I look at changing seasons as the beginning of something new. I know, I know, how on earth would a Californian know squat all about changing seasons when it’s always 78 degrees, white puffy clouds, gentle ocean breezes, and likely chance of earthquakes? Easy…we sniff the air. Admittedly, it’s so subtle that it would fly over the head of anyone who has lived where changing seasons whack you over the head with a 2 x 4. The Californian has to be aware of gentle changes in order to catch it.
So when a new season hits, I take advantage of that time to signify a new beginning. Whether it’s beginning a new book (to keep the other 20 under the bed company), signing a new author, or hitting the promo trail for our new books coming out, I semi-wipe the slate clean and begin with fresh wind in my sails. And we can do that with our writing, as well.
Changing seasons a la California style is a lot like writing. Sometimes we get so caught up in our stories that we forget how making a subtle change can make a story go from “What-The-Fudgery?” to “Holy cow, I rock the world.” It could be something as gentle as tweaking your character development in order to humanize them. After all, who likes a flat-as-my-attempts-at-baking character? If your character leaps off the page, then your readers will follow you through the gates of hell. And the differences between suckosity and fabulosity can be very subtle.
I see so many manuscripts that have wonderful potential, except the writing style is all wrong for the story. It’s like the time Baby Daughter was 8, and made her first batch of cookies. Typically, she didn’t want my help (damned apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), and because she didn’t want my help, she mistook the salt for sugar. If memory serves, she didn’t bake again for years…at least until she was 10.
If you have a gritty story about dependency, then a sing-songy, literary writing style could turn off your potential readers, who are expecting a more serious style that matches the seriousness of the story. With a subtle change in writing style, you could have a great book on your hands.
If it’s your intent to keep things on the light side, then adopting a serious tone will have your readers tossing your book (or Nook) against the wall. I read a manuscript where the writer wanted to write about the humorous side of cancer. I know there are books out there already, and they’re well done. But this author couldn’t quite make up her mind whether she really wanted to keep it light or get dark and deep. The result was a choppy, inconsistent story that had more rolls and bumps than the roller coaster at Knott’s Berry Farm.
A great example of writing style is Chris Baughman’s fabulous book, OFF THE STREET. It’s a gritty story about how he and his Pandering Investigative Team (PIT) hunts down a pimp who has severly beaten a woman in his stable of five. You would think his writing style is Detective Joe Friday “Just the facts, ma’am,” but it isn’t. Instead, Chris writes in a very poetic style that works very well because it reveals how caring and passionate he is about saving women who are caught up in human trafficking. It’s also a delicious dichotomy that yields a pleasant surprise.
How about your writing style? Does it compliment your story, or is it a resounding thud?
Writing What You Love
The change of seasons is a great time to assess whether you’re writing what you love. I look no further than my bud, the Crabbity Old Bat Nicola Morgan who is returning to her love of writing for kids after a long season or three of helping writers. Huzza, Nic!
Are you in that same space, where you feel tied down to something else and would love to get back to writing? Are you writing in a genre that you’ve outgrown?
I’ll tell you one thing; an editor can smell passion from a mile away – sorta like the beagle if there’s good tequila anywhere within a six-mile radius. Passion comes through like nothing else. Sure, experienced writers can fake it, but why would anyone want to? Once you regard your writing as a noose around your neck, it’s time to consider a change…selling bellybutton warmers, becoming an impressionist artist using Jello, opening up a bar for errant beagles…anything. Without passion, you’re just going through the paces.
The beginning of a new season means saying goodbye to the old season. I remember when I finished my novel…I sat back in my chair and cried like a lunatic. My hubs came running downstairs to see if I was OK, and I snorted out a blubbery, “I-I-I finished!” Thought he was going to toss me into a cold shower. It was a bittersweet moment because I’d lived with this book for nearly a year, and I had a surreal moment of “What’s next?”
Allowing yourself to say goodbye invites improvement and something divergent. Maybe you need to say goodbye to a weak plot, or characters who add nothing to the magic of your story. Maybe it’s the entire book…which is the scariest of all.
There is one author who will always be burned into my cerebral hard drive. Four years in a row, she pitched her book to me at a writer’s conference. She had the most fabulous query letter, but the writing just didn’t live up to the hype. Every year, I critiqued her writing and prayed for success because I knew how much this story meant to her. I knew she’d pitched it out there to agents and editors for those four years.
When she sat at my table a year ago, I finally had to break it to her that perhaps it was time to move on to a new story. I’ve never done that before, and the words dragged themselves out of my throat kicking and screaming. But I truly believed the season of this particular book had ended, and it was time to welcome a new season. With tears welling in her eyes, she told me that she’d already decided this was the last year she was going to try to sell it before gently putting it under the bed. I never felt lower. Face it, saying goodbye is hard, and many of us avoid it in order to sidestep the pain.
Being Open to a New Season
Changing seasons California style means that you have to be open to the idea of change, unlike Pittsburgh (my new home as of October 1), where I’m certain the seasons will bash me over the head with a meat cleaver. Be present to the subtle nudges that are inviting you to be better than you’ve ever dared to be. Sniff the air and see if there isn’t some small tweak that will change your whole life.
As much as it’s going to hurt to leave my friends and family, I’m open to that impeding season of newness, and I can’t wait to see what’s around the literary corner. As we Californians would say, “Awesome, dude.” Go out and embrace your awesome-ness.