Tag: book writing

Writing Style

I haven’t taken a photograph in almost a month.  I’m running out of images to use and they are getting less and less related to the actual posts they accompany.

I have spent a week considering what my writing style is.  My sister asked me if it’s important that it have a label.  I absolutely think that when you get to the point, as a writer, that you are determined to get your work in print, you must know what your style is in order to sell it.  No one will be impressed if you say “My style is undefinable”.  It is the great vanity of creative people to believe their work defies all description or labeling.

I am told that having an enormous creative crisis at this point in my project is perfectly normal.  I finished writing the second draft and promptly realized I am a total hack writer with no definable style and no consistency or true gift.  Nothing but a loser and a waste of time.  It’s been pretty spectacular.  I’ve actually been crying about it when no one’s looking.

I realize that I’m letting you know just how pathetic I’ve been behaving over this.  I’ve just been writing in such a vacuum and I am the only one to read my book and judge if the efforts have been worthwhile and I am not able to judge this.  It’s like asking me to say if I made a good enough child, to judge if I might have been better off sticking with cats.

Here’s what really worries me: if I’m to judge by Cricket and Grey what my writing style is I have to say it has multiple personality disorder.  I needed to write in both first and third person.  I struggled with that for a long time when I first started writing it.  It was agonizing until I simply accepted that I needed to write in both perspectives and got on with it.

It’s about seeing in and seeing out.

Do I need both because I’m not skilled enough to pick one and make it work?  Good question.

The other thing is that the style is both light and playful like a Georgette Heyer novel and then shifts to a grainy disturbing darkness full of nightmare and evil and gritty naked truth.

It’s like trying to blend Pride and Prejudice with The Road.

Doesn’t it seem like these are two completely incompatible styles?  So how can my style be a mix of the two?

Yet it is.  Alternating constantly between the two, rather than blending.

Everyone kept saying to step away from the second draft for a while.  My friend Angela suggested I work on some other writing project while letting the second draft breath.  So finally I opened up and dusted off the Jane Doe book I’d shoved under the bed.

There it was again.  First person and third person.  Only I never agonized over it with Jane Doe because I went on instinct alone.  No planning, no outlines, and no plot work (which explains how I got to 108, 000 words and couldn’t possibly end it and had to stash it somewhere to sleep for a while), I went with my instinct.  I just wrote like a maniac.  I wrote those hundred thousand words in less than three months.  It took me over a year to do the same with Cricket and Grey.

I spent much of yesterday rereading Jane Doe.  I was surprised by how much I like it.  How worthy the bones of it are.  The plot is a disaster and huge aspects of it need reworking but there is work there I can be proud of.

My style is as steady in it’s duality as my own personality is.  It also permeates my life, my blog writing, and my head.  To recognize it offered at least the relief of finally seeing that I do have a style.

What haunts me now is how on earth my style will ever get published?  When you pick up a book you expect to be carried along in a smooth and seamless narrative that sustains a specific mood.  There is no part of The Road that is irreverent or playful or light hearted.  Likewise there is no part of Pride and Prejudice that falters from the light social satirical mood, there are no cannibals or serial killers lurking in the bushes at Longbourn and even if there were they’d be fodder for satire as well.

My style is an unblended mix of dark and light.  Harsh and gentle.

My style is likely to give you mood whiplash.

There is the breezy irreverent mood that skims through you like a pretty little boat and then just as you’re relaxed into this kind and quirky place I take you down to hell where your eyes are gouged out by my personal demons, where I rip you to pieces with knives and there is a lot of blood.

Who the hell wants to take that trip for 300 pages?

Aside from me, I mean.  It’s the only trip I know and I’m comfortable with extreme contrasts.  It’s the only trip I’m capable of taking anyone on.  I do it all the time in my blog.  There is the visceral rich writing that is thick with images and stark with violence and then there’s all the joking about penises and Republicans.  My blog is all high contrasts.  There are two moods, two personalities in constant alternation.

Inside versus outside.

Exactly like what I show the world versus the hell in my head.

Exactly how I make light of absolutely everything and just as everyone is enjoying the breezy conversation I dump your heart full of anger, abuse, pessimism, death, and hopelessness.

I do it fast.  I never know exactly when the mood will switch but I doubt there’s a friend alive who hasn’t kind of wished I wouldn’t do that.

My writing style is:

1.  Dual points of view in the same story/piece.

2.  Alternates constantly between rich and dark with breezy and sweet.

3.  Violence is a constant theme.

I still don’t know how to succinctly label the style as I don’t think there’s a whole lot of precedence for it.  There may be a really good reason for that.  Which is what terrifies me.

Having writing crisis’ serve a purpose.  I see what my style is very clearly now.  I just have to convince myself that I can write well enough to make it work, to make people want to go on my trip.

In truth I am completely overwhelmed by how much work it takes to make a novel good enough to print.  I keep telling myself it doesn’t have to be a work of fucking art because I want to be a career novelist, not necessarily a nobel prize winner.  I just want to write.  It doesn’t have to be the most amazing thing ever.  I don’t have to put every single thing I’ve got into one story.

But I do.  It is unacceptable to me to write anything mediocre.  It is unacceptable to me to write anything less than the best I have in me.

How many years will it take me to make Cricket and Grey good enough?

How long will my family, friends, and other responsibilities wait for me to be completely present again?  Writing a worthy novel takes so much more out of you than you ever think it can.  It’s exhilarating and draining simultaneously.

If I was already published, if I already had a novel out there that was reasonably successful I know my family would not grow too impatient, but how long can they sustain patience for this endless project with no results, no reward, no success.

My writer friend Angela asked me if I’d still be writing novels even if I never got published.  I said yes.  I can’t stop this trip now.  I bought the ticket when I was ten and I’m not getting off now that I finally caught the damn train.  But if I never got published I would feel sad if I looked back and found I’d made a sacrifice of my family just to write for myself.  My garden is full of blackberry and choked with quack-grass for this writing.  You can’t write gently here and there, snatching a spare moment when one presents itself if you want to make a story come to life.  It requires you to bury yourself in it, spend shocking amounts of time ignoring absolutely everything else around you.

So if I’m not good enough to get published then it would be really nice to know that now and spare the rest of my life such criminal neglect.

My gut tells me I’m good enough.  My gut tells me that even if I’m an uncomfortable writer to read, even if my style of writing gives readers mood whiplash, it’s at least honest.  It’s the interior and the exterior in one place.  It is the reality: we require efforts at buoyancy and light in order to swallow the swords of hell without dying.  My gut tells me that my style might not be comfortable but it reflects a truth that people will understand because it reflects the order of the universe:

Dark and Light.  Yin and Yang.  Good and Evil.  Virgin and Whore.  God and Satan.  Life and Death.  Summer and Winter.  Men and Women.  Black and White.  Private and Public.  Innocence and Guilt.  Ugly and Beautiful.  Night and Day.  Truth and Lies.

I will find a way to describe this style in one small sentence or phrase.

For my own process I am going to publish a few excerpts from both Jane Doe and from Cricket and Grey that illustrate this style.  If anyone wants to weigh in and describe how they perceive my writing style I welcome it, however, this is an exercise for myself mostly so that I may concentrate on distilling my understanding of my own style so that I can go to a book agent and say “When you read my book THIS is what you’re getting.”

I have to thank all my family and friends who have patiently been coaching me out of this awful crisis.  I have been sinking pretty far this week.  Part of this is no doubt compounded by the cough and the sore throat and the stupid calf muscle.  Being sick is not easy on a crisis already in progress.

I am climbing out of my hole.

There’s much work to be done.

Only Half Engaged

I can’t be completely in this world while making an entire new one in my head.  My family needs me and I float somewhere just slightly out of reach because I am mapping, breathing, and thinking in a different rhythm.  I am listening to a different season, seeing a different light, and feeling life with a borrowed heart.

I am only half engaged because there is a story driving through me at breakneck speed, even though today I sat down to Chapter Eighteen, the second to the last one, and nothing would come, it felt like a charcoal silence.

Until I wrote in nightmare language.  A language I’ve always spoken.  Still, it rushes through my head and then crashes onto the page like an asteroid.  I spend time cleaning up the detritus and picking through the remains.  Which always turn out to be mine.

I’d like to remember this time.  Life is mad chaos around me.  My mother moved in with us today, we still have no idea if we’ll get to keep living here, my son is red flagging himself for help so that we spent two hours at the psychologist’s office, and I’m working a paid job and trying to parent, to avoid having the department of health and human services called on me, taking in neglected stray children, and I’m sitting on the last two chapters of the first novel I’ve ever gotten so far with.  I’m sitting on my life’s ambition, a powder keg of expectation and effort.

I want to remember how impossible getting to this point has been and yet how if you just keep doing it, keep sitting down at the desk, even if you have to stare at a blank page for an hour, it will come because it has to come.  Scratch at small words, timid brushes against the wall, keep pushing and it will burst through like a broke dam.

Have you any idea how many hundreds of times I’ve sat down to write a novel, how many times I felt it trying to break through the surface and then got in my own way?  I kept coming back to the desk, to the paper, the pens, the typewriter, the journals, the computer.  For thirty one years I’ve been sitting down to this because I had to.  The other stuff I did I did because it’s more lucrative and in some ways more fun.  The designing is a passion and a joy and pays a lot better in general than most authors can expect to make.

That’s not what I’m here to say, to record, to remember.  I get lost in details.  I’m on Chapter Eighteen and it’s coming so slowly though it explodes in my head.  It will need so much polishing and finishing and fixing, but I am so close to my own purpose my hair is catching on fire.

I can’t sleep, I need rest but I also need to get through this, get to this, get behind this.

I know that the hardest part is yet to come.  Selling it.  Selling myself.  Pitching.  I know that it would be classic to try to sell this one for years and end up selling the next project instead.  Books, decent books, take a tremendous amount of energy to write, a great deal of time, I am here to tell you that the better the book you’re reading the more work it took and as you hold that 300 page book in your hand you should know that it takes a minimum of two years to produce it.

I have to sell a novel because it is absolutely what I am here for.  This.

Though what I write here, what I’ve written on Dustpan Alley, is important too and in a different way and I think there’s more blood to drain.  It’s not over.

It is inconceivable that I will not sell a novel and even if I make very little, this is what I am here to give.  It’s all I really have of value.

My writer friend Emma said about writing the first two chapters of her first book, which she’s just commenced writing, that writing like she’s meant to be doing is life affirming.  That sticks in my head because I know exactly what she means, I feel it.

So maybe life is crazy, too full, stressful, sad (and there’s always fresh fodder), and fucked up, but it is so much more bearable when you are  are fulfilling your purpose.

So whatever yours is, think about it, ask yourself how you can pursue it, how you can be the instrument in life you were carved to be.  Don’t run from it.  Don’t be lazy.  Don’t tell yourself lies like you can’t, or that it’s not enough.  Whatever it is you’re supposed to be, whether mother, executive asshole, policeman, musician, farmer, cook, father, writer, teacher, social worker, it doesn’t matter, just do it.


It’s never too late and it’s never too early.

I must go now.  Chapter Eighteen waits.