Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Freebie: Heidi Willis

Writers are great people. Of course, I could be just a tad biased.

Heidi Willis is one of those cool writer people I've never met but feel like I know from all of our online conversations. I found her blog through a mutual writer friend and am now in the middle of her book, Some Kind of Normal  (which I highly recommend). Heidi gave me permission to re-post the blog below, which ran in early March. It's such an insightful view into a writer's mind, and a great reminder that when we struggle to get it just right, we're not alone. 

If you like this post, make sure to stop by Heidi's blog. And if you're looking for a good book, pick up a copy of Some Kind of Normal. It will grab your heart and your attention.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Matter of Trust

Why is it so hard to trust our instincts in writing? Is it because we secretly believe 
there is some trick, some fool-proof method to writing that, if only we were privy 
to it would lead to our certain success, but without it we are doomed?

I question everything. My words, my sentences, my plots, my characters. I find 
myself wanting to thrust my chapters in others' hands and ask, "Is this okay? Does 
this work?"

It's been nearly six years since my critique group formed. For a long time we 
exchanged work every time we finished a chapter. Chapter by chapter, page by 
page, I worked off feedback. I think really I just needed to hear every few pages someone say, "This is going great!" so I had the confidence to keep moving forward. Because, inevitably, even with all the critiques and comments and correction, that 
was what my group almost always ends an email with.

Then I went to school and worked with Pete as an advisor and everything was 
always NOT working. I'd think I'd have something down, I'd send him the 20 pages 
or so, and he'd email back his extensive comments which I'd always interpret as something along the lines of, "See all that stuff you thought you were doing? It isn't working."

And he was always right.

If I'd left that way, I guess I'd have reason to question my ability to write, but I 
didn't. By the end, Pete told me I was ready to strike out on my own. That I had the tools and ability I needed to write well. He tried to say I could trust myself on my 

I didn't believe him.

I've been leaning on people so long, depending on others to tell me what works in 
my writing and what doesn't, that I've paralyzed myself.

I realized that this weekend when I was re-working the opening chapters of my 
old novel. After two years of working on that thing, and a year in a drawer, it felt 
stale and old and tired. I love the idea of it. I love the characters. But the writing 
just wasn't me anymore, so I began with a blank document. And what ended up on 
the page was first person present tense.


I'd written this in third person past before, kept it that way, for a very specific 
reason. This book was too personal - too close. There are some nasty things that happen to the character, awful things she sees, and I, as the author, needed 
distance. I needed to not be in those dark places with her.

But now - I can see the piece is better for being in her words rather than mine. 
Seeing it through her eyes makes it more powerful.

But as the words spilled out, all I could think was how first person present is the 
kiss of death for writing. How many contests I've seen that complain about the 
over-use of it. How some agents have said flat out they hate it, won't look at 
queries for stories written that way. And the flood of doubts came back.

I thought about emailing my critique group. But I knew what they'd say: "Go for it!" They are adventurous and supportive that way. And they implicitly trust that I can 
pull off anything.

I thought about emailing Pete, but that felt weak. Like returning to an old crutch. 
I googled the topic, found out there are a huge amount of great books out there, including Hunger Games, are written that way. I'd totally not noticed that was in 
first person present.

I thought about emailing Pete again. Pete is brutally honest, and I knew if he 
thought it was a bad idea, he'd say, "Stay away from that," the way he's told me 
to stay away from writing about dead babies for a while. And if he said, "Go ahead, 
be bold and try the scary way," I'd trust him that it was okay. 

I am pathetic.

The only thing that saves me from being the most insecure writer in the world is 
that I didn't actually email anyone. I finally said to myself, "Heidi, you are pathetic. 
You've been writing your whole life. You went to graduate school for two years. 
You have a pack of people behind you that you KNOW would say you can do this. 
You know that many, many books get published and are wildly successful in first 
person present. You are not doing it because it's a trend or because it's easy; you 
are doing it because it's what the story needs, despite all your insistence otherwise. 
You need to stop asking everyone's opinions and just trust yourself. Just write."

This isn't to say I won't have other eyes look at it when I'm done. I'd be a fool not 
to have my critique group read it. But I realized this weekend I need to stop 
expecting someone to hold my hand through the process, encourage me along 
the way. I need to just do it. Trust that I've gained enough experience and wise 
advice along the way to just write.

Am I the only one? Do you have others read what you write as you write, or do you 
save it all up until you're done?

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