March 29, 2012

What Am I Doing?

I'm frequently asked, "How's your novel coming along?" In fact, if you're reading this blog, there's a high probability that you've asked me this question at least once. So the first thing I want to say is thank you for asking. Thank you for your caring and interest and support. I really do appreciate it.

The second thing I want to do is explain why I cringe when you ask me this question. Why I become evasive and defensive and try to change the subject. Why, especially if you outright asked the question that's always there in subtext -- "When will it be finished?" -- I might have bitten your head off.

Believe me, nobody is more eager for this novel to be finished than I am. And I know that none of you are trying to put any pressure on me when you ask. But I'm generating more than enough pressure all by myself.

One of the things that's most frustrating about how long it's taking, and I expect one of the reasons that my friends and family are a little confused about how much time has passed, is that I've already finished this novel. Twice. I've written it, and now I'm revising. Shouldn't revision be faster?

And what is revision? What am I still doing to my finished novel that's taking so much more time? I think that's the question most people are really asking when they inquire about my novel with anything beyond the most superficial politeness.

The answers I give in conversation are rarely satisfactory, either to me or to my well-meaning querier. So I thought I would take the time to organize my thoughts and then answer at too great a length in a series of blog posts that you can look forward to in the next couple of weeks.

For today, let's just pretend that the last time you asked, "How's your novel coming along?", I replied, "I'm really glad you asked!"

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Emily St. John Mandel at The Millions analyzes (with graphs!) a title trend that's long bugged me, The ___'s Daughter: "I was curious to see how many of these books there actually are, so I did a search for books with 'The' and 'Daughter' in their titles on Goodreads. Afterward I spent some time copying and pasting all instances of The ___'s Daughter into an Excel spreadsheet. How much time? A lot..."

8 comments:

Sally Picciotto said...

I'll keep this in mind. This was a well-articulated point, Lisa! It's just like how you should never ask a graduate student when their dissertation will be finished.

Christopher Gronlund said...

I work with a guy--another writer--who cranks out several novels a year (on top of out tech writing duties). If I averaged my output, I crank out a novel every several years. (What I'm close to finishing probably now brings it down to every 2 1/2 years.)

My friend and I work differently. His process: crank out novel. Polish. Make any edits suggested by beta readers or his actual editor. Book done!

He's not as attached to his work as I'm attached to mine. That's not to mean he doesn't give it his all--just means that he views it more as a product and an act, rather than something to be rewritten.

I did 3 major rewrites on my last novel, and two minor rewrites. I could easily do one more rewrite, but I'm moving to other things.

Now, I will say that I'm striving to move along faster. There was a period of time when this Family Guy clip about writing a novel was painful to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4xXSlGKKrY&feature=related

From what I've seen, your process lives up to the name of your blog. As long as you're always doing something, that's what matters :)

desireearmfeldt said...

Ha ha! Someone on the internet has posted about one of my...well, OK, "peeves" isn't the right word, "pet things I've noticed." I've been complaining lately about the prevalence of "The __'s Daughter," though I'm more ecumenical, in that I don't think it's just daughters, it's female relatives in general (when I did a little micro search, I looked for sons and husbands too, and my impression is that yeah, there are a lot fewer of those...)

I think there's a chunk of those titles that represent the current popularity of historical settings for literary fiction + wanting female protagonists...

Lisa Eckstein said...

Sally: Yes, it's just like with a dissertation. The person asking the question has no particular expectation of the answer, but askee is probably already feeling guilty that they aren't working right that minute!

Christopher: You remind me of a good point -- some part of my feeling of impatience comes from comparing myself to other writers. I try to keep in mind that there are just as many writers who might look at me and feel slow, but for some reason it's easier to use comparisons to beat myself up. Funny that. I do love that Family Guy scene.

desireearmfeldt: I was surprised that the article didn't mention Wife titles, but other than that, it's a great analysis. The Wife trend may have peaked a couple of years ago (I'm noticing it less among new titles), but Daughter seems to be still on the rise. I'd like to see the list of Son and Husband titles -- it would be a very short one.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Lisa for revealing the writer's dilemma - grateful for the interest, now go away and let me finish the dang thing! ;) Your Barefoot writing pal, Karen S.

mamagotcha said...

I never really thought about it, but as a writer myself, I don't like being asked how a piece is coming and so I don't think I do it to other writers either. But I might ask something general, like "are you getting time to write these days?"

And I was irked by the Daughter thing, too... gonna check out that link! Thanks!

laurenhat said...

Looking forward to the rest of your blog posts on this topic. I don't think I ever really came up with a satisfactory way of answering about the dissertation.

Love the analysis of the "The ___'s Daughter" books. :) And desireearmfeldt -- glad I'm not the only one who's first thought was, "How does the daughter/wife trend compare to sons and husbands?"

Lisa Eckstein said...

Karen: Yes, you've expressed it exactly! :)

mamagotcha: I'm sure that a million times I've asked writer friends the same questions that irk me, so good for you having the awareness to avoid that. I do like talking with other writers about how it's going, but it always goes better when we're not feeling defensive and guilty about it.

laurenhat: It really is hard to answer questions of this type. I'm finding as I write these posts that I have much more to say in response than I even realized.

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