Friday, April 20, 2012

Special Guest Amy Alexander! Just Be Your (Writer) Self

I just realized, this is my first guest-blogger EVER!!! ♥ So please, a warm welcome for writer and agency-mate Amy Alexander who has some excellent words of wisdom to share... 

It was one of those rare perfect days in the Pacific Northwest – a topaz-blue sky, light breeze, temperature in the eighties. My boyfriend and I sat on the outdoor terrace of a restaurant, enjoying glasses of sangria and looking out over the sparkling waters of Lake Washington. We’d come up to Seattle for a friend’s wedding and were relishing a relaxing lunch before our drive home. I paused to check email on my phone and noticed that my agent had emailed me comments on my latest revision of an urban fantasy novel I was working on. Nervously, I opened it. My heart sank as I read her response; she was sorry not to write with better news, but my latest revision had created some major character issues. I looked across the table at my boyfriend and teared up as I told him what she’d said.

Several months later, I submitted a young adult techno-thriller and was relieved and excited when my agent returned it with enthusiastic feedback. At the time of this writing, I’m in revisions, and of course I don’t know what will happen once I go on submission. However, regardless of how this novel turns out, I learned a very important lesson about writing. Cliched as it is, it’s important to just be yourself as a writer.

My experience with the book I’ll call FANTASY FAIL, and with my current novel, BOOK X (as I don’t know what the final title will be), taught me anew how important it is to just be yourself. I started FANTASY FAIL because I had previously written a young adult mystery that didn’t work out. Urban fantasy dominates much of the young adult market, and I wanted to fit in. Although I was genuinely interested in the Irish mythology on which I based it, FANTASY FAIL was mostly – in retrospect – an exercise in trying to be one of the popular kids. Despite having read quite a bit of urban fantasy, I struggled with pacing, structure, and characterization. I could sense my voice falling flat. And the more I revised, it seemed the more problems I created. By the time I decided to scrap FANTASY FAIL, I barely knew what I was writing anymore. For a couple months afterward, the very thought of writing made me feel sick and anxious.

In sharp contrast, I had a great time writing BOOK X. Responding to my agent’s kind offer to look at my plot outline, I got quite a bit of feedback from her before I’d written anything past the first chapter, and felt more free to play around with ideas early on. I ended up incorporating nanotechnology into the story, and reading about current developments in this field inspired me and stirred my imagination. Instead of trying to portray a character overwhelmed by a supernatural ability, I had a blast writing a heroine who possesses the kick-ass strength and emotional stamina that I’ll never have in my real life. Instead of trying to fit in with a popular genre, I simply chose a subject and genre that I enjoyed.

I even discovered a workaround for a writing issue that had always troubled me: the use of first-person voice. Many young adult novels are written in first person, and I had used first person in FANTASY FAIL. However, I had often sensed that my execution left something to be desired. For BOOK X, I stuck with first person but moved into the present tense. This simple shift unlocked something in me. I felt free to stop and throw in the narrator’s thoughts and reactions to scenes in the moment, and I no longer felt limited by the single-person perspective. For whatever reason, the use of present tense resonated with me.

BOOK X still challenged me at times, and I still had a number of revisions to do. But in writing BOOK X, I recaptured the joy of writing. I felt unhindered, unencumbered by the need to fit in. I was the literary equivalent of a geeky kid on the periphery, and I didn’t mind one bit. In fact, I loved it. 

Amy Alexander writes Young Adult mysteries and thrillers. She is represented by Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency and is working on a YA techno-thriller. Find more Amy at... 

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