Confession: I have given-up more times than I’ve succeeded in completing a novel. For example, I have a file on my laptop titled “ABANDONED STORIES” and throughout my 11 years of writing, this file filled up with 20+ documents. Each 5-10 chapters long.
Then I have a file of completed manuscripts. A total of 3 novels completed… (excluding completed fanfictions). But these 3 manuscripts are unpublishable.
Unlike some other writers who perhaps complete and publish the first book they’ve ever written, it took me MANY TRIES before I finally fell in love with the story about a 19th century ‘fallen woman’ (here’s the excerpt of the older version). It’s a story I completed writing in 1 year and began revising for the next 5 years.
However, I’ve tried writing new novels during those 6 years and FAILED EACH TIME to complete it. SO. I totally know how it feels to write while doubting your ability to even complete a novel.
I therefore decided to share some of the practical tips that kept me from giving up on TRC and my other completed works (other than being in love with the plot and characters). Hopefully what inspires me might inspire others as well!
Things that Motivate Me:
I never allow myself to write the ending of the manuscript before I’ve written the rest of the story. BUT I always make sure that when I begin writing a novel, I know how the last chapter will end. The desire to reach that ending compels me like CRAZY….because I imagine that it’ll be the BEST of all chapters. The Final Chapter of Swan Lake
I write, imagining the day when I can type THE END and print out the entire manuscript. So, yes, during my difficult writing days the desire to press the ‘PRINT’ button compels me. Sending this baby off to New York per an agent’s request. Long story short: It got rejected *sniffles*
I write, anticipating the day when I can begin REVISING my completed-manuscript at a coffee shop.
Looking at pretty book covers also inspires me to write, imagining that one day my manuscript will have a cover of its own.
I recently discovered Amy Sue Nathan, an author of Women’s Fiction, whose debut novel THE GLASS WIVES will be released on May 14th (that’s tomorrow). I’m relatively new to Women’s Fiction, so when I visited the author’s page (Women’s Fiction Writers), her blog’s tagline sparked my curiosity: “NO HEROES.” I was intrigued but also bewildered. And so I got in touch with the author and asked:
What’s the significance in the absence of a hero?
She sent me a great response. I asked for her permission to share it on my blog, so here it is:
Writing women’s fiction, or book club fiction, to me, means it’s about a strong woman who doesn’t need to be saved by a man, which is traditional in romance novels. In the books I write and like to read, there might be love and a bit of a romantic connection, but it is not central to the story. The protagonist’s goal is to be okay (whatever that means to her) but not to be in a romance. To me, hero=someone who saves a woman. In my books, the main character saves herself! I don’t use the word heroine either, but that’s completely a personal preference. Certainly there are many ways to interpret a hero. There are everyday heroes we see on the news. There are heroes fighting for our freedom overseas. But in terms of fiction, a hero is usually the male character who is the romantic interest of the female main character. It’s very popular, many people read it and write it, it’s just not my forte or interest.
I plan to pick up a copy of THE GLASS WIVES and some other books within this genre (I’m ALWAYS up for book recommendations!). As a matter of fact, I really don’t remember the last time I read a Women’s Fiction… Anyway, as I explore this genre, I want to get a better grasp of how writers of this genre:
Portray STRONG WOMEN
What it means to different writers when a woman doesn’t need to be SAVED by a man. And also, if there are Women’s Fiction writers that do create a woman-saved-by-a-man dynamic, then how the author is able to steer away from perpetuating the damsel-in-distress concept.
How men are portrayed within this genre and how much/or how little room they take up in these books
On a random note, I don’t think the TRC rewrite will fit into the Women’s Fiction genre… But we’ll see. I need a better grasp of this genre before making any further conclusions.
Even though I don’t read romances anymore, I’ve always wanted to do an academic research on the gendered experience of reading romance novels but never had the opportunity. This semester in my Readers & Readership course at the University of Toronto I was FINALLY given the excuse to start researching! The following notes on the book I’ve shared focuses on Harlequin romance novels. I know there’s a difference between Harlequin and the “single-titled” romance novels (i.e. novels by Julia Quinn, Teresa Medeiros, Julia London, Mary Balogh,etc.,), buuuuut the romance genre is the romance genre at the end of the day (edit: the notes below are actually based on what seems to be an outdated theory — since the book was published in 1982! Just realized. Nevertheless, it’s interesting how the genre has shifted over time). As I go deeper into the research, I’ll continue to share my findings with you guys.
Loving with a Vengence: Mass-Produced fantasies for women
by Tania Modleski
Rejecting the theory that mass art imposes “false needs” on its consumers and creates “false anxieties”, Modleski argues that these mass-produced feminine narratives are popular in part because they successfuly speak to desires which are all too real in today’s woman but which our culture has found no adequate way of satisfying…
In 1793, Susanna Rowson, a writer of the “sentimental novel” remarked “I wonder that the novel readers are not tired of reading one story so many times, with only the variation of its being told different ways.” While Rowson’s observation could, with even more justice today, be applied to most popular novels, which are, of course, deeply conventional, it pertains most forcibly to Harlequin Romances, for the company which produces them requires its writers to follow a strict set of rules and even dictates the point of view from which the narrative must be told. The peculiar result is that the reader who reads the story already knows the story, at least in all its essentials. It will show that this situation both reflects and contribbutes to a mild “hystical” state — using this term in its strict psychoanalytic sense…[A] kind of duality exists….at the very core of romances, particularly in the relation between an “informed” reader and a necessarily innocent heroine (32)
The element of fantasy in romance lies less in the character traits of the hero than in the interpretation readers are led to make of his behavior. For the reader, acquainted with the formula and hence in possession of what Wolfang Iser calls “advance retrospection,” is always able to interpret the hero’s actions as the result of his increasingly intense love for the heroine… (40)Male brutality [i.e. moody, cynical, scornful, and bullying] comes to be seen as a manifestation not of contempt, but of love.. (41)
Romantic literature performs a crucial function in assuring us that although some men may actually enjoy inflicting pain on women, there are also “bullies” whose meanness is nothing more than the overflow of their love or the measure of their resistance to our extraordinary charms (43)
Since in real life women are not often able to reinterpret male hostility in such a satisfactory way, the novels much somehow provide and outlet of female resentment (43)….A great deal of our satisfaction in reading these novels comes, I am convinced, from the elements of a revenge fantasy, from our conviction that the woman is bringing the man to his knees and that all the while he is being so hateful, he is internally grovelling, grovelling, grovelling…. In most of the novels, the hero finally becomes aware of the heroine’s “infinite preciousness” after she has run away, disappeared, fallen into a raging river, or otherwise shown by the threat of her annihilation of how important her life really is…. (45)
Romance novel’s “disappearing act”: On the one hand, as readers we identity with the heroine’s anger and frustration. On the other hand, due to our adherence to the rules of the formula and our desire for a happy ending, a part of us wants the man to see the heroine as a pert, adorable creature rather than as a true rebel. Our conflicting emotions as readers would seem to point up a dilemma: the heroine’s expression of resentment, which is the result of and only potential remedy for her belittlement, is felt to be the very means by which she encourages her own belittlement. This can only lead to self-hatred and to more anger against the man for putting her in such an impossible situation. But our awareness of these feeling is prevented because we are prepared for the termination of the process in its logical extension: the fulfillment of the fantasy of ultimate revenge through utter self-destruction (47).
An understanding of Harlequin Romance should lead one less to condemn the novels than the conditions which have made them necessary. Even though the novels can be said to intensify female tensions and conflicts, on balance the contradition in women’s lives are more responsible for the existence of Harlequins than Harlequins are for the contradictions…. (57)
The reader of romances, contrary to the arguments of many popular literature critics, is engaged in an intensely active psychological process. The energy of women now use to belittle and defeat themselves can be rechanelled into efforts to grow and to explore ways of affirming and asserting the self. Moreover, the very fact that the novels must go to such extremenes to neutralize women’s anger and to make masculine hostility bearable testifies to the depths of women’s discontent (58).
So this is what one scholar has to say about romance novels. I couldn’t help but smile when reading the observation about how the threat of le heroine’s annihilation is a technique used (and a technique I’ve noticed in many romance novels…along with my own writing) to make the hero have his Ah-hah-I-Love-Her moment. Is this a technique you guys have used in writing and/or observed in this genre? What do you guys think about the revenge fantasy theory?
A lecture by my first year prof. He is the bomb. So make yourself a pot of tea, open the balcony window, let the warm summer wind and the twittering of birds into your room, and click on the play button. Anyone who loves poetry or loves Sylvia Plath or loves a good, intelligent, witty lecture will enjoy this one!
As for the writing front, I’m still working on the next chapter of TRC. I haven’t opened microsoft word for days. Literally. But I’m not at all anxious. I’m not hypverventillating as I would have last year – last year I would have thought:I am not writing, therefore I am not a writer, but writing is my identity, so now I am a nobody!!!! Surprisingly I’m at total peace in my most vulnerable moment – the period when inspiration is silent. Rather than trying to force myself to write I’m just filling up my writing-well with life experience and knowledge from other books. This way when inspiration does strike…I have a huge well of thoughts to tap into, so as to add more depth to my story. I’ve come to realize that no matter how great one’s inspiration is, if that writing-well isn’t full, the story remains shallow. Like the original draft of TRC. So if there is anyone else stuck in a deep, deep writer’s block, don’t go nuts, don’t stare at microsoft word for hours – like I use to do. Fill your head with knowledge. Fill your heart with understanding drawn from life experience (in other words, go out and socialize!). And journal. Reflect upon your day.
Though I cannot say that I have unwavering confidence in my writing and in myself as a writer – I do have unwavering, rock-solid hope.
I can’t promise when I’ll next update this blog… there really isn’t much to blog about when I’m not struggling with my writing. But thank you so so so much to everyone who has stuck around – always checking up on my blog posts and leaving such encouraging comments. Love you all : ) And I hope everyone is having an awesome summer! I certainly am…. hehe
The first pang of growth pain that I felt as a writer was with The Runaway Courtesan. For almost four years now, I worked on TRC, and while I revised the story several times, the original structure of the story remained. The very story I wrote at eighteen was the very story I was fixing by the age of twenty-one. It was only a year later that I realized that this was a problem. It’s like a twelve year old trying to squeeze her feet into the shoe that she wore at the age of three. Just as the passing of time made her feet grow, time has made me grow psychologically and intellectually—especially after entering into university.
Somehow I didn’t realize this – trying to squeeze feet into an infant’s shoe – was what I was doing. But it was. I would read over TRC, feel a deep sense of dissatisfaction, but no matter how much I tweaked the story, I would still remain dissatisfied. And yet I remained wilfully blind to the answer of what I had to do with the manuscript.
I love the story; don’t get me wrong—I’ll still cry as I read Amanda and Lucas’ story. And though the second half of the story needs to be worked on I’m happy with it, and it’s most likely because I wrote it when I was older. Others noticed this too. They say the story blooms in part two. But in the first half, there was something about the character’s personalities, their thought process, their belief system….that was somehow immature.
Our Writing Group
It didn’t dawn me until my editor Kerrie told me that a rough draft is a rough draft. A rough draft is getting to know your characters. From there you write from scratch. I’m sure it differs from other writers, especially those who have written several books before and are now able to write a decent first draft. But what Kerrie told me was something I needed to be told. For four years I was clinging onto the words written by an eighteen year old. There were so many memories attached to my original draft that I ignored the obvious: Rewrite. The past agent interested in my work asked me to rewrite. The rewriting I thought I was doing was actually tweaking.
The second pang of growth pain hurt much more than TRC. With TRC I was more excited than agonized by the thought of rewriting. The acknowledgement that I needed to rewrite the first half of the story from scratch was liberating. But this second growth pain occurred recently as I was trying to get back into working on book 2: Fall of the Sparrows.
After two years of studying English Literature, it’s difficult to look at writing the same way. For nine years I’ve loved writing romance. For nine years I’ve loved writing flowery prose. For nine years I’ve loved writing in chronological order. But after reading and falling in love with contemporary lit – I found myself writing the old way that I do while glancing longingly at the writing style that is minimal, “indifferent and impartial” (as Sapphire put it), and a story with a broken timeline, and a romance that doesn’t always work out, or is an un-romanticized romance, or where romance is minimal and the focus is on other issues in humanity.
Not that the said attributes are what constitutes modern literature per se. But, nevertheless, I’m coming to find the qualities of modern/post-modern literature more and more attractive. And this thought frightened the heck out of me for some odd reason. The thought of me departing from the romance genre. The thought of me trying to break away from a writing style that suited me as an eighteen year old. I guess the fear came in part from me questioning myself—if I could actually succeed in this different realm of writing.
But I’m all good now. I think I was doubting myself because I hadn’t been writing for so long because of school. Now that I started writing again, the question of how I’m to write doesn’t matter so much anymore, but rather, my focus has returned to: I love writing so much that as long as I can write and share my story that’s all that really matters in the end.
There is one thing that has not changed in the nine years of writing.
My love for writing about history.
I once told my mom that I would never stop writing stories set in England’s past. Maybe one day I’ll write about Canada’s past. Or some other country’s past. But the past… There’s just something about history that makes my heart beat madly against my chest. Not the history of events per se, but the history of people. A history of people making decisions. A history of people rising and falling. A history of people fighting, loving and dying. Maybe it’s the fascination for people who thought so differently to us—and yet, at the same time, knowing that human nature has remained pretty much the same. Or maybe it’s this feeling of detachment, history being forever lost to us, and yet, at the same time, engraved within us—and therefore allowing myself to tell a story less restricted within my awareness of the present cultural context. I don’t know. I’m not even sure if I’m making sense. I guess it all comes down to: The past is always so much more romantic.
Dear Readers, What has and has not changed for you as a writer?
Here are some of the tweets/FB updates to summarize why I was not updating my blog for the past while:
Stephen Dedalus from ‘A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST…” always seems like he’s high on drugs.
I need to sleep so I stop missing classes. So my hand automatically picks up PORTAITS OF A YOUNG ARTIST. Hmm…
ugh, just finished my european history paper. Just brutal. Let me say that I’m doneee with feminism
Another successful all nighter. Am now at Starbucks #amwriting in my journal before working on history paper # 2
I am so burnt out. Mention the name “James Joyce” and I’ll burst into tears!
Looking over history lecture notes. Can you find where my mind (half-asleep) began to think about creative writng?: “…who controls the land, had existed even before 1663, under their part, land divided up as small plots, until he realizes the he has captured beauty…”
Faulk it, I’m not reading William Faulkner ‘Sound and the Fury’.
Discovering so many stirring assertions while doing my readings: “…men were born free yet everywhere they are in chains.” -Rousseau
Dear Rebecca Black, please make a song about TUESDAY! While Friday is a day of partying, Tuesday is the day of liberation. Why? Because that’s when I finish my last exam. Woooooo