Tag Archives: writing process

Puzzle

31 Jul

img_1605It wasn’t that long ago that I looked forward to my writing time—a few free hours here and there would make my stomach tingle with eager anticipation. I’d grab my coffee, open my computer and begin piecing together my puzzle of words, sentences and paragraphs. After several years, I watched my jigsaw come together with pages, chapters and finally, a completed novel.

I know I should feel a sense of accomplishment that after many hours of work, I took an idea and turned it into a story with a beginning, middle and end—a story that many people have told me they’ve loved reading.

And yet the truth is, it’s not right yet.

After another round of queries, another agent was intrigued and asked for the full manuscript. He told me he’d get back to me within three days—which he did, but not with the positive news I’d hoped for.

It was another pass. But instead of the standard I’m sorry this isn’t the right fit for me at this time, blah, blah, blah, this guy actually called me on the phone and spoke to me for twenty minutes about what I needed to do to make the narrative execution work. He really liked my voice, but felt I needed to flesh out the main character more so that the reader could better understand her motivation. He said he’d be happy to take another look at after some revision.

More revision? Oh, Lord.

I guess that in my eagerness to finish the puzzle, I neglected to take the time to see if all the pieces were in the correct position. From a distance, it looked fine, but upon closer inspection, it became obvious some of the pieces were not aligned.

When the truth hits you right in the face, it hurts. Especially when you realize that deep down, you knew it all along.

Which is why I haven’t been writing lately. I’ve avoided my computer altogether (except when I waste time on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—or spend an inordinate amount of time following the distracting antics of the crazy man in the White House.) Right now I’ll do anything to avoid facing the nitty gritty work that I know I must do in order to make my novel really good.

But it is imperative that I remember I’m not defined by whether or not I get this novel published. Instead, I’m defined by my tenacity in sticking with this process no matter how much rejection and failure I’ve faced. I have a stubborn streak and it will do me justice in the end.

There. I just wrote over 400 words. I guess I’m already back to work. I’ll report back and let you know how it turns out.

Thanks for listening.

What Now?

4 Apr

I’ve loved books forever. As a young girl, I was never without something to read. Whether it was a library book (best smell in the world, in my opinion) my brother’s tattered MAD Magazines or the back of a cereal box, I devoured words. Books allowed me to escape into a world of my own choosing; they took me on adventures, they let me be somebody else for a little while when it was too painful to be me.

As a kid, my dream was either to become a concert pianist or a writer. I ended up pursuing music because I was pretty good at it, although I don’t think I was ever competitive enough to make it as a concert artist. Instead, I became a piano teacher. Truthfully, I’m glad I chose that path as it allowed me the chance to raise my four children while I worked from home.

My other dream–the writing dream–never did die out, though. For years I fantasized about writing a novel but never did anything about it–either I was too busy or the fear of failure stopped me before I even wrote that first sentence. That changed when my youngest daughter was diagnosed with cancer. I’ve beaten that story into the ground so I won’t rehash it, but I will say that experience was the turning point for me. The lesson was obvious: time is short so follow your passion.

I got to it. I began blogging. I published an essay in a small magazine and one in an online publication. Nothing big, but it was a start. I blogged some more. Then I sat down and began writing a novel. I blogged some more and got better at my writing.  I joined a writer’s group and shared my stuff. They liked it. Now, ninety thousand words later, I have actually finished a novel.

Now what?

Here comes the hard part. Being new at this trying to get your noel published game, it’s like I’m starting back at square one. Everyone has opinions on what to do: send out queries; find and agent; no, no–don’t do that–self publish instead! I know someone who knows someone who knows someone who can help you.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what happens. I wrote a novel and I loved the process of writing it. I didn’t do it for the money or the glory (well maybe a little.) I did it because there was something inside of me pushing to get the story out. I did it because I couldn’t not do it any longer.

Dear readers, I thank you for hanging in there with me over the past several years, always encouraging me to keep going. I value your support more than I can ever express. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Now if I can only come up with a decent title for the damn thing.novel on desk

 

 

Letting it Out

9 Apr

photo (28)You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting on my blog as much as I have in the past, which I sincerely hope you don’t think is a good thing because that would be a definite blow to my already fragile ego.

I remember when I first starting blogging, I was so in the writing zone—I would post something every few days—my brain was constantly popping with ideas. After a while the posts went down to once a week, twice a month, and then finally whittling down to once a month if at all. You get the picture.

There are several reasons I’m not posting as often. Primarily, it’s because I’m spending what little time I can carve out of my busy day to work on my novel—which, I’ve just begun to realize, is going to take way longer than I thought. I’m up to twenty eight chapters with no end in sight. I never would have thought that writing a novel would consume me so deeply. It’s a very strange process where I feel like my characters are these horrible, rebellious little people stuck in my brain, fighting with all of their might to come out while gleefully taking me down in the process. I hate them at times but mostly I love them.

I’ve also stopped blogging as much because the truth is that I’ve begun to bore myself by writing about the same topics over and over. God knows that if I’m boring myself, I can only imagine how you feel. I can even hear your voices in my head: Please stop making me cry with sad stories of kids with cancer, or For god’s sake, stop going on and on about how happy you are now that you’ve hit fifty and I swear if you post one more picture of your flower garden I will come over and personally drive my car right over your flower beds. I know, right? Sorry. Even as I write this, I’m realizing that these words sound strangely familiar which means I’ve  probably already written this exact post somewhere in the not too distant past. I’d go back and read through the archives to find it, but I’m way too tired to check.

The writing process is often agonizing. Lately I find myself trapped in these moods where nothing is ever right and all I do is moan and groan and complain and try to blame it on my husband or my kids or on the hormone situation (another topic beaten to death) and then I realize that I’m most likely grumpy because I need to let something out and the way I do that is by writing and sharing it with others. Through the act of writing I feel alive and connected with the outside world and even if it’s just a photo on Instagram, a line or two on Facebook (or Twitter, which I’m only now getting the hang of) or an essay on my blog, I feel more alive after hitting  the “publish” or “share” button. If just writing a post on my blog makes me feel so satisfied, I can only imagine the high of publishing an actual novel, so I’m going to keep at it no matter how long it takes.

Talk about good timing. Yesterday, writer Elizabeth Gilbert posted this on her Facebook page and it totally resonated with me. Here is an excerpt:

I am a writer. If I have a story in me that I’m not able to tell, things will start going wrong all over my life. If I have a story in my head and I tell it, “I’ll get to you in 2015,” that story will start to rebel, start to act out, start to claw at the walls. That’s when the shit gets dark in my world. 

Because having a creative mind is something like owning a Border terrier; it needs a job.  And if you don’t give it a job, it will INVENT a job (which will involve tearing something up.) Which why I have learned over the years that if I am not actively creating something, chances are I am about to start actively destroying something. 

And that ain’t good.

I believe that readers don’t need good writers, although that’s always a plus. The truth is it’s the writers who need good readers. Someone  probably already wrote that somewhere and I should find out who it is and give them their due credit, but I’m way too tired to check.

Life can be crazy at times and I’m often too tired to do a lot of things, but I’m not too tired to tell you something important: I appreciate you for being my good reader. Because without you, I can’t share who I am, and then all kinds of chaos breaks out inside my head.

And that ain’t good.

Another shot of my flower garden. It's just too pretty not to share.

Another shot of my flower garden. It’s just too pretty not to share.

Rescuing Myself

7 Nov

photo (26)I’m really good at being my own worst enemy. Having just delved into this whole writing thing a little over two years ago, I’ve realized that although I’m relatively new at honing my craft, I do have something to share with others through my words. But I’ve also found that I’m much too eager to rip off all my clothes and dive into that dark pool of you suck way more often than is good for my literary health.

Case in point: I belong to a writers group which meets twice a month where we share our work in a positive and accepting environment. Recently, the group has gone through some changes (several writers have left and quite a few new writers have joined) and at our last meeting, I was  impressed as well as a bit intimidated by the high quality of writing that was shared. Some of these folks are real writers—novelists, poets, essayists, even professional editors—who have been at this writing thing for years. Not only do they write well, but they read their work with drama and flair. Also, a number of them are originally from the literary Mecca of New York—another reason for this Santa Barbara native to feel like a West Coast country bumpkin.

When it was my turn to read, I shared a chapter of my novel which, in my opinion fell a bit flat. Perhaps because the new members hadn’t heard the previous chapters, they were a little lost as to what the story is about or maybe they just didn’t like it. Whatever the reason, I didn’t get the Woot-Woot response I was hoping for and that fertile seed of doubt about my ability as a writer began to sprout. By the next morning it had grown into a thorny bush of angst and uncertainty.

Now, I understand that self-doubt is a zealous assassin of motivation and inspiration, and I’m the first one to encourage others to keep at it no matter what. My mantras have always been: Find the lesson and Look for the positive, but this time, I couldn’t seem to get my head above that murky water.

Usually, the morning after my writers group, I’m inspired and excited to write more. I had carved out three hours in my schedule that morning to write, but I just couldn’t get myself to sit down at the computer. Instead, I busied myself with mundane tasks around the house that I’d been putting off because I’d been so busy devoting myself to daily writing. As I folded laundry and scrubbed the bathroom, the words you suck burned through my thoughts like the caustic scent of bleach. I was ready to throw in the towel and soon decided that maybe it was a good time to take a break from writing my novel.

Then after two days, something interesting happened. I began to itch to get back to writing. I missed interacting with my characters and finding out what they were going to do. I realized that the process of daily writing was really something I look forward to—it’s something I love doing for myself and my perception of what others thought of my writing was just that—my perception. I live my life, I experience my reality—so what really matters is what I think.

I said to myself, Boy, Lady—you’ve really got a lot of nerve—acting so critical and damning toward yourself—you  would never dream of treating a fellow writer in this way—enough already!

So for today, I’m rescuing myself from that murky pool of despair and I’m choosing to believe that someday, someone out there will enjoy reading what I have to write. And if not, well I’m going to just go ahead and enjoy writing it anyway.

Time to Write

7 Mar

lighthouseMy father died at age fifty-three, never realizing the dream of who he planned to be. He was a brilliant and articulate man; a gifted writer who had a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University. But as many of us do, he smothered his initiative and creativity because he became too comfortable with that unyielding fear of not being good enough.

Maybe it was safer for him to hide behind his responsibilities and his resentments than to pursue his desire to become a writer. Perhaps the thick file of rejection letters hidden in the bedroom closet was just too much for him to bear. Sadly, he traded his beloved Smith-Corona typewriter for a bottle of gin and gave away his literary dream for a two pack-a-day nicotine habit and the television remote control. He died when he was only three years older than I am right now.

I’m grateful I didn’t inherit my father’s gene for alcoholism, but I did inherit the gene that’s even more intoxicating—the one that programmed both of us to believe: I’m just not good enough, so why bother trying?  As I’m sure my dad was, I have been embroiled in my own decades-long internal struggle about whether or not my abilities are good enough for me to realize the dream of who I want to be.

Lately, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted on my blog as regularly as I have in the past. Then again, you may not have noticed at all (See? There it is again–that annoying voice in my head telling me that nobody cares.)

The reason I haven’t posted much recently is because I’ve been working very diligently on writing a novel.  This is something I’ve fantasized about doing since forever, but that errant gene passed down from my dad discouraged me from really trying until recently. It doesn’t help that this whole crazy writing process, which includes opening oneself up to judgment and criticism is very scary at times. Wait—I take that back—it’s utterly terrifying! All the time!

But I’ve got a good story to tell, and I’ve been savvy enough to surround myself with a supportive writing group,  who along with my wonderful and encouraging family, read my words and tell me what’s not working—and more importantly—what is working. The very best part is that they also say they can’t wait to read more. So, whenever I can steal away a few quiet moments from my busy life, I write, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

When I write, I often think of my dad and how painful it must have been for him to let his dream slowly die away. It may be that I’ve carried his destructive gene around with me since birth, but I now realize I’m not destined to follow his path. I’m the one in charge of making my dream happen, and as much as I want to sometimes, I can no longer blame my lack of confidence on my heredity.

I’m a writer and it’s time to write.

The following is a poem written by my dad and published in 1954

Beacon

The lighthouse keeper told me once about loneliness;

About how, when he first took the job,

He was afraid the light might go out,

And then wished it would.

He told me about a sailor that explained to him

What it means to a shipload of staring eyes

To see his spinning human message

Punching hope through a wall of distant despair.

The keeper said his life got a little dull at times,

And his wife complained once in a while

About having to live always on the edge

Of extreme ways of life;

But, he said, he was the denial of death.

I read in his diary, after he died,

That he hated the coming of spring, because all night

He heard his steel and concrete index tick off sparrows,

With little thumping sounds,

And that his hired man complained about the mess.

He willed his telescope to his wife, that was all he had,

And she told me that day that reason

He took the job was

He loved the freedom of the sea.

–Joseph Winters

My dad, Joseph Winters in his senior photo in the 1954 Johns Hopkins yearbook

My dad, Joseph Winters in his senior photo in the 1954 Johns Hopkins yearbook

            

A Novel Idea

12 Sep

I have a secret: I’m writing a novel.

There—it’s out there. Whew. I’m uncomfortable telling you this because it sounds so ridiculous. Sure, I can play a Bach Fugue on the piano, grow exquisite flowers in my garden and bake a delectable batch of cookies. I can even write a good blog post once in a while. But write a novel? Keep dreaming, girl.

Voice of tiny person sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear:

Why in the world are you telling people that you are writing a novel? Keep your big mouth shut, you idiot. Now they’re going to expect you to finish it someday!

After all, who am I to think that after only a few years of semi-serious writing I could possibly have a novel in me? Although this past year I’ve devoted a myriad of hours developing my writing skills (well, not quite a myriad) I still have a difficult time believing that I am clever enough, captivating enough, or focused enough to actually get it done. And even if I did get it done, would anyone actually care about what I have to say?

Voice of tiny person sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear:

I’ll answer that question: Nobody cares!

Unfortunately over the years, I’ve romanticized the dream of being a writer in my head, yet I ignored the crucial part of turning this dream into a reality: I never wrote down the words. I just let them run through my mind like quiet conversations or static background noise, too afraid to listen in and take stock of their meaning and validity. Instead I suppressed the urge to create through words and focused on playing and teaching the piano because that’s one thing I knew I could do well.

But words, not musical notes, have always been my true love. Since I was a child and discovered that a good book could take me to a place where I could change into someone else—into someone better, I’ve always been most comfortable losing myself in a good story. As I age, I’ve become even more of a voracious reader and often read two or more novels a week. Yet now that I’m finally writing regularly and becoming more aware of the writing process, I find that reading a good book can be agonizing at times because every so often, my little friend Envy rears her ugly green head. She’s more than happy to tell me that no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be able to string words together in a seamless succession of perfect stitches the way a really good writer can.

Recently I read a fantastic book by Gillian Flynn called Gone Girl http://gillian-flynn.com/ and I’ve got to say, I supremely enjoyed it.  The disappointing part is that now I almost have to dislike Gillian Flynn because she is so good at doing what I have yet to learn to do: crafting a story with fascinating and fallible characters, creating an out of the ordinary plot, and writing riveting dialogue. I almost have to dislike her because I know that for a very long time I will not be able to compose word such as these:

“…the sun climbed over the skyline of oaks, revealing its full summer angry-god self. Its reflection flared across the river toward our house, a long, blaring finger aimed at me through our frail bedroom curtains.

Wow.

This is probably what I would’ve come up with:

“….the sun came up over the trees in an angry red haze. It shone on the river behind our house and came through the windows, shining in my face like a bright light bulb.”

Voice of tiny person sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear:

Trite, trite, trite. Dull, dull, dull. TRY AGAIN!

Okay, I’m playing around here—I could do better than that. The point is, I’m like one of my adult piano students who comes to the lesson and enthusiastically exclaims: “I really have this dream of playing ‘Fur Elise’ (please God, any piece but that one) And even though I only took six months of piano lessons when I was seven, I know that with a little bit a practice I can learn this piece!

Now, the old me would mentally roll my eyes and kindly tell this student that Fur Elise is harder than it sounds (and that would be the truth) and that one should never start with something difficult because you may get frustrated and sad and end up truly resenting Beethoven for writing such an exasperating piece. (Oh, and by the way, you’ll never in a million years be able to play it well.)

But the new me might say, Why not? Anything is possible! And then launch into my spiel about the importance of consistent practicing.

The truth is I can’t expect something magical to happen without putting in the time and the work. And maybe—just maybe, if I spill my guts and tell you my secret, I’ll feel more obligated to put in the time.

Because if I write it down, it becomes more than just a possibility.

And to the little person sitting on my shoulder whispering all those negative comments in my ear: Take a hike, baby.