Signing Off, Broken Process, and a Writing Experiment

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

© 2014 the Jotter’s Joint

My Colorado vacation highlight was hearing Gary D. Schmidt talk about writing and publishing. His advice was similar to what you may hear from other sources e.g. write every day. He recommended 500 words. Disciplined. Committed. Daily. No excuses.

I considered my writing process and the rationale behind it. Early on I determined every day didn’t work for me. It was too much. I needed time to ruminate, rejuvenate, etc.

Then I decided that word counts could be weekly instead of daily since I wasn’t writing every day anyway. It made sense.

And then, I figured my writing goals could be worked monthly so long as I donated some of my time to it. It’s not like it’s my ‘job’ right? Who needs deadlines? It will get done in its own time.

Four years later …

When my writing process seeped out of its dedicated-routine sized pitcher and leaked into a-hobby-I’ll-get-to later sized bucket, I didn’t notice. Until I kicked the bucket over making a huge puddle sized mess to mop up. A puddle, I promptly pulled up my pant legs and stepped over it.

I thought, “I’ll deal with you later,” because it was like trying to drink the ocean with a straw. A salty impossible mess.

Better for it to be out of sight, out of mind. (But not really.)

I realized, my process was broken. And broken processes are an irritation, a pet peeve. Ask my husband the number of times he listened to my rants about this topic on vacation. Processes are meant to run smoothly and efficiently. When they don’t, they’re meant to be improved.

Stay with me …

Gary also talked about how he’s not actively engaged in social media. He stated (and I’m paraphrasing), if you only write 500 words a day, should it be a blog post? Or tweets or whatever? Or should it be 500 words toward your fiction or non-fiction pieces? At the end of the year you’ll have 183,000 words to edit into the story you want to tell. You can get it done.

Ouch! That hit home.

Remember, my blog was supposed to be the place where I practiced writing? Okay, maybe it’s become a distractor or an “out” from doing the “real work” that’s hard and terrifying.

Again, broken process.

I know, I know, I just posted that writer’s write and it doesn’t matter what they write, but hmmm … I am rethinking that philosophy.

While I was on vacation my characters came-a-calling. They’ve lain silent for almost a year, only to shake me awake at 5 AM when I could be sleeping in for a change.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” they screamed.

I was game. I sat in the dark of our hotel room writing feverishly while my family slept quiet and peaceful.

There’s something about this time of year. Summer and vacation, being away from my normal seems to unleash my creativity, the playful side.

Hold on, we’re getting there …

While I thought about my recent reads (which were so good) and all of Gary’s encouragement, I realized the story scope on my novel was too broad; aggressive for a newbie. I started in the wrong place. I needed to plot the plot even though I am a pantser. The list of first-timer mistakes I’ve made is long.

I tweeted my epiphany which came in one of those 5AM moments:

From 40K to zero because starting over feels right. #plotting #AmWriting

Yes, I am scrapping it all. I am giving this WIP a clean slate to reinvent itself.

In working through this I found a new beginning to the story (4 unique versions of the beginning to be exact). A new direction and manageable scale which can help me past my writer’s block. I hope.

There’s a new working title: The Way to Wonderland, which makes me smile.

Character names, purposes, and motivations will change. Locations will evolve. Villains and heroes will get an unexpected twist, I never saw coming. And somehow it will all come together.

Here it is …

The culmination of events leads to the real reason for today’s post …

I am signing off.

No, not forever.

I am dedicating the entire month of August 2014 to writing; working on the novel in progress which technically is a new angle on an existing idea. I’m in pursuit.

31 days of 500 words a day. No exceptions. No excuses. It will be my little writing experiment,

Let’s see if I can fix my broken writing process. I’m nervous but hopeful.

Wish me luck. Live in the suspense. I’ll chat with you in September around the 9th. Be well!

~Gail

NOTE: I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, thinking the timing would allow for character development and plotting. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it done. I will spend the first part of August completing the important task of planning. Then I will write 500 words a day. I’ll still check in with you early September but it’s likely I will need more off time to hit 31 days.

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Joint Venture: Susie Finkbeiner on Facing Fear

Photo provided by Susie Finkbeiner

Photo provided by Susie Finkbeiner

My friend, author and blogger, Susie Finkbeiner is hanging out at the Jotter’s Joint today as we celebrate the release of her second novel:  My Mother’s Chamomile.

The most terrifying moment in writing (for me, at least) is just before I start. The cursor blinks. Blinks. Blinks. The word count at the bottom of the page shows a big, round zero. My fingers hover over the keys.

I hesitate because the beginning is important.

No, I’m not talking about the “hook” or getting the first sentence right. That’s not the beginning that scares me. All that can be tweaked and polished later on.

I get goosebumps from the genesis of creation.

My first book, Paint Chips, was in the hands of a publisher and I was ready to start work on my second novel. I had the characters, the plot, the ending, even the title.

But I also had a problem.

Fear of the blank page paralyzed me.

Would I be able to write a novel again? Would it be okay? Did I know enough about my subject? Would I be able to find a publisher for this novel?

I’d write a sentence. Delete it. Another. Delete. Over and over.

I needed something. I just didn’t know what it was yet.

I tried more coffee. Got up earlier. Stayed awake later. Prayed. Cried. Smashed my keyboard. Okay. Maybe not that last one. But I sure wanted to.

Then, I remembered that November was coming. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). A challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in one month.

I signed up.

Turned out, I needed a fire under my behind. I wrote furiously. The words came. They were awful, but they came.

By the end of the month, I had a good deal of the first draft done. 50,000 words.

The real work was about to begin. Editing and reshaping and cutting and rewriting. But the terrifying part was over.

The blank page.

I needed to cannonball into the swimming pool of writing, not keep on the edge, testing the water with my big toe.

My novel, the one that tortured me before I began, My Mother’s Chamomile released last month.

That means it’s time for me to leap back into another novel. Only this time, I’m not as scared.

I’m ready for the splash.

Photo provided by Susie Finkbeiner

Photo provided by Susie Finkbeiner

I am grateful to Susie for being my guest and overcoming her page fright to deliver a powerful tale of loneliness, longing, loss, love, and grace.

Buy your copy of My Mother’s Chamomile at your favorite retailer and then show Susie some author love by visiting her at:

 

 

Making Real the Moment

Interview

Interview (Photo credit: smiling_da_vinci)

I’ve always been able to daydream away my problems, at least for a little while.

One of my writer dreams since before I committed to actually writing (last year) … since my early twenties really … To have Oprah Winfrey select and use my work of fiction in her book club. Followed, of course, by an author interview on her show.

The only change to this dream over the years has been style related. As fashion changes so does what I’m wearing in my visualization.

Now that Oprah has moved on to do her OWN thing, I haven’t kept up with her shows or formats. I know she still does the book club but I don’t know the details.

As a result, my visualization has changed. The interviewer is faceless. The set is different. Again my outfit is different. But the one constant:  I arrive at this moment. In my mind I make real the moment of becoming a published writer, an author. Sought after. Movie rights sold.

So … out of my writer’s toolbox into yours, I give you visualization.

It helps when I get discouraged or feel inadequate or hit a wall and become blocked.

I imagine an interviewer asking me questions about the point in the story where I’m blocked. I imagine that the end result is so fabulous that people want to know how I pulled it off in my novel.

By answering the questions the interviewer asks, I work out solutions and overcome the writer’s block. In essence, I interview my way back to writing the story, back to momentum.

This may sound weird but I’m not the only one who uses such tactics. It comes in many forms.

For example, earlier this year I came across a blog where the author had a friend take his book jacket photo. It was a brooding black and white of the author. Artistic. Clever. I thought it was brilliant. This author was making real the moment. The moment of success and accomplishment.

I plan on doing this as one of my milestones. I love it.

Some writers I know print images to post in their writing spaces to represent their characters or their environments.

My writing partner sent me a picture of a Queen of Hearts Halloween costume. I’d just figured out who my villain would be and this image made her real. Dark hair and tanned skin, clothed in a red and black Elizabethan collar dress. She’s my Red Queen.

Another writing friend sent me a picture of cupcakes via Pinterest. How can you go wrong with an image of cupcakes? The cupcakes were decorated for an Alice in Wonderland theme party. Her note said, “This is how we’ll celebrate the completion of the first draft.”

Since my writing space is portable, I carry the images with me by pasting copies in my journal.

Both my writing partners in their own way were holding me accountable by making real my villain and finished draft. They were helping me visualize success of my WIP about what happens before and after Lewis Carroll’s works:  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

And today, I stood in the mirror curling my hair thinking … How will I create the history for this story? How were The Few formed to protect the mirrors that lead to Wonderland?

I didn’t have answers. My reflection looked at me and shrugged. That’s when the interviewer showed up. Now I have some notes that will help me move the story along. Call me happy writer.

What’s in your writer’s toolbox? What tricks do you use to stay motivated to write or overcome writer’s block?

Photo from  Zemanta

Writing with Childlike Abandon

I have the benefit of seeing my boys chase after butterflies … laugh at the world … live a carefree existence for the most part.

I consider myself fortunate that they remind me daily that creating is easy. I’ve shared before how kids aren’t bound by convention but loved the way this author put it in a recent blog post, What Writers Should Do When Drawing a Blank.

Take time to read it. It made me smile to imagine it … I am sure it will resonate with my fellow dream chasers and bloggers and writers and artists and anyone who has ever had an oh-to-be-a-kid-again moment.

Writer’s Block: A Breakthrough in Progress

When I started blogging I thought I would write about writing more frequently than I have. I guess I don’t have a lot to say about writing.

One benefit of blogging is that I am writing almost daily. I realize writing comes a little easier when it happens frequently at least for me.

Blogging allows me to write in burst and have a completed story at the end. I like finished projects that are ready to share.

This is different than novel writing where I have a burst which is immediately followed by a block. I walk away from these writing bursts with more questions than answers, especially because I am following the story instead of leading it.

Blocks force me to turn to my writing resources looking for motivation:  books, online articles, events, bookstores, and my writing partners.

My hope? To better understand the writing process. But sometimes that’s not enough.

I am reading a book, Imagine:  How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer, which breaks down the creative process. This work of non-fiction intrigued me because I thought if I could just figure out the process of creativity and what it means to be creative, then I could figure out how to write.

Creativity is the header and writing is the subcategory. So, if I understood creativity than maybe writing the novel would come a little easier.

One of my favorite lines from the book, so far is, “The first stage is the impasse: Before there can be a breakthrough, there has to be a block.”

I’ve shared this quote with my writing partners. It’s a good reminder and it takes the pressure off. It gives me permission not worry about putting words down. It tells the story that no matter what I do there will be a block and I should just go with it.

So my focus today is not on the block but the pending breakthrough. Just around the corner waiting for me are the answers to the questions, the decisions on direction, or the epiphany about how to finish.

Writer’s block is part of the journey and I am learning to be grateful for it.