Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Road Ahead

Is it weird to say I'm jealous of myself?

Let me qualify, then. I'm jealous of where I seemed to be a year ago. I logged on to This Writing Business to find a photo I'd posted a while back (which isn't the photo I needed -- go figure) and began reading some old posts.

I miss blogging. I miss writing fiction regularly. Don't get me wrong -- I'm still working on my fiction, but I've been far more focused on revising and learning this year than I have on creating new work. I've come a long way in 2011, but I haven't documented the journey very well. And if I'm super honest with myself, it's because I haven't had my priorities quite as straight this year as I seemed to in 2010.

For the past several months, I've been taking part in a fiction workshop at a local university. It's been fantastic, phenomenal, amazing, eye-opening. The facilitator is a longtime writer, professor and author of 11 published (and several unpublished) novels and 50-plus short stories. This workshop has played a crucial role in the progress I've made this year, which comes down more to increased confidence in myself as a writer than it does to word counts or queries. Not that I believe my writing is any better than I might have believed it was last year -- just that I believe that I should be doing this. I am a writer, really. I struggled with that entire concept in 2010.

Now I need to put two and two together. Actually, I need to put 2010 and 2011 together -- I need to take the confidence I've gained about what I want to do with my life and make more time to actually do it, document it and more forward with it. 2010 + 2011 = 2012. And that's my goal for the coming year: Write more, blog more, send queries, work on moving forward.

My professor has this thing he says about how we writers don't need to think of what we're doing as an indulgence -- the indulgences are the things we give up to be able to do it. I'm a writer, and I need to write. It's what I want to do most of all, anyway.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Reading and Writing and Working, Oh My!

This has been SUCH a busy year. The whole year. I can't say I've had a busy week or a busy few days or a busy Thursday. 2011 came in like a tsunami and rolled right over me, and I feel like my head is just starting to resurface.

Not because I'm any less busy ... just because I'm tired of being underwater.

Since I haven't posted at This Writing Business in months, I'll start with a recap of my writing life ... Earlier this year, I left my job in design to write from home full-time. Immediately, a corporate assignment that came my way via referral turned into a 2-day-a-week office job. I barely even knew what hit me. (Ahh, the tsunami metaphor continues.) The assignment was temporary - I replaced a communications manager who was on maternity leave. When she came back, we negotiated a long-term arrangement, and I'm still working for the client in-office and from home. Meanwhile, I picked up a new corporate client and I'm doing ongoing work for newspapers and magazines - including a weekly standing feature I've written for several years.

Whew! So that's what I have been doing. Here's what I haven't been doing:
  • Blogging. Obviously.
  • Reading Blogs.
  • Twitter-ing.
  • Cleaning my house. Ahem.
So now, about the fiction ... because that's what it's all about, right? The fiction. When I decided to stay home to write full-time, fiction played into my plans. I'd envisioned all this time during my workweek to put paying assignments aside and write what I want to write. It hasn't happened. I take that back ... it's happened some. I want it to happen more.

For a while, I wasn't focusing much on fiction at all. I was so busy writing non-fiction during the day that I didn't want to sit in front of the computer all night, too. But being away from my manuscripts (yes, manuscriptS - I'm working on a new book) was making me sad, edgy and extremely irritable (just ask my husband), so I have found time to squeeze it in, usually late at night.

Turns out I'm grumpier when I don't get book-writing time than when I don't get sleep. Who knew?

One more update, and then I'll stop rambling about my work habits and (hopefully) get back to the business of rambling about writing. I've been doing a LOT of reading, and that's also taken time away from blog posting, blog reading, Twitter-ing and, yes, writing. But that's been a worthwhile detour. I've learned a lot ... including the fact that the single biggest way to improve as a writer (apart from writing, of course) is to read other writers.

So, anybody who's still with me after this rambly, random post: Hi, thanks for reading, and hopefully I'll resurface in the blogging world ... and keep my head above water.

Photo credit visulogik

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

No Excuses!

So I said my next post would be about critiques, and that one's coming, but today I have another topic on my mind: accountability. Recently I joined a local writers' group, and it's helped me in more ways than I can name. But one of the main ways is accountability.

I have people who care whether I do or don't write. People who want me to meet my goals and do well and stay motivated. Who want me to finish writing that section or revising that chapter or outlining that new idea. Who make me feel guilty when I don't.

And we all know guilt is a huge motivator.

At the group's latest meeting, we voted to implement a 30-day writing boot camp, a 50-word-a-day challenge for us each to strive for before we meet up again next month. I know, I know, you're thinking, "50 words? That's nothing." Yeah. Right. I've yet to meet that 50-word goal since the challenge began five days ago. And the guilt is positively EATING at me.

Our group has an online forum, a message board, and I've been watching other writers' word counts roll in daily. 771 words. 553 words. 210 words. I've been too ashamed to respond. Too ashamed to make the piddly excuses that have been rolling around in my head.... "But this is my busy week. I'm working 8-5 every day and still churning out freelance stories after-hours."

Blah, blah, blah. Excuses, excuses. I wrote most of my first draft in the post-bedtime hours while working full-time, and I could - and should - be doing the same thing now. I could - and should - have a draft ready for critique.

I could - and should - be writing 50 words a day on my WIP every day for the next 25 days. And I could - and will - use the guilt of this challenge to help me do better. Because I hate feeling guilty. I hate it, and yet I feel it a LOT.

Which just means I need to Stop Making Excuses and Write.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Writer's Block

Wow. I'm so sorry about the unannounced 6-week break from This Writing Business! It was unplanned and unexpected, but it goes to show how taking a few days off can seriously derail a girl's writing routine.

As far as explanation is concerned, I've been wrapped up in a major freelance writing gig for a corporate client. For the last three and a half months, I've spent Tuesdays and Thursdays in The Land of Gray Walls & White Noise getting reacquainted with corporate life and writing communications materials. That, too, was unexpected - the result of a random phone call from years of inadvertent networking.

The new gig means I've had to cram my usual freelance writing work - newspaper and magazine stories on homes, design and the arts - into the other three days of the workweek along with mommying and revising my WIP. I haven't neglected my manuscript (or my child) in these busy few months, but I haven't had as much time for revisions as I'd like, to say the least. And blogging? Well, you can see how well that's worked out. I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel now, though. Just two weeks left of my four-month assignment, then my schedule should regain some level of normalcy.

Whatever that means for a freelance writer.

At any rate, I'm determined to stop neglecting my blog, and I have a lot I want to blog about. In the midst of the busy-ness, I've hit some writing milestones - like participating in my first critique session with an actual group of fiction writers (before, the only people who'd read my work were friends and family members). It was wonderful and awful all at the same time ... but both the wonderful and the awful parts were actually wonderful, if that makes sense. It doesn't? OK, put it this way: I learned a LOT from the criticism I received. And I'm hoping to build some relationships from it and gain at least one long-term critique partner.

So basically, hi! This Writing Business is back. I hope you're meeting your writing goals and maybe even learning a little bit from my scheduling missteps. ;-)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Where I've Been

Absent from This Writing Business, that's for sure. It wasn't intentional, but blogging was among several things that got shoved to the back burner in the past couple of weeks as life had its way with my schedule.

So where was I?

First I was out of town for a three-day family visit that turned into a six-day visit that ended with my grandmother's funeral. Then I was running, running, running to catch back up with work and house and family and errands and friends and life. And in the midst of all that, I was shuffling back and forth between Little Whinging and the Burrow and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry ... because yes, I admit, for a few days there I let the Harry Potter series take precedence over most everything else. Really, though, it was about time I read it. And yes, it really is as fantastic as everybody says it is.

On that note, here are a few writing lessons I've learned from the master class that is J.K. Rowling:

  • When your main character's life gets really, really awful, make it just a little bit worse. Or better yet, a lot worse.

  • Give even your most beloved characters a few nasty flaws. Nobody's perfect. In fact, flaws are part of what make a character lovable (or hate-able).

  • Let your imagination soar. This is fiction, people! Fact check, fact check and fact check some more, but when it comes to creating your fictional world, have fun and don't hold back.

  • Don't overwrite, but do have fun with words. Every setting, every character, every (and this is a big one) name offers a chance to contribute new and hidden layers of meaning to your work. Details matter.

  • Adverbs never killed anybody. Some rules are meant to be broken.

And if you haven't already, by all means, let your life be taken hostage by Harry.


Photo courtesy alitaylor

Monday, April 18, 2011

Inventing a Person

Recently I started my second book.

I didn't expect that to happen - I'm still plodding through revisions on my first book, and since I can't do two things at once, I hadn't planned to start the next one until I began the submission process on the first. But novels are funny things ... they want to be written when they want to be written. It's an impulse that's a little hard to control - something I learned the first time around!

My second novel's main character is a secondary character in my first novel. It's not a sequel by any means, but the character in question is one who took on a compelling life of her own as I was writing, and she's continued to inspire me. I've been chewing on her life story ever since she plowed her way into the lives of my other characters, and last weekend, her story simply came together. I plotted it out the best way a pantser can, and now I'm off and running.

It's a little terrifying, since it means not only doing two things at once, but doing 25 things at once. I'm so busy right now I can barely see straight. And I can't let myself lose momentum on revising the first book. But it feels SO good to be moving on another project, and it feels good to be back inside this character's life, back inside her head.

Which leads me to my real topic of the day ... crafting a character. Starting this book has been a very different experience from starting the last one because this time, I started not with a plot but with a person, fully formed. I approached the plot of the book with this question: Where does she go from here? After answering that, I set about figuring out exactly where she came from and how she came to be who she is. I figured out who the secondary characters are in HER life. It's been an interesting process. It's always an interesting process to give life to a new character.

I read a blog post at Writer's Digest about this topic that was so true I can't not quote it: "Often our characters first appear to us as we flesh out the idea for a story. But characters who emerge from story ideas can often be flat or two-dimensional; this is because at that early stage, they serve the purpose of filling a role, rather than acting as independent beings...."

I definitely found that to be the case as I wrote my first book. I started with a story idea, and my MC was the vehicle to make that story happen. Once I had a completed first draft and a few brave souls had volunteered to read it for me, I realized from their feedback that my MC was the manuscript's biggest problem. She wasn't coming across exactly as I intended, and I realized through the revising process that it was because I didn't know her quite well enough. I didn't have a solid enough grasp on her goals and motivations, her fears and vulnerabilities, her strengths and especially her weaknesses. I'd made a series of things happen to her that she didn't quite know how to react to because she wasn't yet fully formed. That wasn't the case with the book's other characters. They sprang to life on page in a way she didn't. And again, while editing, I realized the reason for that: With my other characters, I'd started with just that, the characters, and let the story flow from them rather than fitting them into the story. With one major character, I had a loose plot in place that I decimated once I learned who he was, what he would and wouldn't do.

And eventually, finally, that began happening with my main character. (Oh, what a happy day that was!) After months of revisions, she's finally found her voice.

Basically, what all this means is that I'm a pantser in every sense of the word. Which means that as I get deeper into this second book, my whole "outline" might get blown out of the water.

But that's OK. Because characters are people, too, and you just can't ever predict what people will do.

Photo by b_d_solis

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

In the Mood

To write, I have to be in the mood.

And that goes for anything - newspaper stories, blog posts, my WIP, even emails and twitter updates. Sure, sure, when I'm on deadline or I have emails to return or I'm just wracked with guilt over my deep propensity to procrastinate, I can force myself to do it, and once I'm there, I'm pretty much always happy to be there. (Get your mind out of the gutter, you dirty little reader, you.)

But sometimes, when a deadline's looming, or when I'm t.i.r.e.d. from, say, staying up late working on my taxes, or when my house and desk and life are swirling in chaos all around me, I'm just not in the mood to write. ("Not today, dear hardwood flooring story ... I have a headache.")

And I've found that, at those moments, it's best to just follow my instincts and not force the issue. Shut the document. Fold a load of clothes. Play a little Words With Friends. Switch mental gears. Write a blog post. As I'm now doing.

Because I'm in the mood.

I've read advice from lots of writers about implementing set times each day to write, and I know that works for a lot of people. I've tried it in various forms and fashions, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't work for me. And that, seriously, is because it's just this simple: I have to be in the mood. Luckily, I'm in the mood a lot. (C'mon now, back out of the gutter. Geesh!)

I don't know how the whole "muse" concept comes into play here. I don't think I have to wait for "my muse" to inspire me to come up with a good lede for a story on, say, hardwood flooring. But I do have to be in the mood to write it if it's going to be at all interesting to read. And I do think fiction writing goes beyond the non-fiction work I do. Makes me reach deeper - no set of gathered facts to assemble, no pre-acquired quotes. Not only do I have to be in the mood to write or edit, I have to be in the frame of mind to get inside my characters' heads, inside their world.

Their world's looking pretty good right now, actually. Since I'm really, really, REALLY (in case you couldn't tell) not in the mood to write about hardwood flooring.

Photo credit Auntie K

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Life Imitating Art

There are stories everywhere.

That's the most obvious thing in the world to a writer, right? But until the maniacal urge to write fiction hit me, I managed to wander through most days without examining every person I met or everything I saw for a story or book idea. Now, though, it's like they're in the air, floating around at all times, waiting to be noticed.

I've learned through years of feature writing that everybody has a story. Some are more fascinating than others, but with any person, if you dig deep enough or happen to hit the right nerve, the story will come pouring out. With fiction, though, I get to make the story up - a fascinating concept in and of itself for a journalist (someone who's used to substantiating or attributing every single fact). And the newest part of this phenomenon for me has been creating stories in my head around people I meet in real life.

Seeing someone in the grocery store and wondering, "What's his story?" Then walking around tossing items in my cart and working it out in my head. "He's the type of guy who lives _____, drives _____, probably does/doesn't/doesn't want to have kids, cheats/doesn't cheat on his wife, only eats meat, doesn't eat meat, yada, yada, yada."


I'm probably completely wrong, but that's the beauty of it - it doesn't matter. That person gave an impression, instigated an idea, and that idea was the launch pad for a good story. And some of those stories stick. They're the ones I jot down in my journal for future use. Others get fleeting play in my head, then forgotten. Or lost in translation ... sometimes an idea that seems amazing in the moment loses its impact on the page. And sometimes it's the littlest things that trigger an idea - not a person or a situation, but a phrase that jumps out at me, a song. I have a few random book titles scribbled in my journal, no plotlines attached, just titles.

For future use.

I often wonder, now that this writing bug has stung me, how it stings other people. Did you always know you wanted to write? Is it something you decided, like, as a career choice? Did you have an idea first and chew on it for a while before you started putting words on the page? Or did you sit and stare at a screen and brainstorm ideas for the Next Great Novel? Is it people who inspire you? Situations? What-if questions?

This topic is kind of a dangerous one, right? I've read lots of blog posts and tweets from writers complaining about the fact that their neighbors/friends/relatives fear they might someday, somehow turn up as a character in a book. So is it true? Is anyone with the fortune or misfortune of living with or around a writer at risk of being fictionalized and put on public display? Of. Course. Not.

And yeah, maybe. Not that they'd ever know it.

The truth of the matter is, real life is strange, but fiction is stranger. And making stuff up is way more fun than telling the truth.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Rules

There are SO MANY of them.

Avoid adverbs. Vary sentence length and structure. Don't attribute quotes with verbs other than "said." Don't shift point of view. Don't open with the weather. Show, don't tell. Tell some, but show more. Don't tell and show in the same scene. Don't use omnicient perspective. Don't use omnicient perspective unless you're really good at it. Don't use repetition. Don't use repetition unless you're doing it for emphasis. (See what I did there?) Set the scene. Avoid superfluous details. Make every word count. Don't use flashbacks. Don't use flashbacks unless you're really good at it.

Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrggggggghhhhh!!!

Are you kidding me? There's so much advice out there, it's impossible to figure out who to listen to and what to believe. Sure, a lot of it's good advice. Sure, a lot of the widely accepted "rules" make for great writing. But then there's the rule that trumps them all: Rules are made to be broken.

I haven't had a lot of time for writing and revising lately. But I have managed to fit in a lot of reading, which, in my opinion, is an important part of the writing, revising and learning process. And if there's one lesson I've learned more than any other while studying the work of a wide variety of writers and genres, it's that if a rule has been recorded, there's a (best-selling, prize-winning, critically acclaimed) writer who's broken it.

That said, I do hold to the theory that to break the rules - successfully, at least - you have to know the rules. As an example, I offer my art analogy. How many times have you heard this complaint about an abstract painting: "My dog/3-year-old/grandmother could have painted that?" My answer - at least for work that wasn't created by a dog/3-year-old/grandmother - is this: That artist probably could have painted a recognizable landscape or a detailed still-life or even a realistic portrait, but that wasn't how he chose to express himself. If he's getting paid to paint (and I realize this can't be true in all cases, but run with me here), he probably knows "the rules" of painting. The elements of design. Color theory. The effects of light and shadow, the importance of form and technique. Maybe he hasn't studied them in a classroom, but he knows them.

On that note, I'll give you another theory - one I believe applies to all forms of art, whether it involves painting with watercolors, chords or words. To some extent, the process is instinctual. If you're an artist, you should know the rules. But just because you know the rules, that doesn't make you an artist. Or a writer. Sure, practice makes ... improved. But somewhere, somehow, to find success as a writer, you just have to have it in you.

And I think that's what allows all these writers I've been reading to break the rules. Because they just know when something works and when it doesn't.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Big Picture

I really need to read my book.

I've been hit or miss with revisions lately, which means that each time I go back to it, it's a struggle not to go back and read parts I've already worked, to edit and edit and edit scenes I've already picked apart. But I just realized, while working on it, that it's been a loooong time since I've read the whole thing from start to finish. I've been revising now for almost a year - longer than I spent writing the first draft. I'm sure I've read the whole thing in its entirety in that time ... or haven't I?

It's been so long I don't remember.

That's a little scary. I know the story so well that I'm fairly sure the individual parts still fit together as a cohesive whole, but I think now - now that I'm close to having produced a critque-ready draft - I'd better stop, take a breath and be sure. Take a look at the big picture. Kill a tree, unfortunately.

(That's not just me, right? Do other writers find there's a great difference between reading your work onscreen and reading it on-page? I know in this age of the Kindle a lot of reading is done onscreen, but when it comes to my own work, I see it differently on paper. Little things I didn't notice with the cursor blinking somehow jump off the printed page. Plus, I don't get distracted as easily. Word changes I'd be quick to make on-screen I'm forced to read past, live with ... if I sit down with a stack of pages and get comfortable, I've got to really want that edit to bother reaching for a pen.)

Anyway, I know this seems counterintuitive. I've had little time to edit lately, so on one hand, it seems silly to interrupt those precious few hours by rereading what I've already done. On the other hand, though, seeing how far I've come might be just what I need to motivate myself to finish.

Friday, March 4, 2011

What Not to Do

Gee-eesh. February was a busy month. And by that, I mean it wasn't.

At least not from a fiction writing standpoint.

No, I'm sad to admit, I have not been following my own advice. I haven't been fitting time into my daily schedule to revise my manuscript. I haven't been fitting in time to blog. I haven't been fitting in time to organize my notes or think about my characters or create a plan of attack for all of the above.

And I certainly haven't met my self-imposed deadline for revisions.

In my defense, what's happened in the past month has been fairly unexpected. I didn't realize, when I made the switch from full-time interior design to full-time freelance writing, that I'd be flooded with work. (If I had, I might have done this quite some time ago. And trust me, I'm not complaining about it. A writer's gotta eat.)

But now that it's happened, I do need to figure out a way to juggle it all in a way that doesn't push out my time to revise. My time to blog. My time to contemplate my characters and hear their conversations and live inside their heads. It was a lot easier, I must say, to live and breathe writing in my spare time when I wasn't living and breathing writing in my work time. During the months that I spent churning out a 100,000-plus word draft, I got plenty of reprieve from the computer screen during my 9-to-5's at the design firm.

Of course, the only time I had to churn those words out was late, late, laaaaate at night. So it's all a give-and-take, really. I have more flexibility in my schedule now, but not as much variety. So when to write fiction? When to revise? I've found that I can't stare at the computer screen for hours each night when I've already stared at it for hours each day. I have, have, have to push fiction up on my priority list.

Because really, the whole reason I've chosen writing as a full-time gig is because I love it so much. And I've learned in the past two years that fiction is what I love most. It's kind of like giving all your best time to co-workers and strangers, then coming home at night and being bitchy to your spouse and kids. I'm giving my best hours to my less interesting, less passion-filled paid writing work and being bitchy to my WIP.

And I love my WIP. So all that said, here's my best go at a list of what NOT to do while working to become a published author, gleaned from my own hard-fought experience:
  • Don't expect the process to be quick or easy.
  • Don't set unrealistic expectations, goals, or in my case, deadlines.
  • Don't forget that real life comes first, fiction second. In other words:
  • Don't try to wait for that "perfect moment" to write, because it never comes.
  • Don't get discouraged. Even when you go two weeks without opening your WIP or posting to your blog, all isn't lost. Pick yourself up, figure out what needs to change and plunge ahead.

And that's what I'm doing. I'm back in the manuscript tonight, and it feels great. Like coming home after a long, exhausting business trip. This blog is about the whole of my writing process - the highs, the lows, the triumphs and the setbacks. I've had a good run lately with non-fiction, a disappointing stretch with fiction. So what? That just means I'm due for a good stretch of revisions.

I'm itching for it. Aching for it. Loving that I'm back. And I am back, baby.

Photo credit Abulic Monkey

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Getting Paid

That's the goal, right? All the hours we writers spend honing our craft - hours we can't possibly be compensated for (unless, of course, you happen to be in that hallowed 1% of writers who make a living from fiction) - are spent in hope of someday being paid to do it. Yes, there's passion behind it. Yes, when the writing is pure it doesn't feel like work.

I know all that. I feel all that.
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I also know this isn't the business to get into if your goal is to make a lot of money (see 1% comment above). But I'll be honest - it'd be nice to earn a paycheck from my fiction writing someday. I didn't start thinking down those lines until I'd finished the first draft of my first manuscript, but now, during revisions, there's no way to escape those thoughts. After all, what am I doing if not polishing the book to the point that I might one day be able to sell it? And if not this book, hopefully the next. Or the next.
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Or better yet, all of the above.

In the meantime, though, I've been dealing with another issue: getting paid for my non-fiction writing. I've had several instances lately of having to quote my rates to prospective freelance writing clients, and that's a tough thing to do, at least for a novice freelancer. I've been lucky so far to have built a strong roster of writing clients in a relatively short amount of time. Well, it's not actually luck - I've been working as a journalist in my market for more than a decade, so I had a firm foundation to build on. Good contacts. Years of inadvertent networking.

But I digress.... again. I had to quote my rates to a prospective client recently, and for the first time, I managed to spit out a number fairly easily that I felt comfortable with. I'm finally (blessedly, thankfully) in the position of being busy enough that I don't have to take every job that comes my way, so I've figured out a solid theory about how to charge: Charge a rate that, if I get the job, will pay me as much or more as other jobs I could be spending that time on.

So that's what I offered. And I got the job! I meet with the new client Wednesday. Meanwhile, my existing clients are keeping my working hours (and off hours when I'm not careful) full. So full that I haven't had time to spend on fiction in more than a week - but that's OK. The fiction work is a marathon. The non-fiction work is a series of sprints. It's nice to be so busy with paid work right now that I have less time to spend on the unpaid stuff. I know that won't always be the case (it's a feast-or-famine business), so I'll take it while I can.
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Hopefully one day, someone will pay me for my fiction work too. But as it is, I'm happy to be able to say I'm making a living as a writer.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

On Again, Off Again

That's what my relationship with my WIP feels like right now.

I've been really, really busy with freelance (i.e., paid) writing work this week, and when I have this kind of work week, the fiction writing tends to get back-burnered.

Right now it's barely lukewarm.

You know how us writers get told all the time to "write every day?" Well, I do write every day. I write so much I think I even write in my dreams. But I have a feeling that piece of advice has an implied, missing word: "write (fiction) every day." And I'm not doing that. Does it count if I'm exercising my writing muscles by writing newspaper stories? Magazine articles? Corporate copy? Blog posts? Twitter updates? Probably not, right?

I mean, it's not getting me any closer to becoming a published author.

I have manuscripts-to-be churning around in my head, but I can't get them out on paper until I take the time to sit down and feel them out. And I know me, and I won't do that until I finish the work-in-progress that's still in need of much editing ... I can't do two things at once. But I can do one thing at a time really well, so from here on, I have a new goal: Write (fiction) every day. Even if it's just for a little while.

Even if I'm really tired. Even if I wrote four articles today and interviewed for two more. Even if I wrote a blog post and tweeted twelve times and sent more e-mails than I can count. I'm going to fit it into my workday. Or during lunch. Or, if all else fails, at night when the house is asleep and I'm snuggled under a comfy blanket with my computer in my lap. Like I'm doing now.

So now it's off with the blog post, on with the WIP.

Photo courtesy Jim Sneddon

Friday, February 4, 2011

In Her Head

I'm in my main character's funk right now.

Ever had that happen to you? I'm having a perfectly good night, in a perfectly good place. Things are even going perfectly well with my WIP. But I'm in a foul mood, and I just realized it's because my main character is in a foul mood. I just went downstairs, poured her glass of wine and made her hot fudge pudding in place of my dinner.

Still, I'm happy to absorb her bad mood. It's an awesome feeling to be in my MC's head, because for a long time, I wasn't. I concentrated on getting her story out more than I concentrated on getting her character right. It took a long time for us to get to know each other. Then finally one day, after months of editing and at least two new first chapters, things clicked. I was talking to a writer friend about it recently, and I told her I actually felt the moment that I was writing her instead of writing about her.

Obviously I'm all keyed up. I keep using italics for emphasis.

Anyway.

I'm in a bad mood, sort of, but I feel a lot better now that I've realized my bad mood actually comes from a really good place. So now I'm going to go put her hot fudge pudding in my tummy and get back to the manuscript.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Blizzard of Chaos

Hello, blog - I've missed you so much!

Last week passed by in a blur, a whiz ... an endless, blinding fog. Ever have one of those? When one day runs into the next, the to-do list is neverending and you wake up every morning still exhausted from the day before? Unfortunately, when I have a busy week, social media is the first thing that suffers - which is as it should be, I guess. I can't neglect my family, my work. I shouldn't neglect myself or my sleep, though I often do. I can neglect my house, and that was the other thing that suffered from last week's blizzard of STUFF TO DO.

I read so many blog tips on how to manage time, how to schedule, how to cram 720 minutes worth of work into a 480-minute workday. I need to figure out my own system. That's actually on my to-do list: Organize my schedule. There's something inherently disorganized about that....

I'm looking around the room - that "bonus" space above the garage that in our house functions as my office by day and my family's playroom/media room by night - and the disorganization is so astonishing it's actually kind of impressive. It doesn't matter which direction I look - my desk is ... wow. The floor around me ... wow. Myself ... oh, man, wow.

I'm being all woe-is-me, I know. And a little too hard on myself, which is a particular specialty of mine. But I'm smack in the middle of another career transition, and I really do have to find some time to figure out how to manage my time. Here's the thing: Thursday, I finally made a leap I've been talking about making for a while. It was my last day at the day job I've had for the past two and a half years as a designer at a residential firm. Because of the economy, I never made a full transition into the design field, meaning I never stopped supplementing my design income with freelance writing income. (My background is in journalism and I put myself through grad school by freelancing on the side.) After two years at the design job, I went from salary and partial commission to full-commission, and I simply couldn't make a living at it. I took on more and more writing work to cover the lapse in income, and eventually, the writing work eclipsed the design work. So I flipped the ratio - my full-time work is writing now, and design is a freelance business on the side.

Which is fine. I went to design school knowing I might decide to become a design writer, and that's what I am. I love it. But I didn't really plan for it, so now that I'm smack dab in the middle of it - with a full slate of work (I'm not complaining about that, I promise) - I have to go back and do the planning now. Not the best way to roll.

Adding one more challenge to the game is the fact that I'm still not actually a full-time, work-from-home freelancer. By the time I left the design firm, I'd already reduced my hours to one to two days a week. My last day, like I said, was Thursday. Tomorrow, I start my first day keeping office hours for a freelance writing client who needs office coverage while a full-time person is out on maternity leave. Again, not complaining. Just struggling to keep up.

Despite all that, my week this week is lighter than last. I want to take advantage of the wiggle room to create a schedule that leaves at least a little time for each thing on my plate: newspaper/magazine writing, blogging, design work, magazine queries (something I haven't been doing but want to) and, of course, my WIP. (I've still been trucking away at my manuscript even through the chaos. Honestly, disappearing into that world is probably the best thing for me at times. It's a great escape.)

Who else reading this is a full-time writer, whether it's copywriting, journalism or fiction? Did you struggle with scheduling issues like this at first? Did you transition from another career? If so, how did you make the break? How did you weather the blizzard???

Photo credit Rob!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Does It Suck?

If I had a quarter for every time I've asked myself that about my manuscript, I'd probably have the equivalent of a publishing advance by now. Every day my opinion changes. One day, the words are flowing. I'm brilliant. Next day, I can't write my way out of a box. I suck.

Ever feel that way?

I know you do. I've read enough from and about other writers at this point to know my constant ebb and flow of self-consciousness is a widely shared neurosis. But somehow that doesn't make it easier to handle. Misery loves company, sure, and the online writing community is nothing if not a giant group therapy session. But when it comes down to it, writing's a solitary mission. I can hear others say they're struggling with these "does it suck?" moments too, but they're not looking at my manuscript.

It really might suck.
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I guess one explanation for this obsessive self-doubt is the lack of perspective you face when you stare at the same set of pages for months on end. As I work my way slowly ... so, so slowly ... through this massive pile of words, adding a clause here, cutting an adverb there, it's easy to lose the forest for the trees.
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I suppose that means I need to step back, get a grip, take a break. And sometimes I do. But it doesn't really change the fact that when I get back to editing, I still ride the see-saw of changing opinion. I'm working on getting this manuscript to a place where I feel comfortable handing it off to other writers. Writers who I know don't suck. If that's not standing naked in the middle of the high school gym during a pep rally, I don't know what is.
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Maybe the answer really is to find a support group. A friend of mine who's active in a local writing group invited me to a meeting, and I'm going this weekend. I think it might help me to talk to other writers face to face, to read other writers' work and, gulp, let them read mine.
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Any other advice? Is anybody else struggling with the "does it sucks" right now? If so, please share. Misery loves company, you know.
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Photo credit Xurble

Great Expectations

So I went on an editing retreat last weekend.
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OK, fine - you got me. It was an all-girl getaway weekend disguised as an editing retreat. But the point, for me, truly was to make tons of progress on book revisions. Did I accomplish that goal?
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I guess that depends on how you define progress.
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I did manage to ramble on and on enough about the manuscript to bore my beta readers and talk through some important plot points. That's sort of progress..
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I did get through a really tough chapter (so tough it was embarrassing to read) and came out with a version I'm pretty happy with. That's definite progress.
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I did continue down the path of connecting with my MC and turning her from first-draft flat to third-draft complicated. That's jump-up-and-down-and-kiss-the-computer-screen progress.
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So, yeah, I guess I did get some work done..
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But I'd probably glorified the quiet-cabin-in-the-woods thing a little too much. Pretty much every day, there's a point when I wish I could find the pause button and put everything on hold just for a little while. Just long enough to focus, to concentrate, to make tons of progress. And I know that's completely unrealistic. Because even when I do get away, when I do put everything on hold and really focus, I'm only human. I can't edit a 100,000-word novel in one long weekend. Especially a long weekend that involves three good friends (and fabulous beta readers), a pitcher of cosmos and When Harry Met Sally.
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I did my best. I'll keep doing my best. And I'll keep doing it in the little slivers of spare time life gives me. Because I've made plenty of jump-up-and-down progress in my own house while life happens around me ... while I'm part of it, while it's moving in fast-forward and the pause button's nowhere to be found.
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So pass the cosmos, honey. It's time to edit. .
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Photo credit quinet

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Burning the Candle...

... at both ends, and even in the middle. I'm so busy right now I can barely see straight, let alone keep straight all the things I have going on. That's why I haven't been blogging much in the past few weeks.

Which is frustrating, because I have tons to blog about. I've been revising like crazy, and I've made some good headway in the manuscript. I've connected, finally, with my reserved, elusive main character and the story is coming together.

I haven't had much time to focus on that in the past week or so, either.

BUT, that's changing. First of all, tomorrow I'm officially cutting the last little strings holding me to my day job, so two weeks from now, I'll be a full-time, work-from-home writer. Second, I'm heading out the day after tomorrow for a three-day weekend in the woods with writer friends, and (aside from chick flicks, vodka and girl talk) it'll be all revising, all the time.

And now, alas, at 1 a.m., I have to sign off here and finish a news story I'm turning in tomorrow morning. Deadlines beckon....

Monday, January 10, 2011

Snow Day

Try as I might, it's so hard to work today. A blanket of snow is draped over my house, my yard, my world ... and my brain.

I can hear my husband and son out playing in the front yard in the snow, making a "pathetic snowman," as my husband called it. But I'm sure to my son, it's the most amazing snowman he's yet seen in his four little years.

I have writing I want to do. I have editing I need to do. I have freelance work I have to do. But seriously, there's a winter wonderland out there - so rare in our little corner of the world - and I think I have to enjoy that more than do any of this.

Nobody's in the office for me to talk to anyway. This is the South. People down here don't drive on cold, slushy roads. Nor should they - it's a field of bumper cars in this city. And that's on a warm, dry day.

Why am I still sitting here? Time to bundle up and head out....

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year, New Obsession

I'm in the mode right now where I don't want to do anything - literally, anything - but edit. Sleep is an inconvenience, work is an inconvenience. I've even skipped meals. Which for me is really saying something....

I'm still hoping to meet my goal of a final draft completed and ready for critique by March 1. It helps that I've got a couple of all-weekend editing getaways planned in the next couple of months. It also helps that my husband gave me such an awesome Christmas gift (see previous post). But mainly, it helps that me and my MC are totally jiving now. I get her. She gets me. We're cool.

It's been a struggle.

One I'll elaborate on soon, really. But for now, I HAVE to go edit.

By the way, Happy New Year!!!