January 2015 (writing) recap

I figured I’d better put something up here so folks haven’t think I’ve died or otherwise slipped off the planet. While it may seem – from the non-existence of posts on this blog since the end of 2014 – that I haven’t been doing any writing, I’ve actually been doing a fair share of it, over on my other blog, The Highs, the Lows, and the In-Betweens, my ongoing chronicle of my 2014 NaNoWriMo story universe. Here are the post updates to prove it:

Jan 2015 Writing UpdatesI’m one of those fools who gets anxious when I haven’t updated a particular social media outlet or blog in a while, someone who thinks that makes me less of a person writer. But, seventeen story updates for January isn’t too shabby. (One of them doesn’t count, as it’s just a music video link.) It’s not a popular journey in terms of audience size, but I’m having too much fun with this story and these mostly-new characters to care much about that part of it.

Over the course of the last several weeks, I’ve also been working on a massive edit/rewrite of my homo-erotic space western opera story, From Hell: A Love Story. It’s been both interesting and enlightening to see this one evolve from a mishmash of sci-fi and romance ideas designed to cater to a fan fiction audience, to a tighter story of love and acceptance that satisfies my own inner reader. Through this process, I’ve come closer to understanding what my tastes really are, and where my stronger skills lie. I’m sure it will also affect my edits for my waiting-in-the-wings stories, “Finding Mister Wright” and Fearless, both of which I’d like to put through the same wringer starting this year. But, first, I’m working with Scrivener (finally!) to put From Hell: A Love Story together as a real book (courtesy CreateSpace, which awarded two free hardcopies of a book to each NaNo 2014 winner).

Of course, no writer – even a self-proclaimed one – should go too many days without reading something for the fun of it. I continue to enjoy Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer series of classic detective novels, in the hopes of someday writing my own detective story. But, that’s a post for another day.

Twitter friend Moyabomb asked if I’d share my experiences with my publishing exercise as regards Scrivener, CreateSpace, editing, and artistry, so I’ll have to do a post about that coming up. In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying your own reading and writing journeys!

“You don’t know me.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsoQ945fqkY

I came to a hard decision this week. I walked away from someone I’d considered a friend for half my life. But I’d realized: this so-called friend had no idea who I was.

A few weeks ago, this friend- or, rather, this person was telling me about someone in their family who had started to write an epic fantasy story. He’d step away from the table after dinner, my peer informed me, and say, “I haven’t written today, and I need to sit down for a few hours.” I commended that dedication, because it sounded so familiar to me. Upon being questioned regarding his desire to write a story, the young man informed this person that he wanted to become a rich and famous writer. Then, my long-time acquaintance said, “He’s the only person I know who’s ever been really dedicated to writing.”

I have never been struck so speechless as I’d been at that moment.

I couldn’t believe it: here was someone who’d known me since we were basically kids. I’ve been writing stories through that whole time. But because my end goal isn’t to be rich and famous, I didn’t even register on this person’s radar as a writer, or even a storyteller. That’s when I knew: I might have been a friend to this person for all those years – I’d listened to the school and job and relationship trials and lent the sympathetic ear – but they hadn’t been a friend to me. I’d been merely a project to them, a person to mold in similar image. When I’d gone my own path, when I wasn’t interested in being something they could fix, I wasn’t anything to them any longer.

I don’t have a lot of friends. I’ll miss having one I thought was so close. But, I’ve felt a lot of love around me, especially through this past year. Why waste time on someone who doesn’t have my back?

My giant leap forward

I did manage one post for June (my flipping the coin villain backstory post), but the rest of the month was a wash, blog-wise. But, I did have some excitement. Drumroll, please….

 

My husband read one of my stories!

Some of you out there are likely thinking, Big f***in’ deal, but this was a huge deal for me. My husband hadn’t read anything of mine since university, which is…well, let’s just say it’s a long time ago, now.

I’d left my original story “Finding Mister Wright” in a file folder on the dressing table a few months back, inviting him to take a look whenever he felt like doing so. I left it up to him because I don’t like when other people force their writing on me. But, as the months went by, seeing that folder left untouched rankled me. So, when he messaged me one evening and mentioned he’d read it, I was walking on clouds!

I know it doesn't look like I'm excited, but I was.

I know it doesn’t look like I’m excited, but I was.

We spoke about it in some more detail, and I’ve gotten to bounce some ideas off of him, for how to make the third act come together with more punch.  One thing he said that made me nearly burst with glee was, “I like how you keep writing these characters after their main story is done. It gives them a much ‘fuller world’ feeling. Like they’re real.”

Honestly, a lot of my characters are real to me, even the fantastic ones. That’s what makes writing so joyous for me. It’s also why I get sad whenever I come to the end of a story. The characters and their relationships grow on me after all that time and effort of pulling their world and all of their conflicts together.

So, as of today, two people have read that first draft of “Finding Mister Wright” (Hi, JM!). Each of those people, with their timely feedback, has made me think about not just this story but all of my writing in a more focused way. I’m still undecided on the best way for me to get my stories out there – querying and sucking up to agents and houses, or hiring an editor and publishing on my own – but I feel like this little boost has fanned the flames of my spirit to be even stronger than before. Brighter, if you will. And each little bit of extra brightness makes the darkness of defeat seem not so foreboding.

I hope everyone out there is having a great summer (or whatever your local season may be). I’m looking forward to sharing more stories and steps forward in the months to come!

“The End” is only the Beginning

On Friday, May 9, 2014, I finished the last chapter of Fearless. 167,000+ words, two-and-a-half years, and countless dreams, tears, and laughs later, it’s done. The first draft, that is. Which means it’s really just the beginning. Now, the manuscript (holy $%*&, I can really call it a manuscript!) can go to beta, then to editing, then to revision. Then, it goes to beta, editing, and revision again. I’m not sure how many passes this story will require to make it the best it can be before I die. For the moment, though, I think I’m going to take a deep breath, sit back, and let Ross and Amber rest a while. They deserve it.

I always get this happy-sad feeling when I finish a story, especially a big one. Fearless was my 2011 NaNoWriMo project, and it went through plenty of ups and downs before I typed those final words. I rather love that part of writing, though: the adventure of the first draft. It’s often imprecise and messy, but it’s full of such raw, untamed emotion! Revision requires analysis and skill, and it’s a necessary part of building a better story. It’s nothing like that rush of first draft, though. Not for me, anyway.

As an online reader, my experience is with works in progress. Friends and fellow storycrafters will post scenes or chapters as they’re made, and there’s a real sense of accomplishment to seeing a story come together organically in that way. But so many times, potential authors lose steam in their stories, and plots and characters are simply abandoned. It’s trite to say, but that makes me sad.

Clip Art by Ericlemerdy, shared via Clker

Clip Art by Ericlemerdy, shared via Clker

A story that is given time to grow and evolve becomes like a thing alive. When we let a story fall by the wayside, its world dies. I completely sympathize with writers or artists who start a project but then quickly realize this won’t work or that isn’t what it should be. But I really can’t understand artists who can devote huge chunks of their lives – like, years! – to a project, only to let it wither and fade when the going gets too rough or, heaven forfend, they move on to newer, shinier worlds.

I had a writer friend who told me, “Always finish the story, even if the ending is crap. You can always go back and fix it. But a finished story, no matter how crappy it is, is a real story, with a beginning, middle, and end. If you can finish, that puts you above at least half of all the other writers out there.” Now, I don’t know if his numbers were accurate, but his words have always stuck with me. And, every time I’ve started a story, I’ve wanted to make it “real”. Yes, some of the endings are crap. Some of the endings I wrote simply to get to the ending, so I wouldn’t have to look at that world any longer. But for every story I’ve written since I got that advice oh-so many years ago, I’ve given an ending. And, honestly, I think it has made me a better writer.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m due for a break…at least until the next story comes calling.

What do you do when you finish a story? Do you celebrate or put your nose back to the grindstone? And, would you like to join me for a celebratory beer? (Sure, I’ll buy!)

SchneiderAventinus

A Schneider Aventinus poured right. Photo by bonusparts

I’ll Show You Mine

Writers Museum

Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh. In Lady Stair’s House. Photo by Jeremy Keith.

Recently, I handed off a scene from last year’s NaNoWriMo to a professional editor. It was a nerve-wracking experience.

Now, I’ve shared my stories with others before: friends, writing buddies, family (once in a while), even strangers. I don’t stress about feedback from any of those folks. They receive my stories as a chunk of text to absorb, and, for the most part, their feedback is a simple, “I liked it,” or “I didn’t.” We may go into slightly more detail than that, but it’s often conversational, with comments painted in pretty broad strokes.

A professional edit, though, picks a story apart scene by scene, line by line, word by word. That’s good. It helps a writer step outside the confines of their little self-imposed world, to have someone examine that world with a sharp, precise knife and cut where necessary. They may do a little triage, too, to keep the story pumping. I’d trust an editor – especially a good one, like I was lucky enough to get – to do that.

When I received the pages back and finished reading through all the comments, I wanted to scuttle back into my NaNo hole and tear the whole story apart again. Not because I was crushed or demoralized by those red marks. Because those red marks showed me there was something there. And I wanted to fight for it. I wanted to dig deeper into myself and that world and those characters, and make the story better. Because, with those fixes and suggestions, I knew it could be so.

I didn’t think I’d pick up that story again. It was a first draft, and first drafts always need work. But, when I crossed the NaNo finish line last year, I thought, Good enough. Now, I know how wrong I was. The best bit? The editor never came out and told me I could do better. It was everything between the lines: all the little ticks and tacks that – when I saw them – I knew were right.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have worried. The editor’s feedback was great. Not to say it was all glowing praise, because it wasn’t that. Rather, it was observant, critical, and helpful, what a proper edit should be. And, just reading through the comments for that one scene made me realize the story wasn’t all  it could be.

I wasn’t all I could be.

So, I decided to take the pages back and start over. Not from scratch, because I do like a lot of the story already. But the suggestions and observations are with me every time I start to play in that world again. And when I play in all my other worlds, too.

The story may never be great, or a bestseller, or even publishable. But I can make it better than it was before.
Better. Stronger. Faster. Dah-na-na-naa! Dah-na-na-na-na Na-na-na-naa!
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HofoK_QQxGc?rel=0]

What words of wisdom do you have for a hopeful aspirant? Got stories of your own to share? Want to trade? Let me know!