This is a quote from an accomplished, amazing, well-seasoned author and teacher, Anne Lamott. The quote sounds like marital advice, and I guess it is in a way. After all, I have been married to this novel for the past 10 years, and while there have been plenty of times I’ve wanted to quit and throw the damn thing out, I always come back for more with a deeper commitment to make it work. I just can’t let go, so I know that what Elizabeth Gilbert states in one of my all-time favorite writing books, Big Magic, is true: Nora’s story won’t let go of me either.
Like Lamott and Gilbert, I know I write because I have to make sense and create a structure for what is swirling around in my head. I think that’s why I love writing Chick Lit so much because some of my characters have no problem saying what they want to say to the person who needs to hear it. Yet, while it makes for a satisfying scene, it makes for an awkward state in real life. In one of my favorite movies, You’ve Got Mail, Tom Hanks’ character says, “I must warn you that when you finally have the pleasure of saying the thing you mean to say at the moment you mean to say it, remorse inevitably follows.”
Writing stinging, clever, truthful dialogue is so liberating! Some of my characters must speak this way so conflict will ensue, or I won’t have much of a story! However, I know what Nora Ephron was getting at in that movie. Less-than-effective communication happens in real life. Therefore, effective communication is not easy, but it’s necessary. How many times have we heard ourselves or someone else gripe about a text or an email received where the sender’s intention seems nebulous or snarky? How many times do we read a controversial FB post that belongs on a blog or an editorial page? Aren’t we all trying to figure it out? Isn’t it why we read? Isn’t it why we talk? Isn’t why we write?
Honest, clear communication takes time; one doesn’t need to be talented. One needs only to take the time to play with a stream of words until they come together and form a flowing, mighty river that forges ahead with truth that will transform. Sometimes what we write doesn’t do this. It doesn’t enlighten or elevate. It cuts down or annihilates.
I think what we forget is once we press the send key, we are publishing our words to an audience. Those words will ultimately inform, touch, entertain or wound a single person or an entire demographic. They are now out there, and they can never be retrieved. Yes, a document or a post can be deleted, but even trash can be recycled. Words have power, and we must make sure we use them wisely.
This is what is meant by a writer’s truth. It can be messy and uncomfortable, but it’s why writer’s write. I know I am constantly trying to understand my own truth; some subject or theme is swirling around in my head that needs to be explored. Hence, as an author, I will explore it here through the writing of my blog, or through the depiction of a character’s escapade in the form of a scene in my book. I am ultimately trying to create order in my world, and sometimes it’s easier by creating an alternate place where I can place characters in awkward situations that mirror life, and see how he/she handles them. It’s fun, for as I watch the conflict play out on the page, I am figuring it out for myself as well.
This is why I vehemently disagree with critics who think Chick Lit is a trivial genre! Through funny situations, a writer is able to a tackle a wide-range of topics and articulate her thoughts about them through a character’s actions, thoughts, and dialogue. In Chick Lit, characters must make mistakes and mess up all the time, for inevitably the characters will learn from their mistakes and grow into better people. Not perfect people–better, dynamic people. They don’t stay stagnate. If they do, then the writer has failed to articulate the message trying to be conveyed through the plot of the story. The characters get down and dirty, but they ultimately clean themselves up and move forward. My job is to give my reader’s a satisfying experience, so my words must ring true, or they will put my novel down and never pick it up.
So to that end, this week, I completed the daunting task of printing out my novel as it stands now. This is the first time I have ever actually printed out the whole 255 pages, and I have to tell you I was initially overwhelmed. Like my students, going back and making sense of the whole thing made my stomach upset. I had to walk away and regroup. I have to remember this feeling when I return to my classroom. Ugh, I am forever reminding them every chance I get that writing is rewriting. There is no such thing as one-and-done, but I must confess when I approached the stack of pages, I wanted there to be.
Once I started rereading it, I felt better. Since as a pantser I just launched into writing it all those many years ago without a plan, I am now in the process of cleaning up my mess by restructuring how I present the characters and the plot. Since I have done an extensive backstory on each of my main characters, I now understand their intentions much more. Therefore, I clearly see the scenes in my story I must delete and the scenes I must add to make the plot and a character’s motivation for doing something clearer to the reader. I might have done it backwards, but I am making sense of my truth and ultimately Nora’s story, so it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
Moreover, the theme of my novel has become clearer to me. I now know the message or the truth I want my novel to convey, and it has much to do with the inherent need to find one’s purpose in life no matter how old he/she may be. It also has to do with creating the family one wants by choosing to love and embrace those who may not be related by blood but who generously love us with their full hearts. It also explores the restrictive expectations we often place on those we claim to love. As I said before, the human condition fascinates and frustrates me. Hence, all of these issues have found their way into my novel, and as the writer, I get to explore them through my characters. Again, it’s a way to my truth north!
In closing, I must reiterate again that writing this blog is more for me than for you, but I thank you for reading it!!! By publishing with readers in mind, it forces me to do all the things I am trying to do in my novel: make sense of this crazy, unpredictable world of which I am a part, and to convey my truth about it as clearly and effectively as I can through my words. I come here to make sense of what I am doing there–in Nora’s Chick Lit world.
Each time I write my blog or I work on my novel, I feel an incredible sense of accomplishment for showing up and doing it! I also feel uplifted and unburdened, and I am happier even when my writing isn’t flowing. I just feel that I fulfilled my purpose for that day. As Ann Lamott says in the final chapter of Bird by Bird, “Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious.[…] Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.”
I am, so I gotta go! Thanks for checking in with me, and I’ll be back when I have more insights to share about my writing journey as I continue to uncover Nora’s truth as well as my own!