Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My homely child

You know how when you’re pregnant you imagine all of the things your child will be? Of course he will be amazingly gifted—probably a musical genius, reading Shakespeare by age 7, a future prophet. And then you have the baby, and he is the most beautiful child that ever existed. But then he gets colic. And he grows up to be smart and maybe even gifted but also tone deaf. Or moody. Or just sort of awkward. Maybe even, gulp, homely. And then you learn to accept him for what he is, and look for all of the happy surprises of what he’ll be, while letting go of the expectations that he is going to stand out blindingly in any particular field.

This is happening to me.

I’m afraid my novel is a homely child.

Oh, I still love it, the way only a mother could love. I’m the first to admit that it has some very charming qualities, and is deserving of love just for being its own self (and for being mine). But I am starting to realize all the things my novel will not be. Before it was this close to being done, I could still imagine that it was going to be as meaningful as To Kill a Mockingbird or Jacob Have I Loved, as romantic as that scene in Eclipse where Jacob is in the sleeping bag with Bella and Edward is watching, as hilarious as The Romantic Obsessions and Humiliations of Annie Sehlmeier (hi, Louise—love that one)—it was going to be all of those novels mixed together.

And now I’m seeing that it’s just going to be its little old self.

I know that some authors, when they finish a book, are absolutely convinced that it is fantastic, amazing, the best thing that’s ever been written. Is the fact that I know mine is probably “pretty good” at best mean that it is doomed? Of course, then I put it away, wait, and pick it up fresh and read it again and think that it actually is pretty darn good. But still, I’m pretty sure this isn’t going to be a blockbuster (like Kristi Stevens’s book will be. Mark my words, folks. You heard it here first).

Maybe at my workshop next month Louise will tell me how to make it a fantastic book. But maybe it will just go on being its own little self. I can’t see it clearly enough to tell. I am, after all, its mother.

(And by the way, I’ve been thinking about why I came to such a complete stop on it before. Part of it was my illness, but part of it, I really think, was due to the workshop. Not that Janette wasn’t a fantastic teacher. It’s just that the critiques were so proscriptive: “Hey, you could have her be suicidal!” “Yeah! And you could have the guy get in trouble for such-and-such!” “Oh, yeah, and it would be even cooler if you had so-and-so do this!” It got to the point where people were writing the book for me, taking over as the book’s mother, so to speak. Some of the ideas were really good, but as soon as someone shared it with me I couldn’t use it because it wasn’t mine. I might have come to those same ideas at some point anyway, on my own, but if someone else suggested it, I automatically couldn’t feel right about using it. I began wanting to please everyone, wanting to take everyone’s suggestions, and lost sight of what the original book wanted to be. I became a passive parent. It took quite a while to recover. I’m really hoping that this won’t happen again at the upcoming workshop. I’m determined not to let it; I’m determined to let this book be itself, and to fight for that. But maybe a good teacher can help me put my finger on why I’m dissatisfied with it. That would be worth it.)


Laura said...

This post was really encouraging to me. I'm not sure why, but thanks for posting it! Good luck with your novel and the workshop--I can't wait to see a novel published with your name on it :)

Christopher Bigelow said...

Huh, I personally wouldn't (and haven't) had any problem taking a plot idea from a critiquer, if it sounds like something I really want to do. Of course, most suggestions I don't take, but they're just like water off the back, don't phase me. I just cherry-pick suggestions I like.

You de boss, but good bosses "steal" ideas from underlings all the time. (If you really feel bad, acknowledge the person in your book's acknowledgment section: "Thanks to Scott Bronson for suggesting an important plot point.")

Anonymous said...

I have (in real life) a child who's naturally a star: stunningly beautiful, amazingly creative, gifted at almost everything she tries (she just won $500 for a picture book she wrote -- yes, you read that right, $500 for a nine-year-old.) This is (mostly) not just me bragging, either, because a) we hear this from everyone she encounters and b) I'm as surprised as anyone that Dean and I produced such a child.

So, now you have me thinking that I should write a book.

(I hope you can tell I'm totally kidding -- just inverting your metaphor.) (Also, although Mabel does of course love getting so much positive attention, it also really is true that it can bring its own real and valid stress.)

scott bronson said...

For one thing, all writers begin to hate the work they're working on because they've spent so much time on it and they just plain-old get bored. Like you said, step away for a bit. When you come back, it'll be fresh and lovable again.

For another thing, no good writers' group will allow writers to offer proscriptive advice. Observations only. "This is what I see/understand/feel/whatever..." Never, "This is how you should..." or "I would do this..."

So, I won't offer you any bon mots of advice like that, but you can acknowledge any kind of debt to me that you wish, since that's about the only way I'm going to get my name in a book.

Cheri said...

Amen, Scott. Questions that empower the writer are also OK. And good job, Darlene, for having the wisdom to see that. I love, love the mother metaphor, and how you develop so many facets of it.

Darlene said...

Scott, I'll just name a character after you. Like, maybe the old VW bus my main character drives. The Bronsonmobile. How's that?