My Two Cents on Starting

Most days I think I’m a good mom, and an improving writer. I think I can cook, but I can mix drinks better. I think I am pretty, but only now that I’ve grown my hair out. These parameters keep me from being too wrapped up, too vain, or too emotionally stunted. I sharpen because I believe I am not perfect, nor am I a train wreck.

I recently read an article by author Julianna Baggott. Now, it should be said, that I have a girl crush on Julianna. Maybe I should call it a writing crush, since it stems from how deeply I identify with her voice. Her communication style. Her writerness. Whatever I call it, I heart her.

In the article, which you can read here, Julianna puts forth a method for writing your first novel. She calls it a loophole. It began for her as a way to trick herself into writing by pretending it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t about creating a masterpiece, it was about getting fifty pages done and out. She suggests writing is about wanting to turn the page, for the writer and the reader.

This rang very true for me. I have discussed before that this is my first novel, the MANUSCRIPT I am revising now but not forever. Before writing the manuscript, I had mostly worked in the medium of screen-or-stage playwriting. I had attempted, after completing a feature length screenplay and then not knowing what the hell to do with it, a novelization of my screenplay. Ultimately, I was burnt out on that story and needed something new.

When I sat down at my computer sixteen months ago with a voice in my head, I didn’t know what I was doing. There was no plan. There wasn’t even a concept. There was an inkling. A whisper.

I don’t consider myself a naive person. I live in Brooklyn and haven’t died yet, for goodness sake. But about this I was. I believed I could do it. And why not? It was just a novel. Geez. I had written a screenplay, so a novel couldn’t be much harder.

Had I read anything about writing a novel before I started, done any preparation at all, I would have failed. I would have psyched myself out. I’m such a fool I flippantly professed to anyone who would listen that I would finish in a year.

I just wrote. I kept writing when I wasn’t sure where I was going. I kept writing when I was angry at my characters. I kept writing when words flowed like cold honey. I just flipped the switch inside me and wrote.  As Julianna said in her article, I kept turning the pages. 

I finished the first draft about six months after I began. It was 70,000 words and a lot of it was shit. Some of it was brilliant. Some of it was acceptable. 30% of it was garbage I wouldn’t wipe dog poop off my shoe with.

I’m being hyperbolic, but you get it.

So, the advice I would add to Julianna’s (who knows way more about this than I do) is this: Be naive. You can’t lose if you put blind faith in yourself. You all know I hate losing, so if I’m saying this…

Believing you can’t fail may seem like you’re setting yourself up for crushing disappointment, but it’s a wonderful place to begin. Self-doubt and the knowledge that you will never be good enough comes later, when your beta readers rip your heart out, or the rejections from countless agents come flying to your inbox.

Begin naive, you can’t fail.

To Prologue or Not? (And other thoughts.)

Sometimes my brain, my plot, and the route to a decision, look like this.

During this last revision process I began to think a lot more about the techniques of storytelling I was employing in my manuscript. In the first draft — which I completed in May 2012— there was no prologue, however there was a brief and vivid flashback which ran rather long. I had this idea that if I did a prologue I would be taking the easy way out, doing something I was seeing in a lot of YA fiction I was reading. I wanted to find a new way to give this aspect of the story to the reader.

In my second draft — which I completed in late July — I wrote a brief prologue. I was never satisfied with it, but it felt necessary. I felt trapped by this convention, a feeling I really hate. For that draft though, there were other, more pressing issues to address.

Come around to the third revision — which I completed in the first weeks of October — and I found myself at a crossroads. Something about the prologue (I couldn’t tell you, maybe the tone?) felt wrong. I couldn’t help it. It read well, it operated as a prologue should operate, but I found myself dissatisfied.

In the midst of this dilemma, I was also trying to steer the novel away from comparison to a certain massive trilogy many of us love and read. The reason for this was twofold: 1) The comparison was being drawn because of setting, and 2) No one needs to try to live up to that. One of my readers helped me understand, in her very brilliant teenage way, just what was doing this in the early pages of the manuscript. Thankfully, I was happy to listen to her critique. (An aside, finding really awesome readers is maybe the most important thing about revising efficiently.)

Solving my prologue issue as well as the unwanted comparison problem turned out to have one and the same solution. I reworked the lay-out of the book and added a world-building scene to set the tone I was looking to set. Now, will there always be comparison’s we don’t want from readers and critics and people who read what other readers and critics say? Yes. Will I ever be utterly satisfied with every decision I make as a writer? Not likely. Can I accept both of those things? With a healthy dose of petulance, maybe, and a full glass of wine, maybe more.

Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.

— Stephen King, On Writing

In the end, I hope future readers will manage to see beyond the imperfections that are unavoidable, to the great stuff inside. I believe in my story, my characters, and the world in which they reside. I have done my best to convey that. Now I have to wait to see if I’m right.

Thumper

I realize I’ve been a little quiet the last week, which is unusual for me. I have been in Texas since last Saturday working on revisions and proofreading the revisions I have finished. It’s been exhausting and exhilarating. Why Texas? I am originally from the Lonestar State, and both sets of grandparents live in our former hometown. It’s a great place to occupy my son while I am pushing through to finish my novel. I am pushing through everything right now. Through my tired eyes. Through my aching shoulder. Through the other things I could be doing, and the missing my New York apartment and my sweet son who is happily engaged with his family.

Mostly, I am pushing through self-doubt. I think this is a normal emotion to struggle with in the face of rewrites, and the finish line. I had it nicely boxed up inside the corner of my mind reserved for those sorts of thoughts (my weight insecurities and parenting shortcomings also live there) until yesterday. Yesterday I had an experience I would rather not elaborate, but only say, I began to fear my own talent, the positive feedback I’d received from multiple sources, and the truth that I really, really believe this book is worth publishing.

The reason I will not elaborate is I refuse to be one of those people who wears their heart on their sleeve. I refuse to express my anger and frustration at an individual person in a blog that can be read by anyone. I think someone should put this person in line, but I will not be the girl to do it.

I will, however, be the girl to tell you that you can never allow one asshole’s opinion to affect you for more than a glass of wine and a good cry. I do think you should have that glass of wine and good cry, that is super healthy and smart. But after that, and I mean right after, get your ass up and keep moving. Remember what you know to be true. Remember that you can never please everyone. When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me — with her hands on my shoulders: “If everyone likes what you’re doing then you’re doing something wrong.” She was also the one to encourage me to remember what Thumper’s mother said: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I am still reminding myself of this today.

I am remembering it as I tell you to forget critics and remember only true critique. I am remembering it as I curse those who think they know more than Jesus, and may know a lot, but who can still be blind and foolish enough to make asinine statements in an offhand way. Those people are invited to bite me. I do realize that was not something nice to say and have chosen to say it anyway.

I think you have to find kindreds in your life and remember not everyone will be one. Not everyone is super creative or good at knowing their own mind. Some must be told what they like. Those are the ones who followed the popular girls around school and who now ride the coattails of someone else’s brilliance. There is need for those kind of people in life. I will readily admit that. I will also readily admit that I really, really don’t care to be one of them. But that is sort of off point. I am trying to be edifying.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you too wrestle with self-doubt, remember that self-doubt can cripple you into never putting yourself out there. Don’t let it. Let it wash over you and remind you of your self-confidence, your self-worth, and your uniqueness. (Have a glass of wine and cry, too, if you like that sort of thing.)

Confusion Querying

The time has come for the next step — the Query step. I will not pretend this step will be any easier than the step of constructing the manuscript. This step could be the part that induces me to drink. To see a riotous breakdown of what writing a query letter on gin looks like, follow this link. The first time I read this, back well before I was going to write a query letter, I laughed so hard a little coffee came out of my nose.

The internet is ripe with tips on querying. What to do. What not to do. How to look like an amateur. How to look like a pro. How to be a pretentious snob no one will ever want to work with. There are different styles, different do’s and don’ts, some incredibly helpful, others complete nonsense.

It’s actually amazing how much contradicting information you can get on one subject, but then, isn’t that the problem with researching on the internet in the first place? My sister-in-law and I just had the same discussion about pregnancy advice. One article said yes to chamomile tea, the other a firm no. I told her valerian root (which is found in Sleepytime Extra) is a no-no, but I drank chamomile through my pregnancy and never heard any different from my doc. My son did come out a little sleepier than expected, but what the hell?

Apparently, writing a Query is harder than drafting a novel. Some even describe it as an art form. I don’t really get that. It’s a letter. It requires that you can compellingly summarize your novel in a few concise paragraphs. OK, this is harder than it sounds. To summarize, as defined by the infinite wisdom of Webster, means to give a brief statement of the main points. This should not be too hard for the author, but authors are notorious for being fluffy headed and wordy. Those qualities make summarizing a lofty goal.

There’s also the mysterious question of do you or do you not compare it to other books on the market in your chosen genre. This requires a skilled hand, a dose of humility, and a knowledge of the many possible books you could be compared to. As a YA reader, I know a few, but since I have been writing my own novel, I have been remiss is my duties as reader. This leaves me wondering what the hell to compare it to and if that is a good or bad sign that I can’t?

Finally, the author bio. Some say you must absolutely include a brief history of you as a writer. Others think this is superfluous as they are hiring the book, not you. I say, let my material speak for itself. Plus, I’m unpublished, so I have very little bragging rights. Unless I can include this pic of my son:

 
But I don’t think that is the kind of accomplishment they are looking for.
So, therefor, the choices are endless and the likelihood of being rejected even more vast than that. (More vast than endless? Hyperbole.) The choice is mine as the writer, and the right is theirs as the agent to say no. Ok, bring on the gin, and lets get crackin’.

Manuscript One

I will readily admit that I can be a little bit obsessive. Often, this will translate itself into a tenacity and ferocity in the things that I have my mind on. I am a deeply devoted friend, mother, and wife, which can mean anything from worrying about my son’s sleep habits to giving unsolicited advice. This can be nice or enraging.

Last Tuesday evening (as some of you may know from Facebook) I finished my manuscript. I was gleeful. The excitement of having it all out of me and in my computer created wings in my soul. I had a bird inside. I made sure it was backed up and then promptly danced around the apartment with Sam. We looked like this:

Then I realized there was still so much work to be done that my head was maybe going to explode from the pressure. Okay, okay, you can do this. YOU. CAN. DO. THIS. I then looked like this:

My husband’s enthusiasm was not so easily dampened. He began to typeset my manuscript to make it more fun to read. The result was a couple days where I learned the basics of typesetting. (This is fun when there is no pressure, and annoying when InDesign fraks up.) Thursday morning, Sam and I took a leisurely walk through the neighborhood to a copy center on 7th Avenue. This was a fun trip for both of us because the copy center also sold toys. SCORE.

The copy man gave me a discount. He was surprised by the page volume and I guess felt bad for me. Sam wanted dinosaurs. I got a project folder for the manuscript. When the pages were printed and sat in front of me on the counter I felt that rush again. Nerves and excitement, adrenaline and nausea. Now physically in my hands, on paper, looking like a book, I knew a few things even more clearly than before. I knew I would finish the work because the hardest part was already done. The part of pressing through the creating.

I have a full story. No, it’s far from perfect, but it will go through many more stages before it reaches (or doesn’t reach, because there will always be flaws in anything created by human hands) perfection. This too, is OK.

I have been ensconced in editing since Thursday. I’m a little over halfway through the manuscript. I’m cutting words like nobody’s business. There are a few pages — *see below — where I thought, WTF?!? Those pages will become almost unrecognizable. Eventually the words will be right, and then the obsession will turn into something else.

This blog is about Writing (Or whatever I want, cause it’s mine.)

You may think my name is a pretty lame title, but consider that this blog will hopefully carry over into my splash as a published author, and then it may make more sense. Most of what you will read here will be about the process, which can be daunting, of getting a novel published. Though, there is no guarantee that I will not write about my son, Sam.

Or my dog, Samson.

But mostly I believe it will be about writing. Writing bleeds into everything I do, filling my world with ideas and voices I sometimes wish I could silence. One of these voices became the heroine of my first novel, and others sometimes find there way into the cracks and crannies of the narrative I’m trying to construct. Sometimes I have chats with them, which prompts my son to ask me who I’m talking to, and sometimes I just let them stew inside. I marinate them.

So, if you are a writer, or a reader, or a person who thinks children, yorkies, and Brooklyn, NY are interesting, then you may find this blog a welcome distraction. It may also be a useful tool to draw from, or a source of amusement. (If you think someone rambling on about YA romances or the crazy shit her son says is humorous.)Whatever it becomes, I hope we can learn from it together, or laugh at it together, or triumph in it together.

Alright, that said, I really must get back to work, and you probably should too since I’m posting this in the afternoon on a Monday. Enjoy your day, wherever you are, and remember to look around you. Inspiration is literally everywhere.