Sunday, December 21, 2008

Silencing the room

Lately I've been thinking of something that my late friend Barbara Seranella said on my show (it's in one of these interviews). She said when she was reading, to friends or to her critique group (of which I was a member), she didn't want to just hear, "Interesting," or "I like it." She wanted to silence the room.

That's a tall order, I know, and yet I find I've arrived at another crossroads with this novel I've rewritten for the umpteenth time. Who cares? I find myself thinking, and saying. And mostly I'm looking into myself and trying to figure out if I indeed care. The theme of this latest novel has grown stale, and now I'm thinking of shelving the entire thing. (And probably thinking entirely too much, which I always tell my students and writer friends: Stop thinking so much!)

It doesn't help that I receive so very many books in the mail to be considered for the show, and so many of them, while formidable, do not silence the room--especially the self-published books. (I really wish folks wouldn't send me self-published books. There are just not enough filters--editor, copyeditor, proofreader, etc. etc.--to polish the work to a high sheen.)

Yesterday on a long car ride, I found myself saying to Brian and Travis: "I just don't want to waste more paper on something that doesn't silence the room."

Of course they both thought I was outrageous. Writers use paper, Brian said.

True, true.

But still.

When I wrote Pen on Fire, I, in effect, silenced the room. And I didn't care which editor or agent said there were too many writing books on the shelf, I was going to get it out there, no matter what. My students needed it--well, wanted it, anyway--and so there was a greater good.

I'm not sure I have that same drive with this novel. And that drive is what carries you over and through.

As Judith Thurman said on my show in this wonderful interview, it's like the Shawshank Redemption, digging your way through a brick wall with a fork. You've got to be committed to your project this deeply.

So as well as enjoying the holiday and cookie parties and Christmas Eve Mass and hopefully more snow in the mountains, I'm going to spend these next couple of weeks dwelling, and playing around with a few ideas on the page.

What will you be doing? And what do you think about silencing the room? Is this something you think about?


Out at my brother-in-law's, his sweet horse, lovely dog Max, and a snowball tree.


Cat said...

Well, my first reaction as a reader and friend is---NOOO! But, as a writer, I can understand the need to shelve it. The thing is, who are we to ask "who cares?" Isn't it our job to put the story down on paper and then let things drop where they may? But if you do not believe fully in what you are creating, then it's time to take a break. I very often remind myself that it is impossible to have a clear perspective on a piece of my own writing because I'm just too close to it. I'm to the point of obsessing over commas for emphasis, sentences being in the correct order, etc. When you do things like that, it's almost impossible to back up and see the big picture.

If your novel is anything like the freewrites you've done, then I say, keep going. I love the characters and the honesty of the narrator's voice. The first time I heard you freewrite a piece of fiction I was so impressed with your voice. I feel it would be quite a shame to shelve your fiction, but ultimately, you are the writer and it's up to you.

What is that you say to me? Oh yeah--JUST FINISH IT! :)

Amy said...

I hear what you're saying and sympathize w/your angst/concern. I wrestle with how one story may silence the room for some and not for others. I've rec'd great feedback on my novel only to have others say, "Why would I care about that?" I guess it's my job as the writer to make people care. I often think I'm wasting my time, but I feel so propelled by my subject matter. I'm submitting short stories right now, which takes my mind off my novel--a breather I need every so often. After the first of the year I'll be back at it, hopefully silencing the rooms of agents and publishers! ;o)

Nicole said...

I agree with Cat on her last point... all her points, really. The Judith Thurman quote is a gem. And about "silencing the room"... that sounds lovely, but for me, my goal for now is just to finish the first draft. If someone were to then say, "I like it," well, I'd be quite happy, I think! Perhaps I should aim higher, but it's daunting enough with the relatively simple goal of typing: the end.

And I do hope that after parties, snow and dwelling, you decide against shelving it.

GutsyWriter said...

People's tastes vary tremendously, that to "silence a room," you'd have to be with a bunch of people who think and like the exact same style as you do. Just look at the contest that agent Nathan Bransford had on his blog. He received over 1,500 entries of first paragraphs from writers and selected six. Many, including myself, disagreed with his selection. I even read somewhere that a critique group was formed and the writers were told to critique some work but weren't told that that author's book had already been published. They ripped it apart. So what does that say? Just my opinion. Happy holidays.

Anonymous said...

hey, Barbara

we just got a great christmas card (from old goddard buddy Alan Mitter)

the front was a quote:

The writer Andre Gide relates this experience of a trip he took into the Belgian Congo.

My party had been pushing ahead at a fast pace for a number of days. And one morning when we were ready to set out, our native bearers, who carried the food and equipment, were found sitting about without any preparations made for starting the day.

Upon being questioned, they said, quite simply, that they had been traveling so fast in these last days that they had gotten ahead of their souls and were going to stay quietly in camp for the day in order for their souls to catch up with them

So they came to a complete stop.

the inside message simply read:

don't get ahead of yourself

do what you gotta do, forget about the room for now. I silenced a room once and I got all mad thinking everybody was just in a hurry to go to lunch. turns out they were silenced and I was hungry but who ever knows at the time.

merry christmas, thinking of you and finally learned how to listen to podcast!
love to you and yours
enjoy the snow

Anonymous said...

Great comments, all food for thought.

Maybe I need to stay put for a while, let my writing self catch up. Great story....

Anonymous said...

"I hope this book is some good, but I have less and less hope of it. No time today for comment. I've got bugs under my skin. To work now."
Part of entry #60 from Working Days - Steinbeck's daily journal while writing The Grapes of Wrath.

Anonymous said...

"I hope this book is some good, but I have less and less hope of it. No time today for comment. I've got bugs under my skin. To work now."
Part of entry #60 from Working Days - Steinbeck's daily journal while writing The Grapes of Wrath.

Daniel Bell said...

If you silence the room in one passage or one chapter, you have a short story or a poem. Novels don't happen that way, at least not good ones. It doesn't happen in a page or a few pages. It happens in the slow building, the measured revelation, the big payoff page or pages that don't seem like anything special unless you've read all that goes before it. A great novel has an emotional impact not possible in a passage or a poem. A great novel doesn't silence a room. It fills a place that was empty.

Dan Bell