Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Hi, I'm a traveling bard."

There is nothing more terrifying to me as a writer than saying something is finished. Because just as soon as I say that, I keep thinking of ways I can improve the draft, changes I could have made, things I should have done. I finished editing The Windy Side of Care today and even now (literally right now) I can't help opening the document back up and scrolling through with a cagey eye, wondering if it's really good enough. I dislike word-count limits and I struggled to keep the story within the wraps of only 20,000 words. I did it, but when I got the feedback from my beta-readers, I had to go back and fix pacing. Do you know how hard that is when you have a word-limit? It was like the finest stitchery, easing paragraphs off the start of the story to allow for breathing-space at the back of it. Now I'm much more satisfied with the pacing, but it was hard there for a while, cutting scenes of masterful dialog. (Yes, I caved and saved a complete draft of the first take so that all those conversations can exist in their own dimension forever an' ever amen.) 19,989 words. That's what the current count is, and though I will probably permit myself one more scroll-through before actually sending the manuscript into Anne Elisabeth Stengl, I really am finished.
It's terrifying.
I shared this sentiment on Facebook and a wise acquaintance of mine said she had felt similarly recently until she stopped to ask herself, "Am I doing this to win or am I doing it for the joy of writing?" And just as soon as I read Emma's words, I realized that I wrote The Windy Side of Care out of the sheer fun of it. Personally, I think it's a lovely, rollicking retelling of Cinderella, full of unexpected twists and allusions. Even though Anne Elisabeth mentioned in one of her recent blog posts that she has had dozens of stories pouring in and can even tote up a pretty good list of who she thinks the winners will be (and my story hasn't even been sent in so that's a little disheartening), even though she might not even like my story or give it a second glance...why did I write it? I wrote it because I love Alis.

 I wrote it because I love Auguste. 

I wrote it because I adored the hijinks, the tongue-in-cheek, the sparring of this retelling. I wrote it strictly to please myself, and really this is where your professional platform starts to be defined:
Who do you write to please? How far are you willing to go to please them?
I have come to terms with the fact that I'm probably not the best choice for next World-Wide Best-Selling Author. Why? Because I write what it is on my heart to write. I'm not the girl who a publisher can label as "Our Next Beverly Lewis" and depend upon to write historical romance for the rest of my career. I am very comfortable in my style, voice, books and I know that Rachel Heffington probably isn't going to appeal to everyone. I don't hope for widespread fame, but for respectable recognition. Am I writing for everyone or am I okay to sing my tales to a heroic and devoted few? Some people would call my admission professional suicide. Doesn't EVERYONE aspire to be the next Novelist Everyone Loves? Well of course that'd be nice, but for me it is a clear case of exchanging the natural for the unnatural or, in simple terms, writing in my true voice or posing as someone else. I can ghost-write in pretty nearly any style--Dickens, Wodehouse, Austen, Freitag--and maybe I could spend my whole career doing that and being successful. But for me it isn't about winning, about being the best, about becoming the author everyone aspires to be like. For me it's mostly about the pleasure of creating a thing and watching other people delight in it, however few they might be. I have always felt a connection to how the Lord felt in Genesis:
"Then God said, 'Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear'; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that is was good." -Genesis 1:9-10
I can relate to that quiet sense of "I like this" and the satisfaction and joy that floods the soul over having made a good thing - a thing that points back to you as its creator and stayed true to your nature after you called it into being. Of course God's joy over His creation is far greater than mine in my stories could ever be, but it's a shade of the same thing. And if I decided to worry about Winning and Being the Best, I'd lose all joy in my creations because they'd go contrary to my nature. Some people were made for writing what's popular. The strength of some is the fact that they entrench themselves in one spot and build fortifications and ramparts and seize the playing field. Me? I'm a bit of a wandering soul. I like to ply my trade in many places in many times in many ways. So maybe I won't go down in legends, but I know I'll bring joy to anyone who sits by my fire to hear a merry tale.

I'm going to send The Windy Side of Care into the Five Glass Slippers Contest and from there, que sera, sera. If she doesn't like it I might just do something with it myself. Lengthen that word-count, expand the plot, give you a mind-boggling Cinderella-twist and publish it myself. Either way I'll be pleased. What about you? Are you a traveling bard or an established baron?


Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Lovely, lovely post. And you know, I had practically the same feeling as you when I read that blog post of Anne Elisabeth's. But I love my story and characters and I'll still love them even if I don't place in the contest. (This story probably marks the closest I've ever come to falling in love with my own hero.)

I've always known my tastes and style don't align with the things that are runaway bestsellers nowadays, so I've never entertained dreams of fame and fortune. I'd probably be too shy to handle it, honestly, so maybe it's a blessing in disguise! If I can have a modest band of readers and make them happy, that'll make me happy. I can't really say much more than that, because you've said just about all there is to say. I think we're kindred spirits. :)

(And I want to read your story, so you'd better do something with it if it doesn't end up in the anthology! :) )

Kirsten Fichter said...

Yes, Rachel!! I, too, want to read this, so you'd better make certain it gets published one way or another! And I mean that in the nicest way possible, of course! :)

But truthfully, I'm sure your story will make it into the top five. How could it not?

The story I'm working on for NaNo right now is actually one that I came up with for this contest. I got a cool idea, thought it'd make a great story, and now here I am... 36,000 words in. Yes, I've already ruled out being in this contest, because I'm barely halfway into the story and there's no way I can fit it all into 20K. But I am very eager to read the other Cinderella adaptions. A good retelling is a thrilling thing. :)

Alina said...

I really love what you say in this post. I hope to live my life doing what I love and letting God shine through that, even if I'm not incredibly popular and well-known for it, and you expressed that feeling beautifully.

Megan said...

When you were writing about not being concerned with becoming "the next beverly lewis," It reminded me of this post: http://thedailysimple.com/the-first-you/

Right now, I'm absolutely in love with retellings of fairytales. Even if yours isn't chosen, I'm sure she'll love it :)