Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
"When I’m writing, really writing, I read selfishly. Not only do I want to be awestruck, I want to be driven to write better — as well as I possibly can — and I want to feel that the book I’m reading, however superior to my own work, shows me how I might do that. I want it to lead by example."
Yes! Well said. Bring on the insecurity! Bring on the self-doubt! Because along with it comes the burning desire to write more, to write better, to hone my craft.
There's a flip side to this, though. Reading for reading's sake is a different animal than reading for writing's sake. When I'm reading for pure enjoyment, for the pure love of words, I can lose myself entirely in a story. I'm not mindful of where the author decides to place a modifier or why she chooses an em-dash instead of a semi-colon. I don't think, "Oh, what a brilliant sentence," or "Ooh, I wouldn't have used that word there." But now that I'm writing, I can't help that.
I'm not saying I can't still lose myself in a great book. But I also can't lose my critical eye, even if I try.
I read a really good book a few weeks ago (which I won't name in order to avoid spoiling it for anybody else) and was having one of those book-in-one-hand, spoon-stirring-pot-on-stove-in-the-other-hand moments - I couldn't put it down. Here I was, living in this world the author had created, feeling what the characters felt, cringing in anticipation of the inevitable disaster. Then right when the story reached its pinnacle, when the inevitable happened and the tension was at its most tense, the author broke in with a narrator-esque, sing-songey speech to the reader, waxing poetic about the characters and their fates. It very nearly ruined the book for me because it pulled me so abruptly from the story. The funny thing is, though, I don't think I'd even have noticed it if it weren't for this critical eye I've developed through writing.
It's an occupational hazard, for sure, and one I was already familiar with. For years I haven't been able to read a newspaper or magazine story without mentally editing it, and since going to design school I can't simply sit and enjoy my surroundings without rearranging them in my head. It's not an ego thing. (Struggling with self-doubt and insecurity, remember?) It just is.
Again, I think it's a good thing. As writers, we have to be aware. Aware of our surroundings, aware of human behaviors, aware of words and how each individual writer shapes them. It helps us discover our own shape, I think. Our own voice.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
I need a goal, so I'm setting one. So there. And even though it's a personal deadline (and I've blogged in the past that I'm not so great with "fake" deadlines), I'm going to see it through.
Why the sudden, dogged determination?
Easy. I've decided it's time to get serious with myself. I'm excited about this book and I'm ready to start the abusive process of querying it out. And I want to start a new book. I have several ideas in various stages of progress and I'm anxious to get moving on them.
Plus, as I've mentioned here before, I think chronologically. I can't do two things at once, period, and that includes writing two books at once. I have to finish a project before starting another one. (Ask me how I juggle freelance writing projects with a design career and a 4-year-old. I really have no answer.) .
Revising my first novel has been a long, slow, sometimes painful process. I finished writing the first draft around March. After a solid read-through and line edit, I put it down. I let a few people read it. I mulled over their feedback. Meanwhile, I kept living with my characters, letting their thoughts interrupt my thoughts on a daily basis, the same way they did while I was writing. Eventually, I reopened the document. I hammered out a new first chapter, then kept going. I made big changes and small changes while plodding through the manuscript (of course) chapter by chapter.
And that's where I am now - roughly halfway through this process of revising and tightening, cutting and recreating. I'm on the precipice of a major change for my main character (I'll be blogging about that soon) and I'm also at a point where my momentum is high. When I'm not working on revisions, I'm thinking about revisions. I'm jotting down notes related to revisions. The Post-Its are stacking up again like they did while I was in the thick of writing.
I guess that's why I'm setting this goal - I want to capitalize on my momentum. I feel like this process of perfecting and recreating could get unwieldy, and I don't want to fall into the trap of overediting. The changes I'm making are ones I've thought through very carefully after months of planning, pondering my beta reader feedback, reading all the fiction I can get my hands on and studying craft (which for me has meant reading blogs, interacting with other writers and reading and re-reading a fantastic book on editing).
So basically, it's time to make a move. Either I'm going to attempt to become a published author or I'm not. And let me just go on the record right now to say I am. I want this. I do. And I realize a lot of other people want it, too, and it might not happen, but it won't be because I haven't put everything I have into it.
So, March 1. And this blog is my accountability partner. By that date - which I'm marking on my calendar in permanent ink with all my other writing deadlines - I'll have a final draft ready, if not for querying (after all this work, I don't want to jump the gun), then at least for serious critique.
I promise to keep you posted.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Photo courtesy Scott Cranfill
Monday, December 6, 2010
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Basically, after a decade in business journalism, I'd learned a whole lot about what I didn't want to do and a little bit about what I did want to do.
Instead of continuing to float along a career path that was steering me rather than vice-versa, I decided to sit down and give some major thought to how I wanted to spend my time. Here's what I came up with:
- I didn't want to hang out all day/every day in a cube farm. (I could've written that in all caps with five exclamation points, but I restrained myself.)
- I didn't want to write articles about mergers & acquisitions, quarterly earnings or economic forecasts.
- I didn't want to edit other people's articles about mergers & acquisitions, quarterly earnings or economic forecasts.
- I did want to do something creative.
- I did want some flexibility/control over my schedule.
- I did want to be in some way involved in the arts.
So about five years ago, I chucked my full-time job (which, don't get me wrong, I did enjoy - but it didn't light my fire) and went back to school for interior design. I knew when I did it that I was working toward two potential future goals: practicing design or writing about design.Within a year of leaving my job, I had an infant. Within two years of leaving, I had a master's degree in home furnishings merchandising, a pretty good start as a freelance design writer and a job at a residential interior design firm.
It had all gone swimmingly.And it's continued to do so, with one big surprise. In the middle of all that, I became a writer. A real writer. A writer who writes because I love writing, not because I'm punching a clock and picking up a check. Luckily I have been able to make a little money as a writer (more than I'm making as a designer, I might add). But that isn't what drives me to do it. It's that good old-fashioned fire in my belly and heart-soaring feeling everybody talks about so much. I write because I can't not write.
So even though a full-time career in writing isn't what I expected when I went back to school for design, it's where I'm heading, and more imporantly, it's where I want to go. The design degree wasn't a mistake. The design degree is what led me to realize I actually do love to write. I love to write about design. About houses. About art.And I love to write fiction - and one of these days I'll write a killer novel set in a Southern interior design firm. Because that's been an education indeed.
I really do believe all things happen for a reason.
Monday, November 15, 2010
It's great. I love to be busy - and it's the only way for a freelancer to make any money. But I haven't had time to work on the book in a week - or to blog - and that bites.
I'll be back soon though!
Monday, November 8, 2010
Friday, November 5, 2010
I've read some great blog posts by others about them. I've paid close attention to them in every book I've read recently. And every once in a while, I revisit my own first chapter. I stare at and reconfigure the words. I cut something. I add something. I scratch my head and try to figure out how to make it convey exactly the right tone, the right level of intrigue, the right ... everything.
Revisions are hard (I think I say that in every blog post) and first chapter revisions are hardest. I'm working on the third draft of my novel right now, which means my first chapter has already had two major overhauls.
And there'll be a third.
I know this largely because of the feedback I got from an agent last month. She liked my idea, she liked my writing style, but she didn't dig the pacing my first chapter set for the book. And I definitely see her point. I'm well past the first chapter right now in revisions, but I'm such a chronological writer and editor that I doubt I'll go back and tackle chapter 1 again until I've finished this round of revisions.
Seriously. I write and edit from start to finish. It's kind of a problem.
But even though I'm not working on my first chapter right now, I keep pondering it. I know I've got to lose some of my MC's copious internal monologue and get to the action quicker. How to do it, now there's the dilemma. I read a post yesterday on Writer Unboxed about structural editing, and I really relate to the way the author of that post works. I edit as I go. I reread and edit a chapter or a few pages ahead of my actual starting point almost every time I sit down to write. It helps draw me into the story.
And it leads to a clean draft. But that doesn't make editing any easier. Honestly, it makes it harder, because tight transitions and clean writing are difficult to cut. I know that from years of editing and being edited as a journalist.
The first chapter is hardest of all, in part because it has such a big job to do - hook the reader, set the tone, establish the characters - but mainly because the way it's structured affects the structure of the rest of the book.
So basically, it's always on my mind. Even when I'm working in chapter 14. Even when I'm working in chapter 30. When I'm eating. When I'm sleeping. When I'm driving.
I might even dream about it.
I think I need a vacation.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Is it because we do most of our work on computers, and those computers are invariably connected to the Great Time Suck (aka Internet)? Is it because our work requires self-motivation, and unless we're under tight deadlines (and sometimes even if we are), nobody's pushing us to achieve except ourselves? Is it because it's just plain hard to think until we've finished every other thing on our to-do lists and made our blog-surfing, status-updating, headline-skimming rounds?
Is it all of the above?
Definitely. At least that's my take on it.
I'm reading a good book right now called Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch, and the main character at one point lists "the secrets of anticrastination." It's funny. It's sarcastic. It's part of author Richard Hine's satirical, hysterical take on the uselessness of corporate culture. But it also makes great sense. And I, for one, could stand to follow these points on a regular basis. Here they are, quoted verbatim from the book (exclamation points and all):
- List your Works in Progress (WIPs). Now prioritize them!!
- Complete your WIPs. Set yourself a deadline and don't start new projects till your current WIPs are finished!!
- Reward yourself. Do something fun to celebrate the completion of each project before moving on to the next!!
For example, for me, right now, my highest-priority WIP would be to Revise my novel!! Instead, I'm blogging. A waste of time? No. A means of procrastination? Yes.
I think the anticrastination list can actually help me. It's too late for tonight, but over the next few days, I'm going to try setting page and chapter "deadlines" to help me through revisions. I'll see how it works to start my writing-editing time with actual writing and editing, then reward myself afterward with surfing-tweeting-blogging-reading time. I don't know if I'm strong enough to make it work, but I'll let you know how it goes.
So thanks, Richard Hine-a-la-Russell Wiley. I needed that.
Photo courtesy Grahambones
Friday, October 29, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
But I thought I was past all that with the first draft. Because that's where the major plot twists emerge, isn't it? Editing's all about shaping and finessing and fine-tuning, but there aren't any big surprises.
I mean, I know how the story ends.
And yet there I was, tapping away at the keyboard, nonchalantly going at revisions when a new twist on an old line just sort of happened. And it changed everything.
And I do mean everything. It changed relationships, it changed intentions, it changed motivations and emotions and reactions. Most importantly, though, it solved a problem I was having with my main character. The way the scene was written before, she sort of fell away, in that moment, from who she was. With that one little tweak - one little errant thought that gets in the way of the action going on - she becomes herself again, and her struggles become more real. It means more work for me as the writer, but that's what revisions are for.
I keep saying this, and it's because it's true: Revising a novel is soooo much harder than writing a novel.
In a way, the whole process parallels life. My characters keep learning and growing and struggling the same way I keep learning and growing and struggling. The big difference is that in the fictional world, I can go in after the fact and dabble with the past. It's pretty cool to have power over a character's emotions plus the ability to go back in time and see what happens when Just That One Moment takes place a little differently.
And that kind of makes you think about life, right? If you'd said that one thing that one time that you instead held back, it might have redirected the entire course of your future..
That's heady stuff.
And again, it's what makes writing fiction great.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
Thursday, October 7, 2010
When I wrote the first draft of my novel, I was so disciplined. Or, I guess it wasn't discipline so much as obsession. I had to get that book out of me. I pounded on my keyboard with a fury that literally wore down the keys on a fairly new laptop.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
OK, maybe not easy, considering I'd never done it before and I had a full-time job, a part-time freelance writing gig and all the trappings of a married, home-owning, mother-of-a-3-year-old life. Add all that together and it equals a lot of nights with very little sleep.
But some of my best stuff came out after 1 a.m.
That's not, however, translating into revisions. I still love my manuscript, and I'm itching to start querying it out, but I can't do that until it's ready, and it won't be ready until I actually buckle down and finish editing it. Problem is, my schedule is still roughly the same - it's just that writing has become my full-time-ish job and my old full-time job is now my part-time job. (I apologize to anyone who's actually reading this for the total incoherency....) Point is, I still have to do my unpaid writing work very, very late at night.
While writing, I had to force myself to put the computer away and go to sleep. But while editing, I keep falling asleep in the middle of trying to work. Aargh! That system isn't lending itself to producing a polished final draft.
So, suggestions, anyone? I've thought about creating a time slot during my daytime working hours for editing. Not ideal, considering I have as much paid writing work to do during those hours as I can handle. But at least I'd be able to keep my eyes open. I've also thought about getting away for some intense editing time - holing up somewhere for a weekend, on my own, with no distractions. Maybe that'd work; I'd probably get a lot done.
But I'd be wracked with Mommy guilt.
Again, aargh! So, OK, it's 12:45 a.m. and I've vented here enough to wake my brain up a bit. Back to the manuscript it is....
Sunday, September 19, 2010
And I did a little editing this weekend.
But I also felt a huge need to recharge - to do something creative that in no way involved sitting in front of a computer screen. So last night, I painted. For the first time in, well, probably 14 months. I got a random urge to finally do something with these two tiny canvases I bought in an art shop on vacation a couple of months ago, so I dragged out my supplies and went to work.
I'm no Monet, but my little project was fun. And then afterward, I lost myself in novel-land and actually knocked out the rest of the section I've been working on. Apparently, I really needed that creative kick in the pants.
Then today, I got another creative recharge - this one completely different, and completely different from anything I've ever done. I went with my best friend to a five-hour class at the Viking Cooking School. We pan-seared and blanched and butterflied and marinated. We learned some mean dicing techniques. We whipped up damn-near perfect chocolate souffles. And then we ate like food was going out of style.
I needed this weekend for perspective. I needed it to remind myself that the real world is great, too, and that I have to make room for my other hobbies. And now I'm ready to head back to the land of make-believe.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
And that's, like, whoa.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Or maybe not.
Because writing is lonely. No matter what type of writing you're doing, the actual process of getting words on the page or screen is a solitary business. A few weeks ago, I took the plunge into (almost) full-on entrepreneurship. And now that I've decided to devote more of my time to writing, I spend hours every day staring at this 17-inch screen, lost in my own head.
Which is cool. But the problem is that I'm a social girl. I love talking. Hanging out. Happy hour-ing. Living in the real world. And I do that quite a bit with the friends I already have. But if I don't stop babbling on and on about writing, those friends might not want to hang around me so much.
So, my point is that I really want to find some writer friends. I've read a lot of blog entries about the importance of connecting with other writers - writing groups, workshops, critique groups. I just have no idea where they are and how to find them. I guess I should point out about this time that I'm writing fiction. And that feels like a major confession (I feel a future blog post coming on). Most people who know me know I'm a journalist - my byline's been floating around town for years, and at least a fifth of the people I know have been coerced at some point to serve as a source for some article I've written. But only a select few know that I recently finished my first novel.
And fiction is a whole new world to me. Literally - I have whole new worlds floating around in my head at all times, waiting to be poured out on screen. But I have so much to learn about how to do it. I've been reading some great books on craft and poring over the many awesome writing blogs out there. (Who would've guessed writers would make such great bloggers??) Now I just need someone to talk to - face to face, over coffee or tea or wine or whatever - about what it's like to have characters having conversations in your head and how to get those conversations on the page and how hard it is to then get it all published. Because I'm completely terrified about that part. (Yet another future blog post.)
So, anybody know how I can get plugged in to the Memphis-area writing community? Or have suggestions for conferences/workshops/seminars where a new, inexperienced fiction writer won't be laughed out of the room???