Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More on The Writer's Life

One of the key components necessary for being a fiction writer is, of course, an imagination. I suppose one could write fiction without one. I've encountered a few authors in my lifetime of reading who might fit that description. However, it's pretty darn difficult, and I am not one to choose such difficult paths, so I am very happy to have been blessed with this imagination of mine.

The only thing is (and I know I shouldn't be such a whiner, be so picky, so you don't need to remind me), I'm pretty sure I would have been perfectly content with a mere active imagination as opposed to this overactive one that I've got. "Active" is good. "Overactive" is not. "Active" is what drives plots, what makes writing fun, what encourages a writer to consider various options and scenarios, what allows a writer to see other worlds so clearly. "Overactive" is what can paralyze a writer, because, you see, what creates that Wonderful World full of characters, the world that draws in the reader -- a fully-imagined, believable one -- is also what makes a Not-So-Wonderful World, one that co-exists (and sometimes seems to have its mind on conquering it) with Wonderful World in this universe known as The Writer's Brain. Here's a glimpse of Not-So-Wonderful World:

The Writer has just finished chapter three of The Novel, and chapter four is well on its way. She is busy fixing lunch, content in the fact that the writing is coming along well. She is busy composing a cover letter in her head. The cover letter is being written to Dream Publisher (she has already looked up submission guidelines online, despite the fact she will have nothing to submit before next year).

In this Not-So-Wonderful World that The Writer is visiting while spreading mayonnaise on whole wheat toast and topping it with avocado and onion slices, Dream Publisher, the very first one she approaches, loves her novel (or maybe it's just the brilliant cover letter she's written. No problem. Whatever works). Not only does she get a contract for it, but she also gets a contract for the next novel in the series, which she has already begun to write.

All this is fine and dandy until the critics come marching into Not-So-Wonderful World. The Writer finds herself reading the first reviewer's disparaging remarks:

"The author may have been under the impression that she was creating a hilarious cast of characters, but with so many of them and with such poor characterization, this reader at least, found it difficult to distinguish one from the other, even the males from the females. Spend your money elsewhere this summer."

That's just the beginning. Review after review follows (this book receives more reviews than any other in the history of publishing). Dream Publisher begins to wonder how to get out of that second contract as everyone reads on:

"The author seems to be striving to be the new Armistead Maupin. I've got news for her: Armistead Maupin she ain't."

"The author seems to be confused as to whether or not she is writing farce or tragedy. You may find yourself confused as well, alternately laughing out loud and weeping, but only over the sentence construction that rivals your favorite third-grader's." (This from an author The Writer has never thought could write his way out of third grade.)

"Let us take a little tour of Laurel Ridge, VA, an unbelievable town full of unbelievable, stereotypical characters engaging in antics that even such characters as these just, well, wouldn't. On second thought, let's go elsewhere this year."

"This reader was appalled and offended by the sexualization of a fourteen-year-old child. As if we don't see enough of this trash on television every day. What's next: the sexual lives of toddlers?" (Yes, it's in Ladies Home Journal, and the reviewer is completely misguided, but still...)

As you can see, this is not exactly a pleasant visit for The Writer. She's wondering if she might not encourage Wonderful World to engage in a little invasion (has she heard rumors about WMDs in Not-So-Wonderful World?) possibly resulting in annihilation of the place. I've got another idea, though, a peaceful solution. Dear gods, goddesses, saints, and anyone else who can help, please send me The World's Best Editor.


Anonymous said...

Don't you ever imagine the reviews that say 'Laugh out loud funny - the book everyone should read this summer'?

litlove said...

I don't want to count the number of nice daydreams that have somehow ended up in picturing my own funeral. The urge to catastrophise is powerful and BAD. Tell it to go away. And all those snarky reviews are written mostly to make the journalist in question think better of him/herself, and are not to be believed in any case. Try and picture all those other readers out there saying, yeah right, I wouldn't want to read what this smarmy git liked anyway.

Emily Barton said...

Ms. Musings, why no. That critic must live in Super Wonderful World. Oh, wait a minute, that's right here in Book Blogger Land. The Writer will try to focus all her visits here from now on.

Litlove, you're right: snarky reviews are always about the reviewers and rarely about the books. I will focus on lovely readers, like the ones who all faithfully read my blog and friends who have been begging me to write a novel for years (and shoot any thought that sneaks in to try to tell me you're all going to be disappointed).

Stefanie said...

I dunno, maybe my imagination isn't active enough, but I can't even begin to imagine those negative reviews for your lovely novel.

You know I did a series of writing exercises once that involved naming and creating a character sketch of my "inner critic" and then spending time in dialog with the critic (mine's name is Zelma and is she ever a perfectionist witch with a withering sneer!). It all comes down to negotiating with your critic (or critics since it seems you have a whole cast of them) about when they have the right to talk and when they don't and to empower you to tell them to shut the heck up. It worked surprisingly well.

Nigel Patel said...

Of late I've been proof listening to a stack of unsolicited CDs and I'm so torn about respecting the craft in some band trying to sound just like The Germs and reminding them (Not that they can see my review) that The Germs already did this. Thirty years ago.

I don't think I can be mean enough to be a real critic.

Emily Barton said...

Stef, that sounds like an excellent exercise. I might try it.

Nigel, if I ever get published, will you please read and review my book?

Susan said...

You and I are related!!! Certainly our inner critics are. Mine loves to wait until I've written something, and then starts saying "It's been done before," and lately, that dread word 'plaigerism' (or its lowly third cousin, 'similar/plot,characters and setting' to everything else ever written!) so I feel completely unoriginal and can't remember what I was trying to write in the first place! Thus my current year-long writer's block. I think WMD in that critic's world is a great idea.

You, on the other hand, please hurry up and finish so we can read it!! I know it will be good - and remember that we can't please everyone, writing. But if we write the story (not to please anyone, but the story as it is, the bones of it as Stephen King says), someone out there will come along who gets it, and likes it.

I like that Stephanie names her inner critic. Mine is a horrible old judge from Plymouth times, very scary and almost hopeless to please....

Emily Barton said...

Susan, oooo, the horrible old judge sounds awful. Let's go find those WMDs. Meanwhile, my novel, when it's finally done absolutely won't be any better than anything you would write. I promise. So, get back to work yourself, because I want to read your stuff as much as you want to read mine.