18 Nov 2016

if anyone tells you that writing novels gets easier over time, they’re crazy

new novel

The final draft of my second book, and yes, I still print things out. 

 

When you write a book, your first thought is: Can I do this? Can I be obsessed with something to a degree that it’ll sustain me through hundreds of pages of revisions, years of deleting and rewriting drafts? Will I allow characters to inhabit my life for a period that doesn’t have a defined end? Can I write this without considering the business of publishing? Can I write knowing this may not be sold or read?

You ask yourself whether you can see the story and the fate of your characters all the way through. And after you’ve accomplished what you set out to do, now that the book is written and you’ve exorcised your obsession by committing your characters to a page, you then ask yourself: How do I get better? You keep asking yourself that question every time you come to the page.

I’ve written and sold two books and I assure you the process does not get easier, but I often think about the line from the film Heat, when Michael Cheritto’s character says, For me, the action is the juice. For me, the reward is worth the stretch. I could probably offer more of an astute philosophy, quotes from great writers on the process of writing books, but it all boils down to this: the reward is the composition of the work itself, rather than external validation, which may or may not happen (in fact, I’m expecting criticism of my second book due to the nature of the violence), praise or criticism that is fleeting and soon forgettable. You write what consumes you. You write to make sense of the world. You write to explain it. You write to make your voice heard when it feels you’re the smallest person in the room.

Last year when I moved to California, I wrote my third book in a month. The velocity shocked me, honestly, because it took me eight years to start a second book, two years to write and revise it, and nearly a year to sell it. A new book for me is akin to bloodletting–it’s never easy, it’s often confusing and painful, but then there’s that MOMENT. The switch. When the story falls into place and your characters surprise you in the smallest (and arguably most powerful) of ways. My book always starts one way and ends up becoming what I hadn’t planned or intended. I lost count of how many times I gut-renovated my second book–the structure was problematic, the payoff non-existent, and a few of the characters felt one-note.

After three years, I found a structure that actually worked. And this happened AFTER I sold the book.

This is all to say that writing a book doesn’t come easily to me. So when I sent my first crude draft to my agent, he wrote back that it was way too dark–even for me. And more importantly, the story wasn’t as powerful as it could be. So I revised again, and two more times. Cut 100 pages. Added 70, and the like. And even when I sent the latest draft to my agent the book didn’t feel like it was working. The only section I felt drawn to are what I call the “Alice stories” — a series of connected stories documenting the strange relationship between an adult woman in New York and a depressed teenager in Los Angeles. It deals with the voyeuristic nature of social media, what we edit and reveal, and how strangers are sometimes profoundly connected than the people in your “real” life.

My agent came back and confirmed what I already knew. After an hour of brainstorming, we both agreed that I needed to cut nearly the entire book except for 40 pages. He then timidly suggested I do the one thing I loathe doing — a plot outline.

I’m not knocking the plot outline or outlines in general. They’re often necessary. In what felt like the thirtieth revision of my second novel, I had to map out the timeline and character actions so I wasn’t confused. But here’s the thing–I write from the point-of-view of the character. I’m not a plot writer. I obsess over fictitious people to the extent that I know their whole world down to whether they can stomach mushrooms, mittens, or clowns (three things I hate).  I create character maps and sketches. I pin images of people so I can see my character. Then, and only then, do I let them go out into the world (or in the actual case, the page) and see what they do. I write stories scene by scene and the characters advance the plot.

I’ve rarely engineered the reverse. So plot outlines, for me, are the equivalent of taking spin classes when I’ve always done yoga. I’ll invariably fall off the bike, parts of my body will be sore, and I’ll likely make a mess of things. This may sound crazy but drawing out a plot is harder than writing the actual book (at least for me). But I did it because it was necessary and I need to exercise different muscles to get this book where it needs to go.

In four pages over two exhausting days, I mapped out my third book. I only “know” one of the characters, Alice, but I don’t even know her completely. I know these characters in parts, so directing them forward felt Herculean. But I did it, and my agent was kind and gave incredible feedback.

So here I go. I’m starting a new novel next week, tentatively titled, Women in Salt. The book follows the strange obsessive relationship between a thirty-year-old woman and a fifteen-year-old suicidal teenager, who happens to be the daughter of a film star on the decline. The book combines the voices and locations I know (New York, an adult woman) with those I’m slowly discovering (Los Angeles, teenagers). And with everything I write, there’s always something nefarious at work. Characters are flawed. Bad things happen. But unlike anything I’ve written previously, this story will end on a note of hope.

Because sometimes light doesn’t exist, even if it’s not within your reach.

0 Comments

  1. Rick wrote:

    F,
    It’s your process that makes the writing outstanding and worth the wait. I have been reading your essays, short stories, books, notes and whatever else you let us see and I’m constantly amazed. Please continue in the direction that gives you your moment!

    Posted on 11.18.16 · Reply to comment
    • Felicia wrote:

      Wow, Rick! That is so wonderfully, wonderfully kind of you 🙂 Thank you!

      Posted on 11.18.16 · Reply to comment

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Instagram

  • So...apparently I’m writing a new book. It’s interesting (or odd, depending on your view) that new work comes in my darker moments. I started my last book after I had a breakdown from a job (and sociopathic boss) that was killing me. I was in Biarritz when I started what would become my second book, which is darker than my first book.
.
This time, I’m toying with what happens when you climb out of the dark (my first two never got to that place). The book is titled The Only Possible and it centers on the close friendship between two broken women who are climbing out of their familial and person wreckage. This might be the first long work that ends with hope. I have this marker for myself, which is totally arbitrary. If I get to 50 good pages, the book is real.
.
I’m at 52, so I suppose this thing is real. Light in the dark and like that.
.
A brief thank you to the people who’ve been there for me these past few weeks. The ones who haven’t ignored or muted my posts—you are true friends and allies. Thank you for your friendship and kindness. I don’t give my heart and trust to many people for these obvious reasons, but I’m grateful to those that have it.
.
.
.
.
#amwriting #risingtidesociety #thehustle #novelwriting #writersofig
  • Come, have a seat. Settle in with some tea and read all the incredible articles I’ve been sharing on @medium. From step-by-step tutorials on going Live and a blueprint for launching products online to personal essays, you’ve got the whole kit and caboodle. Hit up the link in profile to get the goods.
.
.
.
.
#beingboss #risingtidesociety #marketingdigital #marketingstrategy #femtrepreneur #thehustle #brandstrategist #livestream #goinglive #digitalmarketing
  • Can we talk?
.
I think it’s important to learn from the experiences we’re desperate to forget. Some of my greatest teachings come from working with terrible clients and sociopathic bosses. I wrote about this on medium (@felsull) and I’d love for to check it out, clap, and share.
.

But remember this. Don’t let anyone define your worth. Only you have the right to that math. No one deserves to be yelled at. No one deserves verbal abuse. No one deserves to hear that they’re worthless, stupid, or an idiot. You are the guardian of your worth.
.

Constructive feedback is a valuable tool, but it doesn’t define you as a person. We will fail. We’ll botch a job or make mistakes. Value comes from learning from the missteps, in creating systems and processes for yourself that reduces the likeliness of that mistake from happening again. Your worth is not the measure of your failures, but how you’ve rebounded from them. How you’ve grown professionally AND personally. It’s about you standing up in the wreckage and saying, okay, let’s keep going.
.

Your worth is not bound to your work product — it’s defined by all the things that make you, you.
.
.
.
.
#bizadvice #entrepreneur #freelancingadvice #thehustle #badclients
  • This morning, I finished all my deliverables for two of my biggest projects this year. I can’t believe I got it all done!!! Save for two client calls today, I plan to spend the day supine and watching horror movies. #yassssss #brandstrategist #marketingstrategy
  • I used to be this intense person and I assure you this is not a compliment. I went at everything so hard. I worked through pain and exhaustion. I cleaved to velocity — a body in motion stays in motion and like that. Force = mass x acceleration and like that. I placed more value on outcomes than inputs. I cared about what people thought of me and wanted to please everyone at the expense of my well-being. I placed an unhealthy level of emphasis on amassing a large collection of people in my life more than cultivating richer relationships with a handful. I pursued things at the expense of the quiet nobility of living an honest, full life.
.

My wake-up call was a phonebook packed with numbers but no one to call when I was breaking. What changed during that dark time was this: I began to live small and this is, I assure you, is a good thing.
.

Small isn’t a pejorative. It’s about getting surgical about the people and things that inhabit your life. Cut the barnacles. Eliminate that which is extraneous and unnecessary. Don’t settle for common or this is how it’s always been done. Small is about the amount of noise you allow in. It’s about making the choices that won’t please the majority of people, but you end up pleasing yourself. It’s the difference between living in a mansion and creating a house that is a home. Fewer, better are words whose meaning has shifted for you. They are words of wealth. And more suddenly feels like a burden.
.

For those who suffer from depression, meds and therapy simply level the playing field. They elevate you from negative integers to zero. It’s easier to build from zero than from mounting losses. Meds and therapy don’t create shiny, happy people. There are days that are dark and tough and what’s allowed me to function during that time is the concept of living simply and small.
.
.
.
#realtalk #depression #productivity #entrepreneurlife #thehustle #risingtidesociety #mentalhealth #selfcare
  • Yesterday, I finished up a 138-page tactical marketing plan along with a 27-slide summary deck. I felt like I climbed Everest and had some coconut ice cream to celebrate. Today, I’m hitting the ground running with a coffee and a sweet pick-me-up. Who’s ready for today?
.
.
.
.
.
#coffeegram #thehustle #clementinedaily #risingtidesociety #entrepreneur #brandstrategist #marketingconsultant #chocolatelover
  • Here’s the thing: life is messy. We are flawed by design. Being authentic and real is about appreciating all aspects of yourself and your business. It’s about weathering the tough moments with grace and setting a path and example for others who are standing alongside you in the struggle. It’s about acknowledging and learning from your shortcomings and blind spots. It’s about saying, you’re right. I fucked up. Here’s how I’m going to make amends. There’s nobility in leading an honest life and being the kind of person who is unabashed, shamelessly you.
.

Whether you’re a business of two or two hundred—using plastic tactics to market yourself and your business is a surefire way to start the clock on your expiration date. I’m in the midst of creating a seven-day challenge on real and practical tips on marketing yourself whether you’re fresh out of school and looking for a job or you want to switch careers or you’re in the nascent stages of starting your own business.
.
Why me? I’ve been in marketing for nearly two decades. Ive built business and the brands of F500 companies. I’ve had career changes and side hustles. And I actually know what I’m talking about (don’t be swayed by these IG “business coaches” who have zero marketing or work experience).
.
Why? People have developed allergies to bullshit. People can see right through duplicity, and there’s always a non-smarmy option hovering in view. In my weekly newsletter, I’m sharing  five simple ways to market yourself without being a large-scale douche. Link in profile to subscribe. .
.
.
.
.
.
#risingtidesociety #marketingtips #thehustle #brandstrategist #brandidentity #entrepreneur #beingboss
  • Phoebe & Kate just got a little refresh! Check me out at http://www.phoebeandkate.com.
.
.
.
.
.
#brandstrategist #marketingstrategy #thehustle #wednesdayvibes

Follow Me!