Monday, April 25, 2016

The Scariest Thing on Earth--Your WIP (Work in Progress)

     I have been writing the same book for over 10 years.

     No, I haven't been staring at a blank screen for 10 years. In fact, I've written and published another middle grade novel, five picture books and had two short stories in YA anthologies. However, with all that activity going on, My Big Novel bubbled away on the back burner. While I was writing and revising the other works, I was writing and researching MBN. This is a story based on my father's family and their survival of a major natural disaster. (I'm not going to describe it any further, because the more you write or talk about your WIP, the less you actually work on the story itself.)
Some of the characters of MBN--the Rodman family, from left,  Great Aunt Beulah, my grandparents Mabel and George Rodman (the dude with the titled hat) and great-grandfather, Sam.

    Life hummed along until one day, I realized there was nothing on the front burner of my writing stove. Time to move MBN to the big front burner.

    I panicked. When I was worked on MBN along with something else, I wasn't aware of what a huge story I was trying to tell. It's written in free verse (something I'd never attempted before), from multiple points of view (ditto.)  While my usual first readers had been enthusiastic about what they shad read, I made the mistake of showing it to an agent at a conference. He was less than enthused about it's "marketability" ("historical fiction doesn't sell.") That was enough to stop me dead in my writing tracks. Suddenly, I saw a million flaws in the story I'd been so passionate about for years. Worse, I realized the enormity of what I was trying to do.  I scared myself into a big fat writer's block.

    I've been blocked before. I would work on something else for awhile, and when I came back to the original book, I could blast that block to kingdom come.

    Not this time. Soon after my disastrous conversation with the agent, my mother died. This was the beginning of a years long string of family tragedies, emergencies and dramas that fell to me to handle.  This pretty well zapped my creative energy.  Add to that, the economy was circling the drain just as five of my books were published. Library budgets were circling the drain as well. Three of the five went out of print within 18 months. In addition to blocked, frazzled and depressed, I was now demoralized. No way I could write MBN. Besides, as the agent had said "Who would want to read this?"

    My lovely editors were all leaving the business for one reason or another. Any submissions I made now would be like starting all over again. So I taught my Young Author's Camps, thinking that my publishing days were over.

    That's where I made my mistake. All I thought about was publishing MBN.  I had forgotten about writing a story I thought was compelling (despite what that agent said). I was losing family members who had been looking forward to their story being told. They didn't care if it was published...they would've been happy with a printed copy in a three-ring binder. Worst of all, I was now teaching the siblings of my first Young Authors.  Siblings who had been told the story of MBN (back when I still talked about it) and were disappointed that it wasn't published yet. I couldn't tell them it wasn't even sort of finished. Not when I spend a week (six times a summer) telling these kids they can do anything, to not listen to their inner negative critic, etc. Oh yeah, Ms Rodman, I can imagine them saying, well then how come you didn't finish your story?
At right, Sharon Rodman Blazek, one of my most important literary cheerleaders. The other person is me. We are celebrating out 18th birthdays (10 days apart.)

     So with two of my most favorite people in the world (who also happen to be Rodman cousins) cheering me on, I am back at it. MBN lives. Two adult non-fiction accounts of this event haven been published in the past couple of years so I have new material to be excited about. (And I have to admit, I am now afraid someone else may beat me to the punch with this same story.) I am no longer obsessed with whether it is published traditionally or not. So many of my friends are self-publishing, that for the first time, I am allowing myself to think of that as an option.

   As for the enormity of the story itself...I remind myself of Anne Lamott's book, Bird by Bird.  The title comes from one of her family's stories.  Anne's little brother found himself trying to write a huge report on bird life, due the next day. A  report he had had three months to write. As he moaned aloud how could he possibly write this enormous assignment in one night, his father (a writer himself) answered "Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird."

    And so I am.  And so I will. Event by event, character by character.

   Don't forget to enter our Blogiversary Giveaway for the new-and-improved edition of Carmela's MG historical fiction, Rosa, Sola.  For details, see last Friday's post.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Carmela Martino said...

What wonderful photos, MA. Thanks for sharing them with us. Your not the only one with a novel on the back burner. Glad this one's moved to the front. I look forward to reading it!

Unknown said...

I love the new cover of Rosa Sola.I am reading your page now because i am interested in learning about other authors and books. I also enjoyed the blog about the Rodman connections.
Thanks for the ideas i have got here.I also belong to 12x12. I think I wrote this first in the wrong place. I also enjoyed Katherine mansfield poem the other day.

Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for the feedback on the new cover, Jane. Good luck with the 12x12!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Mary Ann! Only ten years? Ha! Mine is boiling away (or maybe simmering...or possibly getting cold) on the back burner...and has been for...well, MUCH longer, Young'n!

Your post inspired (and yes, scared) me.

Thank you, as always, for your honesty.

Bobbi Miller said...

I can so relate to this emotional journey you've had to take with your MBN. Very touching, and very true! Thank you so much for this discussion!

mary ann rodman said...

I am a slug in responding sometimes. My gmail account gets crossword with my daughter's. Thank you so much, April and Bobbi for assuring me I am not the Lone Ranger when it comes to long time WIP's that can be come intimidating. UPDATE: Since I wrote the original post, I have come across a database with the town's newspapers published just before and after The Storm, with so much minutia and detail that I'm too busy getting it all down to worry about being blocked. My imagination is working over time...and I am still not finished with all the research (two more weeks of newspapers to go.) Thank you again for responding.