Monday, March 5, 2012

ON WRITER’S BLOCK, BOOZE, AND THE QUESTION OF AUTHENTICITY

This past weekend, I found myself discussing “writer’s block” with a group of book people. Personally, I do not struggle with “the block" because writing is my job. So...


I accept that there are fallow periods where I don’t write anything epic, or even respectably mediocre.  Bad writing is part of the process, part of my job, so long as I don't send it to my agent or editor.

My husband is not allowed to wake up and say, “Gee, I don’t feel that lawyer vibe right now. I’ve got Lawyer’s Block. I’m just gonna put my head back on the pillow, not go to the office, eat chocolate for lunch and maybe cry a little.” (BTW, thanks, hubs, for working so hard every day and still stopping at Safeway for milk on your way home and then singing our littlest one to sleep). Job = no block allowed.

Let's be clear. While I'm good with sitting down every day and working on stories, I still have my share of anxiety. My self-editing inner critic is called MARKETING ME. That’s where the drinking comes in. NO, it’s not what you think. Thanks, though, for letting yourself go straight to THAT place :)

In my first novel, AUDITION, the main character has sex with a not-so-good guy, and a friend with an eating disorder. It’s not exactly a BOOK THAT EVERY PARENT GROUP WILL LOVE. While working on my next manuscript, I can’t deny that I wished my character hadn’t led me to, well, wine bottles. MARKETING ME begged, “Couldn’t we just skip the controversial stuff and write a nice little story that didn’t require a massive debate as to whether it should be 12-, 13- or 14- and up?”

Despite the pit in my stomach, I managed to give MARKETING ME a good, bitchy glare. When I wrote AUDITION, I know that I followed my character with my heart—I didn’t shy away from where I felt Sara needed to go. I’ve tried to be equally honest in the new book. Do I wish that my work was a little more Y and a little less A? Do I wish I wrote happy mainstream stuff with thoughtful, rule-abiding teens who engage only in occasional quick kisses that don’t get anybody pissed? Yeah, I wish those were the stories I wanted to tell. BUT…

Last week I read a book that chickened out. The author checked the boxes in terms of educational content and social issues but never let the characters escape their lasso of “THIS IS A MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL” to see where they’d truly to go. I found the book implausible and, well, dull because the kid characters acted like FORMULAS not ACTUAL people. (NO, I won’t tell you the title. I don’t name books that really miss the mark and I’m not starting now. I will say that I’m betting the book does okay—not great, mind you, but probably better than mine.) 

I just can't do that.
I don't want to do that.
Even if I have to do ongoing battle with MARKETING ME.
Even if it changes the shape of my writing career.

Do you struggle with an inner critic like MARKETING ME? Tell me your story.

PS I am also not averse to recommendations for good cabernets ;)
PPS I wish I could draw a little cartoon of Marketing Me. Actually, I just wish I could draw.

4 comments:

Angelina C. Hansen said...

My inner critic goes on and on about plausibility. "But could that have really happened?" And then I argue back. "But it's FICTION!" Inner critic scoffs. "Doesn't matter. Still has to be plausible."

Le sigh. Pass me the bottle.

Faith Pray said...

Stasia, I loved this post. It seems so crazy to have to put on marketing glasses as a writer, to look at your soul sweat and figure out if it will sell to the right target audience. Bewildering. But, we have to write the stories that are in us, don't we?
Thanks for the great post.

Sly Wit said...

You had me at booze. In fact, I highly recommend a research trip to Napa. I don't suppose your character also likes spa treatments, does s/he?

Stasia said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Angie and Faith. The inner critic is such a meanie, huh? Or maybe it's really the "outer critic?"
And, Sly, my character does, in fact, dig the pedicure... Just sayin'