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.

Life After a Writing Conference

If you ever have the chance to attend a writing conference I cannot recommend them strongly enough. I learned so much and met so many new people; the networking alone is enough to spend the money and go.

Here are a few take-aways-

1. If you can swing it, do the optional classes/sessions before the conference gets into full swing. I went to a the Pitch Perfect session with Chuck Sambuchino from Writers Digest and left feeling like I had a great bag of tricks for writing and presenting a solid, yet interesting pitch.

2. Bring business cards- I did not and wish that I had. I talked to so many great people and took their cards with the express purpose of reconnecting with them once we’d left the conference. I put all the cards in one place and was able to email people one by one and check in with them a week late. This networking will help me build a great base of writing partners, writing friends, and beta readers. And the more we stay in touch the more likely we’ll be to buy and read each others’ books. But, I didn’t have a card, so my email address is swimming around lost in notebooks or on the back of a napkin that got thrown away.

3. If you have a very personal question, please wait until after the panel or speaker is through to ask it. Personal questions are best left for one on one conversations and not so great in a ballroom full of people.

4. If an agent, editor, or otherwise expert speaker says something you didn’t understand, please ask them to clarify. Please do NOT start arguing with them in the middle of their talk.

5. Be prepared, do you homework, know what you want to get out of the conference. If you are pitching to an agent or editor be sure they represent the type of work you’re pitching. Don’t ask questions that can be easily found online or that you should know if you’re trying to break into the writing business, like the difference between an editor and editing your book for submission.

6. If you’ve got a great story to tell, by all means do- but keep it brief. When you’re sitting around at the workshops, panels, and speaking sessions everyone is very friendly. I was able to practice my pitch and get feedback with lots of different people. I was also happy to be  a sounding board to people who wanted to practice their pitches. I know, as writers, we’re all in love with our books and could probably talk forever about them, but please don’t.

Now that the conference is over I’ve got a lot of work to do. I pitched to two agents and both responded with requests to see my work. One of the agents also wants to see another story I wrote last year.

Now that I’ve received feedback and gotten the request to send an older manuscript, I’m busy with the revision process. The book I pitched needs some work in the middle and end, though I think those changes will be fairly easy to make- maybe 10- 20 hours worth of work. The other manuscript needs a complete overhaul. A lot of the scenes are salvageable but the plot is changing pretty dramatically.

Oh, and did I mention I signed up for Camp Nanowriomo with my writing group, so I’ve also committed to writing a brand new story in the month of July.

I’m hoping to be finished with rewrites, revisions, and edits and ready to submit in early September. That may be a really ambitious date, especially since I haven’t done any work on either manuscript in a week. So, instead of blogging I should be writing. Well, you know, writing writing.

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.

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!

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.

Change of Place

Last weekend I got the sad news that one of my grandmothers had passed away. I grew up in Maine and every summer we’d spend a week or two at my grandparents’ house. They had an in-ground pool in the back yard that kept the family entertained all day. We usually went up around the Fourth of July, and watched the fireworks being shot up over Fort Halifax in Winslow, just down the street from where my Dad grew up.

My grandmother loved to entertain. She was a social butterfly, for sure and could talk your ear off about nothing in particular. As I got older we didn’t always see eye to eye. I wanted to wear ripped jeans and have pink hair. She wanted me to wear skirts, lose weight, get a boyfriend, and go to church. But, despite our differences, she was always easy to get along with and happy to be around her family.

Without much notice, I bought a ticket to head up North for the funeral. It’s always tough figuring out how to pack when you’re going from warm to frigidly cold weather (or vice versa) and when you’re too cheap to check your bags. So clothes first, then an ereader, then a notebook, then my tablet with a wireless keyboard.

The first new place I wrote was the airplane. I’ve been working out this story in my head for a while. I’d written the first chapter before Nanowrimo and I keep thinking about it, so I wrote the beginning of Chapter 2 on the flight between Austin and Philadelphia. I picked up the narrator’s voice and personality so quickly and easily. She slipped right on like a comfy sweater.

Writing on the plane was interesting; it’s a much more public writing spot than I’m used to. I go to a weekly writing group at a coffee shop, but that doesn’t feel public, because everyone else is writing –focused on their own work. Pulling out the tray table and setting my screen and keyboard in it, opening a word document, sort of announces to the world, “I’m writing! I’m a writer!” Regardless of the exposure, though, I got a great start to this new part of the story.

The next new place I wrote was at my Mom’s house. I guess it’s not totally new, since I grew up there and wrote a lot as a kid. But it’s new to this phase of my writing life. It was -2 degrees and the outside was blanketed in snow. You could see deer tracks imprinted in the snow in the back yard. None of this is new, exactly, but seeing it with adult eyes makes it different. I set up shop at the kitchen table, where I curled up with a big cup of coffee and a nearly panoramic view of the snow and the quiet of a sparsely populated town with no highway in the backyard.

Here, I lost myself. I ended up writing and writing. I think I wrote 4 pages, single spaced, in about 2 hours. The story, the voice, the feeling, it just came to me. I felt totally inspired by this place. It almost sold me on visiting Maine more often in the winter. Almost.

I love my writing desk at home. I love knowing where my supplies are and what to expect when I sit down. But I definitely uncovered a hidden source of inspiration in moving from place to place. I know I’ll always enjoy the writing space I built at home, but now I know that I can gather ideas and a sense of writing purpose in any location.

RIP Mimi, love you and miss you everyday.

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.

Showing Up

So many writers talk about the struggle to turn up to the page. Once we carve out some time, set up our space, follow our routines and finally sit down (or stand, if you have one of crazy treadmill desks!) the writing feels like no big deal. It’s the set-up and the process that turn us off some days. I’m finding the easiest way around that is to write daily. Nanowrimo got me back in that habit and it’s sort of stuck ever since. In fact, now, when my mind starts to wander or I’m less than busy, I write. At work, I sort of miss crafting my writing, so I sneak in a little break here and there to write to myself or to you all.

I think writing, as a habit, is an easy one to maintain because it is extremely and immediately fulfilling. You see the progress and process and words filling up the page. It’s not a habit like exercise that takes months to see results. One, 15 minute sit-down with writing will create loads of words, a possible scene, a character sketch, a poem.
I’ve been doing this daily writing on top of my 10 pages a day revision project. The revision takes around 15-20 minutes, as does the writing. So I’m happy to fill 30-40 minutes each day with writing. On days when I have more time, I spend more time on it. On days when I have less, I try to stick to my 30-40 minute commitment.

So, showing up to the page, thinking through my writing, creating routines, blogging more, revision- it’s been a productive 2013 so far, let’s hope it keeps up!