Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What Really Changed in Publishing

Writing advice abounds online, in books, and magazines. An entire industry has been built around the craft and art of writing (and another industry around how to market that writing) so why do we on Novel Matters keep talking about this stuff?

You can Goggle "how to write a novel" and choose from hundreds of thousands of sites with advice, tips, and know how. Why, oh why, do we keep showing up every week to toss our pebbles into the writing ocean?

Maybe because we're delusional. I'm willing to at least consider the idea. Delusional people often make great artists. So, maybe it's that.

I think when we started this blog back in 2007/08 our reasons were different from today's. It was exciting back then, we were all published and writing for publication. We had daily conversations with industry people, agents, editors, publishers. The future was uncertain, but it looked bright in terms of our writing lives.

Things changed.

There are six of us writing Novel Matters and I don't speak for the other five.

I'm going to talk about what changed for me.

One the surface, it appears what changed was something pretty bad. I haven't published a novel since 2009. That's bad. Publishing novels was the whole point of getting into this gig, right?

That's what I believed when I stepped into the arena. I was here to write and be published.

Things changed.

I've written four (and a half) novels since Talking to the Dead. Good ones, too, though you'll have to take my word for it because none of them are published. Am I bitter? Not even a little. Tempted a few times, sure, but I managed not to fall into that pit. Because things changed.

I changed.

I'm not juggling fluffy puppies in the air, here. I'm not blowing sunshine and trying to tell you I've turned into a writer uninterested in my work being published. That's not the part of me that changed. What changed was when I started the writing journey I was convinced I knew what I was doing. Years later, I've arrived at the place that awaits everyone who journeys this far in pursuit of art. I arrived at myself.

Once, I thought because I read Ibsen, and Chekov, Dostoyevsky, and Hardy, because I read Alice Munro before reading Alice Munro was cool, because I took seriously the three hundred years of literature that came before our time, I had what it took to be a writer, maybe even a good one someday.

 Failing to publish for five years, brought me to the place of being completely honest about who I was as a person. Not as a writer. A person. To shed the layers and arrive at a place where I was forced to be completely honest about the stories I am uniquely qualified to write.

It was difficult for me to admit.

I'm not Alice Monro. I'm not Marilynne Robinson. Or any number of writers whose work has changed me. That was hard to face, but it wasn't the really difficult bit. The hardest part was accepting the fact that the truest stories I write--Bonnie Novels--terrified me. Because I realized the novel I started (and am currently working on) is the very best and most true thing I have in me.

And it's kind of dorky.

It's not high literature. It aspires to little more than entertainment. Its main theme is simple, the premise can be easily stated in thirty-five words or less. And I'm having the time of my life.

I changed.

Maybe that's the reason the six of us show up here three times a week and talk about writing. Because things are changing and we need to talk about them.

We're changing and we need to talk about that, too.


Patti Hill said...

Bonnie, we're walking parallel paths! And isn't that what friends do. If you think a Bonnie novel is dorky, just wait until you've scanned the pages of the latest Patti novel. And it is fun. My dream to step into Annie Dillard's literary shoes is but a dream. Writing novels people enjoy reading is my new gig. Disclosure: It would be nice to actually sell some. Thanks for the great post.

Kathleen Popa said...

Bonnie, I love this. I am letting go of the dream of stepping into Walter Wangerin's literary shoes (which would certainly be too big), and stepping instead into my own shoes.

When I can find them.

Kathleen Popa said...

Bonnie, I love this. I am letting go of the dream of stepping into Walter Wangerin's literary shoes (which would certainly be too big), and stepping instead into my own shoes.

When I can find them.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

I am very grateful that you six ladies write here 3 times a week. I enjoy your company and have learned and become a better writer, and more myself, because you care for others as much as you care for your own writing. God bless you with many words and maybe even a reader or two!

Marian said...

Bonnie this is so timely. I think you are on to something. I'm so looking forward to reading your totally Bonnie Grove dorky novel. And, I'll try not to step into your shoes, but write my own quirky stuff.

Megan Sayer said...

Yes. I can definitely relate.
Once I harboured a dream about writing, and about publishing. Iknew exactly who I was, and I knew the call of God on my life, and I was doing it. And then, swiftly, suddenly, it felt like someone did the tablecloth trick in my life - pulled everything out from under me yet still left me standing, albeit on a different surface. Standing, but slightly concussed, with all the markings of what I thought I knew gone. It took me a while to start up again, and things are still not as I knew them. I had to give up the dream of Megan-the-writer, and accept that I was just Megan. And then, with no other particular skill than the one I"d been honing, I started writing again. Same journey, different me.

Melissa Amateis said...

I feel the same way. The first novel I wrote (a Regency historical romance) was requested a lot by agents who ultimately passed. Am I ever glad they did. In the ten plus years since I wrote it, I've changed a lot as a writer. I don't write straight romance anymore, and the themes I explore are much darker and deeper. I love it.

Bonnie Grove said...

Patti: I'm very much looking forward to reading the next Patti Novel!

Katy: Walter Wangerin's shoes are lovely, but they are not your shoes. I know how difficult it is to realize it. Keep walking!

Bonnie Grove said...

Henretta: I'm glad we're all here, too. All of us. Thanks for your kindness.

Marian: Yes, walk in your own shoes. It's so much more difficult than it sounds. That level of honesty is tough enough, but then to decide to act on it--that's grit, my friend.

Megan: It sounds like you're reaching the same conclusion I've reached. Writing is the longest journey and filled with false pit stops.

Melissa: And it will keep evolving and changing through time. I'm not sure I like that idea because I would like, at some point in my life, to feel I've arrived at . . . something. But I've given up that notion also.

Tales of Whimsy said...

Have you considered self publishing eBooks?

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

I post here infrequently but do follow you ladies and appreciate your efforts toward us unpublished novelists. I especially admire the honesty each one of you demonstrates in telling it like it really is. I wish you all the best in whatever direction you take with getting the stories on your heart written down I haven't given up writing novels, but wrting more short stories and feeling joy with that.

Bonnie Grove said...

Juju: I've heard the beating of the self-publishing tom-toms, but, so far, no. I think it is a matter of the road I'm to travel on--which is different from the road others must travel. Still, I close no doors.

Pat: Thanks for that, Pat. Keep writing!