Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Time: Friend or Foe?

I'm a fast mover. I figure out what I want and how to get it and then I go for it. I was unaware of this fact a few months ago, and it actually took a friend telling me as much for me to see it. So I have grad school to thank for learning something new about myself, well, grad school and The Move That Wasn't. I came back and sat around for weeks trying to figure out what I was going to do next. The moment I chose to come home and not stay in New York, I changed everything. No more interning, no more plans to become an agent. I was completely lost.

And in that time of 'Oh crap, where do I go from here?' (Buffy musical episode anyone?) I figured I'd start over. Before I really decided I want to be on the other side of publishing, the non-writing side, I was preparing for graduate school. I even had a spreadsheet listing different aspects like tuition, financial aid, and the likes. I still have that spreadsheet, and while I didn't bust it back out because I'm not the same person with the same interests anymore, I did decide that grad school sounded like a great idea. ...Then things got a little crazy, but after a bit I got it all figured out and am now planning on heading back to my Alma Mater to get an MA in English while I continue to write, because let's be honest, writing was the only job that ever really mattered to me.

But the point of this post isn't to tell you how I made the decisions I made, it's about time. A lot can happen in a little bit of time, and sometimes that astounds me.

A month ago I wasn't editing or writing at all, just trying to work and figure things out.

Three months ago I had a loaded car and was moving to New York to make it as a hot shot agent.

Six months ago I was just a college senior who was working on a book and had big plans for the future.

A year ago (in August) I won honorable mention in a blog contest and an amazing agent asked to see my query for TSA based on the Twitter Pitch I submitted. She then said she'd be interested in reading more when I was finished with edits.

And about a year and a half ago I had an idea for a book in which a little girl's brother goes missing and she finds out it's up to her to save the entire world.

Yea, a lot can happen in no time at all, and in writing this can be a big deal. Your entire book can take place in the span of a day, a month, or even years, but it's how you manage your characters and your plot that make time seem believable.

Your character has to grow over the course of your book, and if you only have a week to change an obnoxious brat into, well, a less obnoxious brat then you can't just make it happen; you have to show us the change, whether it's a dozen tiny subtleties or one huge life-altering event. But if your character spends most of the book one way and then on the next page undergoes some transformation, chances are the audience isn't going to believe it because by then you've had time to show them that the character is adapting, changing, growing, and if they haven't seen it, it's likely you can kiss your readers goodbye.

The world could change in a single night. A person's outlook on life can change in a heartbeat. But as writers, we have to pay attention to the way we craft the story and the characters to make sure it feels possible. In time, anything can happen, but if there isn't some sort of explanation or reason behind it, it won't make a lick of sense or it will fall flat with the readers.

Remember your characters' motivations as you write, remember to show us how they are evolving as the story continues so that on page 300 when the good guy gives up and joins the dark side, we understand it, we believe it, and we think that choice is the most heartbreaking thing we've ever read.

But time isn't just important in our stories, it's important to us as writers. A lot can happen to us in no time at all, and we have to remember to stay positive and that our writing journey may not be like anybody else's. Some people write books in a matter of days, others it takes over six months. Some people snag agents as soon as the start querying, others are in the trenches for years.

So this is where I tell you to forget about time. Ignore it completely. It does not matter. Why? Because if you are obsessing over how Susie Sanders got a 3 book deal and she wrote her book a year ago and already has an agent and an amazing book deal while you've been working on yours and querying for over two years, you are going to get upset. You're going to get frustrated and want to quit, and maybe you'll even convince yourself that you aren't good enough or that this isn't the path for you. But if you aren't worrying about someone else and their journey to publication, you could finish your book tomorrow and have five agents lining up for you by next week.

Time is a funny thing; learn how to make it work for you, in your life and in your stories.

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." - Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Rings


Jaimie said...

Ah, here's the life update I was asking for in the Divergent post. I'm sorry your life has boomeranged a bit.

Amanda J. said...

It's all good. I know what I'm doing now and I'm happy with my decisions, and really that's about as good as things could be for me at the moment. :)

Jaimie said...

Yes definitely. :)


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