them down on the couch and let them tell me about their problems.
It sounds cheesy, I know. That's just me. I really feel it when an author tells me they're struggling. Like a few months back, I heard that from one of my favourite authors. And he actually posted about it on his website.
Really, it impresses me so much that these authors that I respect, and some of whom I've had the privilege of meeting, share their insecurities. For a novice like me, it makes me realize just how much room there is for growth, but it also gives me hope that it's okay I don't know it all...because there will never be a moment that "I've arrived" as a great writer. There will be moments (I hope) when I achieve more than I have in the past, when I take a big step forward with my abilities.
But the journey is lifelong.
And that shouldn't depress us. It should encourage us. We start with what we know.
And then we strive to do better, and take it from there.
Now tell me. How do you plot your murders? Or are you a crime-of-passion writer?
(ie: how do you plot your work? Meticulous detail with forensic evidence considered, or kill now, figure out how to clean up later?)
And to lighten things up, some oldies, but still funnies:
NEW DRUGS FOR WOMEN .......
D A M N I T O L
Take 2 and the rest of the world can go to hell for up to 8 full hours.
ST. M O M M A'S W O R T
Plant extract that treats mom's depression by rendering preschoolers unconscious for up to two days.
E M P T Y N E S T R O G E N
Suppository that eliminates melancholy and loneliness by reminding you of how awful they were as teenagers and how you couldn't wait 'til they moved out.
P E P T O B I M B O
Liquid silicone drink for single women. Two full cups swallowed before an evening out increases breast size, decreases intelligence, and prevents conception.
D U M B E R O L
When taken with Peptobimbo, can cause dangerously low IQ, resulting in enjoyment of country music and pickup trucks.
F L I P I T O R
Increases life expectancy of commuters by controlling road rage and the urge to flip off other drivers.
M E N I C I L L I N
Potent anti-boy-otic for older women. Increases resistance to such lethal lines as, "You make me want to be a better person. Can we get naked now?"
Injectable stimulant taken prior to shopping Increases potency, duration, and credit limit of spending spree.
J A C K A S S P I R I N
Relieves headache caused by a man who can't remember your birthday, anniversary, phone number, or to lift the toilet seat.
A N T I-T A L K S I D E N T
A spray carried in a purse or wallet to be used on anyone too eager to share their life stories with total strangers in elevators.
N A G A M E N T
When administered to a boyfriend or husband, provides the same irritation level as nagging him
* I don't know about the etiquette of this. It's a free newsletter, anyone could get it. I just don't know if the author would want to be named here or not... I mean, it isn't like it's a secret. But I also don't know that, for the purpose of this post, it matters if people know who it was or not. So I'll tell anyone who desperately wants to know and emails me - how does that sound?