Archive for about me

IWSG: Am I Putting Too Much of Myself into My WIP?

The ISWG is a blog hop where writers can share their fears and insecurities about the writing life. To learn more, check out their website here.

When I was 19, I went out to dinner with my very best friend in the world, the boy, now a man, I had pictured myself marrying since I was five years old. At the table we were sitting at was an ad: “Tell us your epic love story and win a cruise!” We laughed about it, because we weren’t dating, but we had kissed.

“We would have one heck of a story,” my friend told me.

And, well, I think he was right. So I’m writing it. Sort of.

My WIP, which I’m now nearly 60k words into, is a conglomerate of both experiences that happened to me and complete and utter fiction. My MC is a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Mexico. She has issues with her family and friends that I’ve never faced. But in so many ways… she’s me. And writing this rough draft has forced me to confront so many things about the person I was in high school, things that make me uncomfortable.

I have a feeling Blanca will get categorized as an “unlikeable protagonist,” and that hurts, when so much of her is me. I’m struggling to answer questions like, “what would lead someone to be ‘the other woman’ in a relationship?” and how ideals can be shattered. Part of my main research for this book is reading through my old journals. (For full disclosure and a bit of my dignity back: I wasn’t ever “the other woman,” but I was willing to flirt with taken boys I liked, hoping they would “realize their mistake” and date me instead. I also once kissed someone I didn’t know had a girlfriend. Blanca does the same.)

The justifications I wrote down for my flirtation, the way I would manipulate people into getting what I wanted, my absolute reliance on romantic/sensual touch (my love language)… it’s all going in this book. I was reading my 11th grade journal last night, and I had to stop and do yoga because it unsettled me so much to remember the kind of person I was. The kinds of things I was proud of. The kinds of things I would pray for.

I’m scared to death to publish this book one day, even if it is the best I’ve written. Too many people will see themselves in my characters. I wonder if the three exes that make up the antagonistic love interest will read it and know they inspired him–and not necessarily in a good way. I wonder if my old friends will read it and see me in Blanca.

More than anything, I worry about the things people will say about Blanca. Easily, her actions could be called unjustifiable, and she could be considered unlikeable. I’m okay with this, on an intellectual level. But I know from experience how badly it hurts when I get reviews and someone shames a character I wrote based on my own experiences.

I guess I could lie and say she’s nothing like me, but too many people would know better. More importantly, would know better. Anything people say about her, they’ll say about me. And that scares me.

But I’m writing it anyway, and I guess that’s really all I can do.

Welcome to the World

Nathaniel Everett was born on Friday, December 4th. 7 lbs 2 oz. Healthy and perfect. 🙂

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2014 — A Year in Review

Wow. I can’t believe 2014 is over, or that I’ve been blogging for a year, or that this time last year I was almost over morning sickness and still didn’t know what gender my baby was.

What a change the past (almost) 365 days have brought me. Let’s state the obvious first: this time last year, I didn’t have a daughter. The baby inside of me was still “Baby” or “It” or “Charlie.” (Ouch, Charlie! That hurt, Charlie!)

I had just started this blog, and I was still almost three weeks away from having a complete rough draft of Damaged (with the ending that still really sucked). I was just beginning to make writing friends outside of the Fanfiction world, and I had four dissertations for GFES that I was editing.

Now, as the year draws to the close, I have:

  • An active, healthy six-month-old
  • A (temporarily?) shelved manuscript (after three-plus rounds of revisions and 50 queries)
  • A new rough draft to play with that I’m completely in love with
  • Several new writing friends and critique partners
  • Seen these critique partners and writing friends find success
  • Started a freelance editing business
  • Edited novels for pay
  • Ten dissertations to edit for GFES (two down!!)
  • Published more than 50 blog posts
  • Gained a growing readership (hello, readers!)

All in all, 2014 has been a great year, though not without its setbacks. Labor isn’t anything incredible, and I’m going to miss my grandmother like crazy, especially this week, since New Year’s was her holiday.

But no year is complete without its sadness. And I think the lows help you appreciate the highs more.

Of my eight measurable 2014 goals, I have already completed six, and should complete the seventh before the end of the year. The last one, reading all the books on my official 2014 book list, won’t happen. Here is the list of books I intended to read in 2014:

Official 2014 Book List

  • One-Minute Prayers
  • The Prayer Matrix
  • Inside Story
  • Little Women*
  • Foundation and Earth
  • Emma 
  • Northanger Abbey
  • Pride and Prejudice
  • Sense and Sensibility
  • Mansfield Park
  • Persuasion
  • A Tale of Two Cities
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary
  • Chocolat
  • The Island*
  • The Truth Teller
  • Eve*
  • Quinn*
  • Bonnie*
  • Delirium
  • Pandemonium
  • Requiem
  • Eragon
  • Harry Potter’s Bookshelf
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
  • Shakespeare’s Sonnets
  • The Adventures of Huck Finn
  • The Book Thief
  • Matilda
  • If You Could See What I See
  • The Last Song
  • Save Me
  • Deep Freeze
  • Les Miserables
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Blind Spot

Key:

Bold = Finished the book
Italics = Couldn’t finish… hated it.
Purple = Read it twice!
Orange = re-read for the year
Blue = Favorite new book of the year
* = Had to force myself to finish it.

What has 2014 brought to you? What is the most different in your life from one year ago today?

The Art and Irony of Being Present

Today, a classmate I had at university posted a blog about taking time to dance, and being afraid of things and hiding behind your camera so you can remember the moment for later—remember a moment you never fully participated in.

It brought to mind so many things as I read. A lot of “Yes, absolutely!”s and then a few, “But wait”s. As I look forward to 2015, being present is one of my goals. I want to see my daughter. I want to be there, laughing at her, as she smashes in a cake on her first birthday. I want to get tears in my eyes over her first words. I want to play dolls with her, and hold her hands as she learns to walk. I want to stare at her when she sees Disneyland for the first time. I want to close the multiple Internet tabs I always keep open, turn off my WiFi, and write.

I want to cuddle close with a girl still small enough to cuddle, and I want to close my eyes and fall asleep with her while she’s still young enough to nap.

Sleeping Daughter

Except.

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On Changing Small Things

On November 11th, I decided I was going to start two new habits:

  1. Drink three glasses of water every day.
  2. Stop drinking soda.

HabitBull, the app I use to track my progress

That was it. Those were my guidelines. After I’d made it to three glasses of water, I could have anything I wanted to drink, except soda. I am by no means addicted to soda. I never drank more than two cans a day, and that was rare to begin with. My problem with soda stems from one thing—my work provides free snacks and soda. All I have to do is walk down twenty stairs, and there it is. When we run out, the office manager buys more.

When I was tired, the call for caffeine would get to me (I don’t drink coffee). I would go downstairs, grab a cherry Coke, or a Mountain Dew, or a Pepsi, or a Dr. Pepper if supplies were getting low, and sometimes that would be the only liquid I drank until dinner.

Now I’m one month in to my no soda/extra water experiment. There have been a few days I didn’t meet my required water intake (every time I failed I only drank two glasses of water a day, and every time I failed I wasn’t at work), but I haven’t had soda since I started tracking it.

The thing is, now I don’t want soda. It doesn’t sound good. For dinner, my drink options are apple juice, orange juice, iced tea, raspberry lemonade, and various flavors of Powerade. Even though I could have any of them, recently I keep choosing water. I drank some Powerade last night, and my favorite flavor tasted gross and overly sugary.

I’ve changed just two habits, and in exchange, so much more has changed. I crave water. I keep my goal at three glasses a day (about 24 ounces) because it’s manageable even on hard days, but I often double that. I crave vegetables and want to start eating healthier so I keep feeling better.

Zen Habits and Becoming Minimalist and other sites talk about it over and over again, and I’m finding it to be true: change one small thing, and everything else changes. I’m fairly certain this works for better or for worse.

It’s also true in writing. I recently finished a critique for one of my CPs. She was telling me about suggestions her agent made for revision, and how one sentence made her giddy. Why? Because in one sentence, she addressed two different plot holes. In one sentence, her characters became more fleshed out and connected to each other.

Sometimes, I think we as writers get scared during revision. Maybe we note that a character is acting completely out of sorts in one scene. Or the timeline is way off. Or a relationship needs justification. Or the goal/motivation/conflict in a scene isn’t clear enough. I know I personally get overwhelmed when I look at the long list of things I want to change in my NaNo WIP. And I’m not even a quarter of the way through deciding what needs changed.

However, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You might not have to change every single word of your story in order to make something work. Sometimes the only thing you need to change to revamp your entire manuscript is a single sentence. And sometimes, changing a single sentence gives you the courage to change the next one. One word, one different nuance, can impact the entire MS, like it did for my CP. Like how drinking water and not soda unintentionally branched out to affect the rest of my life.

What scares you about revision? What small change can you make today? Let me know in the comments a way you’ve seen a small change impact your manuscript or your life for the better.

What the Fast Food Nation Gets Right

(adapted from a journal entry dated 7 March 2013)

The people who complain something takes too long to microwave are on to something. Really, they are. Something I think we’ve forgotten about in our busy world. They seem to be the only people who recognize the power of a single minute. When we wait for food to reheat, we’re aware of just how long 60 seconds can be in a way we aren’t most of the time.

Flickr Creative Commons. Image by Corie Howell

Flickr Creative Commons. Image by Corie Howell

I learned from the classy, reputable source of Rent, the musical, that there are 525,600 minutes in a year. When I heard that, it seemed too small of a number. Surely there are more minutes in a year than that. People making just over $100,000 a year get paid 20 cents a minute – every single minute of the year. They get $12 an hour for every single hour.

But I digress. What I mean is that I think we too often allow ourselves the privilege of “just a minute.” “I’ll be there in a minute.” “Just a minute, dear.” we say it all the time. Granted, we rarely mean a full 60 seconds. We usually mean much more or less. But what about the times we do mean one whole minute? Blitz games on Facebook. Checking the score. Sixty seconds on Pinterest at a time.

When I was in college, I calculated the number of Bejeweled Blitz games I played on Facebook and the total came to something like 35 hours. Hardcore gamers informed me that was nothing in terms of hours logged playing a game. But to me it was. That was 35 hours over the course of a year that I spent saying “Just a minute” and matching gems. Thirty-five hours of homework breaks, or delaying making dinner, or turning in late to bed. Thirty-five hours spent when I considered each instance a minuscule, insignificant amount of time.

Today I made dinner. As I cooked, I realized something. In the six minutes my chicken spent defrosting, I swept the kitchen floor and cleaned the counters. I had to melt butter, and first I ran the microwave for one minute. During that minute, I cleaned up all the dishes I’d used to make dinner. During a second minute in the microwave, I ripped off a paper towel to dry my wet counters. Then the butter only needed 40 more seconds. I debated staying to wait – after all, it was only 40 seconds – but I went outside, grabbed my new boots that had been drying off from waterproofing, put them away, and made it back to the microwave with time to spare.

So, yes, it’s just a minute. I could’ve watched the butter melt, or played Bejeweled Blitz, or checked my email. But those sixty seconds are useful. I type about 120 words per minute. If I waste 10 minutes when I’m meant to be writing, I could be wasting as much as 1,200 words. As I’m trying harder (and failing plenty) at living in the moment, being present, and choosing relationship, I think it’s really important for me to remember that those little sneaks to check my email add up, and take away value and valuable time from what I meant to do.

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Flickr Creative Commons

In Praise of the Productivity Crawl

There are plenty of authors (full-time and otherwise) who write 50,000 words or more each month. What makes NaNo different is the community that comes with it, the camaraderie, and the forums. I’ve already mentioned the community and camaraderie that I received from participating in NaNo via Twitter. Today I want to talk about how the forum inspired me.

I didn’t use the forum much during November. I was receiving all the support I needed to keep writing from Twitter and emails from my CPs. However, I did poke around the word wars forum the week when I hit my writing block, and while I was there, I found this sub-group of word wars that really appealed to me. In them, you don’t race other people, and you don’t really race yourself, either. You go on an adventure.

This is the one I intended to do, but there were others, like this Egyptian Tomb one, that were amazing, too.

On Twitter, it was all about racing your friends and writing the most you could. The crawl I found was about more than that, and I adapted it for my personal use. While I didn’t talk about it in my Week 4 update, what got me through the week was a productivity crawl of my own making. It went something like this:

  1. Get a quick start on your session and write 200 words as quickly as you can.
  2. Excellent work! However, you aren’t just about writing today. Open freelance work and edit 10 pages.
  3. Time for a cleaning break! Set a timer for ten minutes and clean.
  4. You’re doing great, Rochelle! Set a timer for seven minutes. If you reach 350 words, you win. If you don’t, do twenty crunches.
  5. Good job! Look at you go! It’s time to get back to your freelance work. Edit another 10 pages. If you don’t get distracted, you win! If you do get distracted, you must either write 200 words or do five pushups.
  6. Whether you won or not, you need to write. Set a timer for thirty minutes and sprint to the finish!
  7. Great job! Time for a real break. Read for 10 minutes.

And that’s what I would do, over and over again while my daughter slept. I didn’t always make it through all of the steps in one sitting, but it worked. I got through 150 pages of freelance editing and kept up on my writing goal.

As December continues and my time is pulled three ways again, I’m going to make myself another, ripe with rewards and punishments. It’s a break from my usual way of working (which is just weekly to-do lists), but I find I’m a lot more consistent when I have a crawl to work through. It’s not like a race–it’s like a game.

The game of life

Anyone else have any tips on tricking yourself into being productive?

NaNoWriMo 2014 Update — Week 4

Well, NaNoWriMo is over. It’s December 1, 2014, and I have written 42,027 words that I had not written precisely 30 days ago. How crazy is that?

42,000 words. Less than one thousand fewer words than there are in The Giver. Four thousand words shy of Fahrenheit 451, five thousand words shy of The Great Gatsby. More words than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

That’s insane.

I’m not saying that my words are necessarily good. Many of them are not. A small number of them (less than 500) are parenthetical notes to myself that need to be removed. There are at least five scenes that need to go (not least because some are duplicates written in different tenses).

But I wrote almost 170 pages of a novel. In thirty days.

Did you catch that? Thirty days.

Eighteen of those days, I had my regular job to go to. Three of those days, I worked from home. Eight of those days, I had to pick up my daughter from daycare after work.  The remaining twelve days, I was not working but was primarily in charge of my daughter the entire day.

And I still wrote an average of more than five pages of text per day. One thousand four hundred words per day. Even though I had a life to live, and I lived it.

During that month, I also edited seventy-five pages of literary fiction and heavily edited 150 pages of a middle grade adventure novel. In addition to writing every single day. There wasn’t a single day in November that I didn’t write something, even though my low was 76 words. Those were 76 words I wouldn’t have written otherwise, and I hit my low after I reached 40,000 words, which was my goal for NaNo this year.

Some observations:

  • I met the 1,667-word goal on 10 days, a solid 1/3.
  • I had an abysmal writing day (less than 500 words) 4 times.
  • The other 16 days were somewhere in between.
  • Pantsing this novel worked really well for me, to my surprise.
  • Some of my best work came when I was in competition for something.
  • I will always find a way to distract myself from what really matters.
  • The work tends to get done anyway.

Some expansion on my observations:

Pantsing my novel only worked well because I spent months absorbing a plot and structure plan that would work for me. Like I mentioned before, I read and highlighted and re-read a book about how theme should inform the whole story. I used Scrivener to make notes of the plot points I wanted to hit, and put the scenes inside each area as subfolders (some, like “things get worse”, have a ton of scenes, while others, like “relational midpoint” have only one scene).

I knew when I would hit writer’s block, and didn’t let that stop me from writing. My worst days were at the 30k and 40k marks. I expected to hit a wall at 30k, so with some brainstorming help with a CP, I was able to get through it. And I only stopped writing at 40k because I could, and I was exhausted, and I wanted to enjoy Thanksgiving. (which I did. It was wonderful.)

I was wrong when I told myself I could only write by planning. And by forcing myself into word battles (with the lovely @seekellytse and @sarahrgleason, and with my wonderful husband as he did dishes, etc.), I forced my plot to move forward, one 30-minute segment at a time. I’m starting to understand what Stephen King meant when he called himself a pantser. He understands story structure, so he can know what he’s aiming for at certain word counts as far as emotions and upset are concerned. That style, surprisingly, worked for me this round. (at least I think so. We’ll see on revision if the structure holds up.)

It’s amazing what happens when you put your butt in a chair, your hands on a keyboard, and let the story unfold in thousand-word segments. (Thanks, Sooz!) You get somewhere. Slowly, but surely, you get somewhere. The characters came to life. Side characters showed up that I hadn’t planned on. I wrote some of my best work. I wrote some of my worst work. I banged my head against the wall for one weekend. But I wrote. (and watched too much TV. But I wrote!) Romances piece together. The bad guy gets his deeper motivation. The plot thickens.

All in all, I loved writing my novel, and I hope I don’t have to slow down too much in December while my freelance work picks up. Then, a break in January, and to work editing in February. I can’t wait. I’m already pleased as punch with this story, and with revision, it should only get better.

(Oh, and for an excerpt? You don’t get one this week. I’m too late in the MS and too far from my laptop to make it happen. Plus, I’m beginning to forget which words I wrote when. But know this: I’m very happy with it. Maybe not as happy as I am with the opening scene, but once again, all together this time: that’s what revision is for.)

How did NaNo go for everyone else? Was it better than you expected? Worse?

Ancient History

While cleaning up my desk at work today, I found a notebook where I’d jotted the following down, about halfway through 2011:

Most days, I read for at least six hours. Right now, it’s “The Confessions of St. Augustine” for 45 minutes on the way to work, then, once at work, a mixture of environmental reports, Facebook statuses, and my favorite blogs. Some days I’ll read for the 45-minute ride home. If I’m in a particularly good book, I’ll read through dinner. Then there’s my 5 minutes of Bible reading per day, which usually turns into one 40-minute reading a week. And all the incidentals! I can’t see words and not read them. Street signs, URLs, papers scattered about my desk. I’m always reading. But in the past year and a half, I feel like I’ve forgotten that I went to school for seven and a half years to learn to write.

Sure I read nearly as much as now, especially in college. But in college I read for homework and the homework was writing. I read “Pride and Prejudice” so I could write about the importance Mr. Bennett plays in the plot and character development. I read Billy Collins and Mary Oliver to whet my appetite for modern poetry–and then to write an analysis or imitation of it. I read chapters in my science text books to answer the questions at the end. I read books, then essays about the books, and I wrote and analysed. Poetry was my first love, then analytical writing, then autobiography, then fiction, then journalism.

At first I was thrilled to graduate and be away from the confines of required reading. But before I even graduated I’d made a list of “books I should have been required to read.” I added to it books I’d always wanted to read and in 2010 I finished 59 books, most of which I’d never read before. So far this year I’m at 35. But what I really miss is the analysis.

Sure, I scribble a few pages about my own reactions to the best of the best, but I miss the supplemental research, the time spent re-reading passages to support my claims, and most of all I miss writing. True writing is so much more than the journaling. I try to keep up on, and I feel so out of practice from it. I feel compelled to finalize my thesis for my theoretical dissertation about how good young adult novels are all about the paradigm shift away from fairy tales and into dystopias that challenge the adolescent mind into critical thinking. I feel compelled to write autobiography again. I want to write essays on Harry Potter and Augustine’s confessions. I want to compile a meditation on Scripture.

My 30 poems in 30 days was an appetizer, and good books are like wine to me. I feel like I’ll get drunk on them without the entree of writing at the same time. I should be careful how much I drink in with no output. It’s time to write again.

I love looking back at the thought process that got me to where I am today. Of the things I wanted to do, I am surprised at what I did and did not end up doing. I obviously didn’t write a dissertation for fun. I didn’t write about Augustine or compile a meditation on Scripture. I didn’t write a ton more poems. I definitely didn’t write autobiography (as I mentioned, my life is and always has been boring).

I did write an essay on Harry Potter, which got me onto a MuggleNet Academia podcast as an expert, and the essay is currently under consideration for publication. I also ignored my order of preferences for writing and I wrote fiction. I wrote FanFiction (281,044 words in three years), including one novel and three novellas. I wrote my first original novel. I started my second. I managed to keep a blog running and updated fairly regularly for almost an entire year (that’s this blog, in case that wasn’t obvious). I fell in love with writing again.

Not only that, but more than 400,000 words of fiction later, I know I’m a better writer. I’ve learned so much about telling stories, and now I never want to stop. I’m so glad I sat down more than three years ago and made that decision to write again. My life would be so different if I hadn’t.

On Coming Out (as a writer)

About a month after my sister moved to college in 2010, she called me and let me know that she was lesbian. I was surprised, but not very surprised, and I thanked her for telling me. It was a while before she had the courage to come out to our parents, especially to my mother, who was a conservative Christian and had bought firmly into everything that implies.

The past few years have been relatively normal for my little sister. Not too much has changed about her. Her coming out has, instead, had a profound effect on our mother. A woman who was used to taking what she heard at face value began to grapple with her faith out of love for my sister.

I am so very proud of her.

But it took me years to do my own kind of coming out.
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