Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Writer's Voice: Where Is Ashley Turcotte Now?

Writing is a process. I think we're all aware of this, but what we don't always acknowledge is that this process can change over time and that what worked for one project may not work for another. Cue Ashley Turcotte's courageous piece on writing and rewriting in which she discusses LUMINARY, the project that was on my TWV 2013 team.

I first met Krista during “The Writer’s Voice” in 2013, when she picked my YA fantasy LUMINARY for her team. It was a wonderful experience, though it didn’t lead to an agent offer. Neither did any of my queries, as it turns out. In the end, I had to admit that the book was extremely flawed and undercooked. But my general motto back then was Keep Moving Forward. Even if I did a major rewrite of LUMINARY, I wouldn’t be able to query any of the same agents with it. So despite the fact that I was pretty sure it was the best idea I’d ever had, I moved on. Wrote a new book. And that’s the one that got me my agent.

Suddenly, I didn’t have to worry about having something fresh and new and shiny to send to agents. I could go back to LUMINARY! In fact, I had my agent’s blessing to do so, as she also loved the idea (though she agreed that my execution was, alas, rather lacking). We talked over a new plan and, while my other book went out on submission, I dove into a total rewrite.

I was inspired! I was full of ideas! I hadn’t gotten to hit the restart button on my earlier projects, and the whole process was terribly exciting to me. When I had a shiny new draft, I sent it off to my agent, sure that she would absolutely love it.

Only she didn’t. It was better than the last draft, yes. But there were a number of fatal flaws and, after much discussion with my very brilliant agent, I ultimately decided it needed another full rewrite.

Remember my whole Keep Moving Forward thing? I’d never written a book twice, let alone three times. Revisions, yes. Dozens and dozens of those. But total, start from scratch, rebuild from the ground up rewrites?

It was daunting. Exhausting. Terrifying. Because what if I got it wrong again? It’s not like I could let the idea go—not when it’s the best idea I’ve ever had. Would I spend the rest of my life rewriting the same exact book, because I just couldn’t seem to get it right?

I know this is crazy. I know it now, looking back from the other side. I even knew it then, though the crazy voice telling me I was doomed to some sort of Groundhog Day version of writing told the quieter, more rational voice to shut up. All that inspiration and excitement and joy dried up in a flash.

There’s a line I’ve heard several times over the years that goes something like this: “Inspiration is for amateurs.”

And I agree, to an extent. I want to make a career out of being a writer. With book deals come deadlines, and I can’t spend too much time staring into space waiting for inspiration to come when that happens. Especially since inspiration can be an elusive little thing.

However. (And this is a big however.) I firmly believe that if I have no heart while I’m writing the book, it will come across in the writing. There’s an author I used to adore and love and revere who now so clearly only writes for the paycheck. None of the recent books have any heart. They’re just half-developed stories full of soulless characters, and reading them left me so unsatisfied and heartbroken that I had to stop. And I will never let that happen to my own books.

So what’s the solution here? How do you flush inspiration out when it’s gone into hiding? Below, please find my simple, step-by-step process for finding inspiration again.

1. Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. Tell myself over and over again that I can do this.
2. Finding that I’ve forgotten the entire English language, stare into space instead of actually writing anything.
3. Cry. A lot.
4. Then cry some more.
5. Send my agent a crazy email talking about groundhogs that makes no sense whatsoever.
6. Give myself permission to take a break before I completely break. Because, at the end of the day, taking care of myself will lead to way more awesome books than writing myself into complete and total depression.
7. Write something new. Because it turns out I didn’t forget the entire English language. I just forgot how to write LUMINARY. And guess what? I was so excited to be writing again that I pounded out a draft in only 22 days. Writers are meant to write. It’s as simple as that. We just have to find the right project.
8. Ride the wave of that inspiration and dive back into LUMINARY.

It’s like my creativity needed a jumpstart, but now that it’s running again, I can drive it wherever I want. In fact, I just finished the third version of LUMINARY this weekend. It was the hardest work of anything I’ve ever written. Times five. But you know what? I’m pretty sure it’s also the best thing I’ve ever written. Hearts flash in my eyes whenever I think about it. And I’d get so lost in the writing that I’d forget to eat, or drink, or move. Sometimes for ten or fifteen hours at a time. If that’s not inspiration, I don’t know what is.

And yes, a tiny part of me is still afraid that I’m doomed to write this book for the rest of time. But if I can fall this head over heels in love with the book every time I write it, I suppose that’s not the worst possible fate. Especially when I get to write scores of other projects in between drafts, to keep my inspiration overflowing.

Thank you so much, Ashley, for sharing these insights with us. Fingers crossed for LUMINARY!


Dirk Mullenger said...

What a great article--transparent and encouraging. Needed that. Thanks for posting.

RC Hancock said...

Gah! Is anyone else dying to read Luminary?!

Heather said...

I love her drive. This is so inspiring.

Candice Conner said...

I needed to read this. Thank you Krista and Ashley. I'm at a similar point-- agent and editor want me to make major changes to my manuscript. I outlined it, noted ALL the changes and might have cried. Definitely gnashed my teeth. Panicked and sent that same garbled email to my agent though it was less about groundhogs and more concerning water sprites. She responded, "Call me as soon as you put your kids down for their naps." Lol.
So thank you for sharing your experience, Ashley. And yes, I can't wait to read LUMINARY! Good luck with your rewrites!

Ashley Turcotte said...

Thank you so much, everyone. I'm really glad that this post came at the right time for some people. I tried to think of what I would've wanted to read when I was in the depths of despair several months ago. I wish you the absolute best of luck with your projects! <3