Jeanne: Protecting Your Creative Process

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The other day I was describing to a friend a new novel I’m writing. The book will be women’s fiction–my other love.

It was inspired by a reality TV show I saw a few years ago. A woman underwent an extreme makeover–boob job, tummy tuck, fanny lift, chin and cheek implants, dental work. They took an inch–an inch!–off her nose. When they were done, she looked like a Hollywood starlet.

For the reveal, they showed her descending a spiral staircase. At the bottom stood her husband, in his brown polyester suit, with his comb-over. Beside him was their 12-year-old daughter, sporting the nose Mom just got rid of. And I thought: How in the world will she ever go back to her old life?

It’s an intriguing premise and I’m pretty excited about it. My friend listened patiently to my description until I finished.

Then she said, “I don’t think that will sell.”

It felt like all the air had been let out of my balloon.

The creative process can be fragile. Depending on how strong your belief in your idea is, it may not take much to quench your enthusiasm for a project, especially in the early stages. Being told your idea is uninteresting, or unrealistic or unmarketable or a cliche–whether these criticisms are valid or not–may irreparably damage your inspiration. So it’s important to protect your creative process.

I’ve read a lot (a LOT) of authors, including Stephen King, who insist that it’s critical to write your first draft with the door closed–no outside input.

That doesn’t work for me. It takes a village to write one of my books. I talk to people the entire time I’m writing. Lots of things I hear make their way into my manuscripts and my stories are richer for it. And the interest people display in my story along the way gives me the energy to keep writing.

So how do you balance that?

Just as with your finished book, I think it’s about audience. The friend with whom I discussed the new book (working title: To the Bone), clearly isn’t the target market for this particular book. But I have another friend, an excellent writer who loves, loves, loves women’s fiction, and she’ll talk about this idea with me for hours.

I think every writer needs to write the way that works for her. And I think you need to do what you need to do to protect your creative process.

Even if that means exposing your creative process.

Image courtesy of atibodyphoto at freedigitalphotos.net

8 thoughts on “Jeanne: Protecting Your Creative Process

  1. I can imagine saying “That story’s not for me. I wouldn’t buy it.” I’d say that about most women’s fiction – it’s not usually my thing. I can’t imagine ever saying “I don’t think that will sell.” Even publishers don’t know what will sell, or they’d publish nothing but best-sellers. Do you remember Fay Weldon’s Life and Loves of a She-Devil? Best book I can think of featuring an extreme makeover. Totally different from your story, but creepy, unforgettable and very successful.

    I think it’s great that you know what works for you. I’m happy to talk about the story I’m working on and I’m totally up for discussing the premise, characters, or my problem of the moment, but I don’t want anyone to beta read for me or critique the actual writing until I’ve worked everything out to my own satisfaction. And sometimes I have to stop myself from sharing TMI with a potential beta reader (hi, Jennifer!) because I’d rather get their reaction to the whole book when I’m done.

    • It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was still useful to know. From discussions in the forum at McDaniel, I’m aware that several of the Ladies are not big on women’s fiction. In fact, I may be the only one. I just need to keep that in mind when I’m looking for beta readers.

      • I like some women’s fiction. It is not my favorite, but I’ve read a number of stories that I have enjoyed. I think your story sounds interesting. I can’t wait to see how it all unfolds.

        For my own writing process, I like to brainstorm with others but I generally don’t want anyone to see the story until I have worked things out. I learned that the hard way when I showed the story to some betas too early in the process.

        • Years ago, with my first writing group, we shared a chapter at a time as we wrote. I think we needed the validation to keep going. Now I definitely prefer not to show pages until I have a first draft (well, second, really).

      • The book I did for class was WF, and while I’m working on the Victorian romance series now, the next 2 projects after that will be WF. So at least you have some company ;-). And I’m really looking forward to your next story and would love to critique for you!

  2. Jilly shared a blog post recently with us about a woman who was having fundamental problems with her plot, and then she asked the blogger for advice. The blogger had to shut down the comments section because apparently the commenters were puncturing the balloons all over the place. The blogger said something wonderful about the fragility of the story when it is just being made . . . .

    So . . . it’s really tough. We need to hear just as much feedback, positive and negative, as we can handle. After that, we need to be able to be ninjas and deflect the stuff that doesn’t have bearing on our work.

    I’ve learned to say thank you for my critiquers’ time, and wait at least 48 hours before I try clarifying anything. And if I want to argue with them, I argue in a word document . . . then I delete it. Sometimes just the argument is enough to clarify things for me — and if I need further clarification, it better be important enough that I can remember what I want to ask after writing a tirade and deleting it.

    Another thing is that if something really sticks in my craw, there’s usually a reason. Something IS wrong. It might not be what the critiquer said is wrong, but the critiquer definitely is pulling on something that might unravel the whole baby.

    (-: I think, though, that one of the smartest things Jenny did for us in class is teach us how to be decent critiquers. How to qualify our harshness (this isn’t my cup of tea, but . . ./this isn’t really my genre/I had a boyfriend once who . . . so . . ./etc.). How to be positive. How to focus on what the problem really might be. How to recognize that we have no idea what the problem is, but we know there’s a problem. It cut through hours of dancing around problems, I think.

    For what it’s worth, I think that’s immensely salable. I think the themes you can work with here are completely in line with 21st century women’s experiences. (If I change, will they still like me? If I change, will I still like them?) How the Leopard Changed its Spots is an age-old story that we’re still trying to figure out . . . .

    • Thanks, Miichaeline. A few weeks after my balloon-puncturing experience, I talked about this book at a writers’ retreat up in Michigan. One of the group said, “Wow. Can you imagine the effect that could have on her whole town? You’d have people redoing their living rooms, and buying new cars and changing houses.” I hadn’t even considered the ripple effect to her community. So that’s the kind of stuff I get from chatting with people while I’m still in the planning stages. And for me that’s too valuable to skip just so I can avoid getting negative feedback.

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