Saturday, January 23, 2010

Would you read this?

Discussions around the blogosphere that have really heated up have been about the whole plotting v. pantsing debate, and the whole divide over self-publishing. And I think that begs a question that I have been thinking about for a very long time.

Do you write for yourself or for publication? Is it one and the same to you? I think I write thngs that are difficult to categorize, that deal with a lot of overlap in terms of genre. And I remember a quote that goes something along the lines of write first for yourself, then for a small, select group of your friends; and if you are any good, write for money.

Now I've butchered that quote terribly, but you get the drift. Do you agree? Because no matter what publishing models look like in the future, the market will eventually decide what it will read.

Following that train of thought, here is a snippet of prologue that I wrote a very long time ago that I've recently resurrected. There's about another 200 or so pages following this in the novel, and I'm trying to decide what to do with it.

Would you read this? Would it make you want to read more?
OK. This is weird. Really, really strange. I’m actually having difficulty forming consecutive, coherent thoughts. Forget about getting them expressed. Odd, that, since it’s what I do for a living. Form consecutive, coherent thoughts and express them. I mean, aren’t I supposed to be profound and witty here in my observations?

Not to disappoint or anything, but I’m sitting here staring at a blank screen feeling neither. Kinda like staring a blank piece of paper and feeling writer’s block. But that’s another story. Maybe next time.

Bleary eyed I stared at the monitor. I had been on-line for a couple of hours now, cleaning out inboxes, visiting websites, doing the IM thing for a while, and glaring at the almost empty screen demanding words from me.

The house was dark and quiet, my favorite time of the day. It let me be alone with my thoughts. Scattershot for sure, most had fled long ago, presumably in search of nicer digs. The sad ones that had stayed now centered on settling into the everyday flow of the no longer new school year.

The signs were there and they were crystal. We were coming to the end of the honeymoon. The kids had settled into their classes and their schedules, and were more than comfortable enough with their teachers to start giving attitude.

Headed into the longest stretch of the year, we wouldn’t see a day off until Thanksgiving, which seemed a lifetime away. Wrecked as I’d been at the end of last year, I had been tied up in knots all summer dreading the start of this year.

Burned out, vacation had done nothing to help me. There was no gas in the tank; I wasn’t even running on fumes. And as bad as last year had been, I felt more unable to deal with my new students or anything else this early in the year than I had ever felt at any time in my professional career.

I had nothing to base that assessment on other than gut feeling. That didn’t make me feel any better.

But after all these years, one thing I knew for certain was that I could walk into any first grade classroom and tell you for sure who would not be making it through school successfully. The last time we got a chance to hook these kids into investing in school as an option for success was ninth grade. After that, if we didn’t get them, they were gone.

Dropped out, drugged up, pregnant, in jail, or dead.

And I got them in ninth grade.

God, I was tired. It was time to go to bed. I had to get up in three and a half hours. Giving it up, I hit delete and started to shut down.


  1. Well, to answer your first questions first --
    I write for myself with an eye toward publicaton. That is my goal. Where I am right now in my life, my mid-life crisis, I'm writing for the money. Which I know is infestisimal but I started as a dishwasher in the restaurant industry and made it to executive chef at a posh New England inn. I'm not afraid of hard work, dedication to my craft, long nights, and little pay.

    To answer your second question -- I don't know. I'm used to seeing your broad brush strokes and amazing colors. This snippet seems out of character for you, although I am assuming it is a snippet from your real life.

    (I, too, was a teacher for a very short while and although it was probably a wise career choice - regular pay, benefits, school vacations - I chose not to follow it for exactly the reasons you state.)

    To be truthful, I probably would read more, just to see what decisions you/she make. Although it seems kind of sad, depressing, lonely. And I'm not a big fan of sad.

  2. Good question...Right now, I'm writing with an audience in mind. Would I love to sell a book? Yes! But my first goal is to complete a manuscript. And as I work toward that goal, I'm keeping my author's objective trained on what a reader would enjoy reading. Or rather, I'm writing what I'd enjoy reading.

    As for the excerpt of your work you posted, I think the premise I'm hearing behind the words is very good. In later drafts I suggest bringing the narrator more out into the light, for example, I was picturing a mother instead of a teacher when she says "the kids had settled into the school year." But yes, I would read on :)

    Great post that's gotten me thinking!

  3. Hi, PW.

    I think that's a great place for you to be. You know where you are, where you come from, and where you want to be. You also know what's required to get you there and you're willing to invest in that.

    I'm used to seeing your broad brush strokes and amazing colors.

    It's funny to see you say that. What you see from me as a writer today is very different from the writer I was writing this snippet. I worked hard and long cutting down verbiage, teaching myself to make better, stronger word/verb choices, and on a conscience level changing my style and tone of writing.

    So when I look back at this it not only feels out of character for me, but really no longer who I even am as a writer. It's feels passive in the extreme and seems to drag without end, both are sins and a complete no-no in writing.

    FWIW the character you see in this is a combination of hundreds of teachers I have known over the course of my career. Would it make a difference to you to know that she is a loving/loved wife, mother, sister, friend even if the story is one that's overall sad?

    I really want to thank you so much for your honest response here. I think I am a much darker writer than you are or like to read, so I'm glad to know you'd been willing to read on to see what choices are made.

  4. Hi, Nicole.

    Or rather, I'm writing what I'd enjoy reading.

    I think that’s a great way of looking at this. I think we should write what we enjoy, what we are passionate about, what we are excited to share. And I think everything shakes out from there.

    Thank you for letting me know you’d read on. And that the premise works for you. The narrator is indeed front and center in this, which is one of the things that worries me. It’s a first person piece of work, and first person narratives seem to be frowned upon in published work. So that seems to be the first choice I made that’s a little problematic to me.

    And yes, you’re right. Our heroine is indeed a wife, mother, friend, sister along with being a teacher by vocation.

    Good luck with your manuscript. It sounds like you’ve got a goal and you’re off to a great start.

  5. Agreed, it's different from what I've learned to expect from you, but not - as you defined it - 'passive': it's quietly introspective and while it's a change from your usual 'darkness' it piqued my curiosity enough that I'd like to know more, I'd want to see where this goes.

    You say this is not what you feel you are *now* as a writer, but could the story be told with the expressive means you have evolved into?

    If so I'd like to read it.

    As for the opening question, you know that writing is a recent discovery for me - one that still surprises me to no end, so I guess that writing to test myself and see where this takes me can be enough, for now.

  6. Well, I'm glad you think enough of this to have it pique interest. :)

    And I've been thinking about maybe seeing what this would look like rewritten or revised. I'm not sure I could make it better, but it might be worth a look.

    I'm trying to figure out at this point if it would be better to rewrite and revise what I have for this, or to simply chuck it and start over.

    Either way it's a massive rewrite I'd be undertaking trying to get this updated and finished.

  7. Well...

    The first question is easiest. At the moment, I write for myself, and the few people who read the stuff I write. I'd like to write for publication sometime but I haven't even figured out where I'd begin.

    As for the second part, would you read this? Well, I would because I want to see where you go with the story, what other characters come into play--that sort of thing.

    As for "sounding like you"--I'm a bad judge because I've read a lot of your stuff so it's much easier for me to say that it sounds like you, to a point.

    My thought on stories in general is that they should not sound like me. I get that many writers have a certain way of telling a story--I see that here, especially with the description of setting and how it creates mood. I think that's a strong point of yours. But this sounds like a more present day, modern story than the things I usually see from you, taking place here, today, so it does sound different from your other stuff.

    Wow, not sure that answered a question or not!

  8. Yeah, you did. :)

    What I meant when I asked if it sounded like me was 'did it sound like me the writer?' And maybe it does more than I first thought when I dragged it out of the files.

    I'm thinking more positively that I can maybe salvage this, even if it does end up being something different that my other work.

    So that's a good thing.

    And btw, I agree with you that stories should not sound like me. :)

  9. Sarah, this was such an interesting post, that I thought about it all last night.

    I'm used to seeing your broad brushstrokes and amazing colors.

    That was the thing that struck me as I read this snippet. There was no color. The piece about the guy with the body, he was vivid red, the one with the girl in the clinic, deep purple, the other girl going home, light greenish-blue. This, this was pretty much black and white. No color no nothing, not even a hint of grey.

    Which is why I was on the fence about reading more. I was kind of hoping at the end there would be one more sentence, phrase, something to give HER some hope, something, to make her not seem so damn depressed. Not so black. Pink maybe.

    I hear you though about the composite -- my mother was a teacher for 35 years. I don't know how you, or she did/do it. Like you said, you only get one shot to grab those kids and if you don't... which I is I quit after a year.

    And I can see where you could revise it, you've obviously grown exponetially as a writer. You could make this a rainbow. Probably a neon flashing rainbow with a disco ball for emphasis.

    Sorry for the rambling but I just had to tell you. It kept me up last night.

  10. Sorry for the rambling but I just had to tell you. It kept me up last night.

    Please don’t apologize for rambling. I’m thrilled you thought this worth thinking about.

    I'm used to seeing your broad brushstrokes and amazing colors.

    Thank you so much for the kind words. They mean a lot to me.

    I think you’re right. There is no color here. And I think that’s part of my rethinking whether I want to commit myself to the story. Because, honestly? The story I see will not be one bursting with color. I think the best we can hope for here is shades of grey.

    There might be the occasional burst of color, but for the most part I think the lack of it is a function of the story itself and not necessarily of the writing. It’s a function of tone that comes from the intersection of plot and theme and character and setting. And while I love The Road it is arguably a difficult, brutal read.

    So thank you for thinking I’ve grown as a writer, but even revised the brushstrokes here will be muted shades of grey. And that means I have to continue to think about whether or not I invest in revision.

  11. My first thought was, "Yes! She's working on it again!" Because I still want to know how it ends, gray or not. If I remember correctly, you left off the bit about what she was doing--blogging/journaling--and that was a good frame as well as a little spark of something outside. If it wasn't color, it was at least a little texture to her life.

    While it still sounds like "you, the writer," it is an earlier you. You've got more polish now, and it would be worthwhile to do the heavy lifting. Think about doing the POV-skew that you do so well, mixing second and first tenses, past and present.

    As for the gray, it's a zone you work in well.

    And I absolutely hated The Road because of the ending.

  12. My first thought when I opened up the file again was, "Are you serious?" Followed by, "What do you think you're doing?"

    And you're right, there is the blogging/journaling structure that gives us a look at something else. I still think that works well.

    I'm not averse to heavy-lifting, it's more the thought that I don't have the strength to do this right now. The massive rewrite just seems to stretch out forever.

    I thought about the whole POV thing and mixing the tenses. That is a definite possibility. I'm just not sure how or how much that would impact the tone of the whole thing.

    As for grey, yeah,I seem to enjoy wallowing in it.

    As for The Road, well, yeah. I know that. :)