Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Refrigerated Writing

Is your writing fresh and new? How can you tell?

I was recently catching up on Janet Reid's great agent blog, and she addressed this very issue. After discussing how she handled the 122 of 124 writers she chose not to represent in 2009 (!), she gave some advice for aspiring authors.

First of all--and the part I can really get behind--any progress toward your goal is a measure of success. Don't think of writing as all or nothing. That is, if you didn't get published, but you made great strides in improving your writing, that's not failure. If you learned what not to do. That's not failure.

The part that gave me pause, however, is something that keeps cropping up in agent blogs, workshops (Dianna Love & Mary Buckham mentioned this very thing), and writing books: Make sure your writing is fresh and new.

This part scares me. Not because it's bad advice, but because my own gauge for whether anything I write is unique seems to be broken.

Ask me what's different about my stories, characters, and settings and I draw a blank. Well, other than the fact that I wrote them. And, which part has to be special? The voice, the characters, the premise? All of it?

I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

So how do we figure out what hasn't been done before? Of course, without being so different that no one wants our work. (And people wonder why writers are crazy?)

According to Ms. Reid, Joe Finder and Lee Child read voraciously in their genres (and still do), and did research to make sure they weren't just duplicating the rest of the market.

The logical, business major in me loves this idea. It makes sense. I want to sell my books. But as a writer, it sounds so clinical and cold. Where's the passion for the story of your heart?

The reading part I have down pat. No problem. I can only hope my "fresh and new" meter gets calibrated soon. I'd really like to quit writing stale, overdone stories sometime before the next decade.

Maybe I should write in a refrigerator.

How do you keep your writing fresh?


Christine said...

Part of fresh and new is YOUR VOICE. Another part is to find a unique twist on an old tale. Look at AVATAR. It's a blockbuster. Why? It takes great archetypes, has a clear us against them theme, and it is a cool setting.

Basically, it's a classic cowboy vs. Indians tale where the Indians win and twist is the cool 3D Avatar setting.

Same old story wrapped in blue planet aliens makes it fresh.

I also think you can't force it. It is a learning curve. I'm in a major transition as well. But I do believe that if your characters are strong and believable, you'll be 2/3 of the way there.

Gwen Hernandez said...

I wish I could go into a pitch session and say that my book is different because of my voice! =)

Cowboys and Indians with blue aliens in 3D I could probably sell as different with no trouble!

It's hard to be objective with my own work. For now, I'll just work on writing the best story I can and maybe the uniqueness will become clear later.

Jeanie said...

Christine is right. There are no new stories. The only way to keep your writing fresh is to put your spin on things, mix it up to make it interesting. And you are right. The story must be from your heart and something YOU are passionate about, or the writing will be dull and lifeless.

M.V.Freeman said...

For me, knowing your characters, and story (like Christine and Jeanie said) makes it fresh. Your ideas and how you present it make it fresh--if you are writing something to "fit in" I don't think that's fresh. I made that mistake when I tried writing one of my stories...lets just say it died a horrible death.

So long as you and the reader are engaged..that's all that matters! :-) At least that's my two cent's worth.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Thanks guys. I've never fit in, so maybe that's a point in my favor. ;-)

Jeanie: I read so many stories that at their heart are the same, and yet I never get bored if the author gets me emotionally involved.

Mary: I'm glad you're writing for yourself now. It's probably a lot more fun!

Carla Swafford said...

This is a great blog, Gwen. Write in the frig...LOL!

I always write stories I believe I would love to read. Now I need an editor to feel the same way.

Gwen Hernandez said...

With this weather I feel like I'm writing in a fridge. I should have asked for those fingerless mittens this year...

I know how you feel about wishing editors would like to read what you've written. Keep at it, Carla!

Callie James said...

I meant to comment on this yesterday but didn't have a chance. Great blog, Gwen!

Gwen Hernandez said...

Thanks Callie! I think I need to go write in the oven so my hands don't freeze to the keyboard. ;-)

Cari Hislop said...

It's true that there's no such thing as a plot that's never been written, but as for characters, they should be like us, each one completely unique. I believe our freshness and uniqueness comes from our characters and our own voice (as Christine pointed out). I find when I let the characters tell their stories they create a unique story because it's their story. I love my characters, even the bad ones! :)

to Gwen: I think if we write the stories we have to write...about characters we love...the temperature in our fictional freezer will take care of itself!
There are all kinds of different story tellers for different kinds of readers. I believe there are people out there who need your stories and your stories will be exactly right; whatever that might be!

Gwen Hernandez said...

Thanks for the pep talk, Cari. When I think about it, even though each of my characters may share certain traits, they are all different. Just like DNA.