Tuesday, September 29, 2009


After quite a while of talking about everything else but: a writing update.

Current project status. I have a few short stories I want to polish, refine, edit, and get out on submission. But I feel like I can't stop work on the novel. I'm still editing and the pace is GLACIAL. I crave momentum.

A few days ago I sat down in a cafe with no wifi and no distractions. I edited furiously for two hours. No pauses, no daydreaming, just caffeine and editing. I was pleased with my work when I was done. But I only got through 3000 words, ten pages. Ten pages! I should have been able to write that much from scratch in two hours! And that was a good work day!

So: glacial. And I'm losing faith in the novel itself. It's a mystery. But it doesn't follow all the necessary/conventional tropes. I modeled it on a classic Christie novel, by which I mean that the whodunit is similar, though the how, why, what, and where are very different. I also borrowed Christie's pacing and cast size.

But Christie didn't always have a body in the first chapter. Nor does my novel. And I keep hearing how you can't sell a genre mystery like that anymore.

There's a barrage of suggestions for mystery writers: more dialogue! More action! More physical danger! Be economical with your description and character development!

And it's just . . . not what I write. I like to read books like this, certainly, and it's a wonderful stretch for me to try to work in this genre, but . . . it's not what comes naturally to me.

I just finished reading Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union and I thought: YES!!! Not for the mystery side of it, because, for me, the mystery was way secondary to the conceit, the style, the writing.

The conceit, the style the writing!

I thought you weren't supposed to be able to do it like that! I thought that you just can't sell books like that right now. THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION breaks all the rules!

But it's really really good.

And therein lies the rub. I am no Chabon. I'm just a girl who wants to be a writer and is still learning and practicing and working and hoping and dreaming and trying to figure out the next step.

Speaking of which, tonight I went to see Sara Paretsky at a Left Bank Books sponsored reading at The Ethical Society. She was fabulous, of course. Having seen Paretsky in person, I love her even more than I do on the page.

And she's yet another brilliant writer who talks about how hard it is. How she gets distracted by any little thing, how she treats herself with chocolate or motivates herself with chocolate if she hasn't earned a treat. She's fabulous. And motivating.


Anonymous said...

"I should have been able to write that much from scratch in two hours!"

That's insane. I don't have a day job, all I do is work on novels, and I don't write 3,000 words in a -day-. Not ever. Only one of my novelist friends hits that benchmark, and she's a freak of last-minute-cramming nature.

If you're aiming at a novel in which the conceit, the style, and the writing are paramount, then you are not writing a mystery. You are writing a literary novel with mystery elements. That's great and all--but from what I hear, they take waaaay longer. (I write genre, myself.) On the other hand, there's some crossover. You sound like you might be modeling yourself after PD James? If the corpse shows up before page 238, she's rushing things!

But, um, your profile says you used to work in publishing, so you probably know much more than I about this stuff.

Sarahlynn said...

Thanks, Bingol.

The only time I ever write 3000 words in a day is during NaNoWriMo. Wherein my writing is much more about quantity than quality. My "normal" pace is painstaking. Emphasis on the pain at times.

I've read PD James but it's been a while. I'm going to stock up at the library tomorrow.

I definitely want to write literary fiction, not because I think it sounds "better" but because I feel like that's where my writing wants to GO. It's the voice I'm using in my head as I type the story. I just think it sounds pretentious because I'm still learning the craft. Presumably, I always will be.

I worked in educational/health sciences publishing. A totally different gig, though a surprising amount of back-office stuff crosses over. :)

You've been commenting here for ages and I still know so little about you! Tantalizing pieces of information. So: a genre writer! Cool.

--genre reader

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm a genre writer of the midlist-and-obscure variety, so not all -that- cool!

I think re-reading James might be inspirational--and definitely go for the literary fiction, if that's your love. I sometimes think about writing a literary novel; then I remember that I don't read them!