Monday, December 8, 2008

I Am A Powerful Person And I Have Something to Say

It was suggested to me by a fairly well-known, successful writer, who (by some stroke of luck) happened to read the first two-thirds of my current novel revision, that I need to "step into my power as a writer." How is that for advice?  It was pointed out that my conflict about power is an internal problem that can be resolved. Other points to consider: possibly changing the verb tense I'm using, possibly changing the point of view I've chosen.  
Interesting suggestions.  

I'm trying to listen to myself, though; my powerful, powerful self.  

Thoughts about this, anybody?


Anonymous said...

"Step into my power as a writer."
Sounds impressive. But what does it mean?
Why can't you listen to yourself, and everybody else be damned?
You already hugely revised your novel; what will you have left of yourself in it if you keep changing it?
And if it has to be changed so much, and you seem so uncommited to what you've done, maybe it's not of much worth.
Sorry, but I think you're on the wrong track. You want too badly to be on the "success" track. It's not worth it, w,r.

E. said...

W,R --

Interesting notion. I think it may be akin to authenticity; to writing courageously. It's taken me a long time to understand what that means, and even understanding it, I still struggle to do it.

Step into your power. Hmm. To me, that means asserting your boldest self; exploring the outer reaches of the narrative; pushing beyond what feels tidy in order to discover what feels true; dramatizing that truth.

I've been blogging about this in a sideways manner the last couple of days, ruminating on the concept of an envisioned audience for the novel I'm drafting.

I think it all comes down to: why write? What are you saying that is so freaking important? Why should the reader care?

On one hand, intimidating. On the other, liberating.


Writer, Rejected said...

The point is I *am* trying to listen to myself (my powerful self, in fact) to figure out whether the suggestions by the powerful, powerful writer are useful or not. Does that put me on the wrong track? Maybe. But sometimes other voices are worth hearing, no?

Anyhoo, I am more committed to my work than you can imagine. So, you're damn right I want to succeed, but I want to do so because I've written the best possible novel I can write, not at the cost of my art.

That's all....sounds easy, right?

John said...

From intermittently following this saga, I'm coming up with a couple of questions. One is that you appear to be focusing entirely on the novel, at least from what I read here. Why not back off from the novel and try submitting short stories, flash, whatever? You may be able to build more of a reputation in small increments, win more prizes, etc., and even get more perspective on the novel by taking smaller risks with shorter pieces. Maybe you're doing this, in fact, but aren't saying so here.

Psychobabble isn't much help, though, and stepping into your power is blah blah blah.

rmellis said...

Does the advice ring powerfully true for you? Do you know what, exactly, you can change to make an improvement? Otherwise, I'd store that bit of advice in the back of my mind and not worry over it too much.

I mean, that writer might well be right, but I believe (powerfully) that manuscript advice needs to be tied to specifics. Is it a voice issue -- do you need to choose stronger language? Or does your pacing need to be quicker and more confident? Or are your scenes cutting short before they resolve?

Puc said...

"Step into your power" sounds like advice from a baseball batting coach; but it's good advice, if you're wanting to hit a homerun. As for power and having something to say though, Henry James had this to say: "The young lady living in a village has only to be a damsel upon whom nothing is lost to make it quite unfair (as it seems to me) to declare to her that she shall have nothing to say about the military" (The Art of Fiction).

Anonymous said...

Huh? Henry James' sentences are so convoluted, but as they go that one is fairly short.

I think "Step into your power" sounds like the next winning song for American Idol. Excuse me while I go compose it. "This is my now."

All power to you, WR, whatever you decide to do with the rewrite. I'm curious about the tense shifting - are you experimenting with the notoriously difficult second person? Or writing passively, indicating something psychological or...? I suspect you won't tell. But I wish you much luck and success.

Anonymous said...

Change the setting of your novel to war-torn Afghanistan, w/r.
The advice you got would, to many writers whose work I respect, sound like hogwash.
It's MFA-seminar room pontificating. "Authenticity" comes in to play only when it's put into effect - when the writer creates real characters and situations.
The problem for you is that you want to get accepted by those who are impressed by words like "power," and "asserting your boldest self," etc.
Yet the ones who spout such nonsense are the same people who publish "crap." Go figure.
In reading the convoluted sentence of Mr. James, I think we come to the problem: couldn't he have said it much more simply? But it has that cherished "upon whom nothing is lost" phrase, so everybody falls over themselves about it.
Indeed, Hans Christian Andersen got it right. There's no shortage of people crying out, "But he has no clothes." It's just that neither the crowd of admirers nor the Emperor care to hear them.

Puc said...

The point is that everyone has something to say; the question is how should one's experience be expressed, particularly important if you are writing for an audience. If you are not writing for an audience, then your chances of commercialized publication are limited. How you express yourself should develop from what you have to say, your audience, your purpose in writing, and let your writing strategy and structure develop accordingly. Last anonymous values simplicity and True Adventures - does that conform to your purpose? If so, you have your answer, and you can step into it. My own preference would be to hear from the powerless - have had enough of the power brokers these last eight years. And if the voice of the powerless happens to be convoluted, I'll still listen to them. It's misguided to dictate the how before the why.

Anonymous said...

As for the Henry James' quote. Yes, the village damsel has something to say about the military, but she can't write a novel about fighting in the trenches. She doesn't have the material - the smells, the language, all the "mechanics" of that life. James Jones had them, so he could write From Here to Eternity without researching it.
"True Adventures" seems a demeaning way to charcterize what Anonymous wanted, Puc. On a different post I mentioned Sister Carrie, The Octopus, USA. All about the powerless. All with characters that are real, in situations that I can relate to, and each author chose a direct, simple way to tell their important story.

Puc said...

Simple does not mean easy, and there is an audience for true adventures, and it's not necessarily demeaning, or promoting, to mention it. But it seems to me that it's pointless to criticize a work for not being the work we desire - better to try to understand the world the author desired and the way he persuades us to visit it. In any case, I agree with your comment, and share your affinity for those writers and those books you've mentioned.

Anonymous said...

I wish editors were more open - that they did not reject a work for not being the work they desire; that they tried to understand the world the author desired and the way he persuades us to visit it.
Instead, they summarily dismiss work based on personal criteria. Your connections/credentials being one.
I mentioned From Here to Eternity. It never ceases to amaze me that Maxwell Perkins actually talked to James Jones (a Nobody who walked into his office with an enormous manuscript); that Perkins actually took this manuscript and read it; that he wrote Jones a long letter about it (he declined to publish it; but he praised Jones for the drive and conviction in his writing, especially in the Scofield Barracks scenes; the encouragement led Jones to embark on From Here to Eternity).
What editor today would be so open, perceptive and generous?

Puc said...

I don't know. But what drew me to this particular post by our host who gives us great welcome to itch our smallest writing desires was the combination of economic recession and writer depression. Who or what will bail us out?

Joe said...

To me the "step into your power" comment sounds ridiculous, but I suppose if the person who said it was very inspiring to know and genuine, it could be meaningful. But just seeing the words, it strikes me as fraudulent.

The "change the verb tense" comment, to me, can only mean one of two things. Either it means: "Don't be artsy. Just tell your story." or "be artsier. don't just tell your story". In my mind, all "be artsier" criticism should be ignored and all "be less artsy" criticism should be accepted. But that's my bias. I think there's a fair chance I'd read any story in present or future tense and suggest making it past tense.

As far as the point of view, you should take this comment only insofar as it inspires you. Often people subjectively relate to different characters (which is great!) and often we'll want a different character to be the focus or protagonist. For instance, in a story of a successful writer criticizing an oft-rejected writer, I would suggest that the oft-rejected writer be the protagonist because who wants to follow around a successful writer criticizing everybody? But someone else might want to live the fantasy of being the criticizer or might want to understand the frailty and personal world that leads to the criticizer's attitude, etc. So, if you don't think, "great idea! I relate to that character more as well!" then ignore the comment. But if you're inspired to change who the protagonist is, do it!

my two cents

Anonymous said...

"step into" your power.
then wipe it off your shoe.

as for changing your tense, though Im a cynic I think there is something to that idea. most people say "I want to" or "someday I will" when they might want to say "I am"
which would help reframe their sense of failure.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the advice should have been re-worded. My mind goes to assertion immediately. One of the commenters mentioned boldness. I would agree to something along that line. And boldness to me means saying what most people wouldn't dare say.