The More Things Change…

It’s been a while. Life and all that stuff is my excuse. I’ve been writing and making wonderful progress. Both YA novels are in some form of revision and I’m pretty happy with the direction they both took. I meet with a writing critique group twice a month. They’ve offered invaluable advice and support. I’ve kept up the habit of writing everyday, usually about 1100 words. So writing is good.

Actually, writing is great.

And that’s where my life is changing. I’m beginning to feel a distinct calling to do more writing work. I’ve been reaching out to friends who freelance and getting their advice on building my own writing portfolio and maybe starting a little writing work on the side. Today I took major steps toward that interest. I offered to do some volunteer writing and I answered a posting online looking for blog writers. Nothing may come of either, but in the end I made that small tiptoe toward a calling I feel.

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Auld Lang Syne

Here was today’s writing prompt from Writing a Sacred Path’s Review and Renew Course:

Write about your goals, achievements, disappointments, and triumphs over the past year. Allow yourself to grieve the disappointments—but don’t forget to celebrate the successes! Vent, mourn, cheer, and rejoice on the page. Raise a metaphorical glass to the things that went well and tell the things that didn’t go so well. Whatever you do, don’t despair if things didn’t go as planned. This whole course is about starting a new year in 2014!

Here’s what I wrote. None of this is new or a surprise to you, if you’ve read the blog before. I’ve been over most of these events in the past year, but putting it all together makes me realize how much I did accomplish in one year:

In 2013 I redrafted Takes One to Know One twice, first with feedback from my writing group and then after rethinking some of the major plot issues. I revised and edited the last draft and pitched it to agents at the Writers League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference. An agent was interested in Takes One to Know One and asked about other Contemporary YA that I’ve written, so I explained the concept behind Punx Not Dead. She also wanted to see that manuscript. I panicked because I hadn’t picked up that story in over a year. So for the summer I tried writing the new draft using a Beat Sheet. In theory, it seemed like a great idea, but in practice, for me, it was far too stifling. I decided to stop working on the story because I’d lost hope that there was anything I could do to fix it. In August I did CampNanoWrimo with my writing group. I wrote Halls of Righteouness, which is a YA Thriller. I got my 50,000 words done, but that novel is sitting unfinished because by the end of summer I was ready to get back to Punx Not Dead. Around the same time that I realized I needed to get back that writing, a woman I’d met at the agent’s conference emailed me out of the blue to see if I was still interested in joining a critique group. We’ve been meeting every other week since October and it’s been an incredibly valuable experience. I’ve written three short stories, all of which I think have potential to be submitted and published. I’ve also been extremely motivated to finish Punx Not Dead, so I can get both YA novels out the door and into the hands of an agent.

I started 2013 with lofty writing goals and, though I didn’t actually achieve any of them, I feel like I made pretty good progress. I work fulltime, am a member of more than one book club, try to stay active and work out, and have a husband and dogs to care for. Making time for writing was a priority that waxed and waned throughout the year, but during those times when I wasn’t writing, I was very aware of something missing in my life and I always came back to writing.

Now, in December I’m back in a writing upswing. I didn’t do Nanowrimo, exactly this year, what I tried to do was just write a little everyday, to get back into the writing habit. I followed through for about 2 weeks and then fell out of habit. I’m trying to pick it up again, even if it’s just a few hundred words, or even if it’s just a response to the Writing a Sacred Path course, like this. At least I’m writing, and my manuscript will get there when it gets there. I’d been so consumed with working so quickly that I burnt out once. Hopefully I’ll find a comfortable, sustainable rhythm from here on out.

Just Another Excuse-Filled Blog Post

I read an incredible post by a fellow doing Nanowrimo this year. He calculated how many days he had left to live and multiplied that by writing 500 words a day and then divided that by 100,000 (his approximate novel word count) and discovered that if he made that small commitment of writing everyday for the rest of his life he’d be able to write hundred upon hundreds of novels.

Inspired, I decided that I, too, can make such a small commitment. Sometimes it won’t be 500 words and sometimes it will be more. Sometimes it won’t all go the same story, and sometimes I’ll be inspired by the novel for weeks on end. Sometimes I’ll wonder why I ever thought I could be a writer and sometimes I’ll wonder how I could ever have gone months without writing.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’d Rather Be Writing

I didn’t take a 2 and a half month hiatus on purpose. In fact, for a few weeks after the writing conference I wrote everyday. I won CampNano in July with 50,000 words of a YA Thriller. That was a fun ride. I’m not sure I’ll ever do anything with the beginning of that story, but I sometimes think about it now and then, so maybe it’s worth going back to someday.

The distraction of CampNano kept me from doing a lot of revision work, but really, I could have made the time. I avoided it like the plague because I was so tired from the pre-conference work I’d done. Writing, then rewriting, editing, and revising my first novel in just a few short months. So when I got the news an agent wanted to see the novel I’d pitched AND this other novel, panic set it and the ability to work left me angry, and uninspired.

On top of all that I’ve had some strange health issues that are still unresolved. So I took some time away from writing to focus on myself, on healing, and on learning what I really wanted. I put so much pressure on myself to finish my book, find an agent, publish publish publish, and all on such a short time frame, that I lost my love of writing. I made it something I had to do and not something I wanted to do.

I’ve still been going to weekly writing groups, but I’ve slogged through maybe a page or two of revisions and started journaling again. Until recently I just felt so eh about writing.

But then a few things happened around the same time. First, I read an article about remembering your passions. And I thought about how I’d always wanted to be a writer. Then I got an email from a writer I’d met at the conference and she invited me to join a no pressure writing group and told me about an upcoming writing retreat. Then I threw away my beat sheet and my notes for revision and committed myself to just rewriting the second novel. I discovered that I’m not good as revising until much later in the process. From now, second drafts will be written from scratch.

Giving myself permission to veer off course, a friend reaching out to check in about writing and offering to support me through it, and a gentle reminder from the universe that I love writing and can do it without putting loads of pressure on myself have all brought me back to the bright side of life.

The Birth of a Novel and the PostPartum Depression That Follows

I stayed right on track this past weekend. On Friday, I took a day off from work to stage my own little writing retreat. I worked on revising my novel. On Saturday, I finished revising and wrote a few extra chapters to close out the story. I got so into the story that at one point I wrote a pivotal scene and gave myself goose bumps. I loaded everything into Scrivener. Piece by piece I saw the outline of my first novel grow. I hit compile and held my breath. 72,200 words birthed from hours upon hours of work. It was written everywhere from my couch, to my bed, to the coffee shop, to the bus, to SXSW, to my office during lunchtime. This novel has come with me from fall to winter and soon to spring. The novel has travelled to California (via email), to Maine for a funeral, to Chicago and Philadelphia for layovers. I have spent joyous and angry and sleepy and hungry emotions on this writing. It felt so good to get it compiled, like a big gulp of clear, country air.

On Sunday I should have been ecstatic to get it printed and go through it, right? Draft 2- one step closer to feeling ready to share it with the world. Some timeline updates, character tweaks, and line edits are what stand between now and submission time. But, the monster in my mind has taken over and now I can’t stand to look at it. All that work and I worry that the story that’s on paper is not what’s in my head. I bought colored Post-It notes, all ready and eager to stick them all over the draft on pages that need work, and now I’m paralyzed in my progress.

I know I need to suck it up and just get reading. I can hope the distance of the last two days away from the work will make the process easier. Does this happen to anyone else? If I can’t even get through this round of revisions, how will I ever feel “done” with this piece? Self-doubt is really the worst, because you can’t blame anyone but yourself.

Scary Right Now

I used to think I was actually “putting it out there.” I sort of thought that’s what I was doing with this blog. But really, I’m only talking theory and ideas here. When it comes to my writing, like my actual story, I still feel so guarded. Only a close handful of friends and family know that I write. I mean, I talk about it on Facebook, but who really pays attention to that? I tweet about it, too, because it feels more anonymous, since I’m followed mostly by people I don’t know in real life.

You’re probably familiar with the Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I think it’s a nice quote. I even have it on a magnet. But do I live that way? No. Would I like to? Maybe. I think I’d revise the quote to say, “Do the thing that scares you right now.” Or, I’m sure someone already has. I don’t know if it’s about every day, so much as it’s about taking that leap of faith and believing in you.

So last night I tweeted and Facebooked a public statement, committing myself to finishing the second draft of my book by March 30th. It seemed so doable when I first dreamed up that date. Then I got scared that I couldn’t possibly make that deadline. Then I counted down the calendar and tried to do some mental math. And after finding the cosine of the hypotenuse and added the tangent of the right angle, I realized I’d done too much math and not enough trusting myself.

Then, this morning, I did the thing that scares me. I told a coworker about my secret. I admitted to being a, *ahem* writer. I explained the inspiration for my story. And I’m still alive. In fact, I feel proud of myself for taking that baby step. I know it’s not a huge deal, but it feels like exposing yourself. I mean, what if he wants to read the story? What if he hates it? What if he writes terrible reviews of it?

The what-if trap is always holding me back. I have to reign myself back in. I go on Goodreads every day and look at books my friends are reading. I read reviews before adding a book to my to-read shelf. I write reviews when I finish my books. I’m in multiple book clubs. I enjoy critiquing books and I enjoy reading others’ opinions about books. So the what-if trap starts in easily for me. What if I got published? What if people wrote mean things? What if people hated it? And then I remember- the story isn’t even finished yet. Pull yourself together woman!

I spend so much time living in the future, the possibility of when I finish… what if I…what if they… Doing the scary things brings me back to the present. I want to live now and enjoy the process. And IF things happen with this story, I will enjoy them as they come.

Three Dimensions

Something that bugs me in the YA books I’ve read recently  is making the characters too one-dimensional, too much like stereotypes. This is especially true of female characters that are meek or shy at the beginning of a story and then suddenly transform throughout the story in response to a quest or other dramatic event. Wouldn’t it be fair to say that most kids, most people, have a little bit of everything in them?  We’re usually not one way all the time. With some people we’re outgoing, with others we’re reserved. In some situations we’re adventurous and daring and in others we’re terrified.

I saw this most clearly in my own writing when I finally got a chance to spend some time with my 16 year old niece. The story I’m currently revising is very loosely based on some of her life experiences. From an outsider’s perspective, I thought I needed to make the character angry and cynical, in order to make some of the big events and revelations make sense. And, though I wrote certain glimmers of happiness and contentedness, I kept the character sort of guarded and surly through much of the book. However, when my niece came to visit, I got a glimpse into the life of a 16 year old. And maybe there is some anger, but mostly there’s still growth and development. Sixteen year olds like one thing one minute and another the next minute. They want to wear make-up and have sex, and they want to make origami boxes and color the driveway with chalk. They’re walking contradictions as they discover who they are.

It was stunning to realize how much I’d underestimated and pigeonholed this character, because my own memories of teen life are permeated with angry, discontent feelings.  Those strong feelings clouded the others. So much that I forgot about the humdrum of daily life. I forgot that I wasn’t angry all the time, or even half the time. After I spent time with my niece, I went back and reread my story. I didn’t do the age, the experience, or the inspiration very much justice in what I’d written.  I know there needs to be elevated emotions and drama to come across strongly on the page, but I want to do a better job of making my character well-rounded and more accessible to lots of different types of readers.

On a side note, this post seemed timely because I did the same thing in real life.  I sort of under-estimated, or maybe assumed is a better word, I assumed things about someone I work with because of his position in the company and his experience in business. Instead of thinking of this person as a well-rounded human begin who probably has many likes and interests, just like everyone I know, myself included, I assumed he was stuffy and maybe uninteresting. When in reality, since I’ve learned a lot from him and about him, I’ve been surprised by how wrong my initial assumptions were.

 As a former teacher, I should know the rule about not judging a book by its cover. I’m working on it, though. It’s a hard habit to break. I think maybe it’s not about breaking the habit, but rethinking the process- maybe it’s okay to make initial assumptions, as long as we actively seek to find ways to contradict them.