My posts lately have been rawly honest. Opening up my pea-head and displaying not just the cray-cray but the insecurities I have as a novelist is not easy. I’ve always displayed a more positive outlook because I recognize how lucky I am to do this. I’m extremely grateful for what success I’ve had, and for how I am able to write beautiful words and interesting unique characters—how easily the words (not plots) come to me. But sometimes I over-think things—it’s a character flaw. And I’ve been over-thinking this new book—and my entire career as a novelist.
At different points in a novelist’s career there are decisions to be made that affect the novelist. Consider that it takes months or more to complete a novel all the way through from first draft to final-ready-to-be-published. No one wants to spend that much time on any project only to have to scrap it, or to have it fail. Who would like those odds? Not I, said the Kat.
There arrives the “what next?” question. What seems an innocuous query is fraught with complication. (Now, following here, excuse me for mentioning my books and linking to them and their sales on Kindle – indulge me, since I don’t do it often but I should!).
Last night I picked up my copy of “Tender Graces” and began to read it as if I didn’t write it (I recently also read “Sweetie”, and such a warm and tender feeling overcame me. The words were rich and full and lush. The character apparent. The work isn’t perfect—in fact, I can see things I’d change about TG; it was my very first novel, after all. But I felt the novelist’s love for her work, the language, the setting, place, tone, characters. It all came rushing back to me just how much I love what I do. And how lucky I am to be able to do it. The “Virginia Kate Sagas” (TG, Secret Graces & Family Graces – SG & FG are on sale for under $5 on Kindle, y’all, Sweetie for under $6) and Sweetie are examples of a writer who created out of nothing but love for this writing life—it shows, and the readers felt it, too—I receive more mail on the Virginia Kate books & Sweetie than any other–I think they get the better reviews, too. Not perfection, but sincerity and truth. I believe in this author. I trust this author. The characters come alive and appear as apparitions in the room.
With the exception of one of my novels—The Lighting Charmer (and to some extent even that book), which is on sale for .99 cents on Kindle! and sorry for the touting — my published books were written in one way: I sat down and followed my character to see what she, or he, would do. I didn’t think about plots or outlines or “what I should do;” I just wrote. With abandon. Without fear. With love. With hope. These images of my book covers you see here?: I did this. I wrote these books. *Takes a moment to be filled with happy gratitude*
Then the “novelist’s dilemma” smacked me stupid – should I write what I love; how it comes naturally to me? Or should I write what I hope will be more popular? Before you say “don’t fix what ain’t broke—write what you love!” Understand that the novelist profession is not only from the guts of us as artists, but it is also a business. This is not a hobby for me. I count on this as income. I count on this to help pay bills. And that’s where the rubber skids crazily on the road. Because what I love to write, what comes naturally to me, is not “Popular Fiction” that consistently time and again tears up Amazon rankings in the top 100 (though Tender Graces, Sweetie, and yes, even The Lightning Charmer were Amazon Best-Sellers. TG & Sweetie made it to top 100. TG was number 1 on Amazon paid list – The Help was number 2: haw! Yeah, I’ve had my moments!)
I fiercely love Virginia Kate and those cast of characters; I adore Sweetie & Melissa. I love Ayron & Laura in Lightning Charmer and I still think that’s my best attempt at a romancy-supernatural-mountain people kind of novel—I think that book would have been even better had I let myself “go” and wrote with the same abandon as I did with my previous novels, warts and all; imperfection and all. Those characters interested me, and still do. They captured my attention and my imagination. Still do.
I was in love. I was so very grateful. What happened to that? I can bet many novelists/authors out there can answer that question with a wry twist to their mouths.
So, the novelist’s dilemma: write what you love and let the money chips fall where they may, or, try to write something “Popular” and . . . and . . . be an unhappy novelist! One who isn’t writing very much. One who writes sad discombobulated blog posts about how she is not writing and feels uninspired.
If a novelist isn’t writing, then what’s the point? If the novelist is unhappy and discombobulated, then she must find out why and remedy it. If the novelist wants to be loved by the masses, then she best not be a novelist. And if Ego is involved—oh, Ego is a terrible snarling drool-faced monster! Kick Ego out the writing room door, y’all—kick it HARD until it never returns.
The answer is clearing the cobwebs in my wonky brain. The path I choose from the paths before me that fork off in fifty-galleven directions is—drum roll, please—the one that makes me happy. Duh. The one that may (or may not!) mean failure in my bank account, but always success in my heart account. As for some “popular” attention and sales? Well, there’s always a chance that will again come. Right? Yes! I’m still alive! I’m still a gifted writer! I can still write write write as much as and as long as I want to.
I’m a woman in her 50s. I’ve paid my life dues. I can bloody well do what the hell I want to. *Fist Pump*
When I am on my “deathbed,” believe me, I won’t be sorry that I didn’t write a huge spectacular best-seller, I will be sorry that I gave up the writing just because I couldn’t write a huge spectacular best seller. Huh. Well now.
Consider: when we are not true to ourselves. When we do not do what we know in our hearts and gizzards is the Right Thing (for us). When we look outward to other novelists’ successes. When we keep checking our bank account to see how much money we have. These things change us, changes the way we think about the writing.
And the writing will suffer right along with the novelist. The heart is not pierced with love. Something is missing—and it will be apparent to the reader. Oh yes, it will.
So what if I just take this new book and turn it over on its end and shake out its pockets and take a look at what falls out? The lint along with the pocket change and interesting rocks and bones and a leaf and something magical and a supernatural glowy thing and interesting odds and ends and whatnotalls. What if I followed the character around to see what she’s up to, and she’s up to something believe you me. What if I followed to see what her magic is? How it is affecting the town? Why some of the town is suspicious of her? What about that man in the shop: what’s he up to, or is he only in love with her? What are those “Memory Vases?” What is she doing with the vial of blood or the strand of hair—why is she mixing that into her magic paints? What’s she up to? What’s her story? Let me follow her around until I find out! “Black Moon Cove” . . . why is that bomping me upside my head as a “working title” . . . ?
What if I wrote how I did when I was happy with love and excitement?
What if the novelist’s dilemma is really not a dilemma at all? What if we are in control of our own writing lives? Well, dang me!
Yeah. What if?
Touty shout out of the day (and in the future, I’ll be shouting out lots of people here—not just writers):
Writer Unboxed. A place where writers, editors, agents, and all things writing and writing related are discussed. Go visit. See for yourself. They’re amazingly awesome.