Our guest today is Gwendolyn Womack. Originally from Houston, Texas, Gwendolyn began writing plays in college while freezing in the tundra at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She received an MFA from CalArts in Directing for theater and film and currently resides in California where she can be found at her keyboard. The Memory Painter is her first novel (you can watch a trailer here). One lucky commenter to this post will win a copy of The Memory Painter—leave a comment to be entered in the giveway.[pullquote]Gwendolyn is giving away a signed copy of The Memory Painter—to be entered in the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this post![/pullquote]
Of today’s post Gwendolyn says, “I’m a longtime fan of Writer Unboxed. I love reading posts about craft and other writer’s journeys. There is usually always something I can takeaway and apply to my own work. It was lovely to be invited to share my experience and hopefully offer some encouragement to others on the same path.”
The Story Iceberg
My first novel, The Memory Painter, is less than 48 hours away from publication, but the journey to the book spanned years, involved many twists and turns and a lot of surprises.
To start with, the original story was not conceived as a novel. In another life a long, long time ago, I was a struggling screenwriter fresh out of film school. The year was 1999. I wrote the story as a feature screenplay and I believed that this was the script that was going to launch my writing career—only that didn’t happen. What did happen was I had a lot of studio meetings with development executives. After I got over the thrill of driving onto the lots, I’d sit down with the executives to visit. They loved the idea, and they had all these questions about the story that I couldn’t answer. (Because I hadn’t written any of it yet.)
“The idea of all the lifetimes is so fascinating. Who were all the people? Now those pages I’d love to read.”
“Tell me more about the bad karma between your hero and antagonist. Where and with what lifetime did it all begin?”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but these people were in fact my first beta readers, people whose job it was to analyze stories inside and out all day long. By the end of the year the screenplay had made the rounds and the time had come to shelve the script and begin writing another one. This was hard because I believed in the story and wanted it to reach an audience. Now the reality was looming that it never would.
Years went by, and I couldn’t let the story go. I began to imagine one day I would try and write it as a novel and answer all those questions. In early 2010, I finally sat down to try.
I had no preconceived ideas or expectations or deadlines. I just wanted to let the story expand and breathe and see where it would take me. With that intention, something happened. Doorways opened, new connections formed, and I realized my original vision was only a one-quarter of the story, there was another three-quarters hidden beneath the surface waiting for me to find. That included new subplots and new characters, and scenes that I had already written stretched to reveal something more within them. The result was that all the relationships deepened and the plot became more fully formed.
It took me two years to write the manuscript and then another year to revise while I went searching for an agent. My path may seem unusual, but I think everyone’s writing journey is unorthodox, just as every writer’s process is unique. At the same time however, I do think there is some universality in what we all face when we sit down at the keyboard.
Looking back on my own journey to publication, if I were to attempt to offer any writing advice it would be:
- Believe in your story. Don’t give up on it. Keep returning to it if it’s calling to you.
- Mine the story as deeply as possible. There might be more to the plot than you originally thought. Stretch it as far as you can.
- Don’t be afraid to let your characters change course. Always keep trying to deepen the emotional connections. Action stems from emotion.
- Ask all the questions you can. Try to look at the story from as many different angles as possible.
- Let others ask all the questions they can. Sometimes the best ideas come from others. Stay open.
- Allow your imagination to run wild. Surprise yourself.
- Try to find the whole story iceberg—even if it takes years and presents itself in a way you never expected.
How is your writing journey unique? How is it universal? Looking back, what writing advice would you give?