Road Trip Wednesday #100: Your Writing Journey

I haven’t participated in YA Highway’s Road Trip Wednesdays before, but since I’m a sucker for milestones and round numbers, I felt like this Road Trip Wednesday was made for me. 😀

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs.

This week’s topic:

What has your writing road trip looked like so far? Excitement? Traffic jams and detours?

Where are you going next?

My blog is sort of an answer to this question, since I keep it as an accountability tool for myself. Ever since my first posts, (“Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” “Prioritizing My Life” and “Music, Fitness, and My Muse“) (I just noticed they were posted on Star Wars Day, May 4, 2010…yes I’m a BIG nerd!), I have been focused on making the most of the time I have, and have challenged myself to finish a novel in a year.

After my declaration to pursue novel writing seriously, I have fumbled my way through my writing process, eventually participating in NaNoWriMo, and winning! My novel wasn’t complete at 50,000 words, but I eventually reached The End in December.

The satisfaction of reaching The End didn’t last since I knew my story was a Hot Mess. After a break in January, I tried to get back into the story and revise it. During that time, another story (Scrap Metal, aka WIP2) begged to be written. After scribbling down the first two chapters on post its and index cards at my pay the bills job, I dutifully ignored The Shiny so I could make my Hot Mess less messy.

I attended my very first writer conference, SCBWI. Though I enjoyed the experience of hearing from industry professionals, by far the best result from that conference was meeting local writers. (I’ve enjoyed many a business lunch with them since that conference. :D)

Then, I went to a John Green reading, and that was the aha moment that “gave me permission” to let go of my Hot Mess (for now) and start drafting WIP2.

With WIP2, I’ve learned the value of slowing down and delving into my scenes (“Stuck” “Stuck, Redux“), and that I can balance plotting and pantsing to design a story worth reading. (I’m still learning the rhythm that works best for me).

I’m currently in the Plotting portion to develop the Act 2 of WIP2. I participated in ROW 80 to keep me on track. My goal is to have a rough draft finished this month, and have a prettier draft by the end of this year.

I know that I have so much to learn about my process, but the best thing is knowing that when I’m creating stories, I am truly happy. All throughout my life, schooling, jobs, relationships, etc, everything seemed to come easily for me. I’m grateful for that, but when I look back at my life, the road seems kind of fuzzy; like, it’s all been one big dream. And then, I come to the point in my path when I committed to finishing a novel. The path from that point on sticks out in high relief. With that decision, I became aware. When I decided to follow my dream of writing stories, I awakened to the rest of my life.

I know I talk about writing in almost transcendent terms, but honestly, I don’t know how else to describe it other than an epiphany. A mindset altering, life changing decision. With writing, I have found my purpose in life. How can I treat it as less than a spiritual awakening?

*I couldn’t have gotten this far without my writing partners, alpha/beta readers, and cheerleaders. They keep me refreshed and motivated to keep pursuing my dream, and for that reason I’m ever so grateful for social media for helping me find my writing circle.

So, what has your writing road trip looked like so far? Where are you going next?

Blog Titles and Other Thoughts

Dandelion clock

Random picture. We can pretend it means that time is ephemeral and fleeting, like dandelion fluff held aloft in the breeze. But really, I just thought it looked cool.

Do you ever wonder what meaning or story a blog title may have? Most titles I guess are straightforward, like “So and So Writes!” or “Books Books Books!” or “How To ___.” But, there are those other ones (you know what I mean, I’m sure) that are either titled or domain-named (can that be a verb?) kinda randomly. Or, am I the only one that wonders about these things? Like I’m reaching to find a story where none really exists.

At any rate, I started thinking about bloggery things, and inevitably, blog titles/names since I chatted with a group of lovely writer friends last night about blogs.*

Previously, my blog title was simply, “Reading Makes Me Happy.” (In fact, some wordpress correspondence still shows up that way, which kinda throws me.) Obviously, I love books, I love reading, so BAM! Easy title! (My focus quote was: “I read to find a ladder to heaven.” W. Strieber.)

Well, sometime last year I had an epiphany, and I won’t go into details about it here (feel free to click on that link, though :)), but I realized that my unacknowledged dreams of writing a book and being a published author was in fact attainable, and it was only seemingly unattainable because I made it so. I did nothing to get me toward writing a novel, so why was I surprised that “gasp! I didn’t have a written novel, and I never will, and this will never happen for me.” *wonk, wonk*

All I needed to do was break down my dream (published author) into a more manageable goal (write novels), and break down the action steps to get me to that goal (develop and hone my writing skills, find a feedback/support group, read a lot, etc). With a paythebills job (sometimes, two!), balancing my goals was sometimes tricky, but I never let the “I have no TIME!” be an excuse for me to fall back on. (I have the same 24-hours that Edison, Einstein, and all those guys had! Surely I can “find the time” to write a book!)

“Find solutions, not excuses” is a mantra I embrace, and I’m also someone who responds well to accountability exercises and goal setting. (It’s the Achiever in me.) I wanted to make the most of the time that I have been given, and not just impulsively do things in the moment. I wanted to really create value in the now that I have. Thus the title, “Redeeming the Time.” (Also, it sounds pretty.) 🙂

“Redeeming the time” reminds me to focus on the things that I do control, like working on the craft of novel writing, so that I can eventually see my dream realized. It also reminds me to simplify and let go of those things that distract me from my goals. Sometimes it’s tough, but I don’t count it as a sacrifice. At this point, I find I feel freer because I’m not owned by other time-wasters. I have more ownership and control of my time, and guard that time zealously.

With all that said, I really want to incorporate reading back into my writing schedule, and even though I’ve said that I don’t really do book reviews, I at least want to put a few in rotation. (I plan on posting a book review page soon). Now, the reviews won’t be as fancy or engaging as most out there, but like this blog, it’s mainly just to keep me accountable to reading all the beautiful stories that find themselves in my mailbox or inbox. If my love for a book inspires someone to go out and read it, well, I’ll look at it as a bonus!

Plus, it’s a shame to get ARCs or egalleys and not give at least a little pre-release blurb about the book. Heck, even sharing a “new to me” title would be delightful. Great stories are meant to be shared and loved. The writers who wrote those stories should know that their sweat, tears, and sleepless nights have created worlds for readers to live in.

For a little while, both the reader and writer share the same dreamspace, and that is an experience worth cultivating.

So Tell Me: Any story behind your blog title? Do you like or care when someone blogs (non-spoiler-y) book reviews?

*The other friends I chatted with were:

Stuck, Redux

Post-it notes

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been working on my WIP2 for two weeks now, and I’m having So. Much. Fun.

I do have a confluence of inspiration and motivation helping me out, thanks to conversations with my lovely writing friends*, and to life in general (remind me to tell you all about my introduction to resin one day).

Mostly, I’ve decided to slow down and really think about what I write. I have decided to give myself a hiatus from scribbling ANYthing down, including journaling in favor of taking the time to write out a scene and flesh it out as I write out my draft. I would sketch out a scene or a few scenes, and then go back over them again and again, and see how they read with the rest of the story so far, adding, deleting, and revising lines as I go.

Before, having the sketch of a scene was good enough and enabled me to move forward in the story. But, I inevitably get confused about next steps or where to go, and just skip ahead just so I can get to the end of the story. Which was a great confidence booster for WIP1: I made it to The End. Admittedly though, most of what I’d written had no value in the long term. The Hot Mess I’m left with would basically need to be rewritten.

Now, as I’m writing WIP2, I wait, think, and consider my writing as I write it out on the computer. I know that sounds elementary, but you have to understand. I’m a consummate scribbler. I’ve been writing notes and filling out journals for as long as I remember. Sometimes, I write whole scenes, and even once, a whole chapter, on index cards and sticky notes. Writing directly on the computer (I thought) was a death knell to my creativity.

Well, as I have discovered, being stuck and writing at a slower pace (and even waiting to write) does not lessen my creativity. I don’t have to be afraid of forgetting a cool idea or a cool thought. In fact, keeping the story in my head (for now) has helped me think it through one step at a time. I’m usually dying to get on my computer to write even a few words or pages, even after a really long day at work. (Who needs sleep? I’ve basically adopted Thomas Edison’s lifestyle of catnapping my way through a creativity bout.)

Not scribbling every little idea that comes to me while I’m away from the WIP has freed me to reread what I’ve written and expand on scenes, remember buried plot points, start new scenes, move things around. Basically, has made this draft’s beginning stronger than any other first draft I’ve written (and never finished). And, I don’t get discouraged when I’m “blocked” because when I reread what I’ve written, I can always find an idea or thought that I can expand on in a new scene, which feeds other new scenes.

So, I may not be chugging along as quickly as I normally do during moments of rough draft inspiration. But, so far, I’ve written more valuable words for much longer, and that’s worth more to me than phenomenal word counts.

Once I’m halfway through the story, in other words, once the story becomes too big to see all at once (as I can right now), I can see the need to jot down scene sequences Scrivener style to help keep it all straight.

For now, I’m enjoying this story-telling experience. Honestly, I’m still in awe that I’m adding to WIP2, and that it’s growing and evolving. Fingers crossed that I will finish this draft soon, and still look at it with this same loving glow.

I’ll leave you all with this motivating quote I found from Janet Reid aka, Query Shark:

“Writing can be learned.
Syntax can be taught.
Determination is yours and yours alone.”

 

*conversations including, but not limited to, Michele, Carol, Kayla, Melissa…thank you!

Leveraging My Strengths

Cover of "StrengthsFinder 2.0"

Cover of StrengthsFinder 2.0

A few months ago, I had the privilege of reading StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath for my paythebills job. The book is based on the premise that when people are aware of their strengths, and the strengths of those around them, they can begin to live a balanced and fulfilled life.

The book itself is set up with a short introduction of how the researchers developed the StrengthsFinder assessment tool, followed by a detailed description of the 34 talent themes in which those strengths are expressed. The part of the book that matters? The access code sealed in the back of the book that allows you to take the assessment online.

Honestly, I’m the ridiculous nerd that enjoys things like this, and I was honestly excited to see what my top five themes were. Considering that my top theme is Input, I obviously enjoyed the fact that I had words to attribute to all the nerdy things I do. For example, the Input theme states that I am inquisitive and like to collect things (information, items, whatever). I rolled my eyes at that at first, because I had in mind people like stamp collectors or bug collectors or even scrapbookers. But then, I looked over at my copious Moleskine notebook collection, where each notebook has its own purpose. And, I also remembered a file that I created on EverNote entitled, “Interesting California Names” and realized that yes, I definitely do collect things, and what I collect is information. My favorite line was:

Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives…So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away. It’s interesting. It keeps your mind fresh. And perhaps one day it will prove valuable.

If that doesn’t scream NERD, I don’t know what does. 🙂

How This All Pertains To Me Now

Anyway, I was thinking more about my strengths this week. I was floundering a bit, trying to find direction or headway in my WIP, and may have been procrastinating by rereading passages of Bird by Bird and On Writing. Then, I noticed StrengthsFinder on my desk, and decided to give that a reread as well. When I got to my Achiever theme, I started to wake up a little.

You have an internal fire burning inside you…Your relentless need for achievement might not be logical. It might not even be focused. But it will always be with you. As an Achiever you must learn to live with this whisper of discontent. It does have its benefits. It brings you the energy you need to work long hours without burning out. It is the jolt you can always count on to get you started on new tasks, new challenges…It is the theme that keeps you moving.

I asked myself on Wednesday why I write. Why do I bother working on a story that feels too big for me. I answered with the blogpost, “Why I Write.” I appreciated my friends reminding me of the reasons why I want to tell The Story. Because, yes, I believe those reasons, and they are true for me.

But, honestly…I think why I pursue writing is a lot simpler for me. I write because I can, and because I chose that as a goal. I write because it became The Skill that I want to master. I always return to The Story simply because I need to finish it. This is who I am. I am that sick fool that looks for challenges and seeks the uncomfortable. I recognize that these challenges, and the overcoming of them, gives me a sense of purpose and satisfaction with my life. This fire that gives me the discontent to keep pursuing my goals is the reason itself for me to write.

It’s how I do. 😉

I created a new affirmation yesterday, and I will keep it with me for a while:

I AM WRITING THIS STORY BECAUSE I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN.

*For the curious, my top themes are Input, Learner, Intellection, Achiever, Ideation.

Being A Published Author Wasn’t Always My Dream Job

I Have a Confession

I haven’t always dreamed of being a published author.  Nor have I spent my childhood/teens/college years diligently writing stories with the hopes that others would read my work.  In fact, I spent most of my life keeping anything I wrote private.

I know I’m not alone in my experience.  But, what bothers me is that I was embarrassed about it.  Yes, I was actually embarrassed that I haven’t always wanted to be an author.  So much so, that at one point, I desperately scoured my memory banks to find a scrap of evidence that yes, indeed, I wanted to be an author.  I wanted to stand with those authors who always knew that they wanted to write, and couldn’t imagine being anything else.  The authors who claim that writing for them was like breathing.  I wanted to be able to say that, and if I’m honest with myself, I still want to be able to say that.  To claim that.  Of course, if I do, it would be a lie.

What bugged me more than being embarrassed by something so silly, is realizing why I was so embarrassed.  I’d built up authors beyond being merely role models, that their life stories and beliefs became truth to me.  Became The Way.  And, if I diverged from The Way, then, by my actions, I have excommunicated myself from the society of authors, and I didn’t have the right to pursue being a full-time novelist.

A Side Story

Last week, I was able to spend time with my side of the family.  Because, my immediate family is split between east and west coasts, I only see them for one week, twice a year, and we spend those weeks that we’re together sharing stories about our lives thus far, updating each other on any news.  (This is nothing new.  Growing up, we all often shared stories while eating breakfast on Saturday mornings.)  We’re a talkative bunch, and can be quite dramatic in our renditions, so it takes a good week for us to regale the other branches of the family on our happenings.

Anyway, whenever we’re together, it doesn’t matter that we’ve already heard about each other’s stories through some other means. (For example, my older brother might have called my sister who could have Facebooked me about something my younger brother allegedly did in college that my parents may not know about.  Or, an elderly aunt may have accidentally emailed my sister instead of the Internet scammer who was the intended recipient of said email, and who may have duped her out of money. Again.)  But, until we all get together, we pretend not to know what we all really know anyway, and talk in obtuse pronouns and pronounced facial expressions until the Big Reveal.

What’s important in our ritual story telling over breakfast is sharing the information RIGHT THERE and hearing it from either the source, or from a witness’s first-hand perspective.  The conflict is always more heated, the emotions, more intense, in these real life re-enactments.  (In case you’re wondering, my favorite perspective is from my momdad, seen as one unit because they can’t seem to take turns telling a story, nor can they stop editorializing, so they’re like a two-headed, story-telling juggernaut.)

My Point?

Though I may not have written epic fantasies when I was six years old, I grew up surrounded by stories.  My family breakfasts were proving grounds for telling the best stories, especially since we lived the stories that we told.  It really wasn’t a matter of us telling the truth or not, more like the truth abounded in the conviction that what we told actually happened.  That we believed what we said.  In the telling, our “characters” refused to be flat and lifeless.  My parents can make buying groceries a more interesting story than hearing about a multiple car pileup on the news.  They can’t help but be enigmatically complex and full of conflict.  When my family orders dinner or pays the bill, drama surely follows.

I realize now that I was silly to feel like I had to legitimize my claim for wanting to be a published author.  I’m grateful that I’ve been able to experience stories.  That I was born to a family of storytellers.  Though I didn’t necessarily scribble stories about princes and knights or ghost tale massacres, I told the stories that have surrounded me my whole life (some journals may have been filled with angsty-teen, anti-parent rants.)  Besides, we all have to follow our own writerly path.

So, I’ll let other writers talk about how they’ve been writing stories before they can walk, and how writing to them is like breathing.  For me, I can embrace my heritage of story telling.  If it weren’t for my family, and our stories, then I wouldn’t have become such a devourer of tales.  Creating more stories, albeit in written form, is just an extension of that.

Stories are my life, and that is not only a truth that I can claim; it’s one that I’ve lived.

SO TELL ME: What did YOU want to be when you grew up?