Monday, April 25, 2011

reading like a writer: what is at stake for y-o-u, you?

All month we’ve been examining our main characters personal stakes. We have been raising them, amping them up, creating ultimate stakes, and making our main character face a moment of irrevocable commitment, a point where there is no turning back. We’ve turned to Donald Maas—read his words. We’ve read my words—in the form of my main character in Between Us Baxters, Polly and we’ve read and examined the stakes of Lisa Railsback’s main character in Betti, in Betti on the Highwire.
But what about us—as the writer and creator of these words and worlds? What is at stake for us?

I began writing and studying fiction in 1998. It is now 2011. I published for the first time in Cricket, the literary children’s magazine in 2004. I published my first novel in 2009. What was at stake for me then is different than what is at stake for me now, but I believe strongly though that what is at stake for us as the writer/creator may change with each project we take on, it is very important  for us to access and think about. 

When I work with my private students I ask them a zillion questions. Mostly about their main characters, what the character wants and but eventually I ask the writer what is at stake for personally in the writing of the project they are currently working on. One of my students was very brave in answering, what was at stake for her as she tackled drafting her first novel:

…Getting it right – giving this theme the attention it deserves, in a real and organic way, without having the novel seem preachy or lecturey (I just made that word up, sorry!) I guess another thing at stake is whether I can actually do this – whether I can actually be a writer that tackles real issues (sometimes I have moments where I don’t think I’m smart enough or deep enough or intellectual enough or creative enough to do this…) or whether it’s just a pipe dream and I don’t really have the guts/courage to do it. 

Ah, living up to the potential the story demands of us. That coupled with personal belief is always at stake. Can I do this? Am I up for the challenge? Am I smart enough? Talented enough? Do I have what it takes? What if I fail?  It doesn’t matter if one has an MFA or is published these niggly fears still come up but we writers are brave. We face our fears over and over. We bring them to the page. We create and infuse our characters with the same such human fears and only in the process of putting ourselves in touch for what is at stake for ourselves do we make progress, on the page and in life. 

I am writing my first older YA. What is at stake for me in this project is not relying on my developed Southern voice. Also at stake is accessing personal and raw emotions I am not sure everyone I know and love will approve of. I am creating characters, not passing off real life as fiction, but I am putting on the page something of my life experience. I am writing older. I am writing from a boy’s point of view. I am scared and I am attempting to be patient and brave at the same time. Is it working? Some days, yes. Some days, no. But I am glad to have a new things at stake for me in this work. 

Take Away:
Consider you work-in-progress, what is at stake for you as the writer? What are your fears? Can you use them in the writing of the manuscript? Can you “be” with the fears and not let them stop you? How do you feel about the work after being honest with yourself about how much you want it—to get it right, to do it well, to be read, to use new muscles? (My guess is after being clear with yourself about what is at stake you feel braver and bolder and more ready to keep at it, no matter what.)


  1. Greta post. I'm excited to hear about your YA!
    The hardest thing I've done recently with my work is change POV! Weird, I know, but I signed with my agent and had some success with my MSs in 1st person. The next one was 3rd person, no matter how I tried. So I went there, worried all the while. We'll see if I succeeded!
    I think my next one will be YA as well. Personally, I'm worried about how smexy it's gonna get. LOL
    Now, back to revising.

  2. Letting the piece dictate the pov is a sure way that the pov will work Nikki. The market may like 1st person narratives but not all stories are meant to be in 1st.

    And as for my YA...there is some "smexy" in there too. It's hard for us MG writers to let ourselves go there...Let's be brave together.

  3. Thank you so much for your post! It came at just the right time, for me: I have a request for a revision from someone I respect, and while there is much excitement, there is also fear, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that this is my chance to get it right. So much is at stake, for me, and for this story. Your words will be with me today as I acknowledge that fear for what it is and move forward. Jeni

  4. Jeni,

    Thank you for your comment and for your adding Writer Friendly to your friends. Hang tight and if you can hug that fear. It is there because your story matters and I am sure it will see the shelves. There is no getting it "right" only doing our best...and no doubt you can do that!