Showing posts with label writer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writer. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Post Where I Talk About My First Writers Conference

It always seemed to me that if I really wanted to call myself a writer, I needed to do more than just write, I needed to go to a conference. But since I've never been published and my blog is just barely crawling along with lurches and gasps, going to a writers conference seemed a bit too...ambitious. Like everyone would be able to smell the Eau de Impostor that wafts around me like too much Axe Body Spray.

I really did go! I have the picture to prove it!

I came at DFW Writers Conference sideways. First, I stalked the website and Facebook page, wondering if I could hang. Wondering if it would really be worth it. Then, I put it out of my head entirely--for about two hours. It turned out, I couldn't focus on anything but the conference. There was a wobbly pit in my stomach, and a voice in the back of my head urged me to talk to my husband about finding the money to make attending a reality. So we talked. And talked. And talked some more, and we decided that we could make it happen for one day. I was over-the-moon that we could manage even that much, so I studied the schedule harder than I've studied for anything since college. After a lot of deliberation, I picked Saturday because I really wanted to hear Jane Friedman speak. I joined DFWCon's closed Facebook group and proceeded to ask roughly eleventy-trillion questions about everything from what to wear to how to avoid vomiting in the ferns. Pro-tip: Just don't barf in the ferns. That's what toilets are for.

Everyone in the group was so nice, and no matter how silly my question was, it was always answered with reassurance and kindness. Not once did I feel like an idiot for asking something. In a group with over 400 members, that speaks volumes! Two weeks later, I purchased the second day. It wasn't an easy thing for me to do. We got bills to pay, we got mouths to feed. But my sweet husband told me to see it as an investment in myself and my writing, and really, how do you say no to that? Pro tip: You don't.
 
Through the Facebook group, I met a woman who lives in my town, and I offered to carpool with her. Then she offered me the second bed in her room. I had been planning to come home each night, but staying onsite and getting to soak up the writer-magic for a whole weekend was just too spectacular to pass up. Of course I said yes!

Roommates! 
My roommate and I arrived on Friday evening. We checked in and met up in the lobby with some other early attendees for chatting and game playing. After dinner, we wandered around and found ourselves on the third floor, where the conference would be. We just wanted to get the lay of the land, but we were invited to sit and chat with a couple of the volunteers who were taking a break from setting up. As we were chatting, we met an agent, fresh in from out of town.

In the group, we were told that it would be cool to pitch agents anytime, anywhere, except while they were eating, going to the bathroom, or on their way to a class or something. But my new soul-sister and I didn't pitch this agent. Instead, we chatted with her. She talked about her life and her favorite foods...just, you know, chit-chat. And it was fabulous!

As a writer, I tend to forget that agents are just people. I spend so much time researching them, trying to find out what they love and hate, trying to craft the perfect query so I can land an agent and live the dream, that I sort of start to see them as these out-of-this-world beings who pull the strings of my fate. Logically, I know that's simply not true, but it's easy to lose a healthy perspective when you're in the query trenches.  Over the course of the weekend, this agent and I had a number of conversations, and I never pitched her. I probably could have, but I was enjoying the conversations and didn't want to ruin them with a pitch. That first conversation with that first agent was also my first, and possibly most valuable lesson of the weekend: People are people. Writers, agents, editors...we're all people. We all either love or hate guacamole, and if you remember that, you'll be just fine.

Drinks with an Agent.

I could tell you about all the classes and and workshops I took, but I'm not going to. Not because they weren't valuable. They were. But more than that, they were just non-stop. It'd take me a week to write it all down, and I'm not sure it'd be a compelling read. What I can say is that DFWCon was about so much more than classes, pitch sessions, and agent receptions. Yes, those things are wonderful and valuable, but that stuff is all just surface level. What DFWCon is really about is relationships. It's about finding your community--finding your people. When you put 400 writers together for a weekend, the conversations are intense and the connections are often instant. I learned that even writers who seem to have their shit together feel anxiety. Even writers who flit from conversation to conversation still need to take a bathroom break just to have a moment of quiet to gather themselves. I learned that as weird as any of us may feel out in the real world, when we come together as a group, we all fit in. I signed up for the conference by myself, but I left with four hundred new friends. There just aren't words to describe how empowering and completely awesome that is.

Fun Hair = Instant Friends!

In the end, it didn't feel like I was going to a writers conference. It felt like going home. To everyone I talked to, everyone who smiled at me, everyone who laughed when I laughed, and everyone who lifted me up when my self-doubt tried to hold me down: Thank you. You made my first writers conference an experience I will never forget.

And to all the volunteers who put this gig together: We're not worthy! We're not worthy! We're not worthy! You were the true rock stars of the weekend. Thank you for everything!

Thank you, DFWCon Volunteers! This one's for you!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

An Angry Young Woman Grows Up

When I was in my early twenties, living alone in my very first apartment, I spent my days chasing a creative writing degree and working my ass off in a preschool. My nights nights were devoted to poetry slams, reading insane amounts of  Pablo Neruda, working the local poetry open-mic circuit, and writing. Poems, mostly, but also also a fair amount of short fiction.

One of my friends at the time, a much older poet who happened to look a lot like Pablo Neruda, said my work was good but that it was "angry young woman" poetry, so it was hard for him to identify with it. Looking back, I think he was just trying to say something nice about something he couldn't understand.

When I look through the overflowing and torn folder that holds the writing from that period of my life, I realize I was an angry young woman and that my target audience was not tender-hearted fifty-year-old males. I had a bone to pick with the world, and words were my weapon.

I've changed a lot since then. I grew up. I realized that poetry isn't my passion. I got married and had a kid. Sometimes I can hardly remember the girl I used to be. But I still have a couple of things in common with her. I'm still mad as hell, and words are still my favorite weapon.

There are times when I feel overwhelmed with the world. I can't believe that there is so much hostility, hatred and injustice out there. Sometimes I feel like I'm being crushed under the weight of bigotry, misogyny, and ignorance. It makes me angry that women don't have a voice in their own healthcare. It infuriates me that the color of someone's skin determines how they are treated by law enforcement and society as a whole. Rape culture is alive and well as women are told to restrict their actions to avoid becoming victims.  Gay marriage is still controversial.

Although today is Women's Equality Day, there is still a lot of work to be done before women (and people of color, and the LGBTQ community) are truly on equal footing.  I look forward to the time when there will no long be a need for such holidays as Women's Equality Day. One day, we can all see and treat each other as equals, and I won't stop being angry until that time comes.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Writer's Forgotten Dreams

When I was in junior high, I wrote my first novel. It was a story about a girl whose father was murdered and she was kidnapped by the murderers. Turns out her dad was a bad guy who did bad stuff and when crap went down, he ended up taking a swim wearing a pair of cement shoes. I wrote it long hand, on loose leaf paper during study hall and lunch. After I got a cheap typewriter, I spent months teaching myself how to use it. Eventually, after lots to tears and correction cassettes, I had an error-filled (but typed!) manuscript. Oh, it was beautiful, that stack of eighty-two typed pages. It proved that I had what it takes to write a book from beginning to end. It was proof that I could be a writer if I tried hard enough. It proved that my dream of being a writer wasn't stupid. There was only one thing left to do: get it published.

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/420366.article
I went to my town's only public library and checked out a woefully out of date Writer's Market. Back at home, I flipped directly to the Publishers section and wrote down the addresses of a few publishers that would accept unsolicited work. At that point, I didn't understand what an agent was or why they were important. Mostly, I thought agents were something you had to pay for, like a lawyer or therapist, and that gave wealthy aspiring writers the upper hand. The whole thing seemed unfair to me and I wanted no part of it. Youth is full of misconceptions.

My school counselor was impressed that I had written and then typed a novel, and he gave me permission to use the faculty copier to make a single copy of it. The smell of paper, fresh and warm from a copy machine, still makes my heart hammer with excitement.

I deliberated a long time over which publisher to send the only copy of my baby to. I don't remember who I picked or why I picked them, but I can recall that dropping my book down the mailbox chute felt like abandoning my beloved dog. I was pretty sure I'd have to barf into the bushes before I got home. Good thing for every homeowner along my route, lunch stayed in my belly.

Weeks later, I got a personal reply from that publisher. I don't recall who sent it, but I do remember how kindly worded the rejection was. She said that, unfortunately, they no longer accepted unsolicited manuscripts (damned out of date Writer's Market!), but that she had taken it upon herself to read my novel. She said it was promising for someone so young and that I shouldn't give up. She said it could use some polishing and that maybe finding an agent would open more doors for me. She ended the letter by saying she felt confident that I would go far in my writing career if I kept at it.

I was crushed. All I could see was the rejection. The nice stuff, the encouraging stuff, didn't register. It didn't occur to me what an amazing person this woman was for taking the time to read all eighty-two pages of my poorly written, unsolicited manuscript and then to take the time to craft an encouraging rejection. My good fortune was completely lost on me.

Life continued. I went to high school, got a job, went to college, got married, and had a baby. Somehow, that memory of my first submission and rejection got buried. It wasn't until just recently, when I started the process of querying agents for Average Simon, that I remembered. It's sad that something so huge was shoved to a dusty corner of my mind and left to rot. But I'm grateful, too. I'm grateful querying brought the memory back. That recovered memory is as much of a gift as the long lost letter the publisher sent to me.

The years have taught me that writing, from the first draft to the querying stage, is full of hidden gifts. Forgotten emotions. Abandoned memories. And that, sometimes, it can take decades to remember that your dreams are worth chasing.

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.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Starting is the Hardest Part

I love writing. I love learning about my characters and where they live. I love following along as they go on adventures and deal with problems. I love the way they can infuriate me or make me laugh out loud. As a writer, I get to experience my stories in a way that nobody else ever can, and I love the private journey I take with my characters.

But as much as I love writing, I dislike starting a new project. Sure, I'm full of anticipation and hope, but at the same time, I'm filled with doubt and a touch of dread. Am I really up for the task of doing it all over again? Am I up for monopolizing lunchtime conversations with chatter about who said what to whom and how she deserved it? Am I prepared to feel the oscillating emotions that go along with writing a novel: The joy, the excitement, the ambivalence and the despair?

When I'm about to start a new project, I question both my sanity and my choice to become a writer. I could have been anything. I could have been a competitive skydiver, an accountant, a bounty hunter, a cake decorator. I could have been a chef, a gymnast, a surgeon, a dog trainer. There are so many things I could have chosen that wouldn't have been so emotionally and physically draining, and I'm sure I could have been happy enough doing any one of them. Why in the world didn't I choose a different path?

Easy. I don't love anything the way I love writing. I can't go anywhere without making up stories about everyone around me. I am prone to sudden fits of laughter in the grocery store because I had a vivid and absolutely hilarious (to me, anyway) scenario flit through my head. Notice how I didn't call them hallucinations? That's because I don't need medication, I need words. Or maybe words are my medication. I think about them all the time. I feel most myself when I'm putting them in nice little rows, building one upon another. Without that, I feel displaced, depressed, and just not right. I could have been a bounty hunter, but I don't think hunting down bad guys would make me feel as whole as writing about bad guys.

And so I come back to the place I started: putting off starting. That first word of a new book is so hard to write, but the first sentence is damn near impossible. What I know, though, is that if I can power through the first few sentences, I get pulled into the story and writing becomes easier. Adrenaline kicks in, and the words begin to flow from my fingertips with an ease that is almost disconcerting. Almost, but not quite. The relief and wonder overtake the fear, and I know that I'm doing exactly what I am meant to do.

Starting is the hardest part, but it's also the easiest to get over. Just one word. Then one more and one more. Just one sentence, followed by another and then another, and I'll be well on my way. I've had a good break, but now it's time to stop procrastinating and get back to work.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Finding Inspiration As A Writer

Sometimes, when I'm supposed to be writing, I'm actually combing the interwebs for inspirational quotes about writing. There is a fortune cookie fortune taped to my monitor, and a quote by Somerset Maugham written on a sticky note and taped up to my wall. When I'm stuck, these slips of paper are enough to remind my fingers that they need to keep moving.

Now I have a new one to add to my wall. Actually, this quote is so perfect for me that I want to paint it, in big blue letters across one entire wall of my office:


Oh, Jon, I knew adolescent Dannie loved you for a reason. Clearly, you were speaking to the nearly forty year old writer that I would one day become.

I happen to be lucky enough to have the love and support of my family and friends, but when it comes right down to it, if I don't believe in myself, what good is it to have the belief and support of others? Nobody can sit down and write the stories, blog posts, or query letters for me. They can cheer me on and ply me with liquor and chocolate, but in the end, the dream is mine and only I can make it happen. Sometimes the negative voices in my head want to take over and tell me that there's no point in trying because I'll never succeed. Sometimes, I give those voices more authority over my actions than I should, and that is exactly why Jon's quote resonates so deeply with me.

Just as Rome wasn't built in a day, neither is a novel written in a day. But more than that, a novel can't be written, even in a hundred years, if you don't believe in yourself.

What inspires you?



Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Importance of Being Habitual

When you're a kid, it seems like adults drone on and on about developing good habits. They talk about how it's easier to create good habits than it is to break bad ones, about how kids with good study habits do better on tests and are less stressed out. When you're young, it's really rather hard to understand what's so great about a life of boring old structure when there's a whole world out there to be discovered.

I like to think that, as a writer who happens to be an adult, I've outgrown the desire to roll my eyes every time I hear the phrase "good habits." I like to think that I epitomize solid habits because I know that they are way more important that adults ever let on.

When I was in the process of writing Average Simon, I actually towed the line. I had a great schedule that I stuck with, and that schedule turned into a habit. Every day brought the same events until lunch time: Get up, have a cup of coffee and check emails and social media. Then I'd lock myself in the office, put on headphones, turn on Pandora and spend the next two hours ignoring everything that happened in the rest of the house. It was good. It got to the point that I just felt all wrong if something happened to interfere with my routine.

When my first draft was done, I rested for a little while before getting to work on my revisions. It felt good to get back into the swing of things, and I like to think I was productive.

Now my manuscript is in the hands of some very brave and much appreciated beta readers, and I feel like I'm in a sort of limbo. There are things I can do to get Average Simon one step closer to publication, but without feedback from my beta readers, it's hard to sketch out a synopsis or flesh out a query letter. I've used that as an excuse to let go of my routine. I find myself surprised by how much I miss my writing habits.

It's true what the adults say: Good habits are easier to break than to make, but once you make them, they sure do make life a lot easier. I think it's time for me to get back in the habit of writing every single day.

First thing tomorrow.

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?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Every Day Is Happy New Year

I'd like to make a confession. It's not a huge deal, not a life altering something that will make people cross to the other side of the street when they see me coming, but it is something I want to get off my chest.

I hate all the New Year's Eve and New Year's Resolution and Happy New Year sentiments floating around at this time of the year.

I just don't get it. I never have. I don't care about a ball dropping in another time zone, I don't really give a hoot about the year's top songs or the best movies of the year. I don't like the idea of celebrating the end of one year and the beginning of a new one, and I despise making resolutions. Above all, I hate staying up late for an anticlimactic moment that I may have missed because my clock isn't set properly.

To me, the idea of celebrating New Year's Eve is about as silly as expressing thankfulness on Thanksgiving.

Wait. Don't start throwing rotten eggs at me, but I'm not a fan of forced thankfulness either.

I know that a lot of people see New Year's as an opportunity to set new goals, to reevaluate what works and what doesn't, and to take a step back and reassess where his or her life is heading and whether or not to change course. There's nothing at all wrong about that, but I don't view it that way. I'm much more of a live in the moment kind of gal. It just doesn't make sense for me to wait until a specified month, specified day or specified moment to show or feel things.

I am constantly reassessing my personal and professional goals. I reevaluate them  on a regular basis and change what needs changing when it needs it. I express my love and gratitude for friends and family on a daily basis. I focus on my health--physical, emotional, and mental--every day. I try and do the things that I know are good for me. I avoid the things that are bad for me. I allow myself small indulgences without guilt, like gorging on chocolate on Christmas morning, because I know that over all, I'm pretty healthy.

My life is a constant work in progress, and, strange as it may seem for a writer, I do not view the end of one year as the end of a chapter. I think that life is too messy, too emotional and complicated to be wrapped up in neat little chapters. Sometimes, out of the blue, things from previous years (or chapters that should be over and done with) pop up, and I have to deal with them all over again. But life is beautiful and strange and mysterious and damned messy. Closing the door on all previous chapters is a disservice and often counter-productive. Sure, it shuts out the bad stuff and gives you a stepping stone for the good stuff to come, but it also shuts the door on all the magic, joy and growth you can get from letting life flow about you all of the time.

This isn't the same as continuing to allow harmful  or negative influences to have access to your life. If there is something you need to move past and put behind you firmly and permanently, then by all means, do it and don't look back! But don't wait for some far off, arbitrary date to take that step. Do it when you're ready and not a moment later. Who cares if it's almost Easter or nearly graduation?

In the end, you are the only one who can live your life just as I am the only one who can live mine. If you have made mistakes and hurt people, don't wait for a special occasion to make amends. If you regret not spending more time playing with your kids, talking to your grandpa on the phone, working out, or learning to cook fried chicken, don't put it on your soon-to-be-neglected list of resolutions. Just do it. Pick up the phone. Get on the floor and build with LEGOs.  Dance like a teenager to YouTube videos. Open a cookbook and go buy a chicken. Do it now. Not tomorrow or next week. Now. Because all you have is now. And once you've made it a habit to play with LEGOs or pick up the phone now and then or to work up a sweat dancing to 80's videos, you'll find that the things some people call "resolutions" are really just the stuff of day to day living. They add up to a happier, healthier, more joy filled life. And get this: You get all the awesome gooey good feelings without any of the guilt of not seeing a resolution through. If you determine that you just don't like the way frying chicken makes your house smell or if playing on the floor just isn't your idea of a great time, you can just move on to something else, something that will fulfill you and bring you joy and not guilt.

One year has ended. I hope it was an amazing year for you and your loved ones. A new year is beginning, and I hope it will be even more amazing and wonderful. But in the end, my wish for you is that you take charge of your life every single day. Cherish the golden moments. Grieve over the rotten ones, and keep putting one foot in front of the other, always taking solid and sure steps into the life you want.

What will tomorrow bring 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.