Can anyone write a good book? Book Coach Jennie Nash, Meaning, and a Special Offer

Thursday, October 29, 2015

And there she is. That soaring tower. That beacon at the edge of Manhattan, collecting the city lights.

For the past two days on this blog, I've been interviewing Jennie Nash, a friend who has given authors a new kind of tool—and experience—called Author Accelerator. I've been interviewing Jennie because she has approached this business of book coaching and author support in an entirely new way. She's studied what hasn't worked elsewhere. She's created a program that rises above—provides content, individualized attention, and motivating ideas.

So here is the third and final installment of our series. We talk about characters, intention, and the publishing biz. Find Part 1 of our conversation here. Find Part 2 here. And don't forget Jennie's special offer: a discount to try out Author Accelerator for a month. The normal price is $199/month, which gives writers four deadlines against which they turn in ten pages for review. Jennie is offering a discounted price of $150 for the first months. Authors can write to and ask for the Beth Kephart special offer. That will be good through November 15, 2015.

What makes a character interesting, and how do help authors think about and manage complexity?

The whole reason we tell each other stories is to find meaning in the world, and in our lives. We’re desperately hungry for meaning – and when stories give it to us, you cannot tear us away. So it’s meaning that makes a character interesting. If we can see ourselves in a character, if we can learn something about ourselves by watching their struggle, we will not be able to put the book down.

The Peanuts cartoons are much in the news right now because the new Peanuts movie is about to come out, and if you read anything at all about Charles Schultz, you realize that his gift was being able to convey meaning in those tiny little four-panel comic strips. The fact that he and his characters became beloved is a direct result of the meaning he made. I mean, Charlie Brown getting his heart broken one more time by the Little Red-haired Girl ignoring him, or Lucy duping him – we all feel what Charlie Brown feels, and we feel it in our bones, because the same things have happened to us at one time or another.

So the question you are asking (I think!) is how I do I help authors make characters who mean something?

Everything goes back to intention. What point are they trying to make through this character or through this narrative? If the writer doesn’t know, she might as well quit right now. Once she knows, then it’s a matter of creating that structure (or shape or ecosystem) to best show that point.

And once authors do that, I teach them what meaning looks like on the page – how to let us into a character’s head, and into his skin, at every single turn. We have to know what a character thinks and feels, what meaning he makes of what is happening to him. So I point out where the writers are doing it, and where they miss the mark, so they can begin to build that muscle.

We often want to think, as writers, that our work comes to us intuitively—that we can’t see chapter ten until we’ve lived chapters two and three. How have you helped your clients tame their desire for fuzzy ambiguity in the name of a process that leads to a finished, polished work?

I have come to believe that while any given creative act is not linear (and not, therefore, able to be tamed) the creative process itself is somewhat predictable and knowable and it is, therefore, able to be tamed to a certain extent.

What I offer my clients is the benefit of my experience with the creative process. They may not have written a book before, or written THIS book before, but I have helped dozens and dozens, of writers through the process of writing a book and I am not surprised, or upset, or concerned by the things that happen on that journey. If someone wants to throw out six months of work and start all over again, I have seen that before. I know that it doesn’t have to be the death knell for the project. If someone drags his feet in finishing a book (which happens all the time!) I know that this is par for the course. Writers get spooked when the end is near and may need a little extra attention to get over the finish line.

I recently had a client who fell into total despair, for example, because she was convinced that her work was crap, that she was crap, that she would never be able to actually write a book -- but I have seen a hundred writers in that exact place before. Maybe they fell into that dark place three months earlier in the process than this writer did, or three months later, or a year later, but when it happens in the process is not the point. The point is that it happens, and that it’s normal, and that I have seen writers write their way out of it time and time again. I know this woman’s story and I know it is not crap, and I believe she can do it. So I help her find her way back to her story.

My clients often say that it seems as though I can see their book – envision it complete and finished and out in the world in readers’ hands – before they can, and I think this is actually true. I can see their book. And I hold that idea in my mind for them when they may not be able to. It’s almost as if I act as a bridge to get them over the chasm of doubt. They can’t see their book yet but I can.

The question that would naturally follow is, “Do I believe that anyone can write a good book?” The answer is, yes – and no. I don’t think it’s about talent, whatever that is. And I know that it’s not about having a good idea, because there are a million good ideas. It’s about being willing to commit, being able to tolerate the chaos of the creative process, and being willing to hold in your head the needs of the reader even when you can’t yet see the complete book, or don’t know what’s coming in Chapter 10, or don’t know how you’ll get there. If you can do those things, then yes – I believe anyone can write a good book.

It bears saying that not all my clients publish their books or meet with commercial success. Publishing is a fickle thing, and so much depends on luck and timing. But what I have found is that finishing is the best part of the process by far. When a writer actually finishes the book, he feels a deep soul-level satisfaction that he can’t access in any other way. Talking about writing a book is one thing, but actually doing it is something else entirely. I consider it an enormous honor to be able to help writers get there.


Jennie Nash said...

So fun to talk with you about writing, Beth!

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