Discover more from Brooke Lea Foster's Dear Fiction
What I'm Struggling With In My Writing
"Publishing is a long road."
Crafting my fourth book has been moving slower than my other books. I’m not sure if I’m imagining this or if it’s reality, but what matters is that it’s how I feel. There’s a point in the writing of my novels where I get in the groove and hit a momentum and I can’t stop typing my way through the day. Lately, though, I feel like I’m sitting down for a dutiful date with my characters rather than an intimate investigation of their hearts and minds. Yes, I’m writing “bird by bird,” as Anne Lamott has said, but I don’t feel like the voices and the story is pouring out of me in one fell swoop.
But isn’t that a fantasy writers cook up for themselves? There’s always a lot of muddling before a novel comes together, and I’ve told Nancy numerous times, writing a novel is probably the most inefficient process.
Last week I was emailing with one of my author friends, Jamie Brenner, whose writing I’ve always enjoyed. She’s a bit of a fairy god mother to me when it comes to writing advice, and she’s always doling out wise little nuggets to push me along as I’m working. In the email, I confided in her that I feel so ambitious with what I want to do with this novel but what’s coming out on the page isn’t matching — something she said she could relate to. After mentioning that I keep assigning my characters feelings and emotions but not showing it, she wrote me back with an important reminder. She said something like: But this is a first draft. You’ll figure out how to show the emotions in the second draft. Don’t be too hard on yourself over that.
OMG — she nailed it. I was making the age old drafting mistake: Trying to write a third draft when I’m still writing a first one. Whether you’ve written ten books or working on your first novel, it’s a writer’s fantasy that when you sit down to the computer you’ll type out beautiful sentences that connect and capture the themes bouncing around your head. But that is not what happens. Like ever.
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Instead, you write really bad sentences. You say things like, “she nodded” or “she tilted her head” or “she raised her eyebrows” one million times because you’re not sure what she would actually be doing yet. One character might have a line like this assigned to it: But her daughters had spent a lifetime feeling angry and she wasn’t sure how to make amends with them. No, no, no! Later, in a third draft, you’ll cut that line because you’ll realize that is what your entire story is showing — there’s no need to say that outright.
That simple reminder from Jamie has actually loosened me up at the computer. This past week I’ve been way more excited to sit down and explore what my characters are up to — and I even wrote a much stronger first chapter. Because in putting pressure on myself to write a perfect draft, I took away the joys of writing.
I went to hear Mary Beth Keane read from fourth novel The Half Moon at Barnes and Noble the other night. When I mentioned that I hadn’t read her first two books, she joked that no one did. Her third book, Ask Again, Yes, had been a huge bestseller and one of my favorite novels of the pandemic. Then she smiled kindly and said, “Publishing is a long road.” So that’s the advice I’m sending you into the weekend with: Give yourself time.
Book News: What You Should Be Reading
In other news, I want to extend a HUGE congratulations to my friend Garrett Graff (who writes the fantastic newsletter) since his book Watergate was long-listed for the PULITZER PRIZE. Holy crow, Garrett! About a decade ago, we worked together at Washingtonian Magazine in DC and he’s one of my favorite journalists and people. Check out his work if you haven’t already! So proud of him!
After another author reading I attended in NYC recently, I got to chat with the lovely Ann Leary, whose FASCINATING novel The Foundling, just came out in paperback. It’s all about eugenics in the 1930s and it’s told through this fascinating outsider character working at a home for “Feebleminded Women,” where all is not what it seems. Def check this one out! (Also, that’s a picture of The Latecomer’s Jean Hanff Korelitz, Ann Leary and myself; we got a kick out of the fact that our three books were on the same page in People magazine.)
Lastly, here are a few novels by author friends that I’m looking forward to getting my hands on: Annabel Monaghan’s Same Time Next Summer, Fiona Davis’s The Spectacular, Kristy Woodson Harvey’s The Summer of Songbirds and Nicola Harrison’s Hotel Laguna. Happy summer reading everyone!
Have a great weekend!