Monday, August 27, 2012

Really Bad Writing Advice: When to Resist Criticism, Suggestions, and Meddlesome Sane People

We’re all friends here. We know the world is full of small minded, jealous people who want to trample our dreams and squelch our deeply creative natures. Also megalomaniacal people who wish to hijack our work and transform it into something it’s not. (Everyone who’s snickering and going, “Yeah, something good,” should leave this site immediately, never to return.)

Anyway, in the quest to extend my really bad writing advice into new frontiers where only the wise have gone before, here are some helpful tips on when to stick your fingers in your ears and go neeee-neeeee neeee-neeeee. (Or, for international readers, whatever cool, culturally-appropriate sound you make when sticking your fingers in your ears and acting petulant.)

So, in the interest of becoming the only writer left on earth when my bad advice is universally embraced, this is when to ignore suggestions:

1.) When that’s the way it really happened. Especially when writing picture books that pass down cumbersome yet preachy events from your youth. So it’s incomprehensible. That’s what people said about Finnegan’s Wake – which I’ve always thought would make such a piquant PB.

2.) When you’ve already done every single thing that every single person in your critique group suggested, and now your mean Aunt Martha says that an elephant is a greyhound designed by a committee. Elephants are nice. Ask Mo Willems. Where would Piggie be without Elephant? Think about it.

3.) When you’re sick of revising. This is your helpful inner-voice telling you that you’re finished. Buying handbags online is the surefire antidote to being sick of revision, and also to the creation of literature. Screw it. Which would you rather have, a lovely new knock-off Prada bag or a horrifying sense that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing and you might have to redo every single syllable?

Go Prada. Go Prada. Go Prada.

4.) When you’re pretty sure that every word that passes through your fingers and onto the page comes directly from God. Like the Bible, only a trilogy, with zomboid elves and without the didacticism.

5.) When small-minded people point to submission guidelines and shake their heads. As if publishers know what they’re looking for. Come on. So the University of Chicago Press seems to be saying they’re not in the market for zomboid elves. How do they know, until they’ve had the chance to peruse your stunningly literary but still hot zomboid elf sex? Like they’re going to publish yet another masterful history of the Civil War once they’ve seen your zomboid elf sex? Please.

6.) When you’re right and everyone else is wrong. Who has the finely-honed literary sensibility, you or them? Duh. (Unless they wrote Bird by Bird, in which case, shut up and listen.)

I’d offer some even worse pointers, but I’m in dire need of a knock-off Prada bag in stunning trompe l’oeil leatherette.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Really Bad Writing Advice: Worst Tips Ever - When to Write

Being sadly short on the kind of blatantly idiotic questions that inspire really bad writing advice, I have taken to generating dreadful tips.

Follow these tips scrupulously, and soon I will be the only novelist on earth and it won’t even matter if my rewrite has gaping holes in the so-called plot because everyone will be so desperate for a book.

1.) Write only when you’re inspired.

2.) Write only when you have finally saved up enough to purchase an ergonomically perfect chair. In leather. From Sweden.

3.) Write only when you’re not tired.

4.) Write only when you have found the exactly right software to organize your every word. It’s out there somewhere. Keep looking.

5.) Write only when your children, husband, and dog are asleep.

6.) Write only when your house is immaculate. Dirty dishes and unmade beds are a terrible distraction. How can you write when you ought to be vacuuming?

7.) Write only when you’re not tempted to surf the internet. If you want to surf the net, it means your head isn’t in your book anyway.

8.) Write only if your have the perfect outline. Rework that outline. Is it perfect yet? I didn’t think so.

9.) Write only if you have carefully revised every word that you’ve already written.

10.) Write only if you have a womb that has produced children. OK, this is a shocker coming from me, big opponent of the mommy wars, but if you haven’t read the world’s least charitable obituary post on Maeve Binchy in The Telegraph, don’t write until you’ve seen it. Don’t write until you’ve scanned any number of online newspapers for disturbing articles; the adrenaline rush will help you write faster. Should you ever write.

Here’s the article: Don’t quit before the last line. You’ll write so fast.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Really Bad Writing Advice: The Writers Conference

I have been so busy with revision – in the practice makes a hot mess school of novel-writing – that I’ve neglected my mission to share dreadful writing advice. Apologies! And here is a lovely break from all that good writing advice with which we are constantly assailed.

Dear Clueless One,

My eleven-year-old niece, Lulu, has written an epic novel about magic pigs and vicious talking spiders in space, kind of an homage to Charlotte’s Web, only with time traveling maggots that feast on pig brains in an even more pointed homage to the vibrancy of cannibalistic slasher movies.

In my effort to get her work in front of Important People so she can get the adulation and seven figure contract she deserves, I have been taking her to writers conferences where, during the Q&A, she reads her (exceptionally long) first chapter to the panelists. The reaction is stunning. A hush falls over the room. The issue of appropriateness never even arises because, hey, who wants to make an eleven-year-old cry?

I also like to line up with her afterwards to meet the Important People, where she wows them by reciting, from memory, as much of Harry Potter in pig-Latin as possible before the conference staff turns out the lights. I figure that all the people behind us in line have had thirty or forty years to make their impression, and now it’s Lulu’s turn.

Do you have any advice for us, and also, how can I keep Lulu awake during these conferences?

Signed—Proud Aunt

To which I reply (with apologies to 11-year-olds everywhere who have written brilliant epic novels about space pigs)

Dear P.A.,

Having attended any number of conferences where people young and old have hijacked the proceedings, often receiving adulation, seven-figure contracts, and the occasional death threat in return, I honor your determination! It is well-known that the quality and commercial viability of the work is best represented by the willingness of the writer and her aunt to leap the bounds of propriety and carry on shamelessly. I say, carry on! And on and on. (Although your willingness to fold up your tent just because the conference staff has turned out the lights, does make me question your commitment…)

Love, Clueless

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Self-Indulgent Moaning About Revision

The national SCBWI conference is only three miles from my house and I am not there. I am at home engaging in a rewrite that is challenging, frustrating, and going well. It is also sucking up all my time, including the time I generally use to wash my hair and go to the farmer’s market.

Yesterday, I ate Honey Nut Cheerios for lunch. But not at the dining room table.

This is because I am so serious about this rewrite that I have moved my 86 note cards from the floor of my bedroom to my dining room table because, let’s face it, my dog is 15 years old and it’s unlikely I’m going to be able to get him to stop eating paper. And if he eats this particular paper, it will ruin my life.

My husband and I are eating on TV trays. It’s a good thing that our son is working on set 12 hours a day 6 days a week and isn’t here to notice the complete break-down of our usual domestic routines – although the lack of clean towels has been noted.

Every night at SCBWI, another group of people with whom I want to hang out is meeting at the bar of the Century Plaza. First it was the Blue Boarders, and then Los Angeles first time YA novelists, and then Los Angeles YA novelists period, and then the LA Kidlit group. There is a party with a ‘60’s theme where others will, no doubt, dance to White Rabbit. While I’m at home.

The SCBWI, for anyone not heavily immersed in the children’s book writing world, is the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Friends and colleagues from all over the country converge at the national conference in L.A. every summer. I love that conference. I get inspired at that conference.

I actually conceived the idea for my first book while sitting at that conference. I met the editor of that very book at that conference. I heard my agent speak at that conference (twice) and dreamed about how wonderful it would be to have her representing my work. And a few years later, she sold Where It Began and this new novel that I am sitting in my dining room reshuffling.

And, all right, the reason I’m not at that conference is, to some extent, the result of the wonderful success and impact of that conference in my life. The same motivations that got me to that conference, also landed me in my dining room with a TV tray eating Cheerios while contemplating my many, many index cards, and writing new scenes.

I am supposed to be here and not there. I am supposed to be doing what I’m doing. Writing here and not having an inspirational good time there.

Damn it, I still want to go play. Boo hoo. Moan moan. But I want to be a writer with a deadline even more.