Thursday, July 21, 2011

Parenting your novel

A quick post from me today- it's cold and rainy and I'm cuddled up on the couch with my toddler, watching The Lion King and thinking about my novel.

I'm getting back on the revision train after a six month break, and this week I did something I've been avoiding for quite a while- I sat down and re-read the whole thing from start to finish. I've been avoiding this because I've been convinced that there was about zero logical flow to the story as it was, and I thought it would only be painful to face the fact that yet again, I haven't managed to make my story coherent.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was actually quite coherent, and, dare I say, not too bad at all in places. In fact, I cried at the end, and I already knew what was going to happen.

I'm in a very zen place with my parenting at the moment. I'm often telling other parent friends to give themselves a break. We had the roughest start possible to our journey and nearly lost our daughter before we even had a chance to get into the territory that so many parents inhabit- the self-criticism of believing you're not doing it right. Why doesn't my kid eat? I love vegetables, I swore I'd never have one of those little monsters who screams the house down if you dare to suggest a bite of broccoli. I must have done something wrong! Why doesn't my kid sleep? I love sleep! My bed is my best friend. What did I do wrong to set her on this track?

I'm sure all the parents reading this have been there. It's so easy to blame yourself for just about anything that goes wrong- but all you can do is put in your best, and trust that your best is good enough. Everything else is out of your control.

I can accept this with my parenting because I can see my daughter growing up to be a smart, funny, caring little person, and I know we're doing it right, whether or not she thinks broccoli is poison. And yet I don't give myself the same leeway with something else that I hope will one day grow up, go out into the world, and make a difference- my novel.

My plot arcs keep running off on a tangent! Why can't I get them under control? I keep making the same mistakes with my characters- what's the matter with me? I can't ever seem to get this thing straight enough to finish it. Maybe I don't have what it takes.

If I put the two things up against each other, I can see the similarities. We care deeply about our kids, and we care deeply about our novels- we have to. Our stories come from our deepest psyche; they represent our thoughts, feelings and views on the world. We want them to be just right. We're convinced that we're the only ones who can make it so. And yet the same advice applies- we can only do the best we can do. Often other things will influence those stories before they get out there- agents, editors, publishers. It's not always all down to us.

The good difference in writing is, we get an extra opportunity at the end to shape and reshape- to go back to what we've written in all its imperfection, and to tweak it into something better- something closer to our original vision.

In the meantime, I'm enjoying the fact that looking at my novel with new eyes shows me I've done a better job than my self-criticism allowed me to see before. Now that I've got a better view of the bigger picture from my time away from it, I'm full of renewed enthusiasm to shape it into what I'm actually looking for in a story.


  1. I always have to put it away and take a break before I go cross eyed.

  2. Reshaping is one of my favourite bits of writing a novel. I find the inherent hope very satisfying, lol.

    Also, if I keep my book up late, it isn't cranky the next morning :P

  3. I think it's amazing how there are these two conflicting beliefs that we have to struggle with: one, that since our novel comes from us, we must have complete control over it and take 100% ownership for the end product; two, that we have to also let go and allow intuition to take over instead of holding those reins so tightly.

    I believe both these things equally, even though I think they might be contradictory. It's funny, because when I look at my revised scenes versus my first drafts, the exact words that pop into my head are "Oh, that grew up nicely, didn't it?" or "Oh, this one still has some growing up to do - ick." [g]

    I think it's important to have faith in the process. Just because one character (or child [g]) is a little vegetable-refusing heathen at present, doesn't mean they'll stay that way - but you have to give yourself permission to let them grow and develop. You can hold those reins so tightly as to choke them to death, and then they don't go anywhere at all.

    re: plot arcs running off on a tangent - you know, I think tangents are the best. [g] To bring it back to boring would life be if we only walked on the straight and narrow? Tangents in my own life have been some of the most mindblowing, life-altering experiences I've had. They've rounded my character, and they'd do the same for book characters too, I think. [g]

  4. That tension between control and letting go does my head in some days, both with my book and the kids. Some days I can balance the conflict, some days I can't, and other days I send the whole darn lot - book included - to time out. (g)

    Great to hear you're back into revisions, Claire. Good luck!

  5. Brilliant post, Claire. Glad to hear you're jumping back in - has it really been six months? Reading your post makes me a teeny bit less scared to print out my story - free of square brackets by the end of the week, I hope! - and reread it from start to finish...