Rejection isn’t pretty. You can present it however you like, call it nice names and spray it with perfume, but it never gets any easier. Or, as my Grandpappy used to say “You can dress a pig like a swan, but it’s still going to taste like bacon.”
Now, my Grandpappy was a great man (used to make the Rocky Mountain Oysters fresh off the bull, which is something you do not want to see), but with all due respect to my elders, he can take his advice and shove it. Sometimes a pig can taste like a swan.
And sometimes rejection can sting in a good way.
Here are nine ways you can make rejection taste like sweet, succulent swan:
1. Merit Badges
Last week I discussed a couple of ways you know you’re a writer, and one of the things I mentioned were Merit Badges. I love Merit Badges, because you usually get them for crap you already know but need to feel special about. Like eating your broccoli, or avoiding the clap.
But I’d like to think that Writer Merit Badges are something else. Something special. Something earned, fought for and paid for with the blood of your fallen World of Warcraft enemies.
And rejection in the queen bitch of Merit Badges.
It’s something every writer has endured. A mark of pride, honor, a badge you can show off to your children (or the totems of idea-babies sitting on your desk). Writers get rejected like Paris Hilton gets herpes. It’s going to happen, so start preparing, take your antibiotics, and toughen up.
And, you know, maybe stay away from B-List Celebrities. Just sayin’.
2. Free Revision
You know how much a good editor costs? It’s more than a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards, I can tell you that. How about a good critique group? Pshhaw, I’m a writer, I don’t socialize with other people. Beta Readers? Umm…does my mom count?
Hey, sometimes it’s freaking hard to get decent feedback for your story. So, you know what? Instead of looking at rejection as a personal attack or a denial of your special writer spark that makes you so much better than everyone else, and eventually Kevin Gardner from second-grade is going to see how good a writer you are, even though he said your story about Space Worms from Dimension Thirteen was worse than the third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and…uhm…what was I talking…
Oh! Right. Rejection.
If you’re lucky enough to get a rejection letter with some honest-to-goodness feedback on it, treat that shiz like Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. Because the agent/editor/sister-in-law who sent the feedback actually took time to read your story, note what’s wrong, and tell you. Folks, that doesn’t happen often.
Take the good feedback where you can, and if you’re not feeling like a beligerant ass that day send the agent a thank you note. Just a few words letting them know you appreciate the feedback. It’s something decent human beings do, and you never know, maybe that agent has a friend who’s going to read your manuscript someday.
A kind word can go a long way.
3. Where the Greats Have Gone Before
Let me throw a few stats at’cha:
J.K Rowling was rejected by a dozen publishers before she sold the first Harry Potter novel.
Stephen King received thirty rejections before he published his first book, Carrie.
C.S. Lewis (I love this one) faced rejection over 800 times before he sold a single piece of writing!
I could populate a hundred posts with nothing but lists of famous authors rejected repeatedly before selling their first, second, or sometimes twelfth novel. I’ve already said that rejection is a mark of honor, but it’s also a tradition. A way to compare yourself with the greats. A chance to walk a mile in Stephen King’s
Anyone who has written something great has faced rejection on numerous occasions. Someday you will be able to add yourself to that list.
4. Spruce Up That Office Space
And speaking of Stephen King…
There’s a great story in his legendary book, On Writing, discussing how he dealt with rejection. In King’s case, he would meticulously collect every rejection letter, smooth them out and hang them from a spike nailed into his bedroom wall. He would look at them every day and remind himself of what he was doing, what he was trying to accomplish.
The lesson is your rejection letters shouldn’t be stashed away, hidden in some drawer buried next to the dead hooker from that Vegas Publishing Expo (Hey, what happens at a Publishing Expo…right?). They should be proudly displayed, preened, admired from your leather chair as you type away on your next novel, a smile on your face as you imagine how it’ll feel when you finally get that letter of acceptance.
And if nothing else, those letters make a great dart board.
5. War Stories
Rejection can be a mark of pride, a reminder of what you’re trying to accomplish, or just some nice wall art. But what it can also be is a great story. And when it comes time to sit down with some writers at a friendly game of strip poker, you can’t be the only one without a story.
They don’t have to all be winners (“I remember back in ’09 I was working on this real piece of work. Sent it out to an agent and got a still beating human heart Fed Exed the following week.”) but you should be able to nod in sympathy when a fellow wordsmith is lamenting his latest form rejection.
And if you’ve never been rejected? If you have no experience from which to empathize? If all your poop comes out gold-plated and covered in mithril?
Well, hell, I’ll still hang with you. I’ve always wanted some mithril.
6. The Seething Fire That Feeds Ambition
Do an experiment for me real quick, k? Reach deep down past your gut, your large intestine, your small, your bowels, the burrito you shouldn’t have eaten on Monday, and find the squirming little bastard that makes you wake up in the morning.
No, not gas, the other squirming bastard.
Ok, got him? Great. Now get acquainted, because that jabbering, poking, squirmy little dude’s called your ambition, and he loves to eat. All the time.
You can feed him with high-fives, speeches from Rudy, and pep-talks from your mom, but you know what’ll trump all that? What the little guy loves to nosh more than anything else? Yeah, you can probably guess (because of the title of the blog, and all that).
Ambition loves rejection. Love it. Loooooooves it.
Nothing will get your fire going like a nice piece of “You can’t do it.” That stuff works every time, because once you get over the sinking feeling in your gut (that’s the opposite of ambition. It’s called self-pity and it has no place in writing. Or Rudy) and get angry, you’re going to hit your keyboard like a schnauzer on epinephrine.
You may not produce the greatest work, but damn if it doesn’t feel good. And sometimes that’s enough.
7. Learn How to Reject the Proper Way (Or Not)
One of my favorite things about the publishing world is that everything is cyclical. Which means that someday you’re going to be the one sending out the rejection letters.
Now, I’m not saying you’re going to become an agent, but if you stay in the writing game long enough eventually people are going to ask you for something. Requests to read manuscripts, invitations to sit on convention panels, petitions for your social security number (What? They said they needed it for my byline), and as much as you want to say yes to everything, eventually you’ll have to say no.
You’ll have to reject them.
Yay! Now you’re in the driver seat. You can fulfill those fantasies of crushing someone’s dream the same way you were crushed by that dumb agent who rejected you two years ago. She obviously didn’t know that Space Worms from Dimension Thirteen were the next big thing.
Only, she was pretty nice in that rejection. She treated you like a human being, gave you a little feedback (turns out Space Worms played better in Young Adult. Who knew?), and encouraged you to try again in the future.
The point? When you get a rejection letter that is courteous and polite, learn from it, then pay it forward when the time comes.
8. Without Misery What Would We Write?
Boy, is there anything writers love more than a nice, hot bucket of misery in the morning? Not the misery of others, of course, we’re not monsters (we just write about them). I’m talking self misery.
Misery fuels authors like Red Bull and Vodkas fuel Lindsay Lohan. We love that stuff. We thrive on it. And the messed up part, sometimes we go looking for it.
Turns out we don’t have to look far, because the next rejection letter is just an agent away. That means a fresh batch of feeling sorry for ourselves is on the way, and that means writing! Sure, we can write without it. We don’t require misery to hit the keyboard, but sometimes it just…it just…well, dammit, it just feels nice.
So turn that rejection into something productive. Let it fuel your spark of self-pity. And when you’re done, go take a walk in the sunshine. You can’t be miserable all the time.
9. If All Else Fails, Go It Alone
So you’ve been rejected. A bunch. And while it’s nice to know that C.S. Lewis had to deal with rejection eight hundred times, maybe you’ve hit the end of your rope. Maybe it’s time to self-publish.
See, we have to remember that rejection is ultimately one person sitting in an office with a big rubber stamp saying your work won’t sell. One. Person. And even though that person is an “expert” in the industry, and it’s their job to figure out what sells, there are plenty of times they’re wrong.
Like, 50 Shades of Wrong.
So, how do you know when it’s time to self-publish? Well, take a look at those rejection letters. Did you get thirty form rejections? Umm, yeah, probably something wrong with your novel, old son. Better hit those beta-readers. If you didn’t get form rejections, if your letters are full of praise but tell you things like your story won’t sell in the current market, it’s too long, it’s difficult to summarize, Space Worms have already been done, well…those are cues that self-pubbing might be the way to go.
And when your self-published novel goes the way of Amanda Hocking and sells a million copies, give me a holler and we’ll go out for a beer. While we’re there we can swap some war stories.
“Pep Talk” Creative Commons via joellevand
All other images courtesy of stock.xchang
At some point any person who has lifted a pen, swallowed a fifth of vodka, and decided to write a novel will have to make a decision. A decision that will change their lives, their business cards, and most importantly, their dental plan.
They have to decide when to call themselves a “writer.”
That title, writer, is as subjective as they come; a term coined by the devil while sitting on Chaucer’s bones, flossing with Milton’s small intestine and reading King’s “Under the Dome.” Terrifying in its grandeur, intimidating in its simplicity.
So, at what point do you change your Facebook page from “Aspiring Author” to “Writer?” Where is the line, the moderator, the person who says you’ve made it? When do you give your boss the middle finger, stock up on Ramen, and decide to make this hobby your career?
No one person can tell you when you’re a writer (but pretend I didn’t say that until the end, ok?). But there are some signs you’re on your way.
-Call yourself a damn writer, already.
Hey, I can give you a checklist of writerly wisdom, point you in the direction of the liquor market and push, but you’re never going to walk until you decide you’re a writer.
There comes a day when you have to look in the mirror and call yourself a writer (and while you’re there, check out those bags under your eyes. We call those Merit Badges. Get used to them). You have to introduce yourself as a writer. You have to sign your emails “Gertrude P. Morgenstern, Writer.” You have to make a big, flashy, banner on your desktop that says “I’m here to write, because I’m a writer, and that’s a thing we do.”
No one’s going to take that step for you.
That said, I don’t subscribe to the theory that just because you write you should immediately call yourself a writer. There’s a learning curve, an apprenticeship, a trade you must study before you can stand upright, flask in hand, and declare yourself a wordsmith. Trust me, it sounds like more gatekeeping, but this is a good thing. If I had started calling myself a “writer” when I was twenty I would have never improved. And I needed to improve, because I sucked when I was twenty. A lot.
The title “writer” is something you reach for, a brass ring. Something that motivates you. It’s a term that commands respect, because it signifies someone who has studied the deeper mysteries, the dark crevices of writerly lore and come back in one piece
And once you’ve done all that, and seen the things that can’t be unseen (What happens at WorldCon stays at WorldCon), it’s time to own up and call yourself a damn writer, already.
-Time to publish
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: you can’t write in a vacuum. You have to share your work. If no one’s reading your prose (or poetry, it swings both ways) you might as well be pissing in a well, because readers make writers. And that means publishing.
It’s fine and good to have your friends critique your story—they should, that’s what friends are for—but your craft won’t improve without input from the world at large, so strap on your big boy pants and start polishing your query letter. It’s possible you’ll get rejected. Hell, it’s close to certain. But, believe it or not, that’s a good thing because remember those Merit Badges we just talked about? Rejection is the bastard king of Merit Badges.
Put simply, you can’t call yourself a writer if you haven’t faced rejection.
And when it comes to publication, yeah, rejection’s going to happen. But something else will happen, too. Something special, magical, fragrant (uh…yeah)—someone besides your mom is going to read your prose and tell you it’s good. It may take a while. It may take a loooooong while, but it’ll happen eventually, and when it does?
Well, then you get to call yourself a writer.
Awwwwww, yeah, son. Time to make that paper.
You know what separates a professional musician from a garage band? An equity actor from a community theater? A porn star from a porn, uh, wannabe? (Is that a thing? I’d better do some research.)
They all get paid.
Artists get paid for their work. That’s the difference between a hobby and a career.
Now, your first foray into publishing might be pro bono. That’s alright, we all start somewhere. You have to get your foot in the door, grease some hinges (or whatever passes for hinges in publishing, like I don’t know…booze?), and network.
So, yeah, once or twice for free is great. But writer’s should get paid for their work. If you’re giving the cow away and then there’s some milk, and the Big Six Publishing houses drink that milk and…uh…where was I going?
Oh! Right. Money.
Pay the writer.
And I’ll tell you now, the first time you get a check for copy you wrote…well, it doesn’t get better than that. That mean’s you’ve made it, writer.
Now start printing those business cards.
“Pen and Paper” Creative Commons via LucasTheExperience
“Soldering Badge“ Creative Commons via adafruit
“So, I Got a Book Contract“ Creative Commons via Frank McMains
“Money“ Creative Commons via 401(k) 2012
I’ve been ignoring my blog (and my job, and family, and dog) in favor of holing up in my office and finishing final copy-edits and cover designs for my upcoming story, RAZORS and RUST (releasing this Saturday, June 9th!!!). But a man can only focus on publishing shenanigans for so long. Sometimes you have to call a time-out, grab a good book, a
bottle glass of Scotch, some left-over pizza and relax.
Of course, this is easier if the book is good.
Often, it’s not.
I don’t know what it is, exactly—maybe the God of Books (Um…J.K Rowling?) is cross with me—but I’ve been having a hell of a time finding anything worthwhile on the shelves. It reached a head, finally, when I picked up a tome by a well-known author, someone I’ve admired for years, and read about half the book before throwing it against the wall. I could be heard yelling the following: “What the EFF!? This is crap. My four-year-old can write better than this!” (Well…maybe not. But she does paint a mean Beauty and the Beast).
The characters were cardboard, the setting hollow, and the plot limp as overcooked linguine. I was pissed, because the author knew better. I mean, I take writing advice from this guy! Still, even as I fumed I realized there were lessons here. Morals to uncover. Knowledge to glean.
I needed this crappy book—and so do you.
-This book is soooooooo boring
Sometimes we learn best by sticking our finger in the socket (That’s how Benjamin Franklin invented electricity. True story). You can sit in class and listen to a lecture on pacing, or you can pick up the latest John Grisham and pile through that turd. I know, it’s rough. It’s boring. NOTHING HAPPENS! But there are nuggets of gold in them there hills (or…uh, pages. It works).
Pacing takes practice, and you can’t learn in a vacuum. You can learn from the masters (George RR Martin, Roger Zelazny, The God of Books), which is fun, but sometimes you have to stick your finger in that socket and buy some good, old-fashioned, manure.
Sometimes it takes something stinky to make the flowers grow (I probably should have ended the analogy at “manure”).
-Why won’t this character die already???
Writers take a lot of time developing their characters (At least they should), but sometimes they mistake “developing,” with “loving,” and that’s when we have a problem.
A writer should never love a character so much they refuse to kill them.
We’re all guilty of this, we all have a soft spot in our hearts for our “Dobby.” But hey, you know what? The reader really, really hates that guy. All your beta-readers told you, and yet you kept him in the story, ignoring the pleas of your audience to “JUST KILL JAR-JAR BINKS ALREADY!”
Don’t be that writer. You know the characters you hate…now grow a little self-awareness and kill the ones you love.
-Everyone’s talking like a freaking idiot
“Why don’t they use contractions, like, ever? Come on, nobody actually says ‘inundate.’ The wording. Is so. Stilted.”
I know. But the best way to write gripping dialog is to read crappy dialog first.
I had a writing teacher who told me the best way to write dialog was to sit in a corner somewhere and observe actual people talking. Then write down the conversation and study it. Then throw that s@%t away, because nobody wants to read an actual conversation.
“Uh…I don’t know. Um…yeah.”
“Dude, I seriously don’t know, like, um…well, you know how that one time we went to the theater? Um…yeah?”
I exaggerate (kind of), but you see my point? Study the dialog in that novel you threw against the wall. Learn what to avoid.
-You call that an ending?
Sometimes a novel has a lot of promise. Great characters, imaginative world, compelling mystery…but no payoff (I’m looking at you, “The Dark Tower”). These elicit a good wall throwing more than any other book I read, because the author had me going. They tricked me! I was in for a penny, in for a pound (whatever that means), and I got nothing for it.
Curse you, Stephen King!
Don’t confuse this with leaving your audience wanting more. That’s a good thing. Leaving your audience staring at the last page wondering if you just gave up in the homestretch, that’s a bad thing. If you don’t know where your book it going, don’t write “The End.”
Unless you’re Stephen King. That man’s a national treasure.
“Books are for Reading“ Creative Commons via Andrew Hefter
“Dobby“ Creative Commons via Bananawacky
“Streeter Seidell, Comedian“ Creative Commons via Zach Klein
The accepted wisdom is to ignore readers at your own peril. Good advice, since—as writers—we’d be nowhere without an audience.
That said—screw readers.
Wait! Hold on, don’t leave yet. At least hear me out.
I love readers, love them. They’re the gooey nougat in my Snickers, the velvety caramel in my Rolo‘s, the, uh…
You get the point.
But sometimes, my beloved, tasty readers, you don’t know what’s good for you. And before you think ol’ Daddy Nic is getting high and mighty, just know I’m including myself in this category. I’m as voracious reader as you’ll find.
1. The Hero’s Backstory
Alright. Let’s start at the beginning.
Your hero has a past, and how much you choose—or don’t choose—to reveal will drastically change the pace of your story. Your hero might be a broody, melancholic bad-boy with a mysterious eyebrow. Or a pampered débutante with the body of a ballerina and the scars of a cage fighter (hmm…I kind of like that one). As the reader, holy crap I want to know where those scars/eyebrow came from!
Tease them. Tantalize them. Give them just enough to satisfy the surface itch (“The ballerina comes from a school that staged fights in order to win the lead role), then leave it alone.
Remember the mistake Papa Lucas made. The world doesn’t need another Phantom Menace.
2. I Want the Protagonist to Date my Daughter
The reader (hopefully) loves your character. That’s well and good. And the reader wants your character to succeed, which is also good. But beware, beware, the temptation to make your protagonist too…damn… likeable.
I know that’s weird to hear from a guy purporting to give writing advice: ”But Nic! Don’t we want the reader to like our main character?”
Yes. Obviously, if your character isn’t likeable your story’s D.O.A. But you’re equally likely to kill it by making your protagonist the nicest, most friendly chum in the world. A man who takes in strays, saves damsels in distress, and volunteers his free time at the Children’s Hospital.
Sometimes readers want their protagonist absent of flaws (whether they know it or not…I’ve been guilty of this on several occasions), and that makes for one hell of a boring character. So fly in the face of your audience and give that MC some meat. Some messed up, serious, unlikeable issues that aren’t easily resolved.
Your readers (myself included) will thank you.
3. The Smoldering Lovers Get It On
There’s nothing better than good, old-fashioned romantic tension. Lancelot and Guinevere. Tristen and Isolde. Sam and Frodo. Love stories based on the desire, the need, the bone-numbing desperation to make with the, uh…whoopie (let’s keep it PG13, folks).
These stories are great because of the inherent drama behind a lowered glance, a trembling caress, a quivering chin. Small, subtle movements that telegraph the characters romantic turmoil without broadcasting their need to get it on (I’m looking at you, E.L James).
Can you imagine how different the Arthurian Legend would be if Lancelot and Guinevere had jumped in the sack right away? “Hi, I’m Lancelot. I’m taking you to meet your future husband. “Why, Lancelot…is that a sword on your hip or are you just excited to see me?” (start porn music)
It’s OK to make the reader wait. The payoff is worth it.
4. A Safe Haven
Your characters are on the run. They’ve just escaped a coven of undead jackalopes and need a place to hide, and…oh! Oh! Didn’t I read earlier that Billy has an uncle with a bunker sprayed in jackalope urine? That’ll keep them safe. Hurray!
Look, sometimes pacing requires a time-out. A moment for the reader to catch their breath, reflect on the jackalope carnage, and recharge. Be wary, though, of giving your characters a Free Pass. A “Rivendell.” A place stocked with food, ammunition, and wise elves.
Your readers really, really want it. WHY WON’T YOU GIVE IT TO THEM? ARE YOU A SADIST!?
Yes. All writers are sadists.
Allow the readers to catch their breath, but not for long—there are more jackalopes around the corner.
5. Tall, Dark, and Handsome
Hey good-looking, have I seen you here before? Ooh, you sparkle—I like my protagonists sparkly.
Here’s the thing—I have nothing against attractive characters.
They exist in the wild, afterall, so why shouldn’t they be in your story? Your protagonist, though…that’s different.
If your main character is unusually hot, your story loses credibility. It’s unrealistic, self-indulgent, wish-fulfillment—the worse kind of Mary Sue—and you want no part of it.
It’s not fair, but it’s true.
Unless your characters are vampires. Obviously.
6. More Magic!
This is for my fantasy writers. Feel free to replace with the appropriate noun if your story doesn’t have magic (“mystery,” for Mysteries, “action” for Thrillers, uh…”science” for Science Fiction? I don’t know, I’m not a scientist).
There are two schools of fantasy writers: I’m of the school suggesting less is more when it comes to magic. (What’s that? The other school? Why are you obsessed with school? It’s summer).
Magic is ephemeral. Mysterious. Its power lies in subtlety and careful application—notfireballs every other page.
This is tough on the reader, because, dammit…they want to know. They want to see the supernatural, to experience the otherness that attracts them to fantasy in the first place. But you’ll hold their attention longer—and beef up the atmosphere and mood—if you keep the magic felt, not seen.
George RR Martin (whom I consider the all-time master of fantasy) is a perfect example. Keep the story fantastic, but the magic mysterious.
7. You Can’t Kill my Favorite Character!
Oh, but I can. I CAN! I’m God, and my killing pen flows with swift, terrible justice.
Also, I stay young by swimming in reader’s tears.
But really, narcissism notwithstanding , you want me to kill your favorite character. You may not admit it (go ahead, deny. I can wait. There’s a Twilight marathon playing), but in your secretest of heart-spaces you want a martyr. A death you can feel in your colon. Something memorable, worthy of reminiscing with loyal fans over tea and crumpets.
What is Harry Potter without the death of (SPOILER!) Dumbledore? Or (MAJOR SPOILER FOR GAME OF THRONES) A Song of Ice and Fire without beheading Ned Stark?
Sometimes a character has to die for the story to run its course. Not all the time, but as writers, when that moment comes, we can’t hesitate. Even if it means hatemail.
Like, a lot of hatemail.
8. Answers! Answers! ANSWERS!
No matter how many questions you answer, how many clues you give, how many mysteries you tie with a pretty bow, it will never be enough.
Never, ever, ever.
So stop stressing for a moment and allow a few questions to remain unanswered.
I want answers as much as any reader, but sometimes I have to accept that what I want, and what I need aren’t the same thing.
A great example is “The Dark Tower.” Give it a read. Then proceed to curse Stephen King. Then praise him. Then curse him again.
Stories are a series of mysteries strung together by bubblegum and duct tape. There are big mysteries and little mysteries, and in order to keep the reader’s attention you have to keep a few unanswered until the end.
The problem lies in how to answer them when you get to the end, because any time you’ve kept a reader guessing for several hundred pages—and I mean, head-scratching, spreadsheets-of-possible-killers guessing—they’re going to have large expectations.
You have to give them something—probably a lot of something if you want to avoid getting a brick through the window—but keep a couple of secrets for yourself. Spread some breadcrumbs and allow the reader to search for their own answers. You’ll be surprised at what comes back.
9. A Happy Ending
Who doesn’t love a happy ending?
You don’t, you heartless bastard!
This is the ultimate betrayal, the moment when your reader leaps from their chair and throws your book against the wall. “What do you mean the jackalopes win!?”
Well, sometimes, no matter how you force it…the bad guys win. That’s why Shakespeare wrote tragedies, folks, and I studied that stuff in school, so it must be good. Your book isn’t a Disney fable (unless it is, in which case enjoy your buckets of cash and remember to hire me for the sequel), so don’t pretend you have to write it like one. Your loyalty is to the story, and nothing else.
Remember Romeo and Juliet? “For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Shakespeare wrote that, and it’s true…because Shakespeare’s a boss! He wasn’t afraid to kill some lovers, some cousins, some wives, mothers, sisters and brothers. He knew that sometimes the best ending is one drenched in the tears of your audience.
And in the end, is there any greater compliment?
“Vader“ Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0 Unported via braincorp
“Aragorn and Arwen“ Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0 Unported via greatart4jeff
“Magic Missile“ Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0 Unported via NorthboundFox
“Gustave Courbet“ Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
Babies are kind of weird. On paper, at least. You gestate a parasite for nine + months (during which time, said parasite will make its presence known by kicking/punching/sitting-on-your-bladder at 2am), and eventually lose it through an excruciating
torture-session delivery, which usually results in tears and lots of people staring at your privates.
Sounds like writing to me!
But how? How does (possibly) pooping yourself while delivering an eight-pound, green-tinged, crying-machine relate to story-telling? Well, if you can ignore the absurdity of a man describing child-birth for a moment (it’s cool, I’ve seen Knocked Up five times), I’ll tell you.
Oh yeah…this is where it’s at. The lights are low, Marvin Gaye is a’ croonin, you just got a bag of chicken fingers (or Big Macs, I’m not judging), and things are looking good. The music swells, the sweet-hot scent of hot-sauce and fried-chicken fills the air, intoxicating, seductive. And that’s when it hits you…
“What if marmots secretly ran the government?”
Conception. The starting point. Sometimes it only takes a moment (it’s the quality of the idea, dammit, not the duration), and you’re suddenly presented with nine months of commitment. Hey! It’s your own fault for listening to Marvin Gaye and eating chicken–-you know how you get.
And once conception hits there’s no going back. This idea is yours, so best get used to it. You’re stuck with those Marmots—even if it takes two weeks to get the test results—so start preparing.
-The First Trimester, or Idea Gestation
Oh boy, what have I gotten myself into. Those Marmots seemed like such a good idea at the time! Now I can’t even eat a chicken-finger without seeing their furry little government-running faces. I’m afflicted at all hours, haunted by the idea. At work I can’t concentrate; my boss keeps asking me what’s wrong. At night I toss and turn, kept awake by the sounds of chattering Marmot teeth.
Damn you, Marvin Gaye!
It’s tempting to freak out, but remember: everyone’s been here. All writers go through this stage, where the idea is more curse than blessing, where sleep eludes you, where the smell of sweet, sweet hot-sauce makes you gag (maybe you should have gone with Big Macs). But it’s OK, because even though you haven’t figured out the details, the setting, the questions (but they don’t even have thumbs!?) there’s something exciting about the unknown. The promise that something is coming. So don’t rush it, take your time and let your story grow at its own pace.
Before you know it, it’ll be time for…
-The Second Trimester, or The First Draft
Alright, finally—the fun part. Your stomach has finally settled, the hot sauce is back in your pantry, and you’ve made your piece with Marvin. It’s time to write!
You’ve spent the last few weeks rolling the idea around your brain-space like a friggin Magic Eight Ball, and now it’s time to stop obsessing and get that crazy on the page. Luxuriate in the feeling, smile, relax, give yourself permission to indulge in that nascent idea-gravy and just write. This isn’t the time to think (stop it, Poindexter), that comes later. This is the time to get whimsical, to walk around your office in a tri-corner hat, yelling at imaginary Marmots and ordering strategic gopher assaults.
Damn this is fun.
It should be fun. As writers we only get a brief opportunity to indulge in our collective insanity, and this is that time. Enjoy it, because the second trimester doesn’t last long.
-The Third Trimester, or Revision.
Ugg. Are we done yet?
Revision can be fun—but it’s probably not. And if you’re one of those people walking around with your swollen idea-baby telling me how special you are, and “Aren’t you so excited,” shut your word-hole. I’m not excited. I want this freaking story out of me.
The easy part is over, now it’s time to work. This is the most crucial stage of development, when your story really needs your attention. I know; you’re exhausted. Well, eat some ice chips and get your butt in that chair, because you’re a writer, dammit! This kid is coming out, and when it does you want five-fingers, five-toes, and a lot of crying. Your story isn’t going to get there on its own, you have to midwife those Marmots. You have to give it the right food (grammar), the right vitamins (structure), and a little Mozart (Umm…Mozart. It works).
This stage is tough. But, you know, that’s a good thing; creativity should be tough. If it was easy everyone would do it, and then who would you have to feel superior over? Plus, there are perks: you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, you can eat whatever you’d like(I gained ten pounds? Shut up, I’m editing), and everyone says you have a glow. It’s probably because you haven’t showered in three days, but who cares? You’re almost ready for…
HOLY CRAP THIS STORY IS COMING OUT! I’M NOT READY, I HAVEN’T IDEA-PROOFED THE HOUSE!
The amount of revision is going to vary, but no matter how long you take eventually that story is coming out. It’s tough to know when you’re done editing—there’s always something that needs fixing—but you can’t revise forever, and there comes a time when those Marmots have to run free.
It’s scary. It’s painful. It’s easier with drugs (or alcohol…not every metaphor works). Breathe…you’re almost done. Time to send that baby to the agent/magazine editor/kindle!
Enjoy this moment, because it’s rare. I’m going to let the analogy break down for a moment (no need to get macabre) and say that not every idea gets this far. It’s hard-work, midwifing a story, and if you’ve made it to the end you should give that idea-baby a pat on the head (watch the soft spot), because your writer-canal is long, dark, and full of twists and turns. If your story survived the journey that probably means it’s ready to come into the world. Time to cry, poop, and join a little-league team (Analogy back!).
So, congratulations, proud parent! You have a beautiful baby Marmot.
Now get ready for the terrible Twos.
“Cranky face“ Flickr’s Creative Commons via Jippolito
“Marmot” Flickr’s Creative Commons via Sistak
“Non-Magic 8-Ball“ Flickr’s Creative Commons via 60 in 3
“Mozart“ Flickr’s Creative Commons via bioxid
“Martini“ Flickr’s Creative Commons via cowfish