My Two Cents on Starting

Most days I think I’m a good mom, and an improving writer. I think I can cook, but I can mix drinks better. I think I am pretty, but only now that I’ve grown my hair out. These parameters keep me from being too wrapped up, too vain, or too emotionally stunted. I sharpen because I believe I am not perfect, nor am I a train wreck.

I recently read an article by author Julianna Baggott. Now, it should be said, that I have a girl crush on Julianna. Maybe I should call it a writing crush, since it stems from how deeply I identify with her voice. Her communication style. Her writerness. Whatever I call it, I heart her.

In the article, which you can read here, Julianna puts forth a method for writing your first novel. She calls it a loophole. It began for her as a way to trick herself into writing by pretending it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t about creating a masterpiece, it was about getting fifty pages done and out. She suggests writing is about wanting to turn the page, for the writer and the reader.

This rang very true for me. I have discussed before that this is my first novel, the MANUSCRIPT I am revising now but not forever. Before writing the manuscript, I had mostly worked in the medium of screen-or-stage playwriting. I had attempted, after completing a feature length screenplay and then not knowing what the hell to do with it, a novelization of my screenplay. Ultimately, I was burnt out on that story and needed something new.

When I sat down at my computer sixteen months ago with a voice in my head, I didn’t know what I was doing. There was no plan. There wasn’t even a concept. There was an inkling. A whisper.

I don’t consider myself a naive person. I live in Brooklyn and haven’t died yet, for goodness sake. But about this I was. I believed I could do it. And why not? It was just a novel. Geez. I had written a screenplay, so a novel couldn’t be much harder.

Had I read anything about writing a novel before I started, done any preparation at all, I would have failed. I would have psyched myself out. I’m such a fool I flippantly professed to anyone who would listen that I would finish in a year.

I just wrote. I kept writing when I wasn’t sure where I was going. I kept writing when I was angry at my characters. I kept writing when words flowed like cold honey. I just flipped the switch inside me and wrote.  As Julianna said in her article, I kept turning the pages. 

I finished the first draft about six months after I began. It was 70,000 words and a lot of it was shit. Some of it was brilliant. Some of it was acceptable. 30% of it was garbage I wouldn’t wipe dog poop off my shoe with.

I’m being hyperbolic, but you get it.

So, the advice I would add to Julianna’s (who knows way more about this than I do) is this: Be naive. You can’t lose if you put blind faith in yourself. You all know I hate losing, so if I’m saying this…

Believing you can’t fail may seem like you’re setting yourself up for crushing disappointment, but it’s a wonderful place to begin. Self-doubt and the knowledge that you will never be good enough comes later, when your beta readers rip your heart out, or the rejections from countless agents come flying to your inbox.

Begin naive, you can’t fail.

Pure Baggott

This post is really about two things, but they overlap, so it will be written as one. I recently read a YA book called Pure, by the New York Times Bestselling author, Julianna Baggott. I don’t know if I would have known about the book if not for my agent friend Julie. I read YA, and more so now that I am writing YA, but a lot of really amazing stuff gets by me because I don’t always have the drive to search. Pure could have been one of those.

I read it a few weeks ago while I was finishing my novel. In some ways, I think this was a mistake. I was in the throws of romance, all hot and sweaty for my own story, not necessarily absorbing what I was reading. That said, I still think about it with an eye twitch and ache in my chest. I will not review it. I do not feel qualified. I will tell you, if it is not on your radar, let this blog post put it there. Pure was stunning. It was written in third-person, which is not widespread habit of YA writers. It is a lot more literary than some of the YA we may all be used to. It also deals some pretty loaded hands, paints some pretty graphic pictures, glares at some pretty real issues. Some of the description required multiple reads (again, this may be because my head was full of my own book) and even then sometimes the result was more of a brow knit. Don’t let that deter you, because upon another read (now that my head is clearing) I am feeling very differently.

I was perusing the web for blogs on writing, wanting to build my knowledge of what other writers are saying, reading, coloring, and I came across Julianna Baggott’s blog. Baggott writes under three names: Julianna Baggott (her legal name), Bridget Asher, and N.E. Bode. She has published over seventeen novels and poetry anthologies. I chose to check out her blog, and that is what this post in really about.

As a writer, Baggott is prolific. She is not only renowned in publishing, but she is a scholar of books and teaches that craft to future writers by way of Florida State University. She is long married with four children (ahh!). I set about reading some posts and promptly fell madly in love. Her voice as a human being is really bold, full of ballsy goodness and knowledge. And better, she writes not only about writing (publishing, agents, books, authors) but about real life. She writes about herself, her kids, and her vulnerability and humor befits a person that has seen many things of the world and still believes in it.

I have just been clicking through her blog, absorbing her words, laughing, nodding. In one particular post, I found myself nearly tear up. Not from sadness, but solidarity. The link to that post and the rest of her blog is here. She beautifully describes the road to a publishable manuscript as being gutted. I also have described it this way, and I was shocked by it. I will continue to feel completely vulnerable, all exposed nerves and blazing skin, for years to come I hope. And I know, Baggott would agree with me. I also hope for it to all be worth it. Not by monetary calculations, but by the assessment of worth in readers. For all our scowling, we really want to connect.

I highly recommend you peruse her blog. It’s a good read. And, as she says at the end of many of her posts: go buy Pure!