On Writing

And I in my kerchief

Nanowrimo kicked my can. I made my goal, but it was like pulling teeth. I do NOT like month long writing sprints when things go bananas at work. As I’m sure I’ve stated bemoaned previously, the holiday season is also very busy, so now that Christmas is upon us, it is finally winding back down. I’m so tired, but huzzah!

There’s a lovely fire roaring in the grate and we’ve just finished putting packages under the tree. Our kids are getting older, but Christmas is still a Big Deal, and I can hear them giggling downstairs. They like to have a big sleepover in the playroom, even though my big boys are man-sized now.

I’m making some goals for the coming year. I know, look at me, it’s not even New Year’s yet. I thought I’d jot them down before December gets away from me completely. I’ve been aiming for a once-a-month-at-least post over here, and I’ve done pretty well with that this year. I’ve still no idea whatsoever as to how to grow my blog, but I’m also too busy/tired to really figure it out. It probably involves clicking over from my feedreader and actually commenting on other writerly person’s blog affairs, but see also: introvert. So. Goals:

2017 Writer Goals

  1. Attend a real, in person, writer’s conference. Eeks! Preferably one within driving distance and that does not cost a million dollars to attend.
  2. Work on establishing writer habits that make sense for my lifestyle. I would like to write every day, and am so far failing in this. Instead I write in huge, productive bursts, but then nothing for quite a long while (usually because I’m chewing on something that needs improving / fixing).
  3. I started this blog because I was eventually going to quit closet writing and publish something, or explore traditional publishing. Honestly, I have a few books that I think I could move forward on, but I am MIRED in old habits of writing, revising, editing, finishing, and stuffing it in a file. I need to do some soul searching this coming year and decide what I really want to do. Leave a pile of stories for my progeny to discover on an ancient hard drive? Or actually find the, and I’m sorry, balls, to follow through with putting something (preferably somethings) out there. If I’m going to stick with the status quo, there’s probably no point in continuing this blog.
  4. Should I decide to s*** or get off the pot, so to speak, I need to pick ONE book in ONE genre and FOCUS on getting it ready. I jump around from project to project a lot. So.

Not bad, not bad. I wonder what’s holding me back from exploring publishing? It’s a little bit fear, but I think it’s moreso a question of why fix what ain’t broke. I’ve been writing novels for YEARS and stuffing them away unread. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, really. What do I want to accomplish by doing things differently? Ugghhhh. I don’t know? Well, I’ve liked getting better. Writing with publishing in mind changes things a bit, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two years improving in ways I wasn’t when I was writing for myself. Not that I haven’t improved over the years, but it was more focused improvement, and that’s been fun to see. My boys really, really want to see a series I’ve been working on in book-form, even just e-book form. That might be my biggest motivator, actually. When I look back on why I started this blog, my then 12 year old was a big part in the inkling to think about publishing.

I don’t want fame or my face on a book jacket. I don’t want to make appearances or do signings. So, I think I’m missing the usual motivators. Anyway, I’ll have to poke at some of these thoughts and see what churns up.

Meanwhile, Happy Christmas (or whatever you celebrate), and Happy New Year.

Nanowrimo 2016

I have spent September and October working furiously on a couple of different writing projects and am coming at Nanowrimo ready to party. Let the games begin! My goal is 52,000 words. Kind of low for me, but….

Historically, November is supposed to be a quiet month for my day job, but there are some things afoot that are shaping up to make my Nano-ing difficult. For the first time in forever (excuse me while I sing that song from Frozen) I am a little worried about hitting my goal. This might be rough, y’all. My kid is saying, “May the force be with you.” It seems apt. Here we go!

It’s comfortable in here: Staying in the closet

Friend: “So, you have Wednesday off, don’t you?”
Me: “Um… yes. I do.”
Friend: “Great! We should do lunch and maybe see a movie.”
Me: “…”
Friend: “Oh, I mean, unless you have plans already?”
Me: “Well, I was planning on catching up on some… uh… work… that I have to do. At home. On Wednesday.”
Friend: “You have work to do on your day off? On a holiday weekend?”
Me: “Yeah, I mean, we have to get ready for Black Friday.”
Friend: “You design brochures. For colleges.”
Me: “Right. Yes, I do. It’s… the company, it’s doing this big social media push to try to get more colleges to purchase… in bulk.”
Friend: “In bulk.”
Me: “Yeah. It’s, you know, ridiculous. But hey, overtime, right? So, I get a rain check, on the, uh… lunch date?”
Friend: (sighs) “Sure, I’ll add it to your tab of rain checks.”

Okay, so I’m not quite this bad. But I worry (a little) that this is how I sound. I don’t ever tell bald-face lies like that, but I do dodge social activities and blame it on a general need to work (writing is totally work).

I’ve been a closet writer for YEARS, and up until recently, I hadn’t even let my husband or kids read anything I’d written. That has changed recently, but I still haven’t ‘come out’ to my friends or family.

And?

I don’t think I will.

I’m not a fragile writer; I can take criticism… but I’m not good with pressure. And I know my closest acquaintances would be eager to make small talk and show their support by constantly asking me things like:

When are you going to be published?

How is that book coming along?

Why don’t you write a book like ___________?

What will you buy when you are a billionaire like JK Rowling?

I just… no. I can’t deal with that. Questions like that would kill my writing dead. I would flat-line, you guys.

And it would only get worse were I to publish:

How is your book doing?

Have you made a million dollars yet?

Is it on the best seller lists?

How much was your advance? I read *insert author name* gets 250K in advance money, did you get that much?

I know most published authors have to deal with this sort of thing, and it’s minor, really. And if I can work hard enough / get brave enough / get lucky enough to publish, I should be grateful and accept whatever small irritations come my way, right?

But what’s so wrong with retaining some privacy? It can be tricky, I know, especially in this digital age. But since I’m missing that ‘thirst for fame’ gene, I really would like to keep this whole writing thing on the down low for as long as possible — if not forever. John Twelve Hanks is managing it, why can’t I?

One of my favorite tidbits about Jane Austen is how she wrote in secret to preserve her privacy. Sense and Sensibility was published not under her name, but “By A Lady.” The inimitable Jane didn’t want to become a public character, and neither do I. Not even a little bit.

I suppose it’s kind of a silly worry to have at this point anyway, but I can’t help but plan ahead (it’s in my nature — I started worrying about my retirement when I was ten). Ideally, I’d like to publish under a pseudonym, have my books enjoy a moderate level of ‘sleeper hit’ type success, and never be asked to speak at a school or sit at a desk and sign books.

It doesn’t feel like it is too much to ask, but in the world of publishing (traditional and indie) most everyone is all about the author bio, the author photo, putting yourself out there, booking speaking engagements, and going on tour.

It all gives this agoraphobic hermit a terrible stomach ache, honestly.

NaNoWriMo

It’s that time again, ladies and gents, and I’m pleased to say that I’m off to a corking start. I’m utilizing this insane, very focused writing month to hone my latest draft. I’m only counting the words I re-write, but it’s still going a lot faster than just writing from the seat of my pants* as I’ve done in years past.

*This is called being a ‘pantster,’ and it’s an actual, recognized term, not just a silly word I just made up.

nanopantserorplanner

(I do a little bit of both, actually. I plan the heck out of my novels, only to rewrite everything many times over, often departing from the outline, draft, and carefully plotted points. I think that’s probably pretty typical.)

My word count goal this year is to do between 3,500 – 4,000 words per day. I’m on track so far, but there is plenty of time left in the month for the shizz to hit the fan, so to speak.

I need 2,000 more words today and I can’t count these, so I’m signing off.
xo

It’s just writing

It’s nearly November and therefore nearly time for Nanowrimo. Every year in October I start wondering how to best utilize the upcoming month and end up reading and re-reading my many (many) books on the craft of storytelling and writing.

This can be inspiring, but it can also be overwhelming. I think, for many years, I’d pore over books by successful authors in search of The Secret. I’d think to myself if I could discover their writing process or set up a similar schedule, I’d unlock the mystery of writing something others might want to read. (And that I might actually dare publish).

Over time, I’ve slowly grown to realize (I can be a bit thick) that at the very core of every how-to or ‘on writing’ type book out there, the advice is the same: Just Write. Authors will detail their writing process almost reluctantly with a caveat for readers like me: ‘This is my writing process. What works for me may not work for you. There is no secret, just write.’

Still, with Nanowrimo looming once more, I’m turning to my old (and maybe just fine) habits of reading awesome books on craft. A friend loaned me this book: Complete Writing For Children Course.

Guys, it’s so good. I devoured it in a matter of days. This is going to sound nuts, but all those books on writing I re-read every year? Not a single one is specific to writing for children. Not to say I haven’t learned things from the other books I regularly read, but this was a game changer.

One book I turn to every year is called The Fire in Fiction. It’s a respected book with loads of good advice, but it is geared very much to the Detective and Thriller adult fiction genres — genres I rarely read and am generally not much interested in. I haven’t read a single book Donald Maass quotes or sites as examples. I told myself it didn’t matter, that I could still learn and apply the principles and tips to my own work. And I have done, and I could continue doing so… but it is drastically different to read a book on writing that actually applied specifically to writing for children.

The Complete Writing For Children Course even has entire sections (and corresponding workshops) on picture book writing and poetry, but I mostly spent my time studying the YA and MG sections. If that’s not enough, it was published just last year, so many of the references and works quoted are current books I am not only familiar with, but have read cover to cover.

I found it very inspiring, and only let myself be intimidated briefly when I went to the author’s website (she looks so young, yet is utterly brilliant and incredibly accomplished!).

Here are my favorite quotes:

Personally, I don’t keep to a schedule — not in any rigorous definition of the word ‘schedule;’ certainly not as many authors do. This is partly because I have a full-time job, as you probably do, and it’s difficult to stick to an unbending daily schedule when the job gets in the way.

[…] There’s huge pressure among writers, professional or not, to stick to a daily schedule. Blog after blog, you’ll find similar requests: write 500 words a day. Write 1,000 words a day. Write in the morning, from five to seven, before the kids are awake. Write when you’re driving by talking into a Dictaphone; write on your commute, by typing on your Blackberry. Some people do that, it’s true. I know a few. But I think the pressure is mostly unhealthy, and guilt-trips would-be writers into thinking they should get less sleep.

[T]he […] common misconception that writing is some mystical process which occurs only following flashes of inspiration. Stephen King famously says that amateurs wait for the muse, while real writers just get up and go to work. There’s a lot of truth in that statement.

But there’s also a lot of truth in the fact that not all days are the same; that, generally speaking, we tend to have more time at weekends and on holidays; that some days are just already too full. Some days we’re also tired, ill, grumpy, not in the mood. Writing one thousand words every day […] is an excellent idea in theory. But there’s no point in producing a thousand bad words every Monday morning because you’re stressed by the weekly meeting with your boss, [or] stopping exactly at one thousand excellent words on Sunday afternoon when you’re alone in the house and the kids are away for three hours playing rugby.

There is something worryingly obsessive-compulsive about blogs emitting orders to would-be writers about time management.

As a result, writers often feel unreasonably guilty for not writing. This guilt crops up even in titles of blogs and podcasts about writing — see the very popular ‘I should Be Writing’ and ‘Writing Excuses’ podcasts. But seriously, be kind to yourself. It’s not that important. It’s not as if you’re not doing your job as a firefighter and dozens are dying while you twiddle your thumbs. It’s just writing.

I mean, RIGHT? She’s amazing. I love her. I had to turn that into a print for my cork board. It’s brilliant.

There’s more.

Write, maybe not every day, but perhaps two or three times a week. Or once a week, but seriously and keenly, for a relatively long time. Word targets can be good and bad; writing a thousand words can feel good, but if you have to delete them all tomorrow because they were sloppy, there’s not much point. […] [D]on’t force another tired five hundred words out at the ‘scheduled time.’ Don’t listen to the muse, but do listen to yourself.

Worth repeating:

Don’t listen to the muse, but do listen to yourself.

It was just what I needed to hear. I’m not really one to obsess about word counts, but I have been one to feel down if I’m not writing a good amount every day. After discussing the pitfalls of getting caught up in Twitter or Facebook and getting too obsessed with posting wordcounts and #amwriting hashtags, she adds:

[O]nline ‘procrastination’ can be hugely interesting, motivational, enriching, essential.

Validation! And really, if I’m being honest (and not unreasonably hard on myself) the professional procrastination I was writing about was exactly that. The map I spent two days making has continued to be an enormous help in plotting and writing. It’s not like I wasted six hours on Tumblr or something! (Confession: I don’t really know what Tumblr even IS).

So. Here’s to reading encouraging, inspiring, genre-specific things, writing in my own way and on my own schedule, and debunking the myth of The Secret. Onward!

Writing: encouragement, and discouragement

Elementary School Years

Horrid thingsI won various school prizes for my drawing and painting endeavors, but was relegated to the dreaded participation ribbons for the poems and short stories I submitted. Usually because my stories dealt with mature themes that were deemed unacceptable.

I was never into horror or anything like that, but I did a lot of writing on topics that fascinated me: extreme bullying, child abuse, eating disorders, and suicide. I think these topics horrified my teachers (and sometimes my parents) because no one wanted me to give others the idea that these things were happening to me personally.

For the most part, my parents were very encouraging of my writing, and though I had a lot of terrible teachers, I had a few stand-outs along the way that took the time in their busy schedules to encourage me.

My 2nd grade teacher would hand out decorated worksheets for us to fill in with a creative short story of some kind. I would fill the front, turn it over and fill the back. She was always willing to hand me more worksheets that I would staple together to form a book, and didn’t mind if I kept writing straight through math (a class I loathed).

My 4th grade teacher too, encouraged both my writing and my art. I caught her once showing some of my work to the other teachers in the hall. I can’t remember exactly what she was saying, but it was complimentary and encouraging.

Junior High

buellerMy 7th and 8th grade English teachers were very encouraging as well. In 7th grade English, the teacher called on me to read one of my sentences I’d written for an adverb exercise. Bored, I’d taken the opportunity to write some insanely flowery phrase (I’m sure it was ridiculous, I was heavily influenced by L.M. Montgomery’s descriptions at that point). I sheepishly read it aloud. Mrs. T stood in front of the class, open mouthed and told everybody I ought to be in an advanced placement course. I blushed, but was secretly pleased. She wrote similar things on all of my assignments.

There wasn’t an advanced course for 8th grade, so I was still in regular English the following year. But that teacher too, encouraged me to try out for the 9th grade Honors English program. I sat for an essay test and anxiously awaited the results at the end of my 8th grade year.

I didn’t make it.

A student teacher’s aide for the Honors English teacher snooped through the essay results and told me that I had in fact earned a 98%. She told me I should go talk to the teacher to find out why he didn’t let me into the course. He’d been my 7th grade history teacher, and apparently my obnoxious, class-clown behaviors then had convinced him not to let me into his 9th grade class. I told him that I had grown and changed and promised I’d be on my best behavior.

He let me in!

High School

books1From then on, I was in the Honors and later AP English classes in high school, and though (as you’ll see) I probably could have continued to benefit from grammar instruction, I was much happier. We no longer had to diagram sentences or circle verb tenses. Rather, we read interesting books, discussed them, and wrote papers about them. For me, this was total cake and I loved it.

My 10th grade Honors English teacher hated me — in fairness, I was pretty obnoxious. He scored all of my papers very harshly and gave me a lot of detention slips for asking what he felt were dumb questions. Luckily for me, I thought he was a bit ridiculous himself, and let most of his criticism only push me towards improvement. Plus, he made me appreciate my 11th and 12th grade English teachers all the more.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. If you have read a lot of books and have a decent grasp on the English language, the honors programs are generally much easier than the regular classes. My friends who remained in the regular program had an awful lot of homework where all I had to do was read. We did receive some structural instruction along the lines of AP style writing, but the honors courses weren’t really some kind of elite club for brainiacs. Even if you don’t have a teacher encouraging you to enroll, if you like to read and write, go for it.

The AP courses are harder (for me that was senior year), but I think the Honors classes prepare you pretty well for them, and if you do well on the AP tests, you can test out of those courses in college which saves you a lot of time.

College

know it allI admit by the time I entered college I had gotten pretty full of myself. I took a creative writing class because I wanted to (I didn’t need to take any English type courses because of the AP test) and thought it would be fun. On day one, I let the professor know that I was pretty much a genius and didn’t really NEED his class. Incredibly, he did not kick me out on my butt, but everything I turned in came back blank. He gave me no feedback whatsoever and the entire class was a waste for both of us.

My advice to hot headed would-be writers is this: Even after decades of writing, I still have gobs to learn. You are never done learning, and for heaven’s sake, don’t ever act like you are.

Adulthood

never-stopI didn’t major in writing, I didn’t even minor in it. One thing hopeful authors will hear a lot is that there is absolutely no money in writing, so pick a career that pays. I listened to this advice and began a career in the medical industry. Life got busy with marriage and children, but I wrote every single day, I just couldn’t not write.

I knew I had a lot to learn, so I went to the library (and later, Amazon) and got books on the craft of writing. I read them still. My husband jokes that I’m putting myself through a DIY MFA. There’s probably a bit of truth to that. It’s fun to pull out a book I wrote 10 years ago and be able to see how much I’m improving.

I’m learning that the best way to improve is to write every day. That can be very hard to do, but I’m working toward that end. Wish me luck!