February 11, 2008

It Has Its Ups and Downs...

...does that rickety elevator we call life. Not much in the way of down time right now--I'm woefully behind on visiting all of your lovely blogs, but I thought I'd grab a few minutes to post in between grading essay paragraphs and spiffing up my website and gearing up for the big Cybils announcement.

So, writers: we spend a lot of time working on those little details of characters to make them fully come alive. One of those many details--one which I don't consider often enough--is laughter. How do your characters laugh? I don't mean a mere giggle vs. a guffaw. Do they wheeze? Squeal? Snort? Do they sound like they're on the verge of hysteria? Today on my local NPR station I heard a segment from Radiolab's most recent program on laughter. The part I caught included a group of "professional laughers" who, essentially, have found themselves increasingly out of work because of the decline of the sitcom in favor of the rise of reality television. There's something very sad about that; the end of an era.

Then I went into the grocery store. When I came out again and got back into my car, the Laughter program had gone on to a new segment, about a mysterious epidemic of contagious laughter that afflicted a community in Tanzania in 1962. The story was fascinating, and not, as it turned out, particularly funny, but it reminded me of another great component of laughter--its ability to spread, to make us silly, to remind us of childhood and of good times. Maybe, next time you've got writer's block, try laughter?

It's a good thing I listened to this wonderful program, because in a way it fortified me for the "down" part of today's ups and downs...today I got my "Dear Writer" letter from the Delacorte Press Contest for a first YA novel. I wasn't as sad as I sometimes am when I get a rejection letter; I honestly didn't expect to win this time. But I did start asking myself uncomfortable questions, and I wonder if other writers have struggled with these: How many rejections should one accumulate for a novel before calling it quits and shoving it in a drawer? Or, at that point, should one consider more revision, even if you've done all the revision you feel you can do without turning the piece into something entirely different? Is there ever a good time to decide that a piece should be entirely different?

That's one I struggle with a lot. I find it difficult to judge how far to take revisions before the story I have isn't the same story any more--and whether that's a bad thing. Or whether it's better to start afresh. I don't know. There's probably no one answer to that question, and for me, every project is different so I can't imagine there's a magic formula. Doesn't stop me wishing for one, though...

Don't forget to tune in tomorrow for a special Sherri L. Smith guest post, kicking off her blog tour for Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet!


Sara said...

I remember getting my rejection from the Delacorte fiction contest (for middle grade, not YA.) The form letter came with another letter, which sang the praises of the winning entry. I did not read it with a good attitude. :)

Never give up on something that YOU believe in. You can put it away for a bit, and work on something new, but pull it out and check on it every few months. See how you feel. You'll know what to do.

Anonymous said...

The rejection letter is always hard and it's annoying too - because the whole thing is so subjective. I got many rejection letters for "Flying Cold" and thought maybe I was nuts to keep trying - the book isn't conventionally written in plot-driven format and it was on a subject that no one writes about. And then it got passed by someone else to the lady who became my agent and she loved it - LOVED IT - and got me going on another book (the memoir) and is hoping to package them together.

It's weird because I believed in all of this but was losing my belief until someone I never met (and still have only spoken to) told me it was really really good. Then I got confident again. I'm so glad I was stubborn enough to hang in there though - I'm with Sara. As long as you believe in it, then don't stop looking for that agent(or other publishing professional) who believes in it too.

Sarah Stevenson said...

Thanks, guys. I guess I just need periodic reassurance that I'm on the right road to keep me going through the next round!

tanita✿davis said...

Remember the novel about fathers and sons that I just revised and revised and it still went to six houses and they all passed?

And I was so dead set against removing one major plot element?

That mss. has been sitting in a drawer for almost a year and a half now, and I just woke up the other morning with a lightning bolt slamming into my head as to how to rewrite it without that major plot element, in a way that would work.

One thing I have learned is to not become too attached to anything. If the genius is within you, then trashing things and trying again means that further genius will be revealed.

You have the germ of such a great idea in Latte. When I need to revise what I consider to be a "great" story already, I start by subtracting elements. Starting from a single story thread and working backwards might help. How would the story change if there were no trip to look forward to? If the girls weren't Seniors? If they were, say, freshman or eight graders? What if they had to live with the choices they made and not get to ride off into the sunset of college?

Pretty soon you'll find your mind picking things apart as you ponder what's really necessary to the plot and what isn't, and then what's left you can make stronger...

Mi dos centavos, sorry to ramble so long!