Holding Myself Accountable

Remember that last post about feeling underwhelmed once you finish writing something? Well, that was my life for the last three months, which is partially why you haven’t heard from me. But now I’m back (…from outer space). So here’s the run down:

!. Finished revising book

2. Sent it to writing group and friends for feedback. In the meantime I was going to read it again,  without trying to revise it, just read it through like a book.

3. Signed up for an Agent’s and Editor’s conference. 

4. About 25 pages I wanted to cry. It was not the story I wanted to tell. All that work, feeling like I was maybe close to done, Oh, the humanity!

5. Got great notes and feedback from my amazing writing friend, Candace.

6. Reevaluated story. Created quick outline of how it needed to be rewritten.

7. Started rewrite, excited about the new direction.

8. Then life happened. I started doing a lot of creative writing at work and felt tired and creatively spent at home. I didn’t make time for writing.

9. Got an email with my agent assignments. Realized I had very little time before I was supposed to pitch this story.

10. Started to have a nervous breakdown, not really, but maybe a little. 

11. Used the forums at She Writes to find an accountability partner. I was very productive during Nanowrimo when I emailed my accomplishments to my writing group everyday. With this insanely close deadline, I knew I needed to light the fire under my, ahem, laptop.

12. Found two amazing partners and have written everyday since then!

I’m now steadily developing the story I meant to write in the first 3 drafts. It’s an exciting time as I realize how much of a story there was, that I wasn’t telling. I’m so grateful for my writing group and my accountability partners. Knowing I needed to send the email every day has really made writing seem like less of an optional activity and more of something that’s nonnegotiable.

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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.

Keeping My Word

I’m a big fan of keeping commitments. I committed to a lifelong marriage, I committed to caring for my two sweet puppies, I committed to a 30 year mortgage, and I committed to getting through revisions for this story by March 30.

I’m happy to report here, that I’m well ahead of my goal. As of last night, I’ve written a whole new introduction to the book and revised and reworked 24 of 36 chapters. Something about this process just clicked recently and I found myself easily tying up loose plots ends and having no trouble deleting lots and lots of things that didn’t work.

I think part of my inspiration comes from the week I spent at SXSWedu. The company I work for was a sponsor and I got a badge and was able to attend sessions, workshops, and panels full of interesting and innovative ideas. Being surrounded by people who think big and people who want to change kids’ lives was extremely motivating, both professionally and personally.

I thought this process would be a lot more difficult. I thought I’d be too attached to chapters, plot lines, and characters to delete them. But I found that just the opposite was true. It felt like spring cleaning to go in and take out lots of stuff. I wrote this piece during Nano and I found a lot of incessant character rambling and inner thought diatribes that were written just to fill up word count. Taking that stuff out has freed me to do so much more with my character and to leave a little more to the reader’s imagination.

With all this progress, I’m revising my March goal. Instead, I’d like to be done with this round of revisions by the 15th and to print a hard copy of the piece sometime this weekend. Then I’m committing to a full read-through and making additional revisions by March 30th.

Plans Begone! No Wait, Come Back!

I’m in the middle of revising my book and it occurred to me that I finally really like the direction it’s going in now. November Nanowrimo provided a great time to get past writer’s block and just power through a draft. It helped me rebuild a daily commitment to writing and forced me to show up to the page.

Revision is a great exercise in making decisions and really thinking through what’s important in this story. With my Nanowriomo stories, I’ve had to do A LOT of thinking through after the fact, rather than planning and thinking through before and during the writing process.

I’m a planner in all areas of my life. It’s something that I get sick of every so often and try to shed. I’ll live spontaneously for a few days and then inevitably revert back to my routine. It’s comfortable, it keeps me going. Last year, when I really put some effort into building a writerly life, I took a planner’s approach. I mapped out stories on index cards. I made graphs and charts of when characters would come in and out of scenes. I was pretty proud of my story before I even sat down to write it because it was all planned out and, assuming it went as planned, it would be awesome.

As we all know, assumptions are often wrong. I’d spent so much time planning and trying to be what I thought writers were and do what I thought writers did, that I forgot to include the creativity into my creative writing. Imagine my surprise when I wrote my first novel in a month and it was nothing like my planned outline. In fact, it didn’t have solid A and B plots with interwoven themes. It had one- dimensional characters following boring paths. It was frustrating. That novel is sitting on my hard drive and will potentially never see the light of day.

In that practice, I gave up control and let the story take over. I wasn’t sure about that whole “let the muse be your guide” and “your story wants to get told” rhetoric that you often read in creativity and writing books. I wasn’t sure I had a muse or a story to be told. I only knew I liked to write. I liked to put pen to paper and create. But, lo and behold , the story did come, not as I expected and planned, but it came nonetheless.

When I did Nano again this year I also planned out my story, but I knew for certain it would change as I went through the month. When November ended, once again I had an incredibly disjointed, not totally coherent story with a few glimmers of good dialogue and character emotion. What was different for me this time was my commitment to revision, thanks in large part to my writing group who read my first draft and offered invaluable feedback. I knew what was wrong with the story, but I needed to hear someone else say it too, so I knew I was on the right track and not just being too hard on myself.

Starting tomorrow my writing group is starting our own revision Nano. We’ve committed to certain daily revision practices (days, words, hours) and daily email check-ins to prod each other along. So my statement of finishing this draft by March 30th still stands. My commitment was to revise at least one existing chapter each day. They may not stay chapters, because a lot has to get cut and reworked, but I’ll go into the old chapters and see what I can do with each one, at least one a day. So that’s my plan, and muse be damned, I’m sticking to it!

Choosing My Path

I’m far enough into my revision process that I see some major holes in my story. I also have a much better idea of where I want the story to go. There are some scenes that I still really love, but there are some that I no longer see as useful in moving the plot forward. There are some big rewrites in the future

What I’m struggling with now is how to proceed.  Here are the revisions options I’m considering:

  1. I take everything I’ve learned from this revision and just totally start over with a blank slate. I redraft the whole book from scratch, but with a new and, hopefully, tighter story to tell
  2. I take my revision notes and write the new scenes I need and find places for them among the existing scenes, then go back into the current scenes and revise to fit the new story
  3. A combination of 1 and 2 and start rewriting the story from scratch, but pull the scenes I know I like and paste them in as I go

Some of the revisions will be easily added as new scenes, like building character backgrounds and relationships, flashbacking to show rather than tell, following up on foreshadowing hints and fixing the timeline issues.

Some of the revisions will need to take place over many scenes, since the backstory is going to change. I’m also not totally sold on the reason for the conflict in one of the subplots or on how it unfolds. I’m not there yet in my commenting revision, but I know it’s an issue because I keep thinking about it. I hope when I get there I’ll have a general idea of how to work it out. I think I’ve started to untangle it a little, but I’m trying not to jump too far ahead of myself.

I’m also brainstorming ways to give the main character more depth. Luckily, in the drafting process I gave her a few hobbies and interests that weren’t so sad and depressing and some which were in conflict with her self-definition. I’d like to strength the character development, because I think a minor character steals the scene when he’s in it, which means I’m not doing my main character justice. Thanks to a visit from my beautiful 16 year old niece, I was reminded that teenagers aren’t stereotypes and though we may be quick to judge them on their outward appearance and dress, they’re usually experimenting and discovering new interests from day to day. I want to find a way to capture that complexity in my character, and still find a way to keep her toughness intact.

But, before I get into any of that, I still need to finish my first read-through.

Revision, Revision, Let Down Your Golden Hair!

Four days into 2013 and I’ve upheld my goal to work on revising. My writing priorities have shifted from story-telling to story-fixing and it’s been an interesting process. So far, it’s not as painful I thought it would be. I thought making changes would be a lot more difficult for me. I’m not particularly stubborn or set in my ways and I usually don’t have trouble admitting I’m wrong, but there’s something about going back through your work and tearing it apart that seems like it could be a little disheartening and depressing. But it’s actually been a really positive experience so far.

The piece I’m revising was written in a month, during Nanowrimo. It’s a very rough draft, but I put a lot of work, thought, and frustrated energy into writing it. So as much as I want to say it’s good the way it is, I know that’s not true- characters disappear into the ether, never to be heard from again, the time line is wonky and subplots are started and then dropped. I let the muse take me the story where she wanted it to go and forgot my story outline basically as soon as I started writing the piece in order write what the cosmos dictated.  The cosmos, though, it seems, is not the most coherent story-teller. In fact, don’t tell anyone, but *whisper* I think the muse has ADD.

My revision process so far is not to rewrite anything just yet. Right now, I’m just rereading and commenting. Now that I know how the story begins, grows, and ends, I’m rereading to get an idea of what needs to change.  I’m working in a Word version of the manuscript, compiled from Scrivener. I’m doing 10 pages a day, which will take me forever, but it’s a manageable goal for now. I read the piece and make edits/line changes and additions if it’s just word or sentence or two.  If it’s a big idea, like a line of thought that needs to carry throughout the piece or a whole new scene I add a comment in the margin. It’s been an easy way to see quickly where I’ve dropped the ball. I have many comments that begin with “Again…” because I’ve already addressed the needed scene or storyline in several previous comments.

My plan is to get through this whole process before I meet with my critique group so that I have some clear revision ideas and questions about where to go from there.  I already have a lot of future ideas in mind, like the ending happens too quickly because I was on a deadline to finish and I know I need to develop the Mom and her boyfriend’s relationship throughout the story. But, I haven’t gotten there yet, so I’m trying to just focus on the ten pages that need work each day. I’ll keep you posted about my process and where I go next with it!

I’m a Survivor…(take 2)

So the Mayan Apocalypse has come and gone. What do we do next? How do we live our lives without the end of the world looming? We prepare for the next apocalypse, of course. We throw ourselves in to being better people= better friends, better spouses, better parents, better coworkers, better neighbors, better puppy-mamas. We do this by re-evaluating what’s important in life and what accomplishments we’ve made in the meager lives we’ve lead thus far. And then we strive for better.

Huh. Apocalypse preparation sounds a lot like New Years Resolutions. Every year, I set New years goals. I’d rather strive to do something than resolve to do it. The verbage is just more inviting, The goals are all over the place, but I usually try to set goals that pertain to body wellness, mind wellness, heart wellness, and “soul” wellness. I put soul in quotes because I think we all define that word a little differently.

This year, like last, many of my goals have to do with writing. Last year I wanted to develop a writing habit and write a lot. And in reflection I really did. Sometimes it was easy, most of the time it was tough. But when I take stock of what I accomplished toward my 2012 writing goals, I feel proud. I am currently sitting on 8 pieces of writing in one stage of completion or another. Eight pieces of writing done in one year, while I worked full-time, and for most of the year worked as a classroom teacher, the most time-consuming job I can think of. It’s something to be proud of.  So here’s a recap of 2012 writing:

1 short story written, revised, edited, and submitted. Submission accepted and published in an online literary journal in May and then republished in a hard-copy anthology in July (https://www.createspace.com/3947262).

1 short story in draft phase, taken from a writing exercise I began a few years ago.

1 handwritten novel in draft form, perhaps 20-30,000 words done. This was the piece that propelled me into writing this year. I had this glimmer of an idea and then everywhere I went I heard news stories, saw movie titles, read articles about the topic. The universe was talking to me, loudly, so I listened. I’d love to get back to this piece soon, I’m just putting it off because of the dread of having to first read my messy draft scrawl and then having to type it out.

1 late-chapter book/ early middle grade story that is being revised with the help of my writing group. I picked this story up when I dropped the handwritten one. This was meant to be a picture book, but the character came alive to me, so I kept writing his story. I completed one draft of this, had a former student read it and give me some notes, then reworked it a little.  I’ve been working with my writing group on notes and am currently rewriting the beginning and trying to carry some of those new threads throughout the rest of the story.

1 middle grade stab at supernatural/ fantasy-ish. It’s probably 20,000 words in and then I got stuck. I have the story outlined, so I know where i want it to go, but I need to do more research on Salem and magical gems.

1 YA novel, draft 1 completed during Camp Nanowrimo in June.

1 adult-ish, I’ll admit veering dangerously close to chick-lit, novel started before Nano. One chapter, about 20 pages written.

1 YA novel, draft 1, completed during Nanowrimo in 2012. That’s a lie, 50,000 words of it were done in November. I kept writing it to bring the story to some sort of completion for my writing group. It’s currently in their hands. We have plans to spend the month of February revising our work together.

So, proud as I am about my first year of really trying at this writing thing, one big thing jumped out at me when I reflected on all this work. The word draftdraftdraft. I wrote a lot. I got caught up in story telling and embedded myself and my characters in new worlds and new activities, but I didn’t get past that fun part of making stuff up. So my 2013 writing goals are simple enough. Get over making stuff up and start making stuff better. This is my year of revision and editing. I’m going to rework, reimagine, rethink, reinvent, redraft, redefine, retell, and revise my little writer’s heart out this year.

The ultimate goal of all of this will be to get 4 pieces revised, redrafted, edited, and ready for submission by the end of the year. Next November, I’d like to be sitting down to write my Nanowrimo novel knowing that 4 of my novels are currently out there in the world being read and reviewed by people who could make publishing a reality.