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Battle Flag: “I’ve Got this Great Idea for a Book”
Deep thoughts from Sylvia Plath and discussing the craft of book writing.
I’ve been dying to get back to work on the newsletter, but time has just not permitted, and if I’m being honest neither has depressive thoughts. Depression is like Sally Pinkerton: she has an inflated sense of self-worth and yet still invades your waking thoughts like a parasite.
One of the ways that I prepare for my monthly editions in this newsletter is that I drop articles and other reading into my Raindrop.io folders where I read, highlight, and make notes. I typically gather more than I need for each month, but the process of reading, highlighting, and note-taking pushes me in the direction of formulating an idea for the newsletter. This time around though, I look through my links and realize many of the articles I’ve saved this month are derepressing stories that I just don’t feel like writing about in the moment. Important, but depressing. So I’m going to focus my energies on something less negative for this month. I’m going to look at a quote from poet Sylvia Plath and revisit a blog post I made for Murderby4 blog in 2011 about writing a book. Hopefully both of these items will be a welcome, non-negative distraction to your day.
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Sylvia Plath wanted more time.
The Sylvia Plath quote comes from her journals and I discovered it when Luiza B. Campos shared it in a note. Here it is:
If you are inspired by that quote to respond, don’t forget to engage on Campos’s original post as well.
These are some seriously deep thoughts from Plath, which isn’t surprising, and knowing her story these words add a punch. I truly wish she could have lived to be 100 and put in as much effort as she could to do all the things she wanted. Not only for herself, but for her children as well. I suspect, though, had she lived to be 100 she still would have felt duped. There still would have been things she wanted to read and things she wanted to do. Sometimes thoughts like these, how little time we have to get to do the things we want vs. ALL THE THINGS, can be depressing to me. But in this case, I love the way she looks at it. I love that she focuses on something as simple as her to read pile. It makes me realize that even the small things are super important, and we should be putting in the time for those as well. How much easier it would have been to start by saying, “I want to see the world!” But nope. Books. She had so many books she wanted to read. That was the first thing that came to her mind.
My takeaway? Take extra time to read those books, watch those movies, play those games, sit on your back porch with a drink, and any other thing that brings you joy while you still can. And do it often. Get in those delightful conversations with friends, share your deep thoughts, express your love. Make it known, because in the words of Plath, we are “horribly limited.”
Last month I talked briefly about Pat Robertson and his horrible legacy. With that in mind, I say, start now to be someone’s inspiration. Fulfill your legacy now, whatever it is.
“I’ve got this great idea for a book.”
So you’ve got a great idea for a book, right? But maybe you’re like me and you’ve mostly written short stories so far, and you’re not sure how to tackle the daunting task? Or maybe you haven’t written anything since that Valentine’s Day card you gave Sally Pinkerton back in the third grade? How in the world are you going to tell this amazing story that everybody needs to read? And how are you going to get it published and in their hands?
First things first, you will need to write.
You’ve read all these amazing books about how to write a novel, and they all talk about outlines and such. So you’re now convinced you have to outline the beast that is your novel. Ten years later, you’ve got an outline and no book, now what? And now it’s been thirty years since Sally Pinkerton discarded your Valentine’s Day card, so what’s to say you can even write this story? I mean seriously, you’ve spent the last ten years outlining an amazing story, but you haven’t written a scrap of narrative in that time. What, did you think you were Shakespeare or something? The worst thing you can do is take your writing for granted and only work on the outline. You have to practice.
Some handy advice. Write some short stories or excerpts from your novel while you are developing your outline. Just some short, to the point stories that you can write in a couple of hours. And really examine those stories, try to identify your weaknesses and strengths. And get someone to critique these as well. What you’ll find is that writing is like a child, as it ages it matures.
I don’t want to write an outline, I want to write a novel.
I know! I don’t want to write outlines either, I hate those things. But let’s face it, it’s good to plan. Because if you don’t, what you’ll find is that your story isn’t nearly long enough to be considered a legitimate novel. A novel is a lot of words, a lot of pages, and a lot of work. Before you begin writing your novel, make sure you’ve got enough story to fill that book. Nobody likes buying a bag of chips that’s half full, and the same is true of a book.
I didn’t appreciate the outline until I drew the comparison between it and the storyboard. Alfred Hitchcock had once stated that once you’ve drawn up the storyboard for a film, the movie was made and all that was left was to film it. This is the same with the outline. You flesh out your story, and tell it in the outline, and then all that is left is to write it.
Make it fit you. Since I don’t like to over think my stories too much before I write them, I outline by using a simple spreadsheet form. I stole this basic spreadsheet idea from British author Neal James, and it works well. I flesh the outline out by writing a short summary for each chapter, and then assigning a minimum word count. What happens is your outline is just a fill in the blank sheet that you can use for all stories, no matter the length, and it leaves a lot of room for impromptu imagination during the writing process. But the important thing is that the story is there, and it’s long enough to meet the desired goal.
Giving Sally Pinkerton some credibility.
If you’re like me, sometimes the narrative voice doesn’t come immediate for a story. Sometimes you start writing your book, and realize maybe Sally Pinkerton had good cause to throw away the card you gave her? But before you get over Sally Pinkerton, and take down that morbid shrine in your closet, take the following into consideration.
Take a break. Set the story aside, and don’t write it on it for six months or so. This should be ample time for you to forget what you wrote. In that time, try to think of a few things that might rejuvenate your story. Something that might give it an extra boast of confidence. For example, I started writing “The Red Balloon” about two years ago, but failed miserably. It was horribly contrived, and I wasn’t quite sure where I was going to end up with the story. So I set it aside, and didn’t come back to the story until recently, and by the time I did I had developed a new, solid ending that gave the story more drive and helped me focus in on how I wanted this story to be told. With this new, fresh perspective I started writing it again and after I had written passed where I had left off previously, I checked my old draft to see if there were a few sentences of narrative I wanted to keep. The result was a far better narrative, a superior story to the previous version and an inflated ego.
Try different tenses and perspectives. I started writing Jason Richard Wright, a novella about a serial killer, and it didn’t take me long to realize my decision to write it in first-person perspective was destroying the goal of the story. So I backed off of it for a while (previous step), and started over some time later writing in third-person perspective. What I found was a far better story, that was a lot easier to follow and relate to. Sometimes your narrative can lack the kick you want, because you honed in on the wrong perspective or tense to tell the story. Experiment and see which one works best.
I finally finished this awesome book, now what?
Draft up a query letter, synopsis, and create a short portfolio for your book. Include the query letter, synopsis and some excerpts. I hate this part myself, as I’m sure all writers do. But if you can just sit down one day and force yourself through it, using some examples you can conjure up from the web, you’ll get it together. And then start contacting the usual suspects: literary agents, publishers, etc.
This is usually when those old feelings about Sally Pinkerton start coming back from the cosmos of your abdomen. As the rejection letters pour in like Dear John letters, don’t lose fate. You have to keep in mind that the Sally Pinkertons of this world feed off your pain, so don’t give up. There are so many other fish in the sea with different names; like Kelly, Tammy, and Robert. You’ll show Sally Pinkerton. Once you become a famous author, she’ll see your face on TV and kick herself for not keeping that heartfelt card you wrote up for her, so she could redeem its worth on eBay.
Exercise the demons. Take those rejection letters and keep them somewhere safe. Maybe renovate your closet, add some more square footage and build a bigger shrine for the Sally Pinkertons. If the rejection letters make some legitimate critiques and give you some solid advice, take those and use them for your next proposal. If you receive some useful advice about your book, do some revisions of your book. And when there are things that cut deep, keep those close so someday you can say, “I’d like to thank Sally Pinkerton for giving me the strength to persevere, and I am so happy my book Stranger Than Stupid is an international best-seller.” When Julie Andrews was accepting her Oscar for Mary Poppins, she thanked the guys who did NOT cast her as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, after she had already popularized the role on Broadway alongside Rex Harrison. Had those Hollywood executives not come to the conclusion that Julie Andrews would not translate well on film, she would not have won the Oscar for Mary Poppins. Thank goodness Walt Disney sought her out and took a chance on her. And someday, if you persevere, someone will take a chance on you.
Sally Pinkerton was a moron.
Whether you’re looking to get picked up or you are sufficed being independent, using the eBook revolution to self-publish, you are going to meet many Sally Pinkertons. There will always be those who hate your work, who read it and tear it to shreds. But if you are truly telling good stories, and writing solid characters, people will see that despite what any Sally Pinkerton may say. Sally Pinkertons are a dime a dozen, just like the comments on a YouTube video that demand their thirty seconds of life back. Just keep on trucking, and eventually you’ll find your readers, even if they didn’t know you were looking for them. One day you’ll walk into a room, and you’ll see her, and she’ll see you, and you’ll both just know... you know?
Fresh perspective on “I’ve got this great idea for a book.”
As stated earlier, I wrote the above blog post in 2011. Skip forward to 2016 and I began the process of writing my first book. In 2020, I published my first book. What happened between 2011 and 2016 that got me into a headspace to where I could write a book? I'm glad you asked.
On April 1, 2014, I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2. Worst Aril Fool's Day joke ever. I had been struggling with bipolar since puberty unawares. After high school I coasted pretty good, but by my mid-20s I was really struggling with it. With regards to my writing, it was my untreated bipolar that made it so difficult to follow through. So, I was diagnosed in 2014 and began treatment and two years later I felt good enough that I made the decision to start a book series. Getting my diagnosis and a solid treatment plan led to me being able to write a novel. I'm currently working on the third draft of the second book in the series. That's pretty wild, ya'll.
I know a lot of people worry about wrecking their creativity with medications, but I can testify that medication and therapy together straightened out my brain and allowed me to focus properly while being creative. Does my brain function differently on medication? Yes. Am I a less creative or artistic person? No. I'm just more organized about it. And that's a good thing.
Battle Flag by Pigeonhed.
The song for this month is Battle Flag by Pigeonhed. Why? Because there’s a lyric from the song that says, “I said ‘hallelujah’ to the sixteen loyal fans,” and this month Weaver’s Deep Thoughts surpassed sixteen subscribers. So, hallelujah y’all! Also, keep your eyes peeled because I’m gonna post another dance video to celebrate.