Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Kelly: New Puppy Tales


I admit it. Last week instead of starting a new novel, I browsed online for puppies. I don’t know why. I don’t need a puppy; I already have three dogs. The danger of shopping for puppies, though, is that no matter how much I know that I don’t need one and that I’m just procrastinating, sometimes they are irresistible.

Meet Penelope.


Penelope is like the idea for my next novel. Both are exciting and full of possibility. Maybe this puppy will be well-behaved and not take over my bed. Maybe this novel will be a runaway best-seller and win tons of awards. Maybe I’m completely delusional.

Despite my initial fantasies, as soon as puppy and novel enter reality, they both involve shit. This is not news to me. I’ve had puppies before; I understand potty training. I get Anne Lamott’s “shitty first draft” concept too. The problem is that delusion convinces me that this time will be different; that having written a novel and trained puppies makes me an expert in story and canine behavior; that experience provides an easier road, or at least a short-cut.

However, the truth is that second books (and dogs) not only don’t provide a short-cut, they actually make the road longer and messier. I’ve been dealing with (sort of) polished drafts and trained dogs, so my perspective is off. With the second anything comes comparison. And comparison adds lots of extra shit to wade through.

Somehow, deep down, I must expect to pick up where I left off rather than actually starting fresh. I expect Penelope to lie at my feet and not nip my toes. I expect her to be a cute puppy and a well-trained dog at the same time. I expect my manuscript to be inherently fresh, sensory-laden, and clever the way it is in my imagination. It’s as if the new novel or puppy should understand all that came before them and immediately jump to polished and potty trained, skipping all the in-between work. Instead, everything is immature and underdeveloped—character, backstory and history, level of love and commitment, and bladders—which only leads to frustration.

There is no getting around the mess. If only cleaning up a manuscript was as simple as a roll of paper towels and some Clorox! That’s probably why I opted to start with the puppy before the new novel. The scary part about the second book isn’t what I know or my skewed expectations; it’s coming to terms with all that I lack and realizing how far I still have to go. Will I have something worthwhile to say? Will I have what it takes to pull off another book, a better book? Or will I prove once and for all that I’m a hack?

While I might know a little about crafting stories and teaching dogs to pee outside, I don’t know squat about my new characters or Penelope. I need to start at square one. I need to let go of my egotistical and fearful baggage that only weighs me down and holds me back. I need to watch and listen and learn who these characters are and what they have to offer in terms of story and relationships and truth.

I need to be an old dog willing to learn new tricks.   

I need to break out a new roll of paper towels. 

Penelope!


20 comments:

  1. Wow! Nice parallels there! I've recently started a new novel. I'm not gonna lie-- the realization of how much it'll take to get it publishable scares me to death.

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    1. Peggy, I know what you mean. We'll get there though. I say this without a clue HOW, but if I say if often enough, I'll believe it. I think.

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  2. What thougthful insights into notorious number two, Kelly. I mean, novel number two. What were you thinking?

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    1. Ha, Vicky! Thoughtful or just full of #2? Probably a bit of both. :-)

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  3. "I need to watch and listen and learn who these characters are and what they have to offer in terms of story and relationships and truth."

    Great quote!

    I just finished a story that will have parts two and three (whether published or not...the tale must be told!). While I may already know some of my characters well I realize there are new ones who must help those characters grow even further. Guess I'll need the towels, too.

    Wishing you the best on your adventure!!

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    1. Thanks, Laura. Sounds like you're on an epic adventure. May you like all the characters you give breath to! And a tip: Viva paper towels are truly the most absorbent.

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  4. LOL

    When I'm about to start a new novel I find myself obsessively browsing Barnes and Noble and adding books to my cart. Maybe it's another form of Dutch courage. :)

    www.katrinadelallo.blogspot.com

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    1. Ooh! That's a good one. Do you have the restraint to not click BUY?

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  5. Kelly! What a great post, and just what I needed to read right now; anything to push me past this most recent bout of the doubts:-D Thing is, I just keep writing. Good luck with your number 2, and am really looking forward to holding your number 1 in my hot little hands!

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    1. I can't wait to hold Book 1 too, Mima!

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  6. Wonderful analogy. Puppies and new manuscripts are both challenging, and both can bring great rewards to one's life--even if they're not perfect. :)

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  7. I still need to read Anne Lamott’s book. I've heard it's somewhat of a "must" for writers.

    I totally get your comparison between the new puppy and the manuscript. My first draft made "messy" seem organised. Now, after critiques and analysis I'm receiving satisfying responses as well as areas for improvements.

    Penelope is my past dogs, my future dogs and my manuscript. I seem to think I've picked the perfect one, that this one will work out, that the training will be smooth ... mmm.

    Thanks for a lovely post that I can relate to. :)

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  8. Oh dear, yes! My puppy (year and a half, but still ...) and my "new" (I mean, it's been a while) novel are both a mess. Thank you, Kelly!

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    1. Creative chaos is fun, isn't it? If not for messes, we'd have boring order. Who can live like that?

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  9. Heh, I can relate to needing paper towels to clean up early draft messes. ;)

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  10. Penelope is a darling name for a puppy! We just sold the last of our puppies this afternoon-it was so hard to see them go, and I'm not sure their new families are ready for puppy wonderfulnss, but I'm going to miss them!
    As for the puppy/first draft comparison--lovely! I'll have to apply that to my current project's poopiness :)

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  11. This is a fabulous extended metaphor... and so, so true. My own problem is LETTING first drafts be what they are... messy, problematic, sometimes sticky... and not trying to fix them immediately. I like the puppy comparison for that reason very much... I wouldn't expect my pup (18 months old!) to be as well-trained or well-behaved as my older dog (12 years and going strong); I wonder why I expect it of my manuscripts?

    Glad I found your blog.

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  12. You've got a great blog to follow! More power to you!

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  13. When I started I found myself with a new novel look at Barnes and noble and add books, in my car. Maybe is another form of Dutch courage. :)

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