The worst part about writing

What is the worst part of writing for me? The answer may surprise you.

It’s not story structure or idea generation. It’s not learning your characters. It’s not revision. It’s not even grammar.

It’s choices.

I heard a phrase ‘Your story, your way’. Which is so true and reveals that awful truth.

Once the words are on the page they will be judged by many things. Genre conventions. Rules of grammar. The practices popular now: Show don’t tell. Active setting. Showing conflict.

Amidst all those rules, a crazy space exists where there are no rules. Nothing tells me how those words get on the page. How they make it from my head to the paper.

Should I be a plotter or pantser? Should I start from the middle, beginning, or end of the story? Should I use the C plot or three act structure or Save the Cat or some other beat sheets?

The answer is: It depends (classic consultant answer).

Every writer is different. It depends the type of writer. It depends on where you are in the journey. It depends on the story in question. And it depends on the process that works.

With the last being the most important.

Crystal clear right? No one can tell you this IT. THIS will work for you. (They may be trying to sell you something if they do.). All they can tell you is what worked for them. Or worked for others.

For me what is working right now is:

I must have butt in seat time.

I must write.

I must set up deadlines with my writing peeps.

I must try. Try different techniques.  Try outlining. Try plotting (my pantser heart shuddered to a stop). Try the different structures.

See what works and adjust as needed.

And never give up. (And finish something)

So the worst part is also the best part in that weird way life works.

What is your worst or most dreaded part of your hobby?  How do you make it work?

Seven signs that you are a writer mid-book

7. You think Chocolate, Coffee, Pizza and Wine are the only food groups

6. You count vacuuming and dusting as exercise

5. You have half a dozen cheater stories started

4. Your house is spotless

3. Your husband says “What is for dinner” and your reply is “contractions are more conversational.”

2. The local pizza delivery shows up every day at 5, no call needed.

1. Your browser history has crazy searches (What goes in a birthing kit? What does a moldy pond smell like? What is the most common underwear color?)

Five Year Plan

I had something terrible happen.

I hit forty.

I’m not really sure how it happened, one day I was thirteen and in my blue room listening to music and reading, and then I blinked and I was in college, and then I blinked again and was forty.

I’d wanted to be a writer through all those blinks, but the actual writing part generally fell at the end of the long list of to dos for the day. I said would start tomorrow or after X, I would get serious about writing.

There was always another X.

I turned forty and had (warning: about to be crude) a “shit or get off the pot” moment. Was I going to be a reader or a writer? Was I willing to truly commit to being a writer. Which meant writing each day and completing projects.  It meant taking realistic stock of my perishable skills.

Or would I just lose myself in books and daydream stories?

There was nothing wrong with either path. It was a matter of how did I want to spend my time. Before I know it, heck I might even be 80.

But I didn’t want to be stuck at the same crossroads. I was walking down one path.

Taking stock, I dabbled in MANY things. I painted, I sketched, I crafted, I wrote, I made jewelry, I read, I worked out, I had a day job and I was starting a family. Heck, I’m tired just listing it all.

How much of that could really fit in a day? (assuming I need to sleep, which I love doing)

The second factor was, well, I wasn’t happy being okay at stuff. I wanted to be good. I didn’t want a pat on the head for trying, but actually have people be even slightly impressed.

No pressure, right?

So I decided to trim back what I did.

I packed it all away: the jewelry making supplies, the craft projects and ideas, the painting, the sketching, the drawing materials.  They all went into boxes in my closet.

That left: family, job, writing, reading and working out.

I was going to commit to writing.

My hubby and I had the discussion of perishable skills (which always makes me think of fruit). He was a linguist in the military. If he did not practice the extra languages, the words would not come as easily and his comprehension went away. One had to practice to keep them up.

So it is with writing skills. And not that I had mad writing skillz, but I needed to refresh my fruit cup.

Now I have a five year plan to actually finish some of the projects that are languishing in my computer (I actually picture them around a virtual pool trading war stories maybe eating fruit).

I’m refreshing my fruit cup, with classes, critique groups, writing immersions, craft books, and writing at least thirty minutes each day.

What do you prioritize at the top of your list each day?  How do you fill your fruit cup?

Just one small thing

I have small kids that go to a daycare center. They bring home all sorts of crazy illnesses. Flu, whooping cough, Small Pox.

Recently my oldest got sick, then the youngest. I thought I was in the clear and then it hit me.

Hard.

I shivered, was cranky, my body ached, had a running nose, a non-functioning brain and barely enough desire to blow my own nose.

I dropped the kids off at daycare, called in sick and slept six extra hours.

When I woke up, I still felt yucky. I logged into work to see if there were any emails I had to respond to today. Then I got down to do some (hopefully) productive writing.  I knew I was going to bed early.  If writing was gonna happen it was going to be right then.

Why, you ask?

I have a challenge with a group of ladies that we write every day for at least thirty minutes. Text confirmation when completed. I must be actively engaged in writing or editing.

Uggg.

I tried editing my WIP’s new opening. Everything seemed stupid. The words mocked me. My writing felt flat and uninspired. Ten minutes of agonizing and googling about what alarm clock my POV should have in his room, left me drained and no closer to completing my task. Perhaps this was not a day to do editing.  Having stared at the screen didn’t count toward my time.

So I opened up my blog ideas. The thing was…I didn’t feel funny. I didn’t feel inspired. I didn’t feel profound.

I did feel like I needed to get something done so I could check the box on my writing challenge. Then I could see what movie I could find to doze to.

I needed just one small thing to write about.

Ta-da!  Just one small thing done.

What do you do to find that one small thing when you are not inspired or feeling sick?

Crushed, but thank you

When I was java developer in the way back, a cool new idea was ego-less development. The concept was you shouldn’t get attached to the code, that way feedback would be about the code and not about you or your baby code snippet.

It might seem odd, but people are possessive of their code. When I started at my current job, there was a section of code I wrote that exists ten years later. I consider that section of code my code.  Even though I’m no longer a developer. It’s still mine.

So imagine you’re talking about something more personal than a java method.

Your novel.

The story you birthed on the page. The story you cleaned up and watched grow. The story you nurtured and pruned in hopes it would be something special. I think we all want that deep inside, something you write to have some sort of effect. The story to make a difference.

Then you take your story and give it to someone and ask them for feedback. And they go away.

Meanwhile the worry-train chugs into the station. Would they understand? Did your effort make any difference? Was it good enough? Would they hate it? Would they still be your friend? Would they never respond – A thought that plagues you every 15 minutes or when you open emails.

Then the feedback comes. (cue scary music)

I will admit, I dread the moment, when you have the feedback in your hands.   I will stare at the file/email and know I am at the Schroedinger cat moment. The moment when the cat is at the same time alive and dead. You only find out which is true when you open the box.

The feedback could be glowing (doubtful) or it could be the you-suck variety (probable) or worse in some ways, the isn’t-that-cute kind (oh, the horror).

Then I open the file.   No matter which way I’ve worked myself into, it’s never what I’ve pictured.  Some of the feedback stings, but you read the feedback and set the story aside. Write an email to a trusted friend to whine, or commiserate in person with someone who understands. (Maybe drink some whisky.)

And then I go back and really study the feedback. Are there patterns between this feedback and what the other people I have asked said (is 500 people too many to ask)? Are there things that you agree with now that they point them out (Damn it, I am telling! But, maybe I meant to?).

I always send a nice note back thanking the critiquer for their time and effort. I may or may not agree, but this person took time out of their day to respond.

So why does the title of this blog have crushed in it?

I recently sent the first chapter of a novel to someone and gave a critique in exchange. They were a superior writer with a lyrical style. Their feedback hurt.

Alot.

Not because they were mean. No, that’s not it at all, they were not. It was the truth they may have revealed.

The I-am-less-thans which plague a writer/woman/person jumped out and had a party in my head. It’s not pretty, and the mess was crazy, but when it was over, the part of me who really wants to be a good writer stepped out.   She dusted herself off, cleaned up the mess and got to work. (yeah, she is a pain in the ass (PITA))

I read the feedback again and took notes.

I sent them a nice email thanking them for their time. Even if the feedback is rough, I am truly thankful to have someone willing to read my work.

And give feedback!

How about you guys? What was your roughest piece of feedback? Or what was the feedback that stuck and catapulted your project the next level?

Do you recognize the five early warning signs of a bad beta reader for your fantasy novel?

5. They address all correspondence using your main characters first name (Dear Frodo)

4. They ask how to find the portal to your world. (is that through a wardrobe?)

3. They use 1337 speak or text short hand when typing responses (UR s0 kewl)

2. They want you to call them for the feedback using their 1-900 number.

1. They end up at your front door wearing garb from your fictional world. (Nice trench coat)

Having a Conversation

I don’t consider myself an extrovert.  Anyone who knows me is laughing hysterically at this point.  But seriously, I think we should switch up the terms or measure twice.  Once in a crowd and then one-on-one.

 

Get me in a crowd of strangers, odds are high I will not say anything. I will disengage and, well, daydream (or perhaps wander away).  I will lose myself in whatever the latest scenario I am exploring for a story.  Add in a person I know, and I will gravitate to that person.  (Hello my new BFF!)  Add in a handful and suddenly you can’t get me to shut up.

 

One on one I am fine.   I will talk about anything, doesn’t really matter.  Unless we click, it’s on you to lead the conversation.  So if you’re not willing, I will daydream once we are done with whatever level of polite conversation is needed. (Awkward silence == grab book)

 

I know they sometimes define extrovert as where you get your energy.  Are you invigorated by being in a crowd of people?  (Is invigorated defined and being a sweaty mess? or wondering where the nearest exit is?)

 

In a recent training one of the concepts was how you work through issues, do you need to talk it out or take ‘it’ and go back into your cave to think about it? (I might need to invest in puppets so I can talk it out)

 

Why this long conversation about being an introvert or an extrovert?  Because I am writing a blog post.

 

My first. (Well it would have been first if I had not managed to post my second one first.  lol  It happens.)

 

My first real one.  If I think about this as a one-on-one conversation I have a different visceral reaction than thinking I am shouting into the void or that a crowd of people nearby may or may not show any interest. (Not really sure which is worse)

 

So for my own sweet spot of interaction and piece of mind (and I don’t curl up in a ball crying) , I think I am going to think of this as talking to just a few friends,  Or a few people I have the potential to be friends with.  Or maybe an imaginary friend or a character in a story I am writing.

 

So hey, how are you doing?

 

Me?  Good!

 

What do you do?  That’s cool.  Tell me more.

 

… (time passes)

 

Me?  When I grow up I want to be a writer. (insert laugh)

 

Why do I write stories?

 

I like making people laugh.  I like exploring ideas. I like making sh*t up.

 

Why do I write dark, but tend to have a happy ending?  Honestly?  I think it’s because I’m a mom.  My mind is constantly in crisis mode as my kids narrowly miss being being a crazy statistic (Kids get away from that man-hole cover, you might fall to your death)

 

Oh yeah I have to go too.  Let me know if there is anything you want to talk about next week.

 

Have a great week!