Wednesday, August 7, 2013

7 WOW Wednesday: What It Takes To Be a Writer by Lili Peloquin

My advice to anyone who is serious about wanting to become a writer is going to sound contradictory: be stubborn, stick to your guns, but at the same time, be loose, listen to what (trusted) people are telling you.

It takes a long time for a writer to master his/her craft. Seemingly forever. Years and years. Not only do you have to learn how to write a sentence, how to put a noun and verb together in a pleasing and unexpected way, you also have to develop a narrative sense, i.e. you have to learn how to tell a story in a manner that keeps people tuned in, on the edge of their seats, begging to know what next, what next? You basically have to be crazy to want to write a novel. Like nuts, cracked, looney tunes, cuckoo for cocopuffs.

It’s probably going to take you a year or a couple of years or MORE to produce something readable. You pour endless hours into it, your heart and soul. You’re all by yourself, no friends or colleagues around to commiserate with, and you’re receiving little to no feedback. It’s lonely! Nobody in possession of all his/her marbles would even attempt the task. (Okay, okay, I’m overstating the case but not by much.) To do it, you’ve got be obsessed. It’s vital that you stay single-minded and focused and eyes-on-the-prize. You can’t let anyone tell you that you’d be better served spending your time in another way. You have to be totally tenacious and dedicated. That’s when you NEED to be rigid and hard-headed, when you need to turn off all other voices and listen only to your own.

All right, so let’s say you’ve done that. You’ve ignored the well-meaning advice of your parents and loved ones, holed yourself up in your room or your office for an unseemly length of time, let relationships lapse, your personal hygiene go to hell, and taken care of business. You’ve produced A BOOK! Now what? It’s time for show and tell. (By the way, I’d recommend holding off on showing the book to anyone until you’re finished, or at least as finished as you can be; you can kill a book by exposing it to outside influences too soon. I’ve seen it happen.)

When you reach the stage where you’re ready for another set of eyes to behold your little masterpiece, you must choose carefully. I cannot emphasize this point enough. You want your reader to be someone whose taste you respect and someone who you know will be honest with you. Insincere praise is worse than useless. At best, it wastes your time; at worst it causes you to continue going off merrily in the wrong direction. Let’s say, though, that you’ve avoided that pitfall and have corralled three or four trusted readers (I always recommend several readers rather than just one) and extracted a promise from each to give your book a careful look-over.

Now the hardest part of all: watching your darling get torn to shreds. The reason it’s the hardest part is because the book isn’t just a book to you; it’s EVERYTHING. You’ve likely put so much of yourself into it that you feel totally vulnerable where it’s concerned, like you’re so sensitive you have no skin. When not-nice things are said about it, it’s agony for you. But you’ve got to GET TOUGH. Getting criticized is how you get better. Now, I’m not saying you listen to all criticism. Sometimes a reader can have an irrational response to something in your book. And you have to develop a sense that allows you to know when a reader is having a personal and therefore unreliable reaction. These types of reactions you should dismiss. But if several sensitive and well-intentioned readers tell you the same thing is wrong—for example, that your ending feels forced or that your protagonist is unsympathetic—that’s when you need to listen, painful though it may be, because there’s very probably something to it.

These words of wisdom will only get you so far. To the second draft stage, approximately. But that’s pretty far. Three-quarters of the way there, I’d say. And the same basic principles apply to finding an agent. You persist and persist and persist and when you notice a theme running through the criticism (often when an agent turns you down, he or she will tell you why he/she failed to connect to the manuscript) you address it. It’s all a matter of staying rigid and staying loose, developing an instinct as to when you need to be one or the other.

Good luck and hang tough.

Lili Peloquin




About the Author

Lili Peloquin grew up in New England, where the beginning of summer still reminds her of that moment right before someone tells you a secret. She is the author of The Innocents and its sequel This Side of Jealousy, which releases on August 20th.

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About the Book

Nothing ever came between sisters Alice and Charlie. If by nothing, you mean everything. The sisters haven’t been able to stop fighting since they arrived in Serenity Point two weeks ago. Those two weeks changed their lives. And Serenity Point has changed them.

Friends didn’t. Charlie has a new group of friends and a new life. Jude and Cybill are beautiful, exciting, and dangerously seductive. And though Sasha is proving to be a friend and confidante to Alice, Alice can’t get away from the people, places, and events that mire her in the past.
Boys couldn’t. Alice loves Tommy, but the memory of Camilla, dead and gone, is driving a wedge between them. And Alice’s ex-boyfriend Patrick won’t give up on her, no matter what she says to keep him away. Jude is slowly giving up his bad boy ways for Charlie—but it’s not smooth sailing if Cybill has anything to say about it. And then Nick arrives: Dr. Van Stratten’s former intern seems to know things about last summer— things that Jude and Tommy would rather not be revealed. Alice is determined to find out what.

Their family falling apart never would. While the sisters grapple with the terrible truth about their family, the one-year memorial of Camilla’s death looms. The tension mounts and sparks fly as bright as July Fourth fireworks—and Alice and Charlie team up to find out the truth that everyone seems to be hiding.

Until they got to Serenity Point. Is Camilla their enemy and rival—even six feet under? Or is she their sister, whose memory they have to protect? And what really happened to her that night on the bridge? In a town built on secrets and lies, can the truth stay buried for long?

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7 comments:

  1. The first line says it all. It's too easy to be stubborn and ignore the advice of people who know better. Listen to them. Then decide what you agree with and what you don't (but don't necessarily tell them!).

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  2. So true. A wonderful reality check. If people keep going despite all of this, then they probably deserve to be writers.

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  3. This is so on target, Lili! There are so many things to master about writing a novel. We think that we know because we can read a novel. Heck, how hard can it be? We can put together sentences, and come up with a plot, and kick-a$$ characters, and a universal theme, and each of the elements of a successful book. Maybe it's that easy for a rare few and they can do all that in a year. But for me, the process was agonizing. Not only did I have to put together each of those things individually--I had to learn to put them together in the right balance, and I don't have an ear for that. It came through sheer, grinding, brutal WORK. And I'm still waking up sweating in the middle of the night asking myself if I can repeat it. Which is another thing that comes with the job description, neurosis. As you say, it's a process. :)

    Thanks so much for being here today!

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  4. It's so true that being a writer takes some gumption and for me, lots and lots of dark chocolate :-)

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    1. Ooh, yes ... chocolate most certainly helps!

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  5. It DOES take a tough skin. But in the end it's basically a decision between getting that "ruthless" advice and becoming a better writer because of it, or taking the "insincere praise" and staying exactly where you are. I am meeting a friend tomorrow to critique her work, at her request, and will probably soon be showing her some of mine as well. Hoping to deliver any words of advice in a kind and considerate - but honest - manner.

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  6. Well, I guess I'm cuckoo for cocopuffs. ;-) Lots of good reminders and information in this post. Thanks.

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