Today I got an email from my editor with an attachment. The title was “Final: Distortion.” So, uh … I guess that means I can’t tweak it anymore? I just sort of have to let go and believe it’s the best it can be–because a professional says so. Good thing I have her help in deciding that because otherwise I would probably tweak for another two years. Makes me realize how much of writing a novel is just plain pluck. You can teach people how to write sentences, you can give them a thesaurus, but not many of them will actually sit down to write 80,000 words of story. Why?
When I started Distortion, I wrote feverishly for weeks, then sat down and read what I had written, pure crap. I knew what I wanted to communicate–sort of. And I already had willing characters telling me the story, but I needed to work on mechanics. It had been a good twenty years since I had written anything seriously. What possessed me to think that I could move from the crap stage to getting published?
Working nights at Hastings Books, I would sit down on my breaks and read bestselling novels. I would take home advance copies of soon-to-be bestselling books. And sometimes as I read them I would think, This isn’t very good. Surely I can write better than that. And then my little inner editor would say, “What kind of fantasy is that? You’re full of bull. You could never write well enough that anyone would want to read it.” I would listen to her–that critic–for a while, but eventually I would just stop listening and write anyway. Not because I thought anyone would read it, but because I liked writing.
After a while, I thought the book was getting pretty good. I asked Facebook friends to refer people to read it–people I didn’t know. That took pure, unadulterated pluck. Those “betas” actually like it for the most part. That was kind of dangerous for my inner critic. People started writing to me about the characters, saying they thought about them in the shower or jogging or were having sexual fantasies about the musician. Hey I understand. I married a musician. And I sort of decided to clean up this book and send it out to agents and publishers. Not because I though I was Hemingway or Capote, just because I thought the characters had told a good story. They deserved their day in the sun. And because I seriously wanted to defy that inner critic–with pure pluck.
So now, over a year later, the story is about to be published. I have to let go of it and say,”Okay, it’s ready.” I have to ignore that inner critic who wants me to cut “the” from one sentence and change an adjective in the third graph. I have to believe that I’ve done the story and the characters justice. That people will want to read this book–not because their aunt or their friend wrote it, but because it’s a good book. Yes, I must allow myself to believe it is good enough. And that takes pluck.
So the next time someone asks me how to write a novel, I’ll say, “Pick up a couple good books on writing mechanics–like Strunk and White or The Fire in Fiction. Then start writing. The rest is just pluck.”