Showing posts with label book. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Long Break

A lot has happened in my life since my last post. The biggest thing is that my family and I relocated from Albuquerque to the Dallas, TX area. It was a rather sudden, but mostly welcome move. I'm glad that I finished Average Simon before the relocation, though. Since we came out here about two and a half months ago, all of my energy has been in getting settled. Or, rather, helping my son get settled. This move has been more difficult on him than anyone else, and he's needed an awful lot of love and reassurance. So, my days have been spent unpacking, exploring fun places in DFW, going to Six Flags, trying to make connections in the local homeschool community, generally doing everything I can possibly think of to help my eleven-year-old make friends. Every now and then, I will look longingly at my computer and wonder where I'll find the time to sit down and get back to writing.

I can't help but think, though, that this extended break has been good for my creativity.  Stephen King, in his awesomely awesome book On Writing, suggests taking a break and letting your manuscript marinate for a good long while before doing revisions. I didn't take much of a break between drafts of my novel, but my query letter and synopsis have been marinading for months.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been coming back to those two documents and reading them again and again. I can see room for improvement, but I can also see that they're both pretty strong. That's a far cry from how I felt before the move. When I packed them up in boxes in Albuquerque, I was completely convinced that they amounted to kindling. Honestly, I was  ready to light both on fire and spread the ashes somewhere in the desert.

I'm glad I didn't. If I had, I would have had to start both from scratch, which would have been so disheartening, I likely would have just built myself a permanent pillow fort under my desk. Instead, I read the query letter, assessed its strengths and weaknesses, and tweaked it. And tweaked and tweaked and tweaked until I came up with something that I believe is better than passable or decent. A break allowed me to re-work my query with fresh eyes and to *gasp* finish it.

My synopsis up for assessment and tweaking next. My gut is telling me I may need to scrap it and start that one all over again, but that I'm okay with that. Writing can be a lot like a science experiment. Sometimes you get the desired results, sometimes you don't. Just because the results are different than what you expect, that doesn't mean the experiment failed. It just means that you've ruled one thing out that stood in the way of success.

I could have never come to that conclusion without a long break.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Lessons I've Learned From Writing a Novel


  1. Writing can be a lonely experience. It's hard to say "no" when friends invite you out for coffee or a movie. Locking yourself in a room and pounding at the keys is isolating in a way that's difficult to describe.
  2. When the world is going on outside your closed door and you're feeling sorry for yourself, keep your fingers moving. Soon enough, the characters in your book will gain substance and you'll be carried to their world. As long as you have characters, you're never alone.
  3. Once you're in the world you've created, prepare to lose yourself. You'll find that this fictional world is rich and full and absolutely endless. The characters who live here are just as real in their world as you are in yours. 
  4. When you visit your fictional world, remember that you are a guest. Sure, you conceived  it, but you're not God here. At best, you're maybe an advisor. You can suggest to your characters that they behave in a certain way, but you can't force them. You can outline what a town looks like, but you can't paint the details. Trust that this world will develop itself in the way it needs to be developed.
  5. Don't expect anyone to understand why the actions of your characters make you angry, sad, or excited. Nobody will ever get that, to you, these people are real. Sure, your spouse might nod sympathetically, but he or she just can't understand. As far as anyone can tell, they're just characters in a book you're writing, not actual people with annoying and endearing personality traits.
  6. Just write. Even when you don't know what to say. Even when you don't think anything will come out. Even when you think you'll be staring at a blank page forever, make your fingers move. I've been known to write the word "something" over and over again until my fingers start to form words of their own. Sometimes I reread the last few sentences I wrote the day before and then tweak them a bit. That small act is often enough to get the juices flowing. The important thing here is that you sit down and make your fingers move. The words can't come if you don't let them know you're ready for them. 
  7. Internet radio, such as Pandora, is your friend. Create a brand new account for use when writing, and then learn what your characters like to listen to. Add stations that reflect the vibe and emotions of their world and lives. Every time you write, put on your headphones. You'll find that the music not only drowns out the barking dogs, but it makes transitioning to your characters' world a whole lot easier.
  8. Stay off of social media when you're writing. Nothing will suck hours out of your day like scouring facebook for writing groups. Along this same vein, stay away from YouTube. Cute puppy and kitten videos are deadly to the craft. They suck you in and before you know it, you've spent an hour watching "just one more." 
  9. Speaking of time, there is no such thing as the perfect time to write. We all have busy lives. We're all balancing a hundred things at once, and we all wish we were able to write full-time. For most of us, that's a pipe dream that does more harm than good. Time isn't going to present itself to you wrapped in a bow, you have to make it. Choose a block of time, whether it's half an hour, or three hours, and write at that time. Every day. 
  10. When the time for rewriting and editing comes, be kind to yourself. Don't let the roughness of your first draft convince you that you're a bad writer. Rewriting and polishing is part of the process. Nobody gets it right the first time. Not even you.
What lessons has writing a novel taught you?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

You Know You're a Writer When...

I  recently had a conversation with a young man who told me that he is in the process of writing a fantasy series and scoping out ways to get published. He also said that he wishes he could write full time.

Me too.

It's true, I don't have outside employment, but that doesn't make me a full-time writer. My son is homeschooled, so my husband and I co-educate him. There are still all the little things around the house to do and all the meals to cook. We have bills to pay, cat litter to scoop, fevers to soothe, and a marriage to nurture. And just as my husband tries to give me space to write as much as I need, I try to give him space to work on his marketing business all he needs. It's certainly not easy to balance the needs of a child, a group of pets, and two self-employed adults. Most days I only manage to get a couple of hours of writing time in. Some days I get a bit more, but some days I don't write at all. Sometimes I long for a life that allows me to write 40 hours a week, without guilt.

But the fact that I don't write "full time" does not make me less of a writer than someone who writes sixty hours a week; I just have less time. That's it.

I'm a writer, and you or someone you love just might be one, too. If you're not sure, just refer to this handy list of symptoms:
  • You find yourself agonizing over where to place the word "is" in a sentence.
  • You're happily shampooing your hair when the solution to a sticky problem in your book hits you. Instead  of rinsing your hair and finishing your shower like any sane person would, you jump out, wrap a towel around yourself (if you have a preteen son in the house. If you're alone, you skip the towel all together), and run--dripping shampoo and water--to your computer to write before the solution slips away.
  • You're sharing a meal with friends or family and you prattle on and on about your characters as if they were your children or friends: Oh my gosh, you won't believe what Simon said to Ana! Oh and Lorna! She has so much on her plate right now and she's handling it all  so well. I really should get her some chocolate or something...
  • Your friends and family listen indulgently, with just a minimal amount of eye rolling, while you dish the latest gossip. 
  • You wake up in the morning hungry but start writing before breakfast. Before you know it, you've been writing for hours and your hunger has mysteriously disappeared.
  • Something bad happens to your character and you cry for him.
  • You sit in front of your computer for forty-five minutes and can't think of a thing to write so you just type the same word over and over and over until that word changes into something that actually belongs in the story. My favorite thing to type when I'm stuck is "chocolate". Unfortunately, it's also my favorite thing to eat when I'm stuck.
This list is by no means complete. The point is, being a writer isn't defined by how many hours you put in, it's defined by whether or not you write. If you write at all, if you agonize over your words and your characters or subject matter, then you're a writer. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, including yourself.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Writer's Block Is No Excuse

I have writer's block and a cold. My throat hurts, my head hurts, I can't stop sneezing. My brain is foggy and I can't string together two coherent thoughts for anything. I also have several writing projects that I'm working on and I've attempted all of them today, just hoping to find my groove. Unfortunately, my groove must have packed up and gone to Disney World for a vacation, because I can't find it anywhere.

So what is a writer to do when writer's block strikes? My initial reaction was to power through it and write anyway. After all, the editing process is there for a reason.  But sitting and staring at my manuscript for forty minutes only served to make me feel like a failure. My next reaction was to throw up my hands and say, "Fine then! I'm taking the day off!" But hiding under the covers and reading Stephen King isn't going to get me any closer to finishing my book.

I realize that the words aren't going to flow from my fingertips today, but that's okay. Today I give myself permission to lay the story aside, but not to take the day off. Instead, I'll work on other things that will help me achieve my end result:
  • Write a blog post about what to do if you have writer's block
  • Browse through The Writer's Market, online and book forms, and read helpful articles
  • Use The Writer's Market to identify potential agents to query
  • Actively participate in social media to engage in discussions with other writers, offer love and support
  • Curate a list of blogs I'd like to follow and possibly guest blog on
  • Curate a list of bloggers I'd like to invite to guest blog here
What do you do when the words just won't come?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Confessions Of A NaNoWriMo Dropout

It's November. The leaves are turning, and in some cases, falling from the trees here in the high desert. The days are still warm but the nights are cool, and the smell of fireplace smoke tickles my nostrils every time I take a walk with my dog. November, time for pie and turkey and way too much dairy. Time to put away the Halloween decorations and pull out the sweaters.

It's also time for NaNoWriMo. Huh? NaNoWriMo. It's a crazy, fun, intense, caffeine and Cheetos filled whirlwind of a month that is dedicated to writing a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days. This strange name is short for National Novel Writing Month. It's a time to give yourself permission to lock yourself up in your room or hide in a coffee shop and just indulge in your wildest literary fantasies. It's insane. It's fun. It's free. And best of all, there is a ton of support and wacky goings on. I love Nano and I sign up every year.

And every year I drop out.

Like all writers, I have an entire Rolodex full of excuses not to write (though my husband has recently launched a campaign to get me to dump the Rolodex and use Google Spreadsheets instead), and they are all so reasonable: The baseboards need scrubbing, the cat needs brushing, I have to try on every piece of clothing I own so I can send a bag to Goodwill. I'm sure you get the idea and don't need me to list all four thousand eight-hundred seventy-two reasons.

I always start out fully intending to write fifty--no, seventy thousand words! No, wait! In my best Dr. Evil voice, I burst into the living room and declare that I will easily write  "One hundred thousand words! Bwwahahahaha!" My husband usually just looks up at me and offers a supportive "Wow. That's great, Dannie. How much have you written so far?" My answer to that is typically of the I haven't actually started yet. I have to make a crust for that potpie we're having for dinner, so I'll start pounding out the words tonight variety. 

At some point, I always do sit down and write, but by the time I find my writing groove, I am so far behind my daily word count goal to reach 50k words, that I start to feel panicky and resentful. Resentful of myself for having a hard time. Resentful of all the household duties that are distracting me, resentful of all the amazing, beautiful, talented writers who can easily blow right past their goal and actually succeed in finishing NaNo. So I pour myself a glass of three dollar wine and hope that loosens me up enough to be productive. Unfortunately, it only distracts me and I end up wasting an inordinate amount of time on Facebook. Most years, I just give up entirely around the third week of November, feeling guilt and shame over my pathetic 4,000 words.

So this year, I didn't sign up. This year, I am aware that it's National Novel Writing Month, and I'm genuinely happy for all those writers out there who are participating in the write-ins and camaraderie, but I'm just not playing. Instead, I'm plugging away, every day, on my novel. I have a reasonable word count goal, but I don't have a hard and fast deadline. This year, I'm giving myself permission to lock myself in my office and write, but I'm also giving myself permission to watch Mythbusters with my kid or to work on a blog post or short story if I'm not feeling the novel love during any particular writing session.

I think the main difference is that this year, I've officially given myself permission to be a writer full time, not just for a month. I don't feel like I have to pound out 2,000 words every day. Some days I do and some days I barely hit 700. But that's okay. For me, writing isn't a race, it's a way of life. The story will ebb and flow, the hours in the day will work with me or against me, and sometimes things will pop up. And that's okay.

The first draft of my novel is far, far, far from where I want it to be. I wish I had three times as many words written as I do, but I'm not stressing out about that. It's coming along day by day. And this year, as NaNoWriMo happens all around me, I feel proud of myself for accomplishing what I have. On the days where I'm not a productive as I hoped to be, I gently remind myself that there is always tomorrow.

When it comes to writing, what do you have to confess?

Monday, November 5, 2012

How to Write When Your Characters Won't Cooperate

It's been a busy few days and I've hardly gotten any writing done. Sometimes it's hard to find the time, even with a supportive husband to pick up more than his fair share of household responsibilities. Sometimes (okay a lot of the time) I have plenty of time, I just find it hard to make myself get the words out of my head and onto my screen. This whole gonna write a novel adventure has reminded me of something I've always known: writing is damn hard.

When I'm in my zone, the words flow like liquid gold from my brain to my fingertips. My characters are active, vibrant and complex, my dialogue is snappy and intelligent, and all I really have to do to hit my word count goal is close my eyes and type what's going on in my imagination. It's like I don't even have to try all that hard to come up with the actions, my characters just take on a life of their own and do what they need to do.

Unfortunately, sometimes what they need to do is hide in a dark closet and pretend they're not home when I knock on the door. Sometimes what they need to do is eat cookies when I tell them they need to go paint the tree house. And most infuriating of all, sometimes they need to tie me up to the tree house tree and dance around me like little Lord of the Flies heathens while blowing into their conch shells and throwing sticks at me. Even the adults. Needless to say, it's danged near impossible to type what I see when I'm tied up to a tree in the middle of a forest.

Sigh.

So what's an author to do?

If you're this author, you do one of several things:

1. You try to rationalize with your characters and assure them that you have their best interests at heart and that you'd never, ever  kill one of them off, even if you fully intend to.

2. You start to cry like an overstimulated two-year-old and hope they take pity on you.

3. You write their stubborn rears into terrifying situations that only you can save them from. I've found that dangling them over a steep cliff with a stormy sea below brings about an amazing change in attitude. The same can be said of locking them in a dark room with a bunch of hungry rats. Really, the struggling author is only limited by his or her own imagination. And since the characters are fictional, you don't even have to worry about jail time!

4. You try to write them in the way you think they should be written but end up failing miserably and falling back to option #2.

5. You just throw your hands up and shout "FINE! If that's how you want it, you just go ahead and goof off forever in your little world and nobody will ever hear about you and your amazing adventures. I'm going to go read a book that's filled with good characters who behave and do what they're told." Of course, this option does have the inherent danger of the actual living people who are near you thinking your a mad woman (or man), so I would suggest  not taking this track if you are writing at a coffee shop or the public library.

6. Last but not least is one of my favorite options. Write a bunch of smack about what to do if your characters won't listen to you, make yourself a drink and settle in on the couch for an evening of The Muppet Show.

What do you do when your characters won't cooperate?

Monday, October 29, 2012

What's In A Name?

The other day, I took my son out to a store for a Lego building session. There were two other moms there with their children, and as our kids worked on building a haunted house together, we started to chat. Of course, the ice breaker was Legos. Storing them, separating them, stepping on them and the extreme pain they can inflict upon a poor, unsuspecting bare foot. We moved on to other topics regarding our kids: school (two of us were homeschoolers), summer camps, books they like to read. It was all very polite and nice.

Then we started to talk about what our spouses did and whether or not we worked.

I've been a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom for nearly eleven years, and I've always answered that question with, "My husband does ___, and I homeschool our son."

But this time I shocked myself. I blurted out, for the first time in front of complete strangers, "We both work from home. My husband is in marketing and I'm a writer."

Part of me expected laughter or eye rolling, but they seemed genuinely interested and polite. It felt good and it felt strange at the same time. As I devote more time to writing various things (I have three things going right now), I lose time homeschooling my son. I have spent so many years calling myself a homeschooling mom that it felt a little like a betrayal of myself to say that I'm a writer and that my rocking hubby has picked up my slack as an educator.

But the thing is, it's not a betrayal of myself. I've always been a writer at heart. I've always made up wild stories in my mind about our neighbors or people standing behind me in line. That's never changed. The only thing that has changed is that I'm now giving myself permission to let that part of myself out to play. A lot.

Telling complete strangers at a toy store that I am writing a children's book was huge for me. It was the first moment that I realized, "I'm beginning to get used to calling myself a writer."

And here's the thing:  It feels just as right, just as good, just as natural to call myself a writer as it does to call myself a mom.

What do you call yourself?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Story of a Story

Hi, there!

My name is Dannie and I'd like to thank your for visiting my site.

A little bit about myself: I am an author, a lover of Halloween, a chocoholic, a voracious reader, and a mom to one human child, two canine kids, two feline kids and two fish. Okay, I don't really consider the fish to be like family just yet. Maybe if they survive more than fourteen minutes I'll start to feel attached to them.

It was my son (the human one, not the doggie one) who was my inspiration for Average Simon,  my first children's novel. The idea came about one day when he was about nine. We were having a conversation about life and he looked at me in all seriousness and informed me that all he wants is to be an average guy. Not famous, not necessarily rich, just a normal guy.

It's interesting how inspiration can come from a simple conversation. My brain got to whirring and purring and I thought:
What if there was a boy who just wanted to be average, but the more average he tries to be, the more extraordinary he discovers he is? How would he feel about that? What would he do? Would he be able to accept his talents? Would he try to hide them for the sake of not standing out? What would be the result of never allowing your true self to be seen by anyone, including yourself?
A seed was planted. I knew that this was an idea I needed to develop and nurture, but I shoved the idea into the very back of a deep and dark closet under some dusty stairs in my mind. Every now and then, I'd mentally pass the old closet door and I felt like there was something important inside, waiting for me to shine a flashlight on it, dust it off and bring it into the warm sunshine. But I was always too busy to bother with a dusty old seed of an idea, so I just kept on passing that door and ignoring the feeling that I was neglecting something. I couldn't even remember what it was that I had been ignoring anymore.

Until one day not too long ago. My kiddo asked me a simple question:
Hey mom. You always promised you'd write a novel for me. When are  you going to start it?
 Oh yeah. I did promise him I'd write him a book...Well, okay. This seems like as good a time as any.
How about I start it this month?
The grin that spread across his face was bright enough to reach under the dark closet door and shine, just a little, on that long neglected and forgotten idea. He asked me what it would be about, and without even having to think about it, without a sense of panic or fear, I strode confidently into that closet, pulled that seed of an idea out and showed it to my boy.

And now here I am, on a journey that I always  knew I was  going to make. No, it's more than that. I'm on a journey that I was born to make. A piece of me wishes I had started this trip a long time ago, but ultimately, I'm excited to finally be on my way.

Thank you for joining me on this trip of a lifetime.