Not Writing = Fatness

I will admit it that I have been slacking. And now I feel fat.  Not literally though-

Let me explain.

Many people have asked me “how did you write a novel and maintain a full time job?” My response is typically to explain that writing is like exercising. It’s work and takes discipline, but ultimately, I feel better about life after doing it.  The routine gives me that content, productive, got-my-ish-together feeling.  And then they understand.

Since I haven’t been writing or blogging regularly, I don’t know how else to describe my current state other than to say I feel fat.

But it’s ok because I have a plan.

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), where people all over the country (world? universe?) strive to write 50,000 words by November 30. All those people out there with a novel inside of them make an attempt to finally get it out.  Part of me thinks the whole thing feels weirdly contrived.  The other part thinks this may be the only way to get me back into the groove.  I’m embracing the “other part” and thus I will strive to (1) revise my novel (again) and (2) get back to blogging weekly.

Substantively, I need to work on the dude aka my male protagonist. Everyone hates him but me. It wouldn’t bother me if some people didn’t like him, but this is consistent feedback that I have received, which is not right because he is supposed to be a decent human being. So, despite my previous resistance, I’m going to try re-writing his chapters in the first person. That is supposed to be the perspective that people connect to the most, so maybe that will help resolve the problem.

Technically, I just need to cut some stuff out. Usually, I’m good at eliminating superfluous words/paragraphs. But usually, I’m also working on shorter documents. It can literally take me hours to revise a memo that’s only 4 or 5 pages. Nevertheless, that’s one of my most important writing skills so I might as well apply it to the most (personally) important thing I’ve ever written!

So basically, I have nine more days of fatness to go.  Thankfully, I’ll be on vacation for four of them. Wish me luck!

P.S. I got an e-mail from my novel the other day:

novel

Kanye: “The Creative Process–It’s Like a Relationship”

I’m going to quote Kanye here.

No, not one of his songs. Something he said in that Vogue issue where, for some reason, he and Kim K. were on the cover:

Creativity is hard. The creative process—it’s like a relationship. It can be grueling, it can be extremely fun, it can be extremely fulfilling, it can be extremely daunting.

After he created a video that was a manifestation of my greatest fears, I thought I was done with Kanye. But that quote struck a cord with me. So much so that I’m still thinking about it months later.

As you may have guessed, I had to take a little break from the noveling/blogging thing for a second. Not because of rejection by a million agents, thank goodness— I haven’t put myself out there enough for that yet (pitched about 12, got rejected by about 6 or 7).

Mostly I had to take a break because I changed jobs, moved, and went on vacation. But also because I’m trying to decide what my next step should be. I’m in this weird position where I have reached my goal: wrote, edited, and revised a readable novel in a reasonable amount of time but…in the process, I myself have changed.

I wanted to write a story about the growth you experience from a relationship (among other things). And like a relationship, I’ve grown just from engaging in this creative process. At some points it’s been amazing—getting so much joy and fulfillment from what was essentially work?! Definitely never felt that way at my former job. Working on this project sometimes I was literally like, in love, with my story. Not because it was so great, it was just so fulfilling, as Kanye said.

Other times the process has been rather unsettling. There are some themes of loss, and the aftermath of diving into those things was not easy. It was like something bad had actually happened to me. It was strange, but ultimately worth it.

But most importantly, from this process I evolved as a writer, I think. I learned a lot about creative writing and storytelling. I read a lot about the craft, I read more in general and of course I was practicing techniques all the time while writing. So now it’s like, I just think I can make the thing better. That’s daunting (as Kanye said) because if I go down that road, I have a sh*tload of work ahead of me.

My perspective on the story, the characters, relationships, life, etc. has also changed simply from being 2.5 years older than when I started. There is distance between me and the impetus for writing it. I’ve received some feedback from a number of people. I’ve read more, lived more, etc. And so my goal for it has changed, I think.

Anyway, so that’s where I’m at now. My last set of revisions consisted of me fixing the dialogue and taking out some unnecessary details. I may pitch a few more agents after inputting them (hey, the author of The Help pitched 60 agents, so clearly there is an endless supply lol) or I may make some bigger changes now that I’ve had time to take a step back. I will keep you posted!!

Thoughts on Publishing and Privilege

There has been a lot of talk about “privilege” lately. White privilege, male privilege, etc. I don’t know what that weird guy from Princeton was talking about, but what I mean by the term is the freedom not to worry that your race has put you at a disadvantage.

Wikipedia’s definition of privilege will do as well: “the right to assume the universality of one’s own experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as normal.”

I bring this up because this process of pitching my story to agents has made me feel very “unprivileged.”

I like subtlety. I like restraint. I like things that feel like real life. So as I sit here waiting to be judged by (mostly white) strangers, I can’t help but wonder—will they get me? Will they see what I’m trying to do? My manuscript is first and foremost the story of a relationship—about people of color. It’s neither a traditional love story, nor does it constantly make political commentary. A lot of people will get it, but will the people with the power? Will they believe that readers (white and nonwhite, male and female) will get it?

I came across several articles today that discuss this very issue. They linked from an NPR article about a #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign that emerged following a major book convention that had an all-white line up. My faves were one published on BuzzFeed that gets into the institutional problems in the publishing industry and another amazing piece written in The New Yorker by Junot Diaz.  I’d love to share some snippets with you…

The BuzzFeed article on the privilege issue:

“…Many of [the gifts and challenges of writers of color] won’t be seen or recognized within a white cultural context. Nuances of codeswitching, racial microaggressions, the emotional reality of surviving white supremacy, self-translation – these are all layers of the non-white experience that rarely make it into mainstream literature, even when the characters look like us.”

BuzzFeed on why diversity isn’t enough and what we need to do:

“We’re right to push for diversity, we have to, but it is only step one of a long journey. Lack of racial diversity is a symptom. The underlying illness is institutional racism. It walks hand in hand with sexism, cissexism, homophobia, and classism. To go beyond this same conversation we keep having, again and again, beyond tokens and quick fixes, requires us to look the illness in the face and destroy it. This is work for white people and people of color to do, sometimes together, sometimes apart. It’s work for writers, agents, editors, artists, fans, executives, interns, directors, and publicists. It’s work for reviewers, educators, administrators. It means taking courageous, real-world steps, not just changing mission statements or submissions guidelines.”

In The New Yorker, Diaz talks about how he struggled in his MFA program because stories that reflected non-white life were not considered to be literature:

“In my workshop the default subject position of reading and writing—of Literature with a capital L—was white, straight and male. This white straight male default was of course not biased in any way by its white straight maleness—no way! Race was the unfortunate condition of nonwhite people that had nothing to do with white people and as such was not a natural part of the Universal of Literature, and anyone that tried to introduce racial consciousness to the Great (White) Universal of Literature would be seen as politicizing the Pure Art and betraying the (White) Universal (no race) ideal of True Literature.”

Diaz also says his MFA program was simply “too white”:

“Too white as in Cornell had almost no POC—no people of color—in it. Too white as in the MFA had no faculty of color in the fiction program—like none—and neither the faculty nor the administration saw that lack of color as a big problem…Too white as in my workshop reproduced exactly the dominant culture’s blind spots and assumptions around race and racism (and sexism and heteronormativity, etc). In my workshop there was an almost lunatical belief that race was no longer a major social force (it’s class!). In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing—at all. Never got any kind of instruction in that area—at all. Shit, in my workshop we never talked about race except on the rare occasion someone wanted to argue that ‘race discussions’ were exactly the discussion a serious writer should not be having.”

I think it’s a good sign that we are having this discussion. Personally, I think the book industry is scared to go outside the norm because it’s so fragile at the moment. Sales are down are what not. But I actually feel like the changing industry presents an opportunity, not a problem.  It’s like, why not publish something different? Expand your audience! Take a risk and bet that people will enjoying consuming stories about a diverse world. I know I do!