Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Platform Isn't just a Place to Stand

I finished the read through of my second draft last Friday. Yesterday, I officially started on the third (and hopefully final) major revision by copying the novel into a new document, now named “Altar – Revision 3.” Before I start the actual writing, though, I’m going through all my working notes for the project, selecting the ones that are relevant, and adding them to my revision notes. It’s actually a pretty major task. I have 23 pages of notes that are typed, plus about half a spiral-bound notebook with handwritten notes.

Today, I grandly outlined my to do list for the next several years. Okay, I wrote the titles for my next three novels on a Post-it note and stuck it to my desk where I can see it. But still…it reminds me that after I’m done with Altar, there are other books waiting to be written. My list reads Choice (which has been Altar’s working title since 1999 and what I call it around the house), Ithaka, and Grandmother’s House. There’s also a title in parenthesis, (2nd Son), because it’s a fantasy novel and I’m not sure where it’s going to fit into the mix. At the moment, it won’t leave me alone even though I tell it there’s no way it’s going to be the next thing I write because, if Altar sells, I can’t genre hop. Not if I want to have a career in this industry.

I’ve been thinking a lot about marketing lately. The days of writers simply writing their books, turning them over to a publisher, and having the publisher do all the work for promoting the author and his or her work are over. Gone, buried, probably never to return again, and now just a fairy tale that older authors tell to younger ones to make them despair about the likelihood of ever getting a book published in this economy. Which means writers have to do more and more work to promote themselves and their books. I’m not talking about arranging book tours (although Jacqueline Susann did that very successfully for Valley of the Dolls, famously writing letters to bookstore owners on purple stationary). I’m talking about “platform,” which is a word that’s come into wide-spread usage, though it basically means, “how big an audience are you bringing to the table?” Blogs, Facebook fan pages, Twitter feeds, publication credits, teaching credentials, awards, etc. Anything that a writer has done that can increase your name recognition and, potentially, your sales, becomes part of marketing him/herself.

As Altar nears completion, my thoughts are turning increasingly to this question. As a novelist, I’m at a slight disadvantage in the publication area. While I have a few short stories that have been published, that happened ages ago. I don’t write short stories anymore and was never very good at them to begin with. So I’m looking in the direction of nonfiction. The right article in the right publication can do wonders for a reputation (that, folks, is how Jonathan Franzen became the towering literary figure that he is – a well-placed article in, I believe, the New York Review of Books several years before The Corrections came out that cemented Franzen’s reputation among the literati as a SERIOUS WRITER and paved the way for that book’s critical acclaim). I’m not in a position to write for the NYRB, but I have my eye on a couple of places and am formulating my plan of attack.

Though, for the time being, my real attention is on finishing the book and getting it into the hands of an agent. Which is where it should be.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gems from the Archives

I'm going through my working notes for the first half of the year, pulling out what I need for Altar or images I've found that I want to incorporate into the novel. Rather than post the one-liners on Facebook, I decided to collect them all here:

You create yourself as a writer each time you sit down to write.

Foundational myths - Genesis and the Big Bank. (that was a typo, but I really like it)

"No one wants an artist with no talent." - said by a senior at Oceana High School during the senior exhibitions last year.

"When it's your religion it's belief, when it's someone else's, it's superstition." Isabel Allende

"Without dragons, what is left to burn away our false selves but overspiced food?" from Eight White Nights by Andre Aciman

"There was an elephant in the room and no one was talking about it." (I know what this refers to, but, somehow, when the line is stuck out there all by itself, it sounds absurd and makes me think there's literally an elephant in the room, but that would be a different story than the one I'm writing)

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Fundamental Uselessness of Schedules

I just made out my schedule for the week. I keep it on a color-coded spreadsheet, and it always ends up being more of a guideline (in the Pirates of the Caribbean sense) than a hard and fast thing. What’s always depressing about it is how little time there is set aside for writing.

I have this problem often, actually. Left to my own devices, I find time to write. I don’t know how, but the writing always gets done. Not as often as I like, nor for as many hours as would seem to be necessary, but the writing always seems to get done. Two drafts of the novel in two years is a testament to the fact that I do write.

But when I actually sit down and put together a schedule, the very thing that should make me wonderfully efficient and result in my having a stress-free and focused week, all it seems to show me is the utter impossibility of my getting anything done. Douglas Adams probably would have written very wittily about this being a fundamental operating force of the universe, but I’m left with the depressing realization that there simply are not enough hours in the day.

Yes, there are gaps in the schedule that I’ve put together. I’m not booked solid from sunrise to sunset, but those gaps are usually in half hour increments. I’ve noted in a previous blog post that the first half hour of any activity sucks, so that usually means I’ll pass on trying to get anything meaningful done during those 30 minutes.

And yet…the writing gets done. Somehow.

And the writing is getting done. I’m finishing up my read-through of the second draft this week and am very happy with where the novel is. I’ve left myself lots of notes throughout the draft – there almost isn’t a page that doesn’t have blue ink on it and most pages have extensive notes ranging from questions like “What emotional shift does Matt make in this scene” to exercises I want myself to do like “List 10 things Matt’s feeling here and 10 physical actions that would show how he feels.” I rewrote some scenes while I was doing the read-through, even though I was trying to keep myself from doing that so I could move through the draft as quickly as possible. I’ve loved having a bound copy of the draft (my thesis) to read from while marking up a copy that’s in a binder and think I might do that in the future. The bound copy feels much more like reading a book and makes me think in terms of “is this were in a published book…” and be more merciless with my own words.

We were back in Reno this past weekend, which always helps get me thinking about Matt and the world of the novel. I found myself looking at the city many times and seeing it through Matt’s eyes and thinking how the space of the city relates to the structure and themes of the novel and how I can use the setting more fully.

My ETA on finishing the draft revisions is the end of this year/beginning of next, and then it’s onward to the agent search.

I’m sure I will still be struggling with my schedule and shaking my head as I complete the novel and wonder what fold in the space/time continuum allowed me to get it done.