March 19, 2017 – The most amazing thing has happened. A novel that I’ve worked on off and on ever since traveling to Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 has finally sold. The first version was (rightfully) rejected all over the place. I rewrote it, collected more rejections, and almost by accident turned to writing crime fiction, which did sell. Those novels had another, perhaps more valuable, quality – they taught me how to write: how to plot, how to develop characters, how to structure and pace a novel. After writing three of them, I took advantage of a monthlong residency last year in Mexico (thanks, 360 Xochi Quetzal!) and took one last whack at what I’ve long called “the Afghanistan book,” overhauling it completely, in essence writing an entirely different novel. As the above shows, the new approach was worth it. And the whole process underscores the old saying that all writing is rewriting. Amen.
A couple of weeks ago, the WIP and I arrived at a standstill. Nearly 60,000 words in, I was sure it was crap. Not just crap, epic crap. I put the whole hot mess aside and turned in relief to a scheduled long weekend in Glacier National Park, a last hurrah to celebrate end of summer. We had in our sights an ambitious hike, one that logic would have told us was well beyond our abilities.
We are middle-aged people, in middling shape. I run the occasional half-marathon slowly, very slowly. Scott golfs. This hike went well beyond 13.1 miles or 18 holes. If—and only if—we managed to catch the last boat of the day on Two Medicine Lake, we’d save ourselves a final lakeside slog of a couple of miles back to the trailhead. Then the hike would be only 17 miles. Miss the boat, and it grew to nearly 19. Oh, and with a 3,000-foot elevation gain and subsequent descent.
But that elevation gain, according to everything we read about the Dawson-Pitamakan Loop, and everyone we knew who’d hiked it, made for once-in-a-lifetime views. Indeed, one blog rhapsodized about it as a “bucket list” adventure. “You won’t have any problems,” our friends assured us. Like us, they’re of a certain age. Unlike us, they hike every chance they can get. Logic nudged us hard at that moment. We ignored it.
I had many, many hours on that hike—13 to be exact, because needless to say, we missed the damn boat—to contemplate the similarities between our crazy-ass endeavor and writing novels. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, trying to ignore a slew of rejection, along with the expectations of well-meaning friends, and stay focused on the WIP. Sometimes it seems to me that when it comes to writing, as in no other field, there’s a bizarre assumption on the part of non-writers (and unfortunately some writers) of instant, stratospheric success.
“When’s your book going to be a movie?” “Is your book on the New York Times bestseller list?” And, my favorite, “You must be making a lot of money now.” Thank God Oprah’s not doing her show anymore, which featured her book club. Fellow authors have told me that, back in the day, the No. 1 question was, “When are you going to be on Oprah?” Cue screaming.
Think about this for a minute. When was the last time you asked a lawyer, in all seriousness, “When are you going to argue a cause before the U.S. Supreme Court?” Or the owner of small café, “When can I see you on Celebrity Chef?” Or wondered aloud to your neighborhood garage band when you expect to see their Rolling Stone cover?
I think what makes this so galling is the assumption that somehow, writing is easy, that it doesn’t take the same sweat equity as, oh, every other demanding job out there. As coach Jimmy Dugan, Tom Hanks’ character in A League of Their Own, lectures catcher Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) when she tries to walk away from baseball: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everybody would do it.” Read the rest of this entry »