Monthly Archives: November 2017

BWS 08.11.17 report: How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul, with Heidi Reimer

Heidi_Reimer_event.jpg

Heidi Reimer is close to finishing the novel she’s been working on for the past decade. Last week at our eighth anniversary event, she shared with us a few of the challenges inherent in writing the same novel for 10 years:

The world moves more quickly than your writing process.

You’re forced to rewrite scenes because, in the time since you started this book, answering machines have become obsolete and giant multi-million dollar construction projects have rearranged the landscape in which your story is set. Three hundred kilometre highways blasted through rock are built more quickly than you can write.

Other people might think you’re delusional about the merits of the book you persist in writing.

Closely related: you will fear that other people think you’re delusional about the merits of the book you persist in writing.

At literary events you have to account for yourself with “Yup, still working on the same novel. I’m almost done! For the eighth time.” Fellow writers with whom you once walked side by side will pull ahead to achieve completion, a literary agent, a book deal, a second book deal. When they say, at these literary events, “Wow, you must really believe in this book,” your mind will hear, “Wow, you must really be deluded about this book.”

Over a decade-long process of striving for and failing to achieve a goal, your own insecurities and the struggle not to compare yourself to others will on occasion ambush and derail you.

Being still in the process of writing a book at the 10-year mark—no matter how much you’ve learned through it, no matter how the book has deepened and grown, no matter how grateful you are that you didn’t publish the 2-year or 5-year or even 9-year version—can feel more like failure than success. If you consider writing to be your primary purpose and identity and if it is the only thing you have ever really wanted to do with your life, and you have also written other books that you didn’t finish or publish, you will feel, sometimes, like you have nothing to show for your very hard work, your dreams, and your existence on the earth.

A few reasons it could take ten years to write a novel:

You are not writing the book in a vacuum.

You must earn money, a necessity that sucks up the prime hours, energy, and brainpower of each day. You might have a life, which could involve marriage, divorce, houses, children, births, deaths, and a myriad of crises in between.

Anyone who truly wants to write will make the time. But also, anyone who has tried to maintain a consistent, productive writing practice while (for example) working 40 hours a week at a day job while freelancing on the side while parenting two young children while having a partner who works outside the country for months-long stretches knows that “It’s hard to make the time” is not merely an excuse. It’s pretty damn real.

It takes time to learn how to write a novel, and it takes time to learn how to write the particular novel you are writing.

This can mean full drafts that are almost nothing like the one(s) before. It can mean hundreds of fully fleshed-out pages going to the scrap pile. Characters and plot lines developed extensively, over years, with arcs that span the entire book, in scene after scene meticulously envisioned and set down and revised and finessed: scrap pile.

You can have a stupendous inspiration in Year 2 and just know that the right thing to do is leap back in time to your characters’ childhoods and then you can write and develop that for years and it can become the deepest and truest and most beautiful part of your book but it can not belong, not at all, in this particular book that you are writing, and you can chop it all out one night at 4:00am in Year 7 because you have finally admitted to yourself that it stalls the momentum of the book and that you kind of have no idea how to create forward-moving plot. Then you have to go back to the beginning to figure out what is your story, if that’s not your story.

That can happen.

Writing a novel can be a cyclical rather than a linear process.

Each pass reveals another layer. You’re peeling an onion. You’re plumbing the depths. You’re sculpting a slab of marble—only first you have to make the marble, then you get to sculpt it.

It can take half a dozen drafts to arrive at the heart of a scene, a plot, a character, a relationship between characters. It can take years to see that actually she doesn’t just go to the door and listen, she opens the door, she walks through the door, she makes the terrible decision, she’s plunged into the results of the terrible decision.

How to write a novel in ten years:

Believe in it.

Love your characters enough to stick with them, care about their dilemmas enough to keep following them, and hold onto that inner flame of knowledge that this story is worth telling. If you don’t believe in it, abandon it and find a new novel that you do believe in. (And don’t be ashamed of this choice; it can be the correct choice.) Or, find something to do that is less excruciating.

Experience the process as its own reward.

You and the page and the story unfolding under your pen: this is the best part. If you don’t feel energized or moved or challenged or fulfilled by the process, if you don’t at least sometimes feel that you’re doing what you came to the earth to do, you probably gave up long before the 10-year point.

Receive enough genuine encouragement to bolster you when your inner belief-flame dims.

Share it with trusted early readers, other writers, and eventually some agents and editors and publishing insiders who will probably, if it isn’t ready yet, reject your novel but might give you invaluable insight into what is working and what isn’t and why. They don’t hand out positive comments just for fun, so if you get some you will feel that you are not delusional, there is value here, and it is worth it to keep going.

Write and publish smaller pieces.

The satisfaction of completion and the affirmation that comes from someone else’s stamp of approval will make you feel like you’re an author, not just a wannabe, and will help sustain you through the long haul of your novel. Winning contests and receiving grants works too.

Bonus Tip:

Buy The 90-day Novel. Keep it on your shelf like a gleaming reward and a promise of another way…for when you’re finally free to start writing your next book.

As we head into our ninth year, we look forward to presenting you with more thought-provoking and engaging writers with interesting stories and diverse voices. Watch this space for features on our upcoming guests appearing at our next event on Januray 10, 2018, 6:30pm, at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church St., Toronto!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Writers & Performers

BWS 08.11.17: Heidi Reimer

Heidi Reimer

Heidi Reimer‘s short stories and essays have appeared in ChatelaineThe New QuarterlyLittle Fiction, Literary Mama, The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood, and Outcrops: Northeastern Ontario Short Stories. She is (still) working on a novel. Find out more at www.heidireimer.ca.

Over the past month we’ve been listing our favourite books in celebration of our upcoming eighth anniversary taking place this Wednesday. For those of us who took part, it was a challenging process to pick only eight titles among the many we’ve read. The selections, thoughtfully put forth, represent unique voices telling diverse stories. But how did these books come to be? Behind each one is an untold journey of creative process. This Wednesday, guest speaker Heidi Reimer addresses this topic in her talk, “How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul.”  

Heidi also stopped by our blog to share her top eight reads:

Middlemarch: George Eliot

State of Wonder: Ann Patchett

The Poisonwood Bible: Barbara Kingsolver

Americanah: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Clara Callan: Richard B. Wright

Unless: Carol Shields

American Wife: Curtis Sittenfeld

Wild: Cheryl Strayed

We hope you’ll join us this Wednesday to celebrate eight years of our literary series. With prizes, treats, and lively discussions, it’s an event not to be missed!

Heidi Reimer visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Dorothy Ellen Palmer, Spencer Butt, Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, and Puneet Dutt. 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, Writers & Performers

BWS 08.11.17: Dorothy Ellen Palmer

Palmer-Dorothy-768x768

Dorothy Ellen Palmer is a disabled senior writer, Mom, binge knitter, retired teacher and improv coach. Her first semi-autobiographical novel, When Fenelon Falls, (Coach House, 2010), about a disabled teen freeing a bear from a cage in the summer of 1969, was long-listed for the ReLit Award. Her work has appeared in NeWest Review, Little Fiction/Big Truth, and Don’t Talk to me About Love.

Dorothy’s memoir, This Redhead and her Walker Walk into a Bar, will be published by Wolsak and Wynn in 2019. Ahead of her November 8th appearance at our anniversary, Dorothy shares with us an excerpt from her memoir!

RUN, GERALD, RUN

From the knees up, Gerald was the cutest boy I’d ever seen.

California Surfer Boy cute. Blue eyes. Unruly blonde hair a still-respectful tad too long. And a slow, crooked smile. He had a Muskoka cottage, was President of the Debate Team, and had been to Paris, France. In 1971, when I was sixteen and he was eighteen, he lived up the hill from me on Delma Drive, in our Toronto suburb of Alderwood, where all the mothers loved him.

Even mine. And she didn’t love anybody.

When Gerald passed our front porch, when he stopped to chat up my mother, I glimpsed what my father must once have seen in her. She smiled. She laughed. Sounded smart and sassy. Gerald relaxed her in a way I never could. Watching him converse so effortlessly with the woman who seldom spoke to me felt like comfort food, like home should be.

But when Gerald smiled at me, I puked.

In September, the first time he knocked on my front door and asked for me, I flushed the toilet, climbed out the bathroom window, vaulted a hedge, and vamoosed through three back yards. I refused to acknowledge, I flatly denied, I could not risk, any kinship or solidarity between us. I had to be seen as a normal teenage girl. I needed to believe I was one.

And you can’t be normal with a gimpy albatross around your neck.

You won’t pass for normal if someone spots a gimp then stares at you. I’d prevent that scrutiny at any cost. With effort, I could mask my limp. And thanks to teen years that saw the undisputed reign of elephant-ear bell-bottoms, my shoes didn’t betray me. Like a cloak of invisibility, my pants fanned out over my feet to scrape the floor. I told myself nobody knew I crammed stunted nubs of feet into boy’s orthopedic oxfords, reinforced black leather: size two.

Bell bottoms would always be in style. I could hide my deformity forever.

If friends and neighbours remembered my operations and childhood crutches, I told myself they wrote it off like a skiing accident, as something from which I’d fully recovered. I’d never been teased in public; that was the barometer. I gave no credit to the fact my father was the Akela of Alderwood’s thriving Boy Scout troop, and thus held the badge and camping fate of my male peers in his hands. I equally dismissed what was likely an even greater deterrent: my mother had the most cutting tongue on the street and sharpened it there daily.

I told myself only this: I walked to high school with my friends. I belonged.

Dorothy Ellen Palmer visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 in our new home, Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Spencer Butt, Jia Qing Wilson-Yang, Puneet Dutt and special guest Heidi Reimer who will discuss, “How to Write a Novel in 10 Years: Total Rewrites, Massive Scrap Piles, and Persistence Through the Long Haul.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Writers & Performers