Crisis of the Writing Soul

When I cut 140 pages of my most recent manuscript, I had a crisis that led to a startling revelation. I’d been revising for awhile and knew the problem with the manuscript was a really boring subplot. At first, unwilling to do the necessary radical surgery, I tried to fix it. Much cutting and pasting later, I realized I was mostly deleting those subplot scenes while layering in a new point of view character.

Excited about the new character and what she brought to the story, I decided to chuck the rest of the draft. It had been helpful to write, but trying to fix it was becoming tedious. I gathered up my courage and cut. I didn’t trash those pages, I just put them in their own document. I knew I couldn’t use them, but saving them felt less radical than sending them to hell where they belonged.

The next day I had a crisis of the writing soul. I wondered if maybe the whole book had been a mistake. If it was simply one of those manuscripts that didn’t quite come together and should thus be abandoned. The idea of abandoning a story I’d grown quite attached to made me miserable. I was scared. Unsure. Defeated? Not quite. I couldn’t give up. I had to try a little longer.

41dtozisuvl-_sx321_bo1204203200_

I had a deadline. It was a firm deadline if I wanted a book out in 2016, and I did. That I wanted it so much was a revelation.  Writing has always been a vital part of my life, but why, now, did it feel so much bigger? Why did my life, in the day-to-day sense, seem like a huge blank without writing and publishing? That writing has taken on such importance  is a scary thing to admit, but there it is. Writing and I had a nice friendship for a really long time. Now writing wants my soul. Without realizing, I already handed it over.

I love my family and friends. But my current situation is this: my family are, for the most part, unavailable in real time. My kids live across the country and my husband works every day, even weekends. I see him maybe two or three hours a day. I see my kids maybe two or three times a year. Maybe once or twice a week, I have lunch with friends. I volunteer a bit. I cook dinner and do the homemaker thing. Lunch and shopping and cooking and cleaning and being a Good Wife take maybe half my time. The other half, now that I don’t teach, is invested in writing.

Once I realized and accepted that writing is the joy that takes the biggest chunk of my time, I felt a bigger responsibility toward it. Like, I can not let it down. I cannot let the opportunity to publish this book this year pass. Even if it doesn’t happen, I need to know I did my part to make it so.

The crisis was not about giving up, but more wondering if I had it in me to pull off this particular book this particular time. And the only way to know was to try. So I did. I took it bird by bird and rewrote that long section of the book. I finished a few days ago. Yesterday I read the completed manuscript. It was good. I will meet my deadline. Crisis averted.

cin.winter.coat

PS After four months of intense work, I’m due for a break. Happy to say my husband agrees and we’re leaving snowy Michigan for a nice, long vacation in sunny Florida. I’ll even being seeing my son, who will be there for work! Will post a new entry (maybe I’ll hear from my editor) when I return. 

 

Stand-Alone Sarah

Sarah’s Survival Guide is a free 40 page story right here on my website. Anyone can read it, even attach it to their tablet or reading device. Makes it sound like I wanted to do something nice for my readers. I do, of course, but the real reason Sarah’s Survival Guide stands alone is because my former editor asked me to consider taking it out. I was writing romance at the time, and Sarah’s subplot was stealing the spotlight from the main lovers. Sarah is still very much a part of The Paris Notebook, especially the penultimate scene.

What Sarah does not have in the novel is a point of view. Sarah’s story is not filled out as I meant it to be. That’s okay, I’m a tough old writer and have been edited many times. I also understand the rules of writing romance. So I’m not saying my editor was wrong. She was spot on. The problem was me, I had not written a romance. The wonderful folks at The Wild Rose Press knew I was not a romance writer, and through two novels helped me become one. Then when I proposed a women’s fiction series, they said YES. They said that was where I should be, writing women’s fiction, with more going on than true love. Nothing against true love! I’ll always have a love story or three.

Almost the minute I learned I needed to cut Sarah’s story, I began plotting. I was able to pull it out almost seamlessly. I added a few bits into the book so it made sense and I took all spoilers out of Sarah’s Survival Guide. Then, after paying a friend a shamelessly small amount for a gorgeous cover, I was ready to roll.

I don’t know how many people have read Sarah’s story. I have never, in ten years, quickly going on eleven, looked at my page views. But I love hearing people tell me they wished there was more about Sarah in The Paris Notebook. And that’s happened at least a dozen times. Every time, I say “You’re in luck! Click on Sarah’s Survival Guide on my blog.” I think it’s a sweet love story. It works as a short story, but if you read it first, you might want to know what happens next. Well, that answer is in The Paris Notebook.

Terry Tyler

Terry.untitled

I discovered British author Terry Tyler on Twitter, where we struck up a conversation about writing. She’s got several very funny but also heartwarming contemporary novels for sale on Kindle, and so far, I’ve read three of them.

Here’s a mini-review of Dream On, the first Tyler novel I read. Full Circle is the sequel; I loved revisiting these characters. The Other Side blew my mind. It has a brilliant high concept. Terry’s novels are set in small English villages and sometimes her characters make it all the way to London. A common thread is music. Many of her characters are musicians. These novels are as addictive as any I’ve ever read. I wondered “How’d she do that?” and so I asked. Here are her replies:

You have five novels out on Amazon  exclusively, right? Are they only in Kindle format or do you also have paper versions? Why did you choose to go this route with your work?

 My books are only in Kindle format.  This is because I haven’t got round to sorting out getting them done in paperback yet, though I am not sure that I will; I don’t really fancy doing the book signings that people seem to have to do to sell them; and it appears that you have to sell them so expensively to even get your money back.  Having said that, for vanity reasons if nothing else I would dearly love to see them in print form!

How long did you look for a publisher (if you did) before going indie? How does the term “indie” strike you? What are the perks of being an indie author?

 I found an agent who liked the way I wrote back in 1999, but I wasn’t prepared to change the plot of a book to make it fit in with what she thought she could sell to a publisher; I don’t know if that was silly of me or not.  When I started writing again after a 10 year break I sent a synopsis and sample of my new effort,You Wish, to an agent.  She liked it, and asked to read the whole thing, but when she had done so felt, again, that she couldn’t sell the whole story to a traditional publishing house.  I sent sample and synopsis to about 3 other agents with no luck, then just left it.  Then, about 9 months later, someone told me about Amazon KDP, so I thought I would give that a go.  The term ‘indie’?  It’s not one I use, and I don’t think of myself as “an indie author”.  I’m just a writer, and I’m independently published because no traditional publishing house has offered me a book deal, that’s all – I don’t feel it necessary to wear the badge ‘indie’.  The perks?  I suppose if you compare it with the self-published authors who go with a publishing company, it means that I get to choose my own pricing, for instance.  I’d hate not to have complete control over what I do.

One thing I love about your books is the voice. Your books are set in England, where you live, and the characters sound like it. When a New York publisher buys a Brit author, they take out all the Britishisms and put in American slang. That ruins it    for me. Your vernacular, your particular voice, is part of what draws me  to your stories. Does that come naturally to you? From reading your blog  & books it seems you come with a built-in sense of humor and the pages just flow. It seems effortless. Bet it’s not. Comments?

Thank you!  It’s such a compliment to be told that – I couldn’t wish for a greater one.  The dialogue and everything does come naturally, as do the nuances of any language to someone for whom it’s their mother tongue.  I wouldn’t say that it’s effortless, because I put a lot of work into making sentences and phrases tighter, or more amusing.  But I’ve always written stuff that makes people laugh, down to and including my Facebook status updates, so perhaps I am a ‘natural writer’ to some extent.  My books would be ludicrous if translated into American slang – they wouldn’t work at all because, as you say, they are very English!

How long did it take to write The Other Side? It covers a span of several years and it reads like someone is writing in-the-moment. So how did you do that? I was thinking as I read, I wonder if she wrote each part      when she was that age, or in that year? Did you?

 The Other Side took me 5 or 6 months to write, from December 2011 to May 2012.

It covers the period from 1987 to 2012 – 25 years.  I’m glad it works well in each different ‘moment’ – I suppose it does so simply because I’ve been all those ages!  I’d written a similar book in 1999, but I started The Other Side from scratch, using only some of the ideas I’d written in the previous one.

Was the structure of The Other Side a departure for you? It’s quite unusual and very cool. Tell me where the idea came from and how you did it. We have to avoid spoilers because the twist is so great. I even hate to say “twist” because then readers will be looking for it.

Years ago I read a book by Elizabeth Jane Howard that went backwards and it fascinated me, because I loved reading about the character in one situation, then going back to find out what brought her to that point in her life.  I’ve wanted to do something similar ever since.  I always make lists of timelines for the events in my stories when I am writing them, but I had to do much more so with this one, as you can imagine – and I made a few ghastly errors along the way!  Avoiding spoilers, I’ll just say that I’ve always been interested in the way the tiny threads and seemingly unimportant decisions take us to particular stages in our lives – and how easily everything can change.  I love books with complicated twists in them – Nobody’s Fault has a huge one, and You Wish has one on the last page!  The only one of my books which is just a straightforward story with no twists is Dream On – I’m overloading my brain trying to make my new one, working title Head First and currently at 20K words, contain a couple of good ones!

Your characters are so varied. How do you write about all the various people, who are all so different from one  another? Do you keep a list of character traits as you write or do those individuals just speak to you in their own way as you write?

I’m so glad the characters come alive for you!  I don’t write character plans or keep lists of their traits.  I think if I did they’d be cardboard; i.e., I don’t go, oh, better make Robert say this now, because I’ve just looked at my list and reminded myself that he’s supposed to be insecure.  I wouldn’t say that ‘they speak to me’ because that would sound pretentious; I don’t know, really; I just visualise them, and then I write about them!  Oh dear, I’m not really telling you very much, am I?!   I do think about them, when I’m doing other things, so I suppose that’s how I develop them in my head.

Let’s talk revision. How many drafts  do you write? Do you have anyone to edit? Do you belong to a critique group? About how long does it take you to write a book, start to finish?

I write about 6 drafts per book.  I couldn’t bear to have anyone edit anything of mine – perhaps just as well I’m NOT traditionally published!  I don’t belong to a critique group and never have done – I’m not much of a one for groups and I’m fairly confident about how I write anyway.  I’d prefer to listen to the opinion of the reading public; I think I can tell if something isn’t working during the editing process.  Obviously I’ve made mistakes, but I hope these will be less and less as I go on.  My sister is my only ‘beta reader’.  Takes me about 6 months to write a book.  You Wish was published in November 2011; I wrote it in 2010.  By the time I published it I had nearly finished Nobody’s Fault, which was published in January 2012.  The Other Side, which was the 3rd one, was published in May 2012.

How do you market your work? Or do you  not bother? Any tricks or ideas? (I dislike marketing and don’t do very  well at it, myself).

 Marketing – Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, book blogs.  I spend a lot of time on it.  I liked and used social networking sites before I published on Amazon anyway, so the ‘marketing’ of my books is only an extension of that – except that I don’t bore all my Facebook friends with posts about my books, and keep it for my author page only.  Tricks or ideas?  Loads, far too many for an interview such as this!  In a nutshell, remember that marketing is about communication.  And it takes time and work, lots of it.  You don’t build up an ‘online presence’ overnight, or by thinking ‘oh God, I suppose I’d better post something on my Facebook page’ once a week.

What is your writing background? Did  you go to University? Do you have a creative writing degree or did you ever take workshops or classes? Did you write non-fiction before you  started writing fiction?

 I don’t have a writing background.  I didn’t go to university because I was much too rebellious to knuckle down to anything like that in my late teens.  I’ve never attended a workshop or class.  Or written non-fiction.  I used to be really good at English at school, though, ha ha!  I wrote some short stories in my 20s, but they were pretty crap.  Aside from the stuff I’ve always done to amuse my friends, I’ve written nothing else until I wondered, in 1993, if I could write a novel.  Then I wrote one.  And another, and another, and…  then I stopped for 10 years, started again in 2010.

Why do you write?

 Because I enjoy it!

Thanks for wanting to interview me, Cynthia – I hope my answers are of some interest to you and your readers, though I am acutely aware of not having very much to tell you!!  I don’t have lots of complicated creative processes – I just write stuff! 

 Just the opposite, I learned a lot! Cheers, Terry