Written by Sebastian A. Melmoth
“The composition of a novel,” Margaret Atwood surmised, “may be one part inspiration and nine parts perspiration, but that one part inspiration is essential if the work is to live as art.” Inspiration is an odd fish. Abstract and evasive, it slips through your writerly fingers like mercury, or it fossilizes in the bedrock of your literary embryo. Therefore, cultivating such an elusive thing can be a difficult process, but not an impossible one. There are options — like wading through an endless series of listicles on the task of gaining and sustaining inspiration, promising yourself that you’re not feeding the procrastination demon (self awareness is a virtue).
One deceptively simple solution might be to write what matters to you. Proust called the act of reading “that fertile miracle of communication in the midst of solitude.” As readers, we engage with the private world of the writer, passing through their feelings and perspectives and coming out a bit larger than we were before. I think Leopold Senghor put it well when he wrote: “All art is social.” The intimacy of sharing from the trove of human experience can leave a writer especially vulnerable to the whims of an unknown audience, but can’t the same be said about all writing? After having power over your narrative, you inevitably submit to “the mortifying ordeal of being known.” In fact, the Knowing is the imperative of writing.
Offering the reader a chance to observe your process and make equally insightful reflections is at the heart of all literary transmissions. As our limited scope of the world broadens, our capacity to empathize expands. We become more conscious of situations beyond our immediate purview, and this emotional dilation may in turn lead to the awareness of movements we would otherwise not be familiar with. Whether that’s uncovering the continuum of racism through the fabulism of Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching, or the liminalities of mental illness and Igbo cosmology through Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, we are diversifying our minds.
Diversifying the minds of readers can come at the cost of their comfort, but disturbing the peace is a necessity for change, as Dorothy Allison astutely observed: “let’s be clear about what the peace is. The peace is a kind of silence about the very issues that writers exist to call attention to. It’s so easy to disturb the peace. All you really have to do is tell the truth, and it will disturb and upset people.” Allison is not alone in this consideration. Crime novelist and activist, Ausma Zehanat Khan agrees that the writer’s role is to act as messenger, “allowing us to experience and encompass the humanity of the other, and perhaps to reconsider the beliefs we held fast to before.” When the writer is passionate about their subject and brave enough to write it, their vulnerability seals the bond between the writer and reader.
Even if a reader disagrees with the point of view or trajectory of the book, they may find it difficult to discredit the sincerity of the writer and the impact the work has had on them. However, once we allow ourselves to see another’s perspective and empathize with them, all of our circumscribed assumptions are forever altered by our understanding.
Sebastian A. Melmoth is an editorial and social media intern at Ladderbird. He’s a recent graduate from Alverno College with a degree in History and English Literature. Currently, Sebastian is attempting to relieve some of the Ladderbird workload by contributing to a range of agenting projects.
Written by Annalise D'Errico
November has come and gone, and if you participated in National Novel Writing Month, you’ve got a fresh fifty-thousand words to play around with. This new project might still be shiny and new, or maybe it’s lost that luster, but regardless, you’ve written something – whether it’s 5k or 50k – and that’s something to laude! But how do you keep that steam from NaNoWriMo from dying out, especially as holiday season is upon us? Here is a list of some ways to keep that creative flame burning to get you through the next couple of months.
Reread what you’ve got:
Fifty thousand words is a lot, and to write it in thirty days means that you’ve been writing at a pace of approximately 1,700 words a day. That takes a lot out of you. Give yourself a day or two to simply relax, think over what you’ve got, and then read your manuscript like it’s a book off of your shelf. This isn’t a revision so much as a way to get back into what made you fall in love with your story in the first place and encourage you to keep on working even though the majority of it is finished. Burning out at this point is so easy, you’ve done so much, but it still feels like so little. Reading though will inspire that creative genius to keep working.
Make a plan:
Did you not reach that 50k word mark? Or maybe 50k is only the hallway point of your story? (Check out some word count guidelines.) If so, rework that outline. If you’re a planner, restarting that original outline will let you rework some of those first ideas and plan out something that is much more accurate to the draft that you’re writing now. Maybe reread your manuscript and really see how it split from the outline, then start an entirely new document to plan all over again. This way the story feels organic in its direction, and not like you’re forcing yourself to adhere your primary outline.
A plan can also refer to a physical plan that you make to keep yourself on track. This would function similarly to NaNoWriMo’s time constraint. If deadlines work for you, then plan out December like you planned out November. Give yourself a daily word goal, and really try and stick to it. Sometimes pretending that November is really two months long will help with keeping up your motivation. And, maybe you’ll get another 50k out of you.
Start to revise:
Whether you’re finished or not, sometimes it's beneficial to go back to the beginning and really tease out your first draft. If you’ve finished this first draft, then revising will get you to a more cohesive and better created second draft, and it’s the natural next step in the process. If you aren’t quite finished, but don’t know where to go, revising will help you get a better estimation of where you’re at and provide you directions with where to go. This is will also give you the opportunity to expand some of the plot and development that you have at the beginning of your novel to give you more room to work with toward the end. Stories have a way of getting away from us, and you could be fifty thousand words in and completely unable to recognize your project – and that’s okay. Revision will not only help you get to that original vision, but it will help your project grow and settle into a better version of itself.
Try your hand at a new project:
Sometimes the best thing you can do is let your manuscript sit, though I would only recommend this if you’ve completed a first draft. If you haven’t, I’d push yourself to keep going. Even though holiday season is upon us, finding time to finish off that last set of words while your head is still so embedded in the story will do you the greatest good. If you have finished a first draft, though, take a step away. Right now, your emotional connection to the story is too raw and to go into really harsh revisions, so they won’t get where you need to be. Above, I recommend revising, but only if your adding and further developing what you’ve got, not putting your project under the editing scalpel. Give yourself a week or more, Stephen King recommends six months, and focus on your next project. It’s always good to have a second project while you send another one out for submission anyway, so working simultaneous projects, if you can, can be beneficial from a marketing point of view.
Just take a break from writing:
Sometimes letting a manuscript sit, and letting your mind wander to a different place is the best thing for you. Read for fun. Journal but in a genre very different from the project you’re working on. Be creative, but with reckless abandon. Do other hobbies that don’t fall in the literary world at all. Remember that creativity is a never ending process, and that writing a book is equal parts exhausting and enthralling. As literary agents, we want to see that enthrallment, though. If taking a break is what you need to complete a project after a month of continuous work, then do that! Your project will still be waiting for you in a month, or a year. And letting yourself breathe will let the story breathe too. Sometimes it needs a break right alongside you.
NaNoWriMo is something to be proud of, but also something to look at with a level of objectivity. No one can write a perfect draft of a best-seller in a month – at least not anyone I know, so be gentle with yourself. What you have is a great start, and 2020 will bring twelve new months to let you work on making your project into the best story that it can be. And maybe one day, we’ll get to see it. Good luck!
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