Sunday, November 28, 2010

NaNoNoNo!

As in No writing, No revising, No blogging, No time for anything. That's been my November. C'est la vie.

I'm really glad I had the sense not to try to commit myself to NaNoWriMo, though I offer a heartfelt "congratulations" and an equally heartfelt "I'm jealous" to all my NaNoWriMo writing friends' success stories.

I did write an awful lot of words in November - and I even got paid for them. But my goal of using the month to kick it into high gear on novel revisions (see NaNoYeahRiMo) went painfully unfulfilled. Seriously - instead of revising more this month, I revised much, much less. In fact, I bet I haven't opened the manuscript five times. That's pathetic, isn't it?

All-right, all-right, this is turning into one of those all-too-common writer-kicking-myself-while-I'm-down posts. (I need to pop over to Natalie Whipple's blog to build up my store of Happy Writers' Society-esque happy thoughts.) What makes us writers so prone to self-flagellation? Could it be the excruciating levels of perfectionism/introspection/self-awareness that cause us to write in the first place?

Makes sense, I guess. Anyway, I'm glad December's almost here. Maybe I'll be less inclined to beat myself up for lack of productivity. Or maybe the holidays will give me enough of a break from the day-to-day that I can actually be productive with my revisions.

Maybe my husband will even give me the gift of time for Christmas.
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Hint, hint. *winks*

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When I Grow Up....

I've spent the past two and half years trying to "find myself" career-wise.

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

Keeping My Head Above Water

Just a little start-the-week post to say I'm still here, treading water and trying to stay afloat. I've had a super-busy two weeks, which I'm not complaining about one bit. I'm busy in my design job, busy with writing clients and busy in my home/social life too.

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

To Study or Not to Study

A few nights ago, I was hanging out at the house of a friend and fellow writer. While I was there drinking sangria, binging on chocolate and listening to more late '90s R&B music than I ever thought I'd hear in one sitting (don't ask), I flipped through my friend's plethora of books on craft.

When I say "plethora of books," I mean it. They filled an entire shelf of a fairly wide bookcase.

I also had a long conversation with owner of said books - who's started and stopped one novel and is now working on a second - about her writing process. She got started the same way I did - the same way a lot of us did, I bet. One day she was a young professional with a run-of-the-mill day job. The next day the Great Idea hit, and suddenly she was a young professional with a run-of-the-mill day job and a side gig as a wanna-be novelist.
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The big difference between us is the way we approach our writing. When I started writing my first novel, I just let myself loose on it. I'd never written fiction before (at least not since the book about the girl and her dog I wrote in the third grade) and I had no idea what I was doing.
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And I knew that I had no idea what I was doing.
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And usually I'm a play-by-the-rules kind of girl, but when it came to this, I made a conscious decision to throw rules out the window and just go with it. I'm pretty sure that decision was based on fear that if I started researching the way I was supposed to write a novel (or anything about the publishing process, which terrified me then and still does), I'd psych myself out to the point that I wouldn't actually write the novel.
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So I decided I wouldn't even think about the fact that I might one day try to get what I was writing published. I didn't surf publishing websites or writing blogs. I didn't research agents. And I didn't read much while I was writing - in part because I didn't want other writers' styles to creep into my language, but mainly because reading other writers tended to give me a killer inferiority complex.
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I also didn't read any books on craft. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know to call it craft. In every conversation I happened to have with the friend mentioned above - the only other person in my social circle who's working seriously to become a published author - she taught me a new term simply because she knew and spoke the language of a writer.
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I was not yet fluent.
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But it worked for me. At least, it kept me focused on my book and getting it finished, which I did in eight and a half months despite the fact that I had a day job, a side job, a toddler and an overstuffed calendar. I stayed true to my original idea (for the most part) and just kept typing until I reached the end. Once that happened, it felt like a huge reward to finally order a few books on writing, google "getting published" and start mingling in the world of writers. It was also a huge reward to start reading again. I counted it up the other day, and I've read 39 books in the seven months since I finished my first draft.
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Here's another confession: Only one of them was on craft. I want to know the rules of writing, and especially of editing, but I don't want to stifle my creative side. Letting loose on the page was one of the best experiences I've ever had in my life. I can't wait to do it again.
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And I want it to feel a little like the first time.
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What about you? How did you "learn to write?" Did you just start doing it one day, or did you study the craft of writing first? If you could go back and start again, would you do things the same way?

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Fretful First Chapter

I've been pondering first chapters a lot lately.

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.
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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

Anticrastination

What is it about us writers that makes us so prone to procrastination?

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):

  1. List your Works in Progress (WIPs). Now prioritize them!!

  2. Complete your WIPs. Set yourself a deadline and don't start new projects till your current WIPs are finished!!

  3. 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