Don’t tell me. Show me.

I find it hard to update here when I’m working on my novel. So much of my energy is directed at just getting the words on the page. But I often have moments of wanting to talk about the process of writing, and this feels like the right place to do it. Especially if any of you who might stumble upon my page here have anything supportive or potentially helpful to say. I’d appreciate that!

Honestly, I still find it funny to call my story a “novel,” because that typically makes me think of this:

Giggle-worthy, but not particularly motivating 🙂

Back to the novel, though. It’s coming along all right. Over and over I hear that I should let my characters teach me who they are and tell me where they’re going. I really enjoy that process and love watching my characters become more and more nuanced. Their behaviors, their manner of speaking, the way they react to things – they’re becoming real to me. It’s like getting to know new friends! And like me and my friends, we do a lot of thinking and chatting and processing. Not necessarily the stuff of riveting plotlines, right?

I have been reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. She tells a story about how her editor loved the characters in a novel she was working on but didn’t feel the book went anywhere. Something about inviting all these interesting people to dinner but not giving them anything to eat. That’s my main concern! I have these people I am learning to love, but I wonder if they’re going places readers will want to follow. Truthfully, I’m not overly concerned about this. My reasons are twofold.

  1. When you’re writing a novel for the first time, it’s supposed to suck. So if it sucks, then I’m on the right track.
  2. I read Cheryl Strayed’s Torch and didn’t feel like any of those characters went anywhere. They milled about in their grief and just ended up at the end of the book. And yet, I read the whole thing. I’m not saying I’m Cheryl Strayed. Nor am I even saying I thought Torch was a fantastic read. I am saying that sometimes it’s okay to watch characters just be themselves in response to heartbreak. That in and of itself can be raw and intriguing, without some kind of uber climax. I like my characters. I’m going to let them mill about for a little while.

The one other experience I’m having is related more to inspiration and a kind of anxiety I wasn’t quite expecting. I get this rush of excitement and sense of knowing where I’m supposed to go next. A character gives me a glimpse of their next move or a bit of dialogue. As long as I give it my full attention, it expands and becomes clearer to me, so I run with it! Every once in a while, though, I’ll get that rush, but then an uneasiness settles over my chest, sometimes in my stomach. And then I might back away, even though I know I should push through. I wonder if those moments of inspiration are hinting that this particular part will be an important challenge, whether it’s related to plot or character development. But I think the challenge makes me anxious and then avoidant. I’m probably avoiding right now! Does anyone else experience this?

I’m going to post this. And then I’m diving back in. I’ve avoided long enough.

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6 thoughts on “Don’t tell me. Show me.

Add yours

  1. Your first novel nearly always sucks. I saw writing mines as the 1st year in novel school. If you haven’t already killed your ego then your first year will do it for you.

    1. I like that a lot – first year in novel school. It’s definitely a long freshman year! It can be hard to want a story to be told so much and not quite have the chops to deliver it. But, you’re right – I have to let go of ego and let go of the outcome.

  2. I am blessed to be enriched by writers such as yourself. Perhaps you should visit my page. Embrace in how far you have come from a elementary level. Without food the the guest will perish from there hunger. At lest break bread.

  3. In my experience You only learn about the grand old novel craft from writing novels. I think the trick is to learn as much as you can from it and take it onto your next novel which will suck less. Add in loads of reading. Then add loads of reading about writing theory and you are on your way.

    Reference reading: only read the greats. Read the best books by the most brilliant authors. Drown in their unattainable prose. Never read anything that sucks or half sucks. Set the bar high. Reading authors in the genre you wish to write also helps.

    Reference ego: 90% of all submitted manuscripts end in the agents slush bin because they verily suck. Of the final 10% half of those are not marketable. Your trying then to get into that 5% so you need to be on the money and brilliant. No pressure. Your agent finding a publisher is a refined version of that – or you can self-publish, do it all yourself, with a 95% chance that your novel will slowly die on kindle. Despite all this, if you’re a true in the trenches writer you will never give up. You are born to write. They can fire their arrows and break you but the sound of you tapping away will burn through your walls.

    For those about to write, I salute you.

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