Archive for writing

IWSG: The Waiting Game

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.

I have a feeling June will be a hard month for me. I finished my first draft of my WIP, I am done querying Small Things but am waiting to hear from a few agents, and I don’t think I’m ready to tackle revisions to my first book, Damaged.

Why, then, will June be difficult?

Because the last thing I want to spend June doing is not writing. I have a ton of faith that Blackberry Jam will be my best book yet, and I cannot wait to dive in to revisions and start making it into a good book. However, what it needs right now is time to simmer, and what I need right now is time to forget about it. But I have no idea if I’ll have that patience. So far I’ve gone from writing the first word to querying the book in no more than about a year per book. It’s probably been too immature, especially in the first book I queried. I don’t want to screw this one up and send it out into the world before it’s ready.

However, I don’t trust myself to do it. Even though I’m a perfectionist, I also suffer from “I could have been a child prodigy” syndrome, where every step I take away from having someone say, “She’s done this and she’s only X years old!”  (i.e., basically every unproductive day that passes) is a step that terrifies me. I’m already well into territory of adulthood, where no one gives a damn how old I am. But I still have to keep myself from rushing through a project so I have a chance of being a published author before I turn 30 (in just over two years, if you were curious). It’s a silly thing to be insecure about, I know–being average–but… it is what it is, I guess. I think I would much rather be 31 or 32 (or–gasp!–even older) as a debut author with an excellent book than a 29-year-old debut author with a mediocre one.

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.

NaNoWriMo 2015 Update: Week 4

I can’t believe it’s already November 30th. While I might get some writing done later today, NaNoWriMo 2015 is effectively over. I can’t believe how quickly this month has gone. Now it’s almost December, and almost guaranteed that our baby boy will be a December birth. Here is The Good, The Bad, and The Excerpt for the last nine days of NaNo.

The Good

I decided a few weeks ago that just hitting 30k would make me very happy for the month, considering everything that was going on, and this morning I hit that mark! As of right now, I have 30,419 words. And like I said, I might write more later today, haven’t decided yet. I’m right about where I wanted 30k to hit in the story, too. Even though I don’t know how the whole thing will play out (I planned scenes for the first half of the book only), I’m still several scenes from the midpoint, which means for once I actually wrote fleshed-out scenes and subplots the first time, instead of saving them for revision.

The characters are coming together and getting more real in my mind, the antagonist is (by necessity) more likeable now, which was something I needed to deal with, and depending on the day/hour/minute/whatever, I don’t hate what I’ve written.

Considering the fact that I only started working on my ideas for this book in August, and my last NaNo novel I planned for a year before writing, I am so happy that I managed that 30k while extremely pregnant and watching my toddler.

The Bad

Consistently writing was just not my forte this year. After week 2, I could pretty much only write one or two days a week. Part of it was hitting a wall with the story and not being sure if I liked it, and part of it was Braxton Hicks, and part of it was having to watch my daughter, and part of it was needing to work, and part of it was the holidays and special events, but basically I did let “real life” cut into my writing time more than I wished I had. In those nine days, I didn’t even manage 5,000 words. But I got very nearly 5,000, and they are all slowly building the plot forward. I do kind of miss the days of writing spec fic, when it was easier to see the plot progressing, but contemporary has been fun.

The Excerpt

I obviously didn’t have a lot of passages to choose from this week, and didn’t want to choose something I had just written this morning, so here is a scene between Blanca and her love interest’s mother. This was a relationship I really wanted to develop and this scene was one of the first opportunities I took to do it. I’m relatively pleased with the direction the relationship is taking, as Mrs. de Vries means a lot to Blanca, and vice versa.

***

“So how was it in L.A.? It must have been completely different than here, where one secret can ruin somebody. Do you think it changed you?”

She ran a hand through her mousy hair, and wrinkles seemed to appear on her face as she did so. As much as I was comfortable immediately sharing things with her again, she didn’t seem to be the same person. My question was practically unnecessary. “Of course it changed me. You can’t spend time in a place so different than Piney Grove without changing. You can’t spend time, period, without changing. You should know that by now, Blanca. Even staying the same is sort of a change when everyone around you changes.”

“Did you like L.A.?”

“I loathed it. But it was also something I can’t imagine doing without. I needed out of Piney Grove. My family needed out of Piney Grove if we were going to make it—” She cut herself off and looked at me, then bit her lip like she was a teenager, too. “Never mind. There are some things you don’t need to know.”

I placed a hand on her arm and tried to reconcile the weird feelings between us. When she moved away, I was a child who looked to her for guidance. Was it possible that five years could make us closer to equals? “If I can tell you anything, you can tell me anything,” I said, meaning it.

She shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way. Not when you’re still a teenager. Not with the way you feel about Lucas. It’s impossible for me to burden you with our family problems. It would be wrong.”

“Regardless of what I feel about Lucas,” I said, “And I’m not sure what I feel about him right now, it doesn’t matter. He’s making it pretty clear how he feels about me.”

“He’ll come around,” she said, sounding more certain than I believed she should. “It may take him some time to get used to Piney Grove again, but he’ll realize soon enough how much he missed you. I think he’s still trying to cling to his life in L.A. more than he should and forgets that he has roots here.” She smiled at me, the distress that had shown up when she’d begun to speak of her own time in L.A. slowly disappearing. “He forgets that you are one of those roots, Blanca. He needs you to help anchor him down. Please don’t stop trying.”

“I won’t,” I said. I knew I never would, anyway. We had rounded the last corner before my house and I began to slow on instinct. I’d have to go inside to my family and she would go on to Lucas without me. “Thanks for the encouragement.”

“You’re welcome. I’m serious, you know. Text Lucas. Spend some time with him this week and remind him that small towns aren’t all bad.”

It contradicted with the beginning of our conversation and her advice about Emma, but I didn’t mind. It was what I wanted to do anyway. “I usually hang out with Emma, Calvin, Daniel, and Elena at the diner on the weekends. I can text him and see if he wants to come tonight.”

She smiled. “I think that would be a good idea. And text him before church next Sunday, too,” she added. “I have to say we got out of the habit of going in L.A. and returning sure would be good for him.

“Thanks, Mrs. De Vries,” I said, one hand on the gate leading toward my front door.

“Please,” she said, her tone all sorts of serious, “Call me Aya.”

“Thanks, Aya,” I corrected, her first name sounding strange in my mouth. “I appreciate it.”

NaNoWriMo 2015 Update: Week 3

Unsurprisingly, this week did not go particularly well. I hit so many notoriously difficult things to overcome: nearing 30,000 words, week 3 in general, and an extremely busy personal life. So at the moment I just have to be grateful that (a) I wrote at all, and (b) the baby has yet to make his appearance.

Here in all its horror is The Good, The Bad, and The Excerpt for this past week.

The Good

Despite my crazy week, I managed to write just over 5,000 words and crossed the 25,000-word mark! The bits and pieces of the story I want to tell are getting onto the page, even if I know they’re nowhere near ready yet. On a weird note, I’m also pleased that I’m barely to the first pinch point (just into the second act) of the story. I usually write such sparse first drafts that I’m clawing around for a midpoint, at least, by the time I hit 25,000 words. Last year I’d even written myself into what I thought would be the climax of the story! Being so early on means hopefully I’ll have less structural revision, since I know I’ll have more voice-y and sentence-y revision.

The Bad

I only wrote on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. By Wednesday, I was working like crazy trying to get through all my billable work before the baby comes and spend time with my daughter. I had a friend come to stay with me to help with my baby shower, so she was here Friday night through this morning. The baby shower and planning for it pretty much took up my weekend.

While I like where the plot is going, I’m more unhappy with the words themselves than I usually am with a first draft, and feel like I’m still finding my way into the voice of the story. I wish I knew Blanca better…

The Excerpt

This week the excerpt is something new I tried with the story. When I was first envisioning it, I wanted to dive into some magical realism and creepy settings and such, but this passage, 25,000 words in, was the first time I really tried to do it. Once again it’s repetitious and not exactly right, but I’m interested enough in the mood-setting to keep it… for now. 🙂

***

Five years had aged her more than it should an adult, especially one who wasn’t yet forty. Her hair, which had once always been impeccable, dyed a rich chocolate brown and kept conditioned daily, was limp and fried from over-processing. Her eyes were surrounded by wrinkles and her lips, too, but not the kind that were friendly, the kind people called laugh lines so they didn’t sound rude. Instead she just seemed old. Worn down, like life had taken a toll on her. I needed to say something better than just “L.A. didn’t treat you well, did it?” even though it was the first thing that came to my mind. Instead I just stood there, staring, until she began to look confused.

“Sorry,” I said, deciding on a half-truth. “I just haven’t seen you in so long I can’t believe you’re back.”

“Neither can I sometimes,” she said, and even her voice seemed to have aged. If I didn’t know better, I would guess she had taken up smoking in her absence. It was ragged and worn down, like her vocal cords were torn, angry with her. “And I imagine you’re here to see Lucas, not me. Come inside, Blanca. I’ve missed you.”

At least the hug she enveloped me in felt the same as it used to. I always liked her hugs better than Mami’s because they made me feel completely loved and like I wasn’t being judged about anything. I didn’t know if it was true—maybe she was just an excellent liar.

“Lucas is in the bonus room with some video game or another. Is he expecting you?”

I shook my head. “Do you think that will be a problem?”

“If it is, let me know and I’ll take it up with him personally. He’s always better behaved with you around.” I smiled. Maybe there were lots of reasons I liked Mrs. De Vries, and not just her hugs.

The house itself didn’t seem like something the family I knew would buy. I hadn’t been kidding when I told Lucas I pictured him in something sleek and modern, an apartment on the whatever-high floor with views of a city and a sleek, masculine exterior. Sure, I didn’t associate those things with his mother, but she had always been a tidy woman, capable of turning even the homiest of places into something livable and happy. This place was not happy.

Cracked floorboards made up the living space, with holes so big I could imagine tripping over one. They were hardly sanded and had turned white with age or too much dust. The kitchen, just to the left of the entryway, had modern appliances, but they all appeared to be sagging and out of commission, like this house was somehow living in a future far beyond us, projecting what would become of it when we were long-forgotten. The counter tops had an easy curve to them, like they had been through an earthquake or, more appropriately, a landslide. They weren’t cracked at all, just looked as though they had been turned to liquid and re-frozen in a new configuration that would make actually cooking impossible.

Single light bulbs hung from chains in each room, giving it an eerie, haunted feeling despite the fact that the light bulbs were the energy-efficient swirly kind meant to last forever. There were no pictures on the wall. Despite being the end of June, a fire was roaring in the fireplace, but it didn’t make the house any hotter. Ancient single-pane windows on cranks to open them remained shut, but it was still chillier inside than out. Everything about the house was impossible.

Every step I took seemed to cause a reaction in the wallpaper as it peeled down in sad and dying strips, each yellowing as they moved. Before I reached the staircase at the back of the house, I felt like my very presence was tearing it apart and we’d be collapsed inside its rubble in minutes.

NaNoWriMo 2015 Update: Week 2

I can’t believe November is already halfway over! Tomorrow I hit 37 weeks pregnant, so I’m really feeling the time crunch now, both with NaNo and my regular editing work, which is always busier in November and December. But it’s a week I didn’t give up on writing, so here is the Good, the Bad, and the Excerpt.

The Good

I still haven’t given up! To me, writing anything during NaNo will be a win this year, between being extremely pregnant, working a lot, and only having the part-est of part-time daycare situations for my almost-17-month-old.

The secondary characters and their story arcs are coming to life for me as well, and I feel like I’m getting the hang of writing conflict in a contemporary story, which was something I had been worried about since I haven’t written contemporary since the awful stuff I wrote in high school and college. I also devised a subplot that I wasn’t sure about at first, but I realized it would create so much conflict for my main character, Blanca, as well as remaining true to one of my original goals with this book, which is incorporating the songs I wrote in high school into the plot. (Unlike my stories, my songs, IMHO, didn’t suck.)

The Bad

There were two days in week 2 that I didn’t write. The first day I had my daughter home all day and by the evening I was both exhausted from taking care of her and having some major pregnancy-induced pain, so I couldn’t bring myself to write. I also didn’t write on Saturday, but that was because we had a very busy day (maternity pictures and a one-year-old’s birthday party) and I needed to get paid work done with the little free time I had.

Thanks to not writing, I only wrote just over 9,000 words in week 2, bringing my total as of Saturday to 20,249 when I should have been at 23,333. Thankfully, that gap should be easy to close.

I’m also not really connecting with Blanca’s voice. I don’t know if it’s because it’s too similar to mine, or because I want her to have a flowery, descriptive voice and that stuff usually comes in revision for me, or if I need to change it, but I’m not too worried yet. It’s frustrating, because Treyton’s voice in Small Things came easily for me, but the story is coming together easier this time around, so I guess it’s all give and take when you’re writing.

The Excerpt

A very rough draft with a ton of word repetition that will bother me to no end when I revise, but here is Blanca meeting up with her long-lost soul-mate for the first time in five years.

***

Daniel wasn’t paying attention. I followed his gaze to the open barn door where the sunset was leaking in. Someone was in the doorway, silhouetted in the vibrant oranges and pinks of the sunset painted in harmless clouds. “Can I help you?” he called down.

“I was told Blanca was here.”

The railing at the top of the loft made me invisible, but I could still see down. And I knew that voice. It was different than I had expected, but phones had the habit of distorting a voice. Five years and puberty had the same effect.

I took a deep breath—as deep as I could, given the way my lungs were panicking—and stood up. I didn’t look down, but mentally reviewed the outfit I’d chosen. I didn’t want to wear something too revealing to Daniel’s house, because leading him on would be wrong. But I felt like I looked good enough. Ripped skinnies, ankle boots, form-fitting tank top. Just the right amount of makeup. It wasn’t what I would’ve wanted to be wearing, but it would do. “I’m here,” I said, then made my way to the loft staircase. I wasted no time on goodbyes to Elena and Daniel. I’d see them soon anyway.

He didn’t move from the doorway and moving closer didn’t do anything to reduce the shadow he was in the doorway. Instead he was painted in the negative, everything around him vibrant colors, painted, fluid, feminine lines. He stood angular and black and white against them.

Even once I was on steady ground, I resisted the temptation to run, and he didn’t move, either. Finally, a few feet away from him, I stopped. “You’re here. I can’t believe you’re here.”

His answer wasn’t verbal. Instead he pulled me into a hug. “You ready to get out of here? We have so much catching up to do.”

I held him as long as I thought I could get away with, my head against his shoulder, breathing in his familiar-yet-new smell. I pulled away until my hands gripped his elbows, then cocked my head and smiled. “That is the understatement of the century, Lucas de Vries.”

#

“Where do you want to go?” he asked once we were outside the barn. He had his car, but I had walked over. The situation worked out perfectly and I climbed into the passenger seat.

“The tree house, of course. You can park on the side. The fence is as easy to climb as it’s always been.”

He grinned at me before starting the car, and his brown eyes filled with memories. I could watch them play out as easily as if they were yesterday… all the times we’d met up in our trailer park and hopped that fence together, pretending we were actually trespassing and the farmer had no idea. The fence was the same now as it was then, and I couldn’t wait to be there again with Luke instead of alone. It was the epitome of rustic, unsanded, unstained wood posts with just two horizontal bars in each of the sections. It was not a fence made for keeping people out.

The drive from Daniel and Elena’s house only took a matter of minutes. I kept waiting for things to be awkward between us, for me to look at Luke and suddenly realize who he was, or turn into a completely different version of myself the way Daniel sometimes did around me. But all I felt was giddiness and the sparks that filled the cab of his car.

“You’re back early. I wasn’t expecting you for a week!”

“We ended up closing the sale on our house in L.A. sooner than we were supposed to. The buyers were eager to get in, so we got out as soon as possible.”

He sounded so grown-up, so formal without being stifling, and it reminded me in all the best ways that we weren’t in seventh grade anymore.

NaNoWriMo 2015 Update: Week 1

Last year I reviewed NaNoWriMo in weekly updates, and besides having blogging as an excellent procrastination tool, it helped me break down how the month was going for me and assess how to do better in the following weeks. So, only a day late, here is The Good, The Bad, and The Excerpt.

The Good

I actually started! I was so worried about NaNo this year, because I hadn’t given my WIP the same amount of time to percolate as I had to Expiration Date/Small Things before writing it. However, I came into November with a list of scenes I could write for the entire first half, and despite not knowing my characters as well as I did Treyton and Hayleigh when I started Small Things, I have a much better understanding of plot. Which has made writing a lot easier, to be honest. I know what happens next and not just at the major milestones.

Plus, by the end of November 7th, I was ahead on word count! I had 12,459 words when the par was only 11,666 words.

I’m beginning to understand the characters better and have a more fleshed out first act than I had with Expiration Date. I’m looking at 15k per quarter of the book in my rough draft, which is a lot more than I usually get written in a rough draft!

The Bad

I didn’t write at all on Thursday, between not having daycare for Alexis and having worse pregnancy aches and pains than usual. I’m a little farther behind on my editing work than I’d like to be as well. Though I don’t have a day job like I did last year, writing with a 16-month-old while eight months pregnant is much harder than writing with a 4-month-old.

Not entirely bad, but I think I’ll have more editing work cut out for me than I did with Expiration Date/Small Things. It’s ironic, considering that much of Expiration Date was pantsed while I’ve done more outlining for Blackberry Jam, but I’m weaving a more complicated plot this time. I have three, four, or five story lines I’m trying to weave together, unified by theme. But the theme I wrote down when planning isn’t working out exactly the way I want it to.

Here’s to hoping when I re-read in December/January that it’s better than I currently think it is. That’s what happened last year. 🙂

The Excerpt

Like last year, my first excerpt will be from the first scene. Enjoy! (And remember that it’s a first draft.)

***

The last day it rained, Emma Gladstone, my second-best friend in the world, asked me to take her to the corner mart on Main Street in Hainsville. We didn’t live in Hainsville.

“Not because I need one,” she said. “But just in case. For emergencies.”

I believed her and we drove through two towns while torrents of rain blurred them into pretty watercolors, hundreds of still lifes bleeding down my windshield. I never liked driving in the rain, but she had asked and I was willing enough, if only to get away from my mother for a few rain-soaked hours.

Baseline changed from a two-lane freeway back into a main street with little warning. Open road and farmland stretched out on either side of us until a stoplight, the colors blurred from sheets of rainfall, seemed to appear out of nowhere. But despite being more than ten miles away from home, Hainsville was familiar. It had four times the population of Piney Grove, and all of the convenience. I didn’t need the blurry neon signs to tell me when we’d reached the corner mart. I pulled over and turned off the car, digging through my pockets for loose change for the meter.

“I’ve got it, Blanca,” Emma said, still refusing to look at me. Our drive had been silent except the pattering on my windshield. “Thanks for taking me.”

I reached across the seat to squeeze her hand. “I just hope you don’t really need this.” She didn’t answer.

No one else wandered the store, and Emma pulled me to the far right corner, by the beers. “Will you buy it for me?” she whispered, still looking around as if we were being stocked.

“What’s wrong? Do you need money or something?” I started unzipping my purse, but she grabbed my arm to stop me.

“No, I’ll give you the money. I just think it will be more… plausible. Or, I don’t know. Acceptable. You could just speak in Spanish.”

I took a deep breath before answering her. I no longer believed this was a pregnancy test she was buying just in case. Without even meaning to, my eyes flicked to her belly, normally flat and tight. Was it looking looser? Was she gaining weight? I hated myself for asking the questions, even silently. I decided to play dumb. “Your Spanish is better than mine is. If you want to speak Spanish, feel free.”

She smiled, a painful smile, like it was costing her. “Like someone with blonde hair and blue eyes is gonna look like an immigrant. Just use the accent you use with your Mama when y’all get talking about jam recipes.”

I crossed my arms, any pity I’d felt for her disappearing. “So you want me to do it because I’ll pass for an immigrant? Because it’s all right if I get mistaken for a no-good teenage mother dropout, but not the blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who’s actually—I assume—had sex?”

She placed her hands on my shoulders and met her forehead against mine. “Please don’t be so loud. Fine. I’ll do it myself. It’s not like I meant any offense. But… will you still come with me?”

I lifted up my hands to copy her, squeezing her shoulders. “I’ll still come with you.”

We held hands as we wandered through the aisles, trying to pretend we were browsing for nothing in particular. Our conversations were usually lighthearted, with constant chatter, but we wandered the corner mart solemnly, like something sacred. Or maybe we were just scared.

Neither of us could meet the eyes of the older woman working the cash register. Emma just placed the test on the counter with a pile of cash. “Keep the change,” she muttered, taking the test and shoving it into the wide pocket at the front of her hoodie.

“There’s a bathroom ‘round the side,” the woman said, but Emma ignored her. She ran toward my car like she was trying to avoid the raindrops, but her hood was down, her blonde hair soaking. The water that dripped on her face seemed intentional, like it was trying to hide her tears.

***

How’s NaNo going for everyone else?

NaNo Prep–Broad Strokes

I saw this video on my Facebook News Feed today, and as I watched it, I couldn’t help but think of the WIP that I’m brewing. Watch the whole thing if you have time. At least watch the first three minutes and then the last thirty seconds.

Amazing drawing by an amazing artist <3

Posted by Alon Gabbay on Thursday, June 4, 2015

I’ve said it before with my own artwork: the difference between a professional’s work and an amateur’s is often time.

By about the halfway point in the above video, I was thinking, “Wow! What an awesome picture! It looks so realistic!” Then I saw the end result.

As September starts and I get geared up for another year of NaNoWriMo, this video was a perfect object lesson for me. Paint in broad strokes first. As this artist works, he gives a general outline of the face, then fills in the dark spots in various colors. Very early on, you get a sense of the hair, the eyes, the nose, and the mouth–and he hasn’t done anything but paint in the shadows.

The book I want to write for NaNo is slowly taking shape in my mind. I have four of the main characters, a few snippets of scenes I want to write, and a few themes and symbols I’m playing around with. This video was an excellent reminder that I don’t need to worry about details yet. The book will start to look like a book much sooner if I work on getting down the gist of the conflict and the ways the various subplots will build on each other.

If I just stick with the scenes I’ve decided on already, there’s a chance the “finished product” (i.e., my NaNo draft) will look much more like this:

than like the finished painting in the video.

Who cares if the scenes you’ve written have beautiful language and excellent symbolism if they don’t fit in seamlessly to the story as a whole?

Writer’s Digest Boot Camp Day 1

Dear Writer’s Block,

I hate to do this in a letter, but you’ve given me no other choice. See, here’s the thing: you always disappear when I confront you. So I’m just going to leave this on my desk and assume you find it.

All the usual cliches assault me as I sit down to tell you why we have to break up: it’s not you, it’s me; our lives are heading in different directions; I have a strong suspicion that you’re seeing other people. But cliches become cliche because they’re true.

It isn’t you, it’s me. I’m willing to take ownership of that. The truth is I know plenty of people who would be happy with you. I’m just not one of them anymore. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but keeping you in my life would be nothing short of settling, and I’m deciding I deserve the best. Which brings me to my next cliche.

Our lives are heading in different directions. You’ve already found your life’s purpose. You know you’re meant to frustrate people and keep them distracted from writing. You are the voice in authors’ heads insisting their ideas aren’t good enough. I’m happy you’ve found your purpose, but I’m finding mine, too. My purpose is to write. Surely even you can see that we’re just not compatible anymore. I must stop using my relationship with you as an excuse, so I have to end our relationship.

Not that your influence is entirely negative, by the way. I don’t want you to think that. I wouldn’t be such a master at Bejeweled without you. I doubt my house would be as clean, or my other art projects finished. My sock drawers are organized, my books alphabetized, and my Netflix queue has never been so close to empty. But that’s not what I’m looking for in a partner. Among other things, I am looking for fidelity. And, per cliche number three, I’m sure you’re seeing other people.

When I ask my writing friends what they’ve been writing recently, they bow their heads and mention you. Embarrassed, yes, but they seem to be unaware of our long-term relationship. Am I that unimportant to you?! Sometimes I think you’re chasing after anyone with the potential to take your bait, just hoping to get them cozy in bed with you rather than their laptop. Yeah, I get it, you have a life’s purpose you’re trying to fulfill.

But from my vantage point, you’re just a cheating workaholic with no concern for me or my feelings or my own work. So that’s it. We’re done. For real this time, too, none of that on-again off-again stuff you tease me with.

Adieu

P.S. Your brother’s kinda attractive. You know the one. Procrastination. I hope you won’t be offended if we hook up sometimes. He’s already promised me a long weekend getaway.

On Anticlimactic Endings

Last Tuesday was my last day at my day job. There were many reasons I chose that day: end of the quarter, a few days after I got back from vacation (so I could check in with the New Me to make sure everything went well), etc., but the biggest reason was that there was something final about leaving work on a Tuesday and not coming back in on a Wednesday.

Here’s what happened on my very last day at work:

I showed up at about 8:15 and checked in with the New Me. I watched her work until 9 a.m., when I had an exit interview with HR. That conversation lasted 20 minutes, and during our talk, I mentioned the style guide I’d created in 2010 before the company that hired me merged with the company I was quitting. She asked to see it.

It still needed updated from Old Company format (but I’d marked up a hard copy with my changes already), so I left New Me at her desk and went to my old desk to work on updating the style guide. This took much of the day.

To celebrate and/or mourn my departure, we had Thai food brought in. One person asked me what my plans were for the next day. Most people just had conversations like it was Just a Regular Company Lunch. After I finished eating, I went back to the style guide.

Near the end of the day, I was asked if I could check the data entered on some figures. Since New Me hadn’t done much of that, I went to her desk to show her how. It took a little longer than I expected and soon it was 4:45.

I went back to my desk, wrote a goodbye email, said goodbye to a few people, and left, the finality of it all weighing on me. I wondered if I’d spoken my last words to some of them, and lamented that I was already forgetting what those words were.

About a mile from work, I realized I had left my cell phone at my old desk.

I turned around, knocked on the locked door, and had to be let in again by someone I had already said goodbye to. I grabbed my phone and left for real.

And that, my friends, is what we call an anticlimactic ending.

Whenever something in my life ends, I look for it to be some kind of Meaningful Transition; I practically beg myself to feel older or different or whatnot now that I’m (1) in my 20s; or (2) graduated from college; or (3) out of a relationship with that guy I once thought I’d marry.

I want closure, like the end of a book, or at least the end of a chapter. Some kind of finite ending so I know that I’m allowed to move on. But it’s taken me 26 years, give or take, to realize that finite endings rarely happen. There are loose ends and mishaps and sometimes everything just ends, no transition, no parade to note that things are changing. And that’s okay.

The problem is that I suck at endings in both real life and my writing. I guess because so many things have simply ended in my life, I think I can just type a bunch of words and then stop typing a bunch of words and pretend like it’s a satisfying ending. I give my characters the easy way out. I make the bad guys less bad than they were earlier in the book.

So as I work my way through April, I’m trying to switch that–to let endings in real life end without all the drama I expect, and to pile on as much drama as I can in the ending of my story. The 42,000 words I wrote in November became about 35,000 (not a bad deletion rate, if I may say so myself), but I realized I was missing the entire third quarter of the book, and the ending I had vaguely planned wouldn’t work and was too soon.

I thought the story was smaller than it was, that it could be contained in a little box I’d prepared for it and the quick ending would happen and the book would shut and everyone would think it was a masterpiece. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

A week into freelancing full time, I’m pretty much over the way I lingered on my last day at work, only to have to return again fifteen minutes later. I’m more committed than ever to my story and giving it the hard ending, the one that ends much more satisfactorily than the endings I find in real life.

What about you? Have you ever made a big deal over a real life transition, only to realize it wasn’t a big transition after all?

Monthly Goal Check-in

As much as I hate to admit it, 2015 has not been off to a rockin’ start. This is up to and including the fact that my first “monthly goal check-in” is five days late… but at least I didn’t tell you it was coming, so you didn’t know it was five days late until now.

On January 1st (an appropriate time!), I listed my goals for the year. I’ve also broken them down into quarterly and monthly goals. For a variety of reasons, I only do these as they approach, so I have my first quarter goals and my January and February goals, but not my third quarter or September goals.

Here’s how I did in January:

1. Read devotional through 31 January. Complete and on time. I’m not a huge fan of devotionals, but it was a Christmas present from my Mom and I want to honor her at least. Since it’s all of a page a day, it’s an easy goal to accomplish. My biggest gripe is that it’s compiled from multiple authors and they don’t even bother to use the same translation for each new passage. I think in the first 31 days I’ve seen almost every English-language translation there is.

2. Read chronological Bible through 31 January. Complete, but a few days late. Most days I was on track, but the weekend the month ended I fell slightly behind. If you’re Christian and/or curious, I highly recommend picking up a chronological Bible. You see the stories through such a different perspective, and the prophets feel more relevant inside their historical context. The one I use is in the New Living Translation, which is a less old-timey translation as well, so it feels more story-like from the get-go.

3. Join two freelance editors’ guilds/associations. Complete! I am now a member of the Northwest Independent Editors Guild and The Editorial Freelancers Association. (Yes, the lack of apostrophes bothers me.) Both come with ample job opportunities, although (and probably for the best) I’ve yet to get a job I applied for.

4. Contact three seminaries about editing. Two out of three ain’t bad. Some of you know that my main freelance work in the past has come from doctoral dissertations for a local seminary. I’m hoping to expand beyond this one seminary in the future. I sent one cold email (in retrospect probably a bad idea) and contacted one of my editing clients who works at a separate seminary.

5. Create a blog post calendar and use it. Technically complete. However, having the calendar isn’t necessarily aiding me as of yet. It mostly just makes me anxious when posts I planned aren’t ready yet (I’m looking at you, unfinished Taylor Swift series). I’m working on being more efficient with my writing time so this will be less of an issue.

6. Publish 5+ blog entries. Blew this one out of the water and published 10 posts, 8 of them actual blogs.

7. Type and edit WIP through about 3/4 through. Big miss here. I only have about 40 pages complete, and I needed just about 100. I’ll get there, though… eventually.

8. Finish dissertation editing on time. Complete. Sort of. We’ll go with yes, because the “sort of” is a long story.

9. Read three books that qualify for my book-reading challenge. Two out of three is still not bad. Especially considering dissertation editing ended up going on longer than I’d budgeted for. I read “Blood of a Stone” by Jeanne Gassman (full review coming soon!) and “Looking for Alaska” by John Green. Coolest thing about LfA? The characters are my age! That is, they were juniors 10 years ago when the book came out, and so was I. So that was pretty nifty. I also got to share the reading experience with a girl I mentor, who’d already read it.