Monday, April 09, 2012

A general progress report

I made it through my two months of not making any paintings from photographs and I learned a lot.  Eventually I got bored with still lifes.  I made a ton of really horrible self portraits (I'll spare you the pain and misery of seeing them) - but they were a great exercise in not being afraid to make something ugly on the way towards something better.

I also entered into a whirlwind rush to finish the latest draft of my novel before attending a novel writing workshop.  I'm still not sure what I think of the workshop experience - but I know I gained a lot from really immersing myself in the story and characters beforehand.  I have a clearer idea of what the finished book will look like, and how I need to steer my revisions to get there.

I had a love/hate thing with the workshop.  I loved being around other writers who were all at a similar stage in the process.  I got all fired up and excited about their various projects and I remembered what I'd forgotten - that writing is storytelling - and the best stories change with each telling having been shaped by the audience.
But that's where I got confused as well.  The focus of the workshop was to fine tune our various 'pitches' - the short summary of what your story is about.  But that's a two part thing.  First you have to succinctly summarize the novel, and then put a spin on it that's sufficient to attract the attention of an overworked jaded literary agent.

I'm a complicater not a simplifier.  Summarizing feels impossible, though rationally I know it's not.  So I reach into the book, pull out various parts, toss them up on the page all sloppy and ask, how's that?                  
Tilted heads and blinking.
 I reach in again, pull out a different hodge podge of elements, shmoosh them into paragraphs neatly aligned.  How about now?                 
Heads shaking, um no.

The plan of the workshop was to use the pitch as a diagnostic tool to find problems with the book.  I feel as if I could write 20 different pitches for the same book.  The only thing I diagnosed was that I'm really good at writing a crappy pitch that may or may not accurately describe my book.  It's as if I've been told to summarize a painting - but instead I keep presenting little magnified sections.

I feel like I would be remiss not to mention the workshop 'leader.'
He and I didn't get along (massive understatement).
Despite our personality conflicts I really did try to get as much out of the workshop as possible.  I don't have a problem separating myself from the work.  I mean I can take criticism without taking it personally - but it was all upside down with the guy.  I don't feel like he criticized the work, because he didn't even read it. - He only listened to my various pitches - and even then I don't know how much of a listener he was.  But I wonder how much our fierce dislike of each other impaired his ability to offer me any useful instruction?   
Adding to the problem is the fact that I haven't been very successful in finding other books similar to mine or a genre or sub genre that the book will comfortably fit in.  A crucial element in getting a literary agent which thanks to my friend Peggy, I understand is statistically similar to winning the lottery.  It's all a little disheartening.

I planned to wait a week after I got back before I would look at my manuscript.  That week has stretched out.  I've been hiding in my paintings, stewing over where to go from here.  In painting I've been working at figuring out my process, understanding how I do what I do, since so much of it feels instinctual.  I need to do the same with my writing process now and figure out how to come at the whole thing from another angle.

I had hoped the other writers that attended the conference could help with that - but I suspect that like a lot of intense experiences the closeness you feel initially fades with time as you meld back into your daily life.  I still have many of their characters bouncing around in my head, pieces of their plots chafing against my own.  I don't know if anything will come from the experience, at the moment I seem stuck in limbo.  I guess I'll stay there until I finally take the plunge and open the file to my ms.

PS  - Sometimes I don't know what I'm saying until after I've said it.  But looking over what I've said so far it seems that my confidence in my writing ability is shaken.  Which might explain why my paintings are so kick ass lately.  Overcompensate much? 

photo by Rachel A. K.

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