Things that change, things that don’t change

I’ve been a little inconsistent on this blog in regards to content and subject matter. I have a lot of whims, and I tend to follow them, then lose interest after a while.

Two things that remain constant, however, are my writing and my veganism.

I may not always post recipes, but I am always eating vegan food, and usually cooking it. I may not always be writing poetry, and I may not be writing anything at all, but I am always a writer.

I have been using again pretty faithfully, and I’m currently on a 50-day streak. (Hooray!)

I did not participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, i.e. November) this year. I considered it, but I have some upheaval in my life right now, and I wasn’t interested in adding a new stressor into an already complicated time of year.

a badge I did not earn

During the month of November, I had some ideas for rewriting a novel that’s a work in progress. I started it over a year ago, and picked it up again this year. I kept setting it aside, because there was something about it that didn’t sit right with me.

I finally figured out, about halfway through NaNoWriMo, that I needed to change the perspective of the story from first-person to third-person. It makes much more sense in my mind, now that I’ve rethought the narration.

I haven’t started to rewrite the story in third-person, however, because I decided to put something else at the top of my priority list. I do want to work on completing this WIP novel, but I’ve been sort of avoiding the issue of another writing project.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may know that in 2012, I did actually participate in National Novel Writing Month. Not only did I dip my toes into that pool, but I actually completed my novel on the last day of the month, just sneaking over the 50,000 word threshold.

I have not, however, done anything at all with this novel. Nothing at all! Why? Well, for several silly reasons. Most of them boil down to a strange combination of vanity and fear.

I decided recently that it’s time to put forth some serious effort into getting that book ready for the world. Before I work on any other projects, I want to see this one through to the end.

That means revision.

That’s the process that I’m in the midst of currently. I brushed up on tips and techniques for the editing process in my handy dandy Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, which is littered with sticky flags of many colors.

Photo on 12-16-14 at 2.19 PMThen I sat down on the couch, settled myself up against the arm with a blanket across my legs, and opened up my book.

My book happens to consist of an old high school three-ring binder filled with single-sided printed pages. This is a rather convenient set-up for editing, revision, and/or re-writing, whatever you want to call it. I was armed with a red pen, and I went to town on my story, scene by scene.

Right now I’m trying to focus mainly on structure, but I’m also adding and deleting description as I go. I may skip dialogue on this first read-through, and then go back and do a dialogue-only revision. I’m not sure yet.

I haven’t made it too far into the story, but I’ve made enough progress that I’m really feeling like I’m headed somewhere with it. I can see it growing into a more sophisticated piece of work, just like you can see your progress when you’re weeding a garden or vacuuming.

Part of the satisfaction comes from using that red pen. It’s very easy to see what work I’ve gotten done so far, and just how much content I’ve been cutting.

Photo on 12-16-14 at 2.09 PM #2

It’s also easy to see that I didn’t always pay attention in class when I was in high school.

Anyway, I wanted to come back to blogging and write a little bit about the revision process, and hopefully about the process of getting published. I’ll write about other things, too. That’s what I do, wander off onto strange tangents and then come meandering back.

To all who are reading now, thanks for giving me the benefit of the doubt and continuing to pay attention to my sporadic posts. I do appreciate it.

That’s all for now.



“Serious” Writing and Real Writing

I have been struggling to find the motivation to write.

I’ve skipped out on some blog posts, yes, but I am really having trouble with this book I’ve been trying to write since November.

the blank page

the blank page

I was reminded today of a story I started writing a while ago and then abandoned.  I read something that triggered a new idea for the story.

The problem was, I didn’t want to be thinking about that story.  I tried pushing the idea down, and redirecting the inspiration toward my other book, but it was stubborn.

The idea came from an essay by Barbara Kingsolver (in the collection Writers on Writing).  She was talking about being afraid to write about sex, because people will read it — including her mother.  It really rang true for me.

The book I abandoned had been coming out a little raw as I was writing it.  It was very organic, by which I mean that the ideas and the characters came from somewhere very real inside me, much of them drawn from my own experiences — both real and imagined.  The bits and pieces in my mind seemed to form themselves into cohesive people and events, without my having had much to do with it.

As I re-read what I was writing, I thought, can I really send this out into the world?  Is this how I want people to see me as a writer?

The book I started for NaNoWriMo came from a different place.  I think the reason I’m having trouble getting back into it is that my heart’s not really in it.  It’s the kind of book I think I want to write, in a style that I admire.

English: Two women reading on a verandah at In...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

If I finish it, I have this idea that people will see me as a serious writer, a literary novelist, that it will be a respectable book.

In my fantasy, it appeals to many readers, who won’t be afraid to recommend it to their mothers and sisters and daughters.

Is that really the kind of writer I am, though?  Is it even the writer I actually want to be, or just the writer I think I should be?

I’m not certainly not universally appealing as a person, so why should I be so as a writer?  Barbara Kingsolver has me now taking a hard look at myself and my motives.

Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver, telling it like it is (Photo Credit: kkfea)

I abandoned that other story because I was afraid of it.  I’m still afraid of what people will think of me if I let them read it.  They might love the story, but judge me for having written it.

Maybe that shouldn’t matter to me, but really, to whom would that not matter?

I dug out my manuscript for that story, wrote a scene for it in my journal (a dream the main character has), and jotted some notes down, as well.

The notes were for a plot point that the ever-wise Ms. Kingsolver had given me the idea for.  The idea involves sex.  I’m just going to let it happen, and watch the chips fall where they may.

I think I will give my other book a break for a while.  Maybe I can come back to it later, and not be led by my brain’s notion of what would make it the kind of story I would like to be “known” for.

I need to get out of my head and let my heart do some of the work.

The other story will now get my attention, because it is, in fact, from my heart.  It is visceral, and I think I need to write it, even if I never show it to anyone.  As I worked on it before, and as I now think about where it might go, it gives me both pain and relief, like pressing on a loose tooth.

I think that having such strong feelings about the story and the characters will likely net me a better end product, even though my closeness to it leaves me more vulnerable to any criticism I’ll receive.

It seems more meaningful, somehow, to write in a way that makes me feel exposed.

My concerns about what type of writer I am seen as, and my unwillingness to work on and attempt to publish my first novel because it isn’t “serious” enough, those things seem vain to me now.  I  have to question why I am trying to be a writer at all.

I think I should worry less about being respected and highly regarded, and instead hope to have some sort of meaningful impact on even one individual who reads my words.

That’s what I love about being a reader, that feeling of my life having been made notably better for having read a particular thing.  It’s why I believe literature is important.  My aspirations as a writer should include contributing more of that to the world.  Anything else is just for show.

My family, the beta readers

Today’s post is sponsored by Grammarly!

I use Grammarly’s free grammar checker because it’s more readily available than my mom.  Just like with her, I don’t always do what it tells me, but it usually has good advice.

Red Pen

Photo credit: cellar_door_films

My mom has always been my proofreader.  For creative writing and for school assignments, I like to have her look things over.  She was an avid reader long before I was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, and she’s meticulous in her speech and her own writing.

There was no sloppy grammar in my house growing up.  She’d be on it like lightning – and you wouldn’t have thought she was even in earshot.

Mom has high standards, which is part of the reason I was afraid to send her the first draft of my 2012 NaNoWriMo novel, once I had completed it.  Rushing through 50,000 words in 30 days makes for a very rough draft indeed, and I was so burnt out after finishing it that I couldn’t even think about revising for a long time.

There were other factors, such as the less-than-favorable descriptions of my main character’s parents.  I didn’t want my mom to get the wrong idea.

So, I sent the book to my sister. (Actually, I emailed her the file, to be clear.)  I also printed out a copy for my husband to read.  (He liked it!)

As much as I value Chris’s opinion, he’s never been as ravenous about books as my mom, my sister, and myself.  He got into reading recreationally somewhat late in the game, and isn’t terribly keen on fiction anyway.

For that reason, I was really putting a lot of stock into my sister’s verdict on whether the book was any good.  She was even more ideal as a candidate for first reader because she tends to really enjoy young adult fiction. She would know, if anyone would, if my book was a good fit for that category (as well as if it stunk).  Thankfully, she’s a quick reader, so I didn’t have to wait long to hear her enthusiastically positive response.

Granted, she does like the Twilight books, so I took her opinion with a grain of salt.  Ha!

For a while, it was top secret between Natalie and me that she got to read the book.  I didn’t want to hurt Mom’s feelings.  It actually took an entire year for me to admit to her that Nat had read it, and to offer to send her the draft (still quite rough).  Of course, at that point it had been built up just from her waiting, so I was even more worried that she’d think it was super lame.

I did finally get up the nerve, and now Mom has read it and given me very relieving feedback.  She and my sister both had plenty of good things to say about it, and I imagine Mom is working up a few suggestions to send me soon – both thematic and technical.

a good point.

a good point.

My sister wrote her thoughts directly on the copy she had printed, then she mailed it to me.  She gave me real-time commentary on what the characters were doing, how my dialogue looked, and what her suspicions were of what would happen next.

That was a really great idea, and very useful.  Once I get around to really chewing through the revision process, having her input and suggestions right there on every page is going to be an excellent resource.

I’m still working on the early stages of my 2013 novel.  I decided to do things a little differently this time, and let my mom in on what I’m writing while it’s in progress.  Shortly after I sent her my entire 2012 work, I emailed her what I had of my second book so far, to get earlier feedback. I’m planning to ask my sister to do the same thing.  (She’ll read this, so saying that here pretty much functions as me asking, I suppose.)

The idea is to get suggestions while I’m writing, so that if someone has a really great idea, I can incorporate it and/or make changes before I get too far in.  Also, being reassured as I go along that what I’ve got so far is worth continuing has already given me more confidence to push on.

I’m so grateful that I have this kind of support from really well-read, intelligent family members.  I think I’m pretty lucky in that way.  It’s hard to imagine being a writer who wasn’t also a reader, but it’s also hard to imagine being a writer without the encouragement of friends and family who are lovers of the written word.

I don’t know if I could have ended up as a writer without a family who loves to read.  (Lest he get left out of this, you should know that it’s from my dad that I get my love of science fiction.  He introduced me to Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Crichton.)  I have been well-steeped in the literary world for my entire life.

With musical performance possibly tying for the top spot, writing is the thing I love most to do and seem to be best at.  It’s a direct result of the book-filled, language-loving, grammar-respecting household I grew up in, and that was my habitat thanks to the people who brought me into this world and have helped me to get through it unscathed.

Getting published has become a primary life goal for me.  When it happens — and mark my words, it’s going to happen — well, I bet you can guess whose names will be on that dedication page.