Sunday, March 13, 2005

There's a madness to my method

I don't normally post on Sundays, but there's an interesting discussion going on at Romancing the Blog. It's something I've thought about quite a lot, so instead of leaving a brief comment over there, I'm going to discuss the subject here. That's one of the perks of having your own blog.

Warning writers to protect their unique "voices" and not compromise their visions for their stories, Author Kara Lennox closes with this:

So I urge other writers to realize that you wrote your book–even a first draft–a certain way for a reason. I’m not advocating a “set in stone” policy. But don’t assume that every contest judge or critiquer knows more than you do. Even agents and editors might not be right when they ask you to change something. Hold true to your vision. Listen to advice, consider it carefully, but don’t try to please everyone. Because in the end, it’s your name on the cover.

I agree. While I think critique partners or groups can be great tools for certain writers at certain times (we all have different writing personalities, after all), I don't allow anyone but my editors to see my own writing. I'm a stubborn do-it-yourselfer, and I don't want advice or even encouragement from anyone. Primarily, I think, because I'm afraid that in listening to someone else's suggestions or concerns about my story, I'll lose my tenuous grip on the magic. And since I don't come anywhere close to understanding what that magic is or how it operates in my mind, I worry that discussing it will pull me out of what I call "the zone", which is that place in my imagination where I become my characters.

When I'm in the zone, I don't write what I think my characters must be feeling, I write what they are feeling.

In the first scene of Finding Hope, Dr. Charles Hartman is having a very bad day. He's frustrated and exhausted, physically and emotionally drained, and when the elevator he's on jerks suddenly, he bangs his cheekbone against the cold steel edge of the doorframe. (If you'd like to read that scene, it's here.) I've heard many writers talk about watching their stories unfold like movies in their minds, but I don't understand that. When I wrote the scene I just mentioned I wasn't watching the hero, I was the hero. As his thoughts and feelings flowed from my brain down my arms and through my fingers and finally appeared on the computer screen, I sat with slumped shoulders, my eyes narrowed and my mouth twisted in utter disgust. If someone had interrupted me at that point I probably would have snarled, "What do you want?" Because I wasn't me at that point, I was Dr. Charles Hartman and I was having a very bad day.

Oh, I'm not talking about New Age-y "channeling" stuff; simply the amazing power of a vivid imagination.

That's the only way I can write my deeply emotional stories -- by becoming the characters. In Hollywood, a movie star who does that is called a "method actor". She becomes the character she's playing to such an extent that she doesn't even need a script to tell her how the character feels on any given subject.

I am a method writer. If I were to step back and take a clinical, analytical look at the story I'm working on, I'd have to step outside of the characters' minds, where I've set up shop. And I won't do that, because although I don't quite understand how the magic works, I am sure it must be a very fragile thing and I'm not about to mess with it.

Even when a story is finished, I don't want any input from outsiders. All that matters to me then is whether my editor wants to buy the project or not. If she wants to see some changes, I'll slip back into the story and see how far I can bend without losing the magic.

On the project I just sold, I disagreed with many of the revisions my editor insisted upon, but making those changes didn't ruin the story for me, so I gave her what she wanted and sold the book. Not so with the project I had sent her before that. That time I felt unable to make the changes she wanted and still retain "ownership" of the story. But I bent as far as I could and then sent the revised manuscript back to her.

She didn't want it. I was disappointed, naturally, but this is a business and it's not her job to pat me on the head and "encourage" me as a writer. I respect that.

When I write a story, I'm an artist. But when the story's finished and it's time to take it to market, I remove my artist's smock and pick up my briefcase: I'm a saleswoman now. My editor may want to buy what I'm selling, or she may ask if the product comes in another size or color. She tells me what she will buy, and then I consult with the artist to see if we can fill the custom order. Last time we couldn't. This time we could.

I may not sell a lot of books this way, but the ones that make it into print will always be my books.

That works for me.


Brenda Coulter said...

Weird. I've had a lot of traffic today, but no comments have been posted. Guess Blogger's been glitchy again today. This is getting VERY old.

I'm thinking of switching to Haloscan for comments. Anybody want to advise me?

Tess said...

Hey Brenda - I didn't visit yesterday, but figured I'd try commenting today.

Anyway, I DO work with CPs, but I'm also incredibly stubborn and don't change things JUST on their say-so *g*. Also, I'm incredibly picky about who reads my work - have learned who I can trust. Who will give me helpful feedback worth consideration.

I admire you for not bending over the story you wouldn't change. Takes a strong person to stand up to an editor, knowing it will result in a rejection.

In the end, we writers all have to learn what works best for us, what's important to us and how best to pursue our careers.

Brenda Coulter said...

Absolutely, Tess. Some writers can get quite a lot out of working with a crit partner or group. Some also benefit from contest feedback and from having family or friends read their work and comment on it.

None of that stuff would work for me, and I just wanted to offer my perspective because new writers are always asking if they need those things.

How should I know? All I know is what works for me. We're all different, and I believe that's a Very Good Thing.

Tess said...

Brenda - I understood why you were posting and think you did a great service to those writers who are like you. Especially newer ones who hear absolutes like "You MUST have your work read by others before you submit."

There's nothing worse than thinking you're a total anomaly and doing everything wrong simply because there's some "rule" that doesn't work for you.

To my mind, the only absolute is that there ARE NO absolutes *g*.