Just a Friendly Reminder

I’ve had a pretty productive novel writing week, thanks to a combination of dedicated twitter #accountibilibuddies (hi Laura and DB!), a change of venue, and above all, a mindset of finishing what I start, no matter what the result may be.

The actual work I’m producing is really kind of boring and the dialogue is way stilted, but what I’m learning about my writing process far outweighs the embarrassment of reading my cringetastic writing. And, as a bonus, I’m so proud of reaching my daily page goals, that the feeling of success just motivates me to continue working on my novel some more.

Anyway, here are some lovely inspirational quotes so you can understand what mindset I was in.

 

I’ll eventually get the hang of balancing novel writing time and blogging time, but at least you understand why my posts have been pretty random lately!

Happy goal setting and achieving!

All Thinking and No Typing Makes Me Not A Writer

I had a blog post written for this week. Several actually. They’re still waiting to be re-read and polished into something coherent in Microsoft Word. But, somehow, I couldn’t muster up the will to actually re-read anything that I’ve written, let alone, clean up a draft. Lately, I’ve just been in the mood to type type type all the random (and not so random) little things that flit through my mind, and though I know this is my blog, and I can post whatever I want on it, I respect the general blogosphere enough not to throw out word vomit just for the heck of it. Believe me, no one needs to see what my unfiltered, newly awake, pre-coffee mind is capable of. (No, it’s not anything negative or controversial. I just don’t want anyone to question that English is my native language.)

Unfortunately, my type type type disease hasn’t translated to my WIP2 very well. In fact, it’s almost the exact opposite. I will re-read and tinker with the bits that I’ve already written, and yet d.r.a.g. my metaphorical feet to get to the next step in the action. It’s not procrastination. Not really. Nor is it a “what happens next?” thing. I think honestly, I over analyzed the story, and now I’m too bored (for lack of a better word) to continue.

I like my story. I know I do. But, I think that I’ve spent a little too much time thinking about The Story and writing about it via plotting methods of all sorts that I’ve lost touch with my MC, who, I admit, is the main reason why I like my story in the first place. After all this time, MC started to feel like, well, a character and not a real person. Well, I know MC isn’t real, but I started to think of the story as scenes that would lead to other scenes, and things that MC would need to do to get to those scenes, etc, that I lost sight of my recently learned lesson: story comes from the choices that the MC makes.

Random Interjection By My Brain Elves

Thinking about cardboard characters kind of reminds me of the flannelgraph stories I used to sit through during Sunday school.

The teacher would change the main elements of the story on a flannel board as she told the story. So, I would sit there, listening to her words, and yet, mostly stare at a static scene. Sure, sometimes she’d wiggle the characters if they were supposedly walking across the room, or a desert, but ultimately, the characters were lifeless, and no amount of moving by the teacher convinced me of the actions they were supposed to convey from the story. (Story time is definitely best served with an animated voice fueling a listener’s imagination, no visuals necessary. My two cents.)

Anyway, that’s how I’ve started to feel with WIP2. That I’m just pushing this cutout of MC around varying backdrops, which all amounts to a big, fat “So what?”

/End interjection.

Looking back, I can see where I’ve tripped myself up. I probably should have kept working on it privately first, before letting alpha readers give me initial feedback. After all, the Almighty Stephen King proclaimed that writers should write first with the door closed. That first drafts were a time for exploring and uncovering the story; a time to wallow in back story, adverbs, and tense shifts (oh my!). First drafts are supposed to be a free-for-all creative time, without that nagging feeling of “I hope they like this” poking at me.

And, for me, the “door closed” would also apply to reading anything to do with the publishing industry at all. It’s too discouraging to see books being sold and/or released that are too similar in concept to anything I’m working on. I know, I know, I’m supposed to read a lot and research widely, etc, and I do, believe me. But, I shouldn’t during the “door closed” phase. I know this about myself now, and I won’t waste time trying to convince myself that many books with similar concepts are published all the time, blahblahblah. It’s easier just to avoid news of that sort all together. Besides, there are plenty of non-adventure, non-science-fiction books out there to satisfy my reading addiction. (Sidenote: currently reading Kirsten Hubbard’s Wanderlove. LOVE IT. It releases March 2012. Mark your calendars!)

Another thing that I must must must remember: even though I enjoy planning and organizing my day, week, month, year, and have been encouraged to do so in my pay the bills job with extremely positive results (no surprise, running a business requires thoughtful planning and preparing for the unexpected), when it comes to writing a novel, pre-planning just doesn’t work for me. It’s hard for an uberplanner like me to admit that, but it’s scarily true. I hit my stride with my story when I just wrote it all out, no outlines or anything. I was always able to push through a “writer’s block” by thoughtfully considering next steps, and then writing them out. But, thoughtful consideration should not equate to plotting out my novel scene by scene. My muses, aka the above-mentioned brain elves, simply don’t work that way, and I have to accept that. I need to stop trying so hard to conform to a random ideal of how I should work, and instead, embrace the process that works for me. Because, this trend of barely writing a (ridiculous, word vomit-y) page during each writing session is getting really tiresome, and it’s not moving me toward my goal.

One highlight in all this self-reflection is that I re-discovered my original author role model, Dean Koontz, whose writing process and mindset resonates with me greatly. He shared this on his website:

On good days, I might wind up with five or six pages of finished work; on bad days, a third of a page. Even five or six is not a high rate of production for a 10- or 11-hour day, but there are more good days than bad. And the secret is doing it day after day, committing to it and avoiding distractions.

Because I don’t do a quick first draft and then revise it, I have plenty of time to let the subconscious work; therefore, I am led to surprise after surprise that enriches story and deepens character. I have a low boredom threshold, and in part I suspect I fell into this method of working in order to keep myself mystified about the direction of the piece–and therefore entertained.

The part I truly loved reading (apart from his tireless work ethic) is the idea of a low-boredom threshold, and keeping himself entertained by being mystified about the direction his story is going. Knowing that, was an A-HA! moment for me. I realized that I stopped looking forward to working on my story because I took away the fun factor, that motivation to keep working on it.

To that end, I have reverted to earlier versions of WIP2, and have reacquainted myself with that MC and storyline to recapture that sense of mystery again.

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:

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.

What I Know About Writer’s Conferences

Basically, nothing. And, this is where you can help me! Yay! *confetti*

This weekend (April 29-30), I’ll be attending my very first writer’s conference: Indiana SCBWI’s Annual Conference.

I know I should look at this from a networking stand point, and take advantage of being around editors, agents, and fellow writers, but being the nerd I am, I’m just so ridiculously excited to go to the sessions, and take lots of notes! *shiny notebook and pens* *check*

Ok, ok, of COURSE I’ll hang out, circulate, and meet-and-greet with all The People, because that’s really where you get the experience and learning, and let’s face it: I DO love meeting new people. (BONUS: I get to meet some of my Twitter and Blog friends there too! *waves hi to Alina, Carol, Clara, and Michele*)

I just like feeling like a student again, and embrace any opportunity to re-live studenthood.

And, I’m an irrepressible nerd. Truth.

So Tell Me: do YOU have any writer’s conference tips you’d like to share with this newbie? What should I bring? And, more importantly, what should I wear?? ^_^

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?