by Molly Jo Realy @MollyJoRealy
So, this thing happened. Actually, a lot of things happened. And I quit writing. #truestory.
Now, as Al Gansky often says, “You can quit anytime you want. You just can’t stay quit.” Easy for you to say, Pops.
But I wasn’t ready to unquit. I wasn’t ready to put on my Big Girl pants and move forward. I was ready to drown my sorrows in a nice vat of sweet tea.
I was pretty much embroiled in a two-week, flu-and-medication induced, nobody-really-cares-about-NOLA pity party. Uhm, yeah. I’d collected about four rejection letters from agents and publishers, the alpha readers weren’t responding, my editor had some priority commitments, and I hadn’t written in quite some time.
I was pretty much desolate and devoid of life.
Of course, I figured once I worked my way out (if that was indeed what I wanted to do), I’d have a blog post to share with y’all. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to share this. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to work my way out of it. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to write any more.
There I was, a week ago, all dressed up in my Mardi Gras-inspired LuLaRoe outfit, and nobody cared. It was Fat Tuesday, but out here in California, it was just another day. Another cold, wintry, Molly-don’t-feel-good day. And then [like it could get any worse? Oh, but just wait for it. It does.] the very next day was Valentine’s Day. Now, I’m not a poor-me-I’m-single kind of thinker. Except when I’m going on week two of a severe flu-and-cold attack wrapped neatly in a writer’s block sandwich with a nice dollop of would-you-like-some-cheese-with-your-WHINE kind of attitude.
And I was struggling – I mean really struggling – about my writing. I want so desperately to make NOLA the best it can be, but I wasn’t getting much feedback from anyone. And, something has been gnawing at me lately. Well, not just lately. But it started small enough I could ignore it. Until recently. Until the flu meds helped my brain become a little less filtered. So as I’m
sitting resting near comatose in a meditative medicated state in my recliner, these words come back to me from someone who I think meant well, but doesn’t grasp the essence of me or my story. This person, last year, inferred I didn’t belong in the writing community I was in because of the suggestive content in NOLA.
And last week I started to believe that statement. I thought, “How can I be a Christian and write grit?” I was compromising my story to make it fit Someone Else’s idea of what it should be. I knew, even though the rough draft is exactly what I wanted it to be, that it’s not the finished product.
And to get to a marketable finished product, I need to change NOLA. But how? There’s no cussing. No sex. There’s some booze and Hoodoo. [Oh, c’mon. It’s New Orleans, not the Sistine Chapel.] And, yeah. Some physical attractions. So why doesn’t it work? Because when I was writing it for Someone Else, it wasn’t the story that needs to be told.
So I set everything I was told aside. I read Steven James’s The Pawn. Now, here’s a great Christian, award-winning author who writes psychological thrillers. NOLA isn’t a psychological thriller, but I can certainly draw parallels between writing grit while being a Christian. NOLA was never intended for the Christian market.
But there’s still the thing about rules. You know, market formula. Sigh. Heavy sigh. Because it’s CREATIVE writing, am I right? How can we be creative geniuses and embrace our craziness if we’re regulated to formulaic prose?
Huzzah. I picked up another Steven James book last week: Story Trumps Structure. Four pages in and I already realize, this is what’s been missing. Steven knows how to create a story worth telling on its merit. Forget Act I, II, III. Forget peaks and valleys of plot. Just write the story. And he gives me [okay, everyone, but for this conversation, we’re gonna say he wrote the book for me, okay?] permission to be *gasp* *wait for it*
Okay. Raise your hands if you did not see that one coming.
But wait. There’s more: Aaron Gansky [son of the aforementioned Pops, and my good friend and writing mentor] has always encouraged writers to read Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners. Now, I studied Flannery in college. So the same night I picked up Steven James’s books, I also grabbed The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor. She wrote grit. She was almost excommunicated from the Catholic Church for writing Southern-grotesque stories. You know what her response was? How can you show how wonderful God is unless you show all He helps us overcome? How can we show the depravity of man if we keep our eyes closed to it? Her writings weren’t meant to be sermons, but rather studies on human nature. She had a beautiful grasp on the “unexpected but inevitable” endings. Her stories could never end any way other than how she wrote them, and yet they still surprise us. She was a master at her craft.
So here I am, putting these puzzle pieces back together. Crying my guts out to my three closest Besties (and my mom), and agonizing over what to do because I want to be creative and not follow a formula and I’m tired of waiting on agents and publishers and editors and I just need to move forward. And every single one of my people told me (a) “I love you. You’ll get through this.” and (b) “Knock it off and get a grip.” It was their loving version of a Gibbs-slap.
And it worked.
Two days ago I started rewriting NOLA to be the piece I know it can be. I’m pulling out old notes, reinserting deleted scenes, cleaning up grammar and dirtying up the plot. I’m making it the book I need it be. For me. Not for a community. Not for instructors. Not for rules of the industry. And in doing so, I’m making it the best book for you.
Gibbs always tells his NCIS team, “Trust your gut.” And that’s what I’ve decided to do. Because nobody knows how to tell NOLA better than me. I just forgot that part for a minute.
As a prologue to this wonderful journey, first I’m over the flu thankyouverymuchforasking. Second, tonight’s Firsts in Fiction Podcast is “Encouragement from Discouragement.” How apropos is that? Hey, I don’t make this stuff up! I hope you’ll join the chat room live at 5:30 pm PST. Just click on the link and join the fun.
Now I want to hear from you: Have you compromised your work to fit someone else’s idea of what it should be? How do you get over writer’s block? What encouragements do you have for other writers?
With a clear path and a happy gut,
And Frankly, My Dear . . . : That’s all she wrote!