What’s Your Novel Really About?

Howdy, howdy!  Have you ever run into one of those people who asks what your novel-in-progress is about, but after you explain it to them, they’re all like “no, what is it really about…”?  They’re usually English majors or something along that line: people who can’t accept that sometimes, in writing, blue curtains are just blue curtains.  These are the deep thinkers, the over-analyzers.  And they’re usually pretty cool people.  But if you aren’t prepared for the question, it can be annoying and frustrating.  Especially if you’re like me and don’t consciously build underlying themes into your work.  So, I thought I would take a minute to ramble about hidden meanings and all that fun stuff.

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It’s the controversial meme of (writerly) doom!

Like I said, I don’t go into a writing session with the purpose of bringing a particular lesson to the page.  I don’t know many people who do.  The few I know who have tried doing this come across as preachy and, in all honesty, more than a little douchenozzly.  (This was a long time ago and in no way reflects my current circles.)  I like to let things happen naturally, especially in a first draft.  If the story is good, themes and hidden meanings will bury themselves into the story and eventually make themselves known.

How do I know this?  Because when I was doing exercises from Sandra Scofield’s The Last Draft: A Novelist’s Guide to Revision, one of the things I had to do was state the main vision of the novel I was preparing to revise.  I had no idea what LR was about in any deep sense.  I didn’t really care.  The story and characters were fun, so why did it need to be about anything other than dragons and war?  Then, I started reading through it and noticed a weird trend.  When everyone listened to each other and thought things through, there was forward momentum.  When everyone just argued and ignored things, everything stalled out.  So, I ended up with a sticky note on my computer that says “Vision: Looking at conflict from multiple angles (including the enemy’s) allows one greater access to the Truth and the ability to make difficult decisions.”

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At least he’s honest.

It turns out that listening and understanding are things I write about a lot.  I don’t know why.  It’s kind of like when Nancy Holder told me that young people getting dragged into new worlds was “classic Shawna.”  I had no idea.  Apparently, it’s what I gravitate towards without realizing it.  Granted, listening isn’t the only thing hidden in my stories, but I think it’s a lesson we all need to consider getting into the habit of, especially right now.  Maybe that’s why I notice it cropping up more and more in my stuff.

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Surprises are… fun?

Anyway, I suppose all of this just boils down to the fact that I think it’s kind of neat to see things I never intended to write about pop up in my stories.  So, while I may not know what my novel is about when you ask, I’ll eventually figure it out during revision.  What about you?  What themes pop up in your work?  Feel free to share your comments or thoughts here or on my social media pages!

Yes, You Wrote It and Yes, It’s Okay To Like It

Howdy, howdy!  After a nice rest, I’ve been digging into the second novel attempt (it doesn’t have a title yet).  I’m currently just reading through it to get back into the voice and to figure out where I left off, but something strange has been happening during this process: I actually really like this story.  Like, I’d be willing to buy it if I came across it in a bookstore kind of like.  It’s weird.  Personally, I’m the type of person who usually hates everything she writes, so this is a scary concept for me.  I know I’m not alone in hating everything I write, so I thought I’d share a little about why I think I’m that way and what this experience has taught me thus far.

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Yeah, that kind of “like.”

First off, for anyone who thinks their words suck, you will be asked (repeatedly) why you keep working on something you feel so bad about.  You are not alone.  Most people don’t understand the usefulness of self-loathing.  For me, I think it’s mostly just a defense mechanism.  If I tell myself that story I just submitted sucks, then the inevitable rejection won’t hurt so much.  And yes, while a story is in the limbo of a slush pile, rejection is considered inevitable.  Maybe I’m a pessimist.  Anyway, it’s not that I actually hate my work, it’s just that if someone else ends up hating it, it doesn’t hurt as bad if I can say “yeah, I know it sucks.”

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It doesn’t suck, it just sucks.

So, what happens when self-haters can’t help but admit what they’re working on is good?  Lots of mixed emotions, that’s what.  There’s denial: “I didn’t write that.”  “There’s no way my thoughts are that organized.”  Then there’s the fanciful rationalizations: “The writing fairies got ahold of it while I wasn’t looking and changed everything.”  (Yes, they exist.  We’ve all opened our manuscripts to find things we know we couldn’t or wouldn’t have written.  It’s usually just a word or phrase, nothing too obvious.)  And finally, there’s acceptance.  That “Holy crap, I wrote this…” moment.  And you know what?  It’s okay to feel that way.

I’m still at the point in this novel where I don’t have to share it with anyone.  Where all that matters is what I think.  So, I’m allowing myself to indulge in that rare book-narcissism that I see others constantly immersed in.  Why not wrap myself in the warm fuzzy feeling of liking something I did all by myself?   The book’s not even a third of the way finished.  There will be plenty of time for hatred and disgust later, right?

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In other words, even if every fiber of your self-loathing writerly being says to resist, know that it’s okay to like your words.  Hell, some people would go so far as to say it’s a natural feeling!  Not me, of course, but others.  You can worry about all of the potential rejection later.  Right now, accept the warm fuzzies!  Accept them!  That’s right… just let it happen.