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August 2012

Reclaiming My Comfort Zone

I’ve been in the process of moving for the past four (yes, you read that right, four) months. Between making the decision to pick up and head to another part of the country, cleaning out our old home and putting it on the market, shipping off my husband to start his new job, squeezing together in a temporary apartment for a while, and then finally (finally, finally) getting settled in the new house, it’s been…well, a trial.

And my writing has suffered. Big time.

I’m a creature of habit, and being uprooted threw everything out of whack. I’m used to having my space, my things, my routines, and the biggest challenge of the past few months has been working to create an environment I can work in amidst the chaos.

In the end, the little things have been the most important. I reinstituted my old habit of going outside for some fresh air and quiet space to think before sitting down to write. I shifted my writing hours to even later in the day so I had the cramped little apartment we were stuck in between houses more or less to myself. I listened to music more and at higher volumes. I broke down and bought a lamp so I could have comfortable lighting.

I read a lot. I plotted.

I adjusted my expectations.

It just so happened that the novel I’d been working on when it came time to move was something way outside my comfort zone – one with a hero who was a little snarkier and less emotionally available than the ones I tend to gravitate toward, one with a heroine who was less damaged. The pace was different, and with everything in my head off-kilter, I finally had to admit to myself that it wasn’t the right story for me to be working on right then. I tabled it and switched to another outline I’d been meaning to get around to – one populated with characters I have an easier time getting into the heads of.

Instead of expecting my usual twenty-five thousand words per month, I took what came, and saw every word I managed to wring out of my twisted-up brain as the gift it was.

In the end, I didn’t get nearly as much done as I usually do, but I accepted that.

As of this week, I’m officially moved into my new house. There’s a lot of work to do there to turn it into a home, but one of the first things I made sure to do was to set up my office. I have my space again, and I have some quiet. I have space in my head again. And I’m ready to work hard to keep it and make the most of it.

With any luck, I’ll be able to reclaim my comfort zone. And with it, hopefully, my word count, too.

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Suck It Up! And Other Useful Phrases to Live By

Ever hear the expression: The early bird catches the worm?  How about:  The path to hell is paved with good intentions? Or this one:  Every goal is just one excuse away from failing?

Okay, I don’t know that I’ve ever actually heard anyone else say the last one except me, but I thought I’d share it nonetheless.  It’s become my anthem in life, my go to retort in the constant battle I have with that little devil who sits on my shoulder trying to coax me into failing.  And if you’re an unpublished writer working to break into the biz, it should be yours too.

I realized a long time ago that I do my best writing in the morning.  I do math everyday from 8am until 4:30 in the afternoon, after which I still have my other duties:  mommy, chef, gymnastics practice chauffer, homework tutor, lunch preparer, bath giver, etc… (this pity party sounding familiar to anyone?)  By the time I sit down at night it’s 9pm and I’ll be honest, the last thing I want to do is make another decision about false people in my head.  So what do I do?

I SUCK IT UP and drag my ass out of bed at 5am!  Or maybe you could say I make lemonade out of lemons…whatever you prefer.

My alarm goes off at 5am every morning. I turn on the coffee pot, stumble my way to the shower, fight the urge to fall asleep on the tile floor, get dressed, fight the urge to crawl back in bed beside my husband still sleeping peacefully, pour myself a freshly brewed cup of STRONG coffee, and then settle down in front of my computer for an hour of uninterrupted writing time.  Mind you, this is all BEFORE I have to get my kids up and ready for school, sit in traffic, go to my day job, and pick up the rest of the duties mentioned above.  Some might say I’m a morning person; most would say I’m completely insane.  But I’ll save you the suspense by saying – I’m neither.  I’m just a woman who refuses to let a little thing like life get in the way of her and her dream.

It would be so easy for me to say, I’ll get back on track when things slow down.  Or, I’ll catch up tomorrow when I’m not so tired.  But I know me.  I know I won’t make it up.  I know tomorrow I’ll have another excuse sitting there ready to fill its place.  And this dream I’m chasing is way too important to me to let it be delayed by a late night T.V. series or crappy day in the carpool line.  I want it more than that.  So I found a way to make the time, insane or not.  And come hell or high water I’m making it work – because failing isn’t an option for me.

How about this phrase?  Shit happens!

Here’s a little secret you may or may not have already figured out…it happens to EVERYONE.  What separates us is how we choose to deal with it.  There are those who let it stop them cold, those who let it slow them down, and those who grab a set of waders and find a way through because what’s sitting on the other side is worth the sacrifice now.

So I ask…what kind of person are you?

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You can’t be “chicken” in this business! Sorry about the pun–had to do it.

Pee Wee, you will be missed.

 

When I first moved from the beach to the country, supporting my husband’s dearest wish to become a landed gentleman (or at least have a place where he could pee outside and collect “classic” cars free from downers like homeowners’ associations and city ordinances), let’s just say I had an enthusiastic—if somewhat idealized—vision of how things would be. I’d have a garden of heirloom vegetables so bounteous and beautiful I’d need to start a farm stand! I could have sweet pygmy goats, wooly lambs, and fancy breed chickens! That was about as realistic a version of country life as Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon—and we all know how that turned out.

But the chicken part of the fantasy was doable. With the outlay of a small amount of scratch (both the cash and the corn kind) I had a good-sized pen, a coop, and an assortment of day old chicks, downier and more adorable than anyone has a right to be. I raised them by hand. I spent time with them. I named them. They got scraps from the table and our neither bounteous nor beautiful vegetable garden. They grew into gorgeous birds, and were a joy to behold scratching around the pen, or ranging through the fields. The roosters cheered me with their glossy plumage and hearty crows, the hens gave the best eggs I ever tasted. It was straight out of my idyllic vision of country life.

But you know something about living in the country? The very things that allow you to keep chickens are the things that will ultimately cause their demise. The open spaces, fields, and woods are wildlife habitat. Foxes, coyotes, raccoons, possums, and snakes abound. And that’s a good thing—but not if you’re a chicken. The freedom which allows us to keep chickens, to pee in the yard, or collect “classic” cars in varying states of decay also allows our neighbors the freedom to, say, keep dozens of dogs, in (to put it kindly) a somewhat casual manner. Chicken casualties mounted. No more roaming the fields for them, then. Okay, looks like we need to put a cover over the pen. And extra wire into the ground for stray-ish dogs determined to dig their way in. A raccoon climbed the fence and tore the cover netting off. A black snake strangled my favorite setting hen while she sat protecting her clutch.

I pause to pour a little of my mimosa on the ground. This is for you, Angie Bird. May you rest in peace.

What can one do about all that? Not much, is what. Screw it. It’s the rural version of “you can’t fight City Hall.”

I didn’t give up; not entirely. But I had to revise my expectations a bit. I realized that the domestic chicken was not born for longevity. I still raise chicks from time to time. I stopped naming them. I don’t really hang out with them like I did with that first flock. They’re still pretty, I still get fresh eggs (sometimes), but I’m no longer attached. In the back of my mind, there’s still the desire to have a prize flock of show-worthy, hand-tamed birds, but I now know the extent of effort it would take to make that happen—and it’s not a priority. Maybe someday it will be—but just as likely, my sojourn in the country will end and I’ll find myself in someplace civilized, where I’ll have no chickens at all. If I want free-range eggs, I’ll just get them at a farmer’s market. And I’ll be perfectly okay with that.

So what the hell does this have to do with writing? It’s a lesson in learning when it’s time to make changes to a project that isn’t working—or scrap it altogether and move on to the next thing. One of my first story ideas was like this. I had grand plans for it, and I was so excited! But once finished, it didn’t quite work. Originally in first person, I re-wrote it in deep third, and added an additional POV. Better, but it still lacked a certain je ne sais quoi—I don’t know what, maybe a coherent plot or something. But whatever. Coherent plots are so overrated. Except they’re not.

What to do, then? That depends on you, and how passionately you feel about your project. I believe that every not-quite-there project has at least a kernel of a great story inside. It might be a compelling character or two, setting or description, scraps of dialogue that make you proud—or maybe everything sucks but the premise.

In my manuscript, I (and Jenna P., who cuts the crap and speaks the truth), felt like the beginning wasn’t working. It started in the wrong place, physically and timeline-wise. Probably with the wrong set of characters, too. And maybe something completely different needed to happen between them—but I digress. You get the idea. The new beginning was—you guessed it—only the beginning. I was on my way to a complete re-imagining of the story. I’m still putting the finishing touches on what feels like Version 10.1, but the work is better for it. It’s my manuscript version of an impenetrable chicken fortress.

But you know what? Even after all of that, my manuscript still may not be that million dollar deal that we naively envision when we first say to ourselves “I want to be a famous writer like (insert name of improbably successful author here)!” Hell, forget the millions. It might not even sell at all. If not, I’ll look at it again. If it’s a story I still really want to tell, I’ll have another go at it—maybe even self-pub if that’s what feels right. If not, I’ll move on.

Wow, what a waste of time, right? Not at all. Every word we right is a miniscule step toward our goal. We’re learning, not just about craft and basics, but about the stories that truly excite us as writers. The ones that make us want to go out and build the best damn chicken pen this world has ever seen if that’s what it takes for the vision to come to fruition.

So what are your “prize chickens?” Are you pursuing them, or not? And why? I’d love to hear about them!

 

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Kernels of Knowledge from the not-so-messy desk of McGovy

I’ll probably do this as an ongoing post deal-y. As I run through my first round of editorial edits, I thought I’d share what I learn along the way so others don’t have to make the same mistakes. (Most of which I cringe to share with you. But we’re all friends here, right???) Some of these may be my ignorance, some may be universal beginner boo-boos, other points might be publishing preference, but if you find even one kernel that helps you as a writer, then I’ll consider this post a success. =)

1)      Alright is all right – it’s not alright. It might be a house style thing and feel all wrong, but it’s really “all right

2)      When you pause…in dialogue…it’s called an ellipse, right? But…did you know there is no space between the first word…and the second? So … is wrong, but…is right. You might even say it’s…wait for it…all right

3)      Save italics for internal thought and emphasis. You don’t need it for names of restaurants, bars, etc. If you want to show emphasis inside an internal thought, you can take off the italics.Jeez, there is so much to learn in the writing biz!

4)      Dialogue tags, as a rule, should always be verbal. Other actions don’t work as dialogue tags. Evidently I am public enemy number one for this offence!

               “I want to hump your leg,” he grinned. <– No. Don’t do that

“I want to hump your leg,” he said with a sly grin. <– Do this.

               “I want to hump your leg.” He grinned and prepared to do exactly that. <– Or do this.

               “And I will totally let you,” she giggled. <– Nope!

               “And I will totally let you.” She giggled and stuck her leg out. <– Yep!

5)      Body parts can’t work independently from your body and it’s creepy if they do.  Hands and lips shouldn’t                have a life and mind of their own. That being said, I have seen it used effectively in some books under certain circumstances, but as a rule you should avoid it.

His hands caressed her body. <– Don’t do that.

He caressed her body. <– Do this.

His lips forged a heated path along her spine. <– No, they didn’t.

He kissed his way up her spine, leaving a swell of heat and need in his wake. <–Yeah he did!

6)  T-shirt is always capitalized. It’s never a t-shirt. And depending on the guy, the T-shirt should rarely stay on.

That’s it for today; more tidbits to come. Pass the mimosas & Happy Writing!

 

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The Business of ‘A Whole Lot of Crazy’

If you can sell Goldendoodle and Puggle puppies for $1000+ in a recession, you can sell anything!

At least, that’s my theory after working eight years in retail. Out of all the crappy jobs I’ve been paid to do (Literally. I’ve worked in two kennels and a stable.) none can compare to the time I spent at an independently owned pet store. The owner was nuts, the customers were crazy, and the ridiculous return policy scarred me for life. I almost lost a finger to an African Grey! Fitting harnesses constantly put me in danger of bites and scratches. No body wash in the world seemed to wash away the smell of cat liter and bleach. But I survived and the experience taught me more about business than any college course or seminar.

Keeping a small business going for 20+ years takes guts, balls, and yeah, a lot of crazy.

Being a writer is great. Writing allows you to expel your inner demons, live out your fantasies, and make a wonderful story come alive on the page. It’s a beautiful art and writers are artists. They need to craft words like they need air and caffeine.

Yeah, that fluffy crap is all well and good, but here’s the other side of the coin. Writing is a business. If you want your words to reach an audience and get paid for it, then writing is your business.

From the first query letter to the hard road of post-publication marketing, you’re selling yourself. “This is who I am, this is my brand, and this is my book.” Your words are a product and it’s your job to sell product. If you don’t sell product, you won’t move forward in your career. No one else is going to care as much about your business and your writing than you. Own it. Go hardcore or go home!

For writers fueled by the need to see their name in print and nothing more, the business side of publishing may seem daunting. But I believe if you had enough strength to finish that book and sell it, you have will power to tackle getting copies out there and pushing your career where you want it to go.

You’re not even in danger of losing a finger. Wink!

Earlier this week, E. Michels talked about branding. Everyone should go read her post! Branding is a key element to this business and every business. What I love about my fellow BadGirlz is they get it and they face the challenges of the business with excited determination. E. Michel’s post inspired me to write this one, but I was also in part prompted by my own love of this subject.

In the spring, I intend to go back to school with a focus on entrepreneurship and marketing. Not only do I want to help expand my knowledge base for my own publishing career, but I see myself sharing information in more blog posts and workshops. The business of writing is my passion. Fingers crossed to dissuade disaster preventing my plans. But if I don’t make it back to school, I’ll follow the path of experience. When it comes to selling, by now I believe I’ve gotten pretty good at turning “life” into streamlined knowledge.

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Write As I Say, Not As I Do

I would like to talk to you today about my two favorite words, JUST and THAT. I use these two little words in everything I write ALL the time. I’ve been told several times by my critique partners, THAT it’s a big No-No and they must go.  Yet, I continue to use them over and over in my work. As my father’s voice echoes in my ear, “you’re so hard-headed.” But I don’t use them because I’m hard-headed. I use them because THAT’s the way I talk.

I have been told JUST and THAT can be very annoying for a reader. Sure, I agree with THAT. So how do I fix this word dilemma? You would think the simple answer would be to JUST take them all out. Problem solved. But it isn’t THAT easy.

Am I alone in this JUST and THAT quandary? Probably not! I’m sure there are writers out there THAT use them too. Maybe yours isn’t JUST and THAT. Maybe your repetitive word is SAID, LOOKED or WALKED. You may be using them without even realizing it. I could easily drop my word count by the hundreds if I took them all out. But THAT is the tricky part.

Some of them are necessary. So how do I tell the difference? First, I do the FIND search for my beloved words. Then I read every sentence with JUST and THAT and I leave them out. I can usually tell right away if they need to be put back in, or if they can hit the road for good. But there are times when I’m JUST not sure. In this situation I do the only thing I know to do. I go with my gut.

For  example:

She wanted to go with him, but she JUST wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do.

She wanted to go with him, but wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do.

Which one sounds better? Maybe for you, the answer is easy. But for me it’s JUST not that simple. Because I use these words in my daily speech, it’s hard for me to tell what the reader would prefer. I could leave them all in and say “hey, THAT’s my voice coming out in my writing.” But THAT doesn’t make it the right decision. So I keep an eye on them. I do my FIND search.

Today, I challenge you to look for your JUST and THAT’S. Or whatever may be your beloved overused words. Do you need to leave them in, or let them hit the road? You decide. If you’re not sure, ask a critique partner. If you’re still not sure, go with your gut.

Remember to Dream Big!

Kiss Kiss

Lori Waters

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Bigger Isn’t Always Better, or Writing Short Fiction for Fun and Profit, Volume 1

It’s pretty much every writer’s dream to land a big publishing deal and see your name in print on the cover of a book. (It’s certainly my dream!) But novel-length fiction isn’t the only game out there these days, and there are lots of other avenues for getting exposure for your writing, making a name for yourself, and even pulling in a few bucks. Best of all, writing short fiction can be a great way to reinvigorate your work or get out of a slump, as well as to hone your craft.

Because I’ve made something of a habit of writing short fiction, I’ll be doing a semi-regular series about it here. Today I’ll be focusing on…

Why Write Short Fiction?

Like I said, there are a lot of good reasons. I’ll break them down into three categories:

Business / Promotion:

  • Publishing a story in an anthology or even as a single-title piece with a small press is a great way to get your name out there.
    • You can list the publishing credit on your query letter as just a little extra something to help propel you out of the slush pile.
    • If you’re trying to promote a book, it can help attract new readers. The best part about reading a collection of short stories is getting to discover new authors so you can buy all their books!
    • It’s the perfect opportunity to network with the other authors who have work included in the anthology.
  • Querying a short story is like a dry run for querying a full-length manuscript. Get used to the format, see what works and what doesn’t. Get your practice in so you’re all the more ready to write a dynamite letter to knock the socks off a potential agent.

Financial:

  • If you deduct your business expenses on your taxes, being able to show proof of even a little income can be super-helpful for supporting your claim that your writing is a business. As you probably know, you’re allowed three years of deducting expenses carte blanche, after which you need to justify your existence. Income goes a long way toward justification.*
  • Generally speaking, if you publish a short story, you get a check. It may not be for much, but it’s still money you made. From your writing. How cool is that?

Creative:

  • Let’s face it: writing a novel is hard. You get bogged down, you get blocked. Sometimes, you just need to stop and think things through. Writing something short is a way to take a break and get a fresh perspective without completely walking away.
  • Writing short makes you a better writer. You still need to fit in all the basic elements that make a compelling novel: engaging characters, conflict, plot, resolution. You just need to do all of it in a way that’s pared down to the bones. It forces you to look at your process and may even lead you to a breakthrough.
  • Have you got an idea you’re playing around with, thinking maybe it could make a great novel? Why not try a variation of it in short story form first? Work some of the kinks out without the pressure of having to invest months or even years in it, and see if it’s got legs to become something more.

Have I sold you? Here’s hoping. Tune in next time for more thoughts on writing short fiction, including determining the scope of your narrative, promoting yourself with your words, and finding publishing outlets for your stories.

Yours always,
-Jeanette.

*Please consult a tax professional. Bad Girlz may Write, but they do not offer unsolicited tax advice.

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Finding Your Place

“So, what do you write?”

As writers, this is one universal question we will all get asked from time to time.  For some of us it’s the simplest of questions to answer.  If you write love stories with vampires or shape shifters or a girl who talks to the dead, you write paranormal romance.  If you’ve written a series about a detective who tracks down serial killers, you write crime fiction.  If your protagonist is a seventeen-year-old girl learning to stand on her own feet as a young woman, you’ve probably written a coming of age young adult.

But what if you write a story about a nineteen year old woman who has nightmares about ghosts, falling in love with an older man while trying to figure out the mysterious murder of her mother ten years before?

Yeah.  This is where I was when I finished my first manuscript.  And if you’d asked me back then what I wrote, the answer I gave probably would’ve depended on what part of the book I was editing on that particular day.  Back in the early days of my writing life, I didn’t realize where my book belonged wasn’t as much about the tiny elements that made it up as it was what it looked like when it was all put together.  I’d like to blame it on the engineer in me — being trained to break things down into their smallest of parts — but unfortunately I’ve been this way since birth.

A few years and a lot of rejections later I figured out that manuscript is women’s fiction, as is my second manuscript.  I’d even go so far as to say they are romantic women’s fiction, being that the romances play such big parts in the stories.  But the goal wasn’t for my characters to fall in love or solve a murder, it was for my seemingly weak and broken female protagonists to find the strength to overcome the shitty decks they’ve been dealt in life.  Yes there was romance, yes there was crime, but those were only threads that forced them to face themselves.

So there it was – my big AHA Moment.  I write romantic women’s fiction.  Yay!  I know where I fit!  And as hard as it was for me to come to that conclusion, it wasn’t a surprise at all.  I don’t like the rules that writing certain fiction requires – I like the challenge of breaking them.  I don’t like to be told to stay between the lines – I want to explore what’s outside of them.  This is just how my mind works.  If you tell me I can’t do something because it doesn’t fit the standard of a certain genre that just makes me want to do it even more.  Women’s fiction offers me that – a wide-open field of possibilities.

Or does it?

Enter manuscript number 3.  Same general concept and purpose, but with two tiny problems.  My protagonist is a man, and the relationship that forces him to face himself isn’t romantic – it’s with his daughter.

**Big Sigh**

In light of this new manuscript and RWA’s recent decision to eliminate the Romantic Elements category, I’ve been forced to once again sit down and figure out where I fit.  And I’ll be honest – 75,000 words in and I still don’t have a foolproof answer.  All I can really say for sure is the common thread in all my stories is the family bond and how it makes or breaks you as an adult.  Maybe when it comes time to pitch this book I’ll call it a family saga, or take the safe route and simply call it a commercial fiction.  Or maybe I’ll just stick with women’s fiction.  After all, despite the male protagonist it would still appeal more to a female audience.  Only time will tell.  But I’m not going to lose any sleep over it or throw my characters lives in upheaval trying to make it fit somewhere it doesn’t, because over the years I’ve come to realize three truths:

#1:  I can ask ten different people where I fit and get ten different answers, and the real pisser is that all ten opinions could change tomorrow (ie: the whole chic lit lable fiasco).

#2:  My job as a writer is to write the best story I can write, no matter where it ends up sitting on the shelf one day.

#3:  If I get too bogged down on #1, it’s a lot harder to perform #2.

So if you’re like me struggling to find your place, here’s the best advice I can give:  write your story the way it’s meant to be written; don’t let all the rules and nuances dictate where it takes you.  Because in a dynamic business such as publishing, that could be any number of places by the time you get through.

Hugs!

Jenna

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How Will Sydney Get Her Groove Back?

Once upon a time, I used to be That Girl—the one with a free-wheeling lifestyle, a low(ish)-stress job with lots of time off in the summers, and unspoiled figure, and even a travel budget. Yeah, I kind of hate me now, too.

When I started writing, I had hours to fill—days, even. And fill them I did, with sparkling prose which will never see human eyes apart from those of my mother, my always opinionated husband, and that first oh-so-lucky literary agent. Writing was satisfying in ways no other creative endeavor had been before. An added bonus: no insane Hoarders-edition craft nook bursting with fabric and poorly-sewn skirt projects abandoned at zipper stage! Memories of my prowess in seventh grade poetry and short story composition surfaced. This was it—my calling. Maybe I could actually, like, do this for real?

I continued this way for a while, and I learned about craft. I learned about submissions, got a critique partner, entered contests. I learned my writing was nowhere near ready to send out into the world, and how to make it better. Of course, once it was better, the words didn’t flow quite so freely as they did in the days when I devoted an entire chapter to my heroine packing for a trip and listed every damn thing in her suitcase. But, I digress. The point is, I was learning, growing, writing.

Then, last August happened. I was freshly returned from a trip to my beloved Manchester, UK, having taken in a gig or music festival every day but one. I’d just visited with my twin cousins—bright and beautiful nine year old girls, who asked with leveled stares: “are you a real grown-up?” My day job started up again, and suddenly the stress and responsibility was a lot more high-ish than low-ish. There went the precious hours upon hours I’d come to rely on as part of my creative process. Then, I got pregnant: planned, inasmuch as hubby and I ever plan anything. Naturally, we were thrilled—and woefully unprepared.

The year slipped by. I wrote little, analyzed a lot. Other things happened in my life: some stressful, a few very sad, one devastating, and one very joyous—that would be the birth of my son, coinciding with my traditional good time season—summer.

So how hard could it be? It was summer, after all. Babies slept a lot, right? He could be at my side as I wrote. I could plot as I fed him. Sounded good, right?

Here are the three main things I learned from this plan.

  1. The plan itself wasn’t flawed. It would probably work for someone other than a hormonally-driven, sleep-deprived crazy person.
  2. Plotting while feeding a baby is more difficult than it looks—unless your storyline hinges on tiny fingers, chubby cheeks, and sleep-smiles. Actually, that might be a decent premise. Sure as hell sucked me in.
  3. Babies don’t curl up peacefully at one’s side like poodles do.

Over time, I emerged from the post-partum haze. I came up with strategies, like getting up to write after the last nighttime feeding. I’ll blame that idea for my newfound coffee addiction. That worked for a while, but things changed. Lovable Lad is now (semi, sorta) sleeping through the night, and I’m writing this on the eve of my return to my New & Improved Day Job—now, with more guilt!

What will this year bring? I could tell you, but I’m not sure how much profanity I’m allowed to use. I could mourn the loss of the golden hours in my days of yore. That would be the easiest thing to do. I could claim (rightly so) that being a working mother is more than enough job for anybody, and let my motivation fade away. But I can’t let myself do that. My writing means too much to me. I want to be published. I want to have readers—and entertain them. If I quit, my dream of being an author becomes another half sewn skirt piled up in my spare room—and if there was anything entertaining about that, I’d go in there to clean more often.

Do I know how I’ll do it? Not really. I’ll force myself to find snatches of time, wherever I can get them. There’s always the car and the shower for plotting, and I’ve always been a “diligent note taker” in staff meetings (wink, wink). I don’t have any easy answers—I’m pretty sure there aren’t any. But I bet there are lots of people like me out there who have lost their momentum, and are trying to get it back. I’m right there with you, and I’d love to hear your experiences.

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Bag Lady

 

Twice a year I have “Clean Out & Organize It Day.”  I pack up clothes for the needy, go through piles of paperwork that accumulate bi-annually, and dig into the medicine cabinet for expired Tylenol.

Last week was the summer celebration of this day. In the midst of it, I came across three big bags of writer stuff.  Pens, post-its, note cards, papers, workshop hand outs, notes, WIPs, idea scribbles, and the like.  These bags have never been cleaned out because they’re filled with my precious writer goods.  I spent the next two hours going through each bag and what followed was a journey through the first years of my writing life.

I’ve always told stories, but I didn’t start writing and sharing those stories until the fall of 2005. I still wasn’t serious about it.  It was fun.  I did it to keep from going bonkers.  After my father suffered a catastrophic brain injury because of a car accident, I needed some kind of daily therapy to keep my world from crumbling down around me.  I found writing was therapeutic and it brought me joy.  At first I wrote short stories and drabbles, bits of fanfic (yes, there I said it) and single scenes of flash fiction.  I was hooked.  I could escape into fiction, then come out refreshed and able to deal with the severity of real life.

Bag number one has the paper copies of various stories posted on Live Journal and shared with an online writers group.  These stories are so precious to me because, while full of errors and head hopping, the excitement and beating heart of each story is tangible.  This love of writing prompted me to consider writing a full length novel.  I found a writing class, joined a critique group, and giddiness ensued.

I stuck a toe into the world of serious writing in 2008.  I joined RWA and the local chapter and met a room full of women so much like me. They all loved to tell stories and they wanted to share them.  Some had aspirations of traditional publishing, some were excited about the digital age, others were on the cusp of this fledgling notion of self publishing – but they all wrote stories to put out into the world. I’d found my people!

My second bag contains the first two years of workshop handouts, online workshops, and notes on several series ideas I wanted to develop and write. I’d joined RWA, but I hadn’t even begun my first novel. This bag held the DNA that would one day make up my first Work in Progress.  I cherish this bag that taught me exactly what POV meant and how not to screw it up, how to build GMC, and how to format a novel so it’s not a big blob of words.

I finally buckled down and got serious about writing in the spring of 2010.  I had the tools I’d learned and the passion I nourished, so I got busy and eventually finished my first book. It took me a year, partially because of a newborn, partially because I’m still learning and growing every day.

The third bag is full of this novel.  Plot cards, research, pictures, entire printed chapters, critiques, and contest feedback make up this third irreplaceable bag.  I love this bag.  This bag holds my first “book baby.”

I spent the rest of the evening organizing these bags, but I threw nothing away.  I can’t clean out these bags! They’re too important to who I am as a writer and who I hope to become.  In fact, I plan to add more bags to that group and watch them multiply like rabbits! Okay … maybe one day I’ll get a file cabinet, but for now I’ll happily call myself a Bag Lady.

What about your writing journey? Where did you start? Where are you now?  Where do you want to go from here?

 

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