The Influence and How It, Well, Influences

My writers group, The Underground Writing Project, wrote what we call a ’round’ story. Basically, we each took turns writing a chapter and so on and so on until we reached the end. Lather, rinse, repeat.

In a seemingly unrelated topic: literature classes bring up the question of influence and it  is always brought up in relation to a writer’s work. Who influenced the piece? What traditions influenced the creation? What relationships did the writer have with other writers?

Well, the round story writing was a wonderful experience– and our heaviest influence was P.G. Wodehouse (with some Oscar Wilde in there for good measure). The resulting book (yes, we actually finished it) is what I like to think of as What Happens When Americans Get Hold Of British Parlor Comedy. There are polo matches and guillotines and love hexagons. We outright borrowed Wodehouse’s voice — or tried to. I mean, he is Wodehouse and we’re just us, right?

That experience is the first time in my writing practice that I actively thought about another writer’s influence on my work.  It’s the only time I pondered the way a voice should specifically sound on the page. (And interestingly enough, it’s also the only time I’ve been called out on a critique regarding voice: apparently I used ‘kind of’ instead of ‘sort of’ in one spot. Who knew, right?)

Now that I’m working on a new writing project, the idea of influence has popped into my head again. I know a certain writer influences the structure of the new piece, another influences the subject matter, and another influences the voice when I feel myself dragging. And I’m not going to tell you these writers’ names because they’re all genius, award winning writers and I’m not about to present the idea that what I’m working on matches up. At all. Forgive me.

The cool thing about the situation is that I feel myself stretching and trying things that I wouldn’t have without these other writers. The structure is a little funky. The subject matter is close to my heart. The voice is, oddly enough, more authentically me too, I think; more inspired than influenced maybe. I’m hoping that it winds up like the UGWP round story: the influence is present but it’s all original. I’m pretty excited.

Now, I really really really want to know from you guys whether you’ve actively let another writer influence your work? How did the experience go for you? What’d you learn?

My brilliant plan is brilliantly redacted–

The idea was to read the round-story (I guess we should call it the Round Novel now, because there’s a lot to it at this point) and then finish in a brilliant flash of writing.

As I was going through the story, however, I started editing as I went along–never a good thing if you want to progress. My theory was that I’d get a good grasp and maybe find the lines that needed to be tied up. This happened.

But remember: several people have written this novel.

There were the moments where I went “What the hell?” There are whole meandering chapters but, to make life more difficult, those same chapters generally hold a tidbit of information that drives the rest of the main line. Some chapters are maddeningly longer and some maddeningly shorter than others. So some are going to have to be melded. Some sections would fit better toward the beginning. As I’m going through, I have some really great, detailed ideas for how to get this thing in shape. And it’ll be funny and cohesive (for those of you who have read this, please believe that this is possible!).

Here’s the thing. I figured I had enough time to read, get a general editorial idea, and still have time to finish the book. But I only got the first two done because (surprise!) we have over two hundred pages of material…and that takes longer to sort through than you think.

So, my brilliant, overachieving idea is gonna hafta wait another month. Sorry Scooby Gang!

April Goals, March Sum-up

I didn’t do too bad in March. Got some queries together and off. Got some new pages written–not as much as I wanted, but enough because it helped keep me from going insane while the queries were doing their thing (and they still are, by the way). All the critiques for both groups got finished.

April, I think I will take a little lighter, just for my own sanity’s sake. Here’s what I have:
1. Gotta finish the Round Story. Yes, it is almost done. And I have to say that I’m proud of what the Underground Writing Project has accomplished. What were there? 9 different authors? 10? I’ll have to take a look. And we’re actually going to finish a really large project that forced us all to write outside our comfort zone and allowed those of us who haven’t finished a novel before to see the process…even if we never do another one and if nothing else comes of it, that was worth all the time and effort. Last chapter to me!
2. Keep on moving on La Llorona…I’m shooting for at least 10 pages, but I’m not going to beat myself up over it.
3. Read! I’m going to finish Julia Alvarez’s Saving the World and P.D. James’s Children of Men.
4. All the critiques, which were pretty mild this month. There were still four in the UGWP, but they’re 2 pages each.
5. Gonna work on my submission package some more. Just went over what I sent in earlier and discovered a typo, a typo!, on the second page that I somehow missed. Even with everyone circling and highlighting and underlining. I still missed it. Ugh! Well, let’s just wait for those rejection letters to come on in and get the new package put together….

Revision…it’s the pits

Last night was Ali’s big thesis critique, and judging from her blog I think she thinks it didn’t go so well.

So I think that maybe I didn’t get something across that I meant to.

She put a lot of work into those revisions–the new stuff was obvious. It was thougtful. It was a new slant. There were new angles and glances. That’s what revision is for. I think it was Helen Sellers in Chapter by Chapter who said something along the lines that revision it to re-vision, to re-see what you’ve got. Ali saw something different, something extra for her work and put it on the page. Whether it works or not, well, that’s not really the point. It’s about seeing what works best. That’s the point. And sometimes we’ve gotta do it a few times before it hits.

I’ve got the same thing in FJR. I thought I was doing one thing, I was hoping to get it across. Not everyone got it, and I overdid some things, but I do have something there and need to keep chisling away until the whole story comes out. Kinda like King’s archeology analogy in On Writing–every new piece helps explain the whole. Dig out the dinosaur man, dig it.

After Ali left to avoid the weather that was annoying all of us, (stupid snow!), Deb, Shane, and I talked about the Round Story that’s going on in the other group. Here’s an interesting situation where there’s nine different authors, nine different visions of how things should go. Deb said she wondered how much of what the writers thought was in there was actually there versus what was just in their heads, and I think that’s a consistant problem whether there’s one author or nine.

That’s why writing is considered a process. If you’re not willing to do the ‘work’ (that’s the creation of draft after draft….) then you shouldn’t be writing. If you’re not willing to make the best story possible–whether it’s what you originally envisioned or not–then put down the pen. You’re not gonna get it. Eventually, with enough practice, I believe that you learn the techniques that help you get it closer with your first swing…but then you’re gonna have to swing again, no matter how good you get.

Luckily, I write with some really amazing people who understand the purposes of drafting. Ali showed me that last night (or, I guess in the month I was reading her stuff up until last night). Even though I told her to cut a lot of things, I believe that those things had to be written, there was no way around it. Through the pages, the worlds became more real. Maybe it wasn’t what she wanted to hear (because we all want to hear: “It’s perfect! You’re done!”) but I think she did a really good job and think she’s on the right track.

And ignore Juan.

Round Story Action Time

Our round story is progressing nicely. We have a large quantity of pages and a lot of schtuff that happens. Right now it’s my turn and I think I’ve decided what I wanna do–probably a good thing since it’s due tomorrow.

However, I plan to propose a couple things relating to the story now that we’re going into the third round…basically we’re rounding the corner and writing straight for the finish line in this last segment. Because it’s so difficult to control such a monsterous task as a novel combined with the monsterous task of getting eight+ people to agree on anything, I think we need to do the following:

1. Decide how it ends (my vote is that Oz winds up with Hannah and lives happily ever after in his mansion)
2. In addition to our submission, we write a small note at the end of our chapters showing the next participants where our head was at and what we pictured happening next (the person following doesn’t have to listen, of course, but I think it would add some consistancy…the end of the book is about fixing complications, not adding more)
3. I made a binder filled with all the submissions thus far. This go round, I think on each person’s turn they should write in what they think needs to be fixed/changed/rearranged for the editting process to continue.

Those are my ideas and I’ll present them tomorrow. We’re almost done.

Anyone else have any ideas on how to control both a monster manuscript and a group of madly creative people?