When do I know my fiction is on the right track?
Don’t we all wish this was as simple as checking your blood pressure? Nothing would be more comforting than a measurable process by which we could test our creative direction. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
I’m sure you’ve worked long and hard at the opening of a novel or short story, honing your themes and imagery, forcing those sentences into the most appropriate, pleasing or symmetrical of patterns only to one day stare at the page and get that dreadful sensation: despite all that hard work, you don’t really like this creation of yours.
I’ve been there many times and it is very deflating.
But here’s one idea for the afflicted: remember what brought you to writing in the first place. Most writers begin because they have been inspired as readers. They have felt the power of the written word, the clever characterization, the plot twist that encapsulated a nugget of pure insight. They were touched by the realization that some intelligence outside themselves resonates with thoughts or feelings they recognize but have not seen duplicated before. They were changed by that remarkable first experience when they turned page after page to the unexpected awareness they are not alone.
So, as writers, we must judge the readiness of our work by its likelihood to set off that light in the mind of another. Rarely, if ever, can this be forced.
Fiction really “lives” through the characters it depicts. And characters are nourished over time. They fatten; they pupate in our imaginations, and they will come out when they are ready. They don’t like being rushed.
So, back to that empty feeling when we don’t like what’s staring back at us from the word processor screen. It’s not right, so it must be wrong. But there is a flipside to this.
When your story is going in the right direction the characters will pulse with life and you will not be able to ignore them. You will hear the tapping, and feel the moment when the cocoon starts to crack open. Soon you will reach the point where your characters demand access to the world.
This is the feeling you are waiting for and it requires patience and some judicious time wasting — a trip to the mall, a hike, an afternoon watching old soccer matches on YouTube — anything that gets your mind off its grindstone and open to the voices that are trying to reach it.
True discipline requires a certain slackness. Know when to take a break!
Useful Websites for Writers
Take a look at My Perfect Pitch, the website of author Brian Grove. Brian has put together and regularly maintains a database of publishers which will accept queries or manuscripts from both agented and un-agented writers. The lists are broken down by region so that Canadian authors, for instance, can refer to Canadian Book Publishers.
See previous blog for great news from Jiin Kim and Bridget Canning, both winners in the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Awards, as well as news on some very exciting upcoming book publications including Valerie Francis’s Crossing the Rubicon, Eric Colbourne’s Dancing on Air: A Tale of Vengeance, Mercy, and the End of the Death penalty in Newfoundland (Friesen Press), Gerard Doran’s A Stroke in Time (Flanker Press), Amanda Labonte’s Call of the Sea (Fierce Ink Press), Tara Nanayakkara’s Dawn of a New Garden (Inanna Publications), Keith Collier’s Cold Seasons and Kate Robbins Enemy of the Highlander (Tirgearr Publishing).
Tours and Cultural Events
For those who live in St. John’s or plan to visit, take a look at historian Michael Boyle’s Boyle Tours. These highly successful city tours now include An Unremembered Man, on General Henry Hugh Tudor who lived his long retirement in the Newfoundland capital.
Instant Hook Literary Contest
The deadline for the 3rd annual contest will be December 7, 2015. Check this blog for updates and for details from previous years. The second annual Instant Hook Contest, announced earlier this year, was won by Marianne Jones from Ontario. Runners up were Deborah Hedd and Jenna La Sie.
The 8 Unit Online Novel Writing Series continues through the summer with ongoing enrolment (see Creative Writing Workshops and Endorsements for full details).