Eureka! I’m Writing in a New Genre

I’m writing a book.

Yes . . . yes . . . you’ve heard me say it before. But I’m really writing a book. As of today I’m in the beginnings of Chapter 7 and the word count breakdown of my chapters is as follows (for any of you interested in numbers):

  • Chapter 1:    3673
  • Chapter 2:    3093
  • Chapter 3:    2546
  • Chapter 4:    3714
  • Chapter 5:    2155
  • Chapter 6:    2343

For a GRAND TOTAL (as of now) of 17, 525 words. I think I’m aiming for about 40,000 words.

As some of you may know, I’ve had a lot of book ideas floating around my head for the past few years. I’ve made a lot of false starts and stops. In order to get this far, and give myself the kick in the butt that I needed, I signed up for a course through the Long Ridge Writer’s Group called “Shape, Write, and Sell Your Novel.”  Through the course, you are assigned an “editor/instructor” of sorts to help guide you through the process. I find that, having someone who I have to report to in some way helps me stay focused.

Of course, because you are supposed to wait for feedback, it means that my writing has kind of been random instead of regular. (Not that I listened to the rules completely. I wrote some sections anyway, but I still wanted feedback before I moved too far forward).  But, in general I think having someone respond has helped me shape the novel. I’m finally in the flow of writing and now the biggest challenge is finding time to focus on my other obligations in life.

Except that’s not really the biggest challenge. If you notice, the third part of the title of this course is  “Sell Your Novel.” That means that, now that I have turned in the first three chapters and am onto learning about revision, the next step will be learning about querying and sending to publishers and/or agents.

This is the stuff I find truly terrifying.

Part of the problem, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is that my novel doesn’t fit traditionally into any specific label or genre. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know how much I hate labeling in all aspects of life.  But, if I am going to try to get this published through a traditional route (that’s still a BIG IF) I need to play the game like a good girl and label my work.

I, of course, decided to focus on writing a good story and figure the rest out later.

However a miracle of blogging and social media has a brought a little clarity into my life. Earlier this week, after I posted my 100 Word Challenge, Sandra Tyler over at A Writer Weaves a Tale asked if I was interested in fiction and if I would be interested in joining a writer’s group on Facebook.  Sure, I thought. it can’t hurt, and it’s something I’ve been interested in for a while. I just have to stop being afraid to share.

So, I went over and joined the group. Sandra asked us to introduce ourselves, and I did that. Then yesterday, I read one of the other introductions, and discovered a moment of clarity. Shall I share? Here’s a cut and paste image of the Facebook conversation

Did you get that? NA! New Adult! It’s a new label for a genre that isn’t quite YA but isn’t quite A. Here’s a link to a post on Misha’s blog (My First Book) called “What’s the Next Big Thing in Genre Fiction” that explains NA in more detail.

So now I can say. I’m writing a book. It’s a New Adult Fantasy/Sci Fi book that questions the role of government and religion over women in a world where power comes from unexpected places.

Anyone interested in reading it?

What You Think You are Writing vs. What You are Actually Writing

I’m having a little bit of an identity crisis at the moment.

I know, I know . . . shocking right? Me, trying to figure out who or what I am?

Well, now I have a new symptom of this confusing identity issue. I no longer have a clue what I am writing.

As you may recall, I am currently in the middle of a course/book writing project. I was determined that I was writing an actual adult novel for a change. It was, for all intents and purposes, a fantasy novel, sort of. Kind of. Maybe. But, then again, as I wrote earlier this summer, I am having trouble labeling the genre of this work. Now, of course, many of you suggested that I just write and worry about genre later. And I agree with that. That was also the advice from my editor/instructor in his most recent letter responding to chapter one. (which he liked, by the way).

But he also wrote:

“If I were writing this story (I understand I’m not), I might change that age bit about young women of 21 to young women of 18, and give some thought to a YA novel. As you know, a hot writing niche right now. I just finished the first story in the Hunger Games trilogy, which confirmed what we both know–this isn’t Nancy Drew any more.”

So much for my writing an adult novel. I mean, I know I don’t have to change it, but when he’s right, he’s right!  So, I am now writing a YA novel, but I still have no idea what I am actually writing. Suddenly a romance element has entered the picture, an element that I DO NOT WANT, but it’s creeping in and making me uncomfortable! I am fighting against it, which makes each word a struggle to write.

I guess the book is writing itself and I am just the conduit. Or I simply have lost control of words, my ideas, and my story.

The biggest problem is that every time I try to write now, the doubts creep in and garbage pours out. I know, I know, I just need to let the characters tell the story and figure it all out later.

I just wish I could get out of my own way, and stop fighting myself and my words.

Do you ever find a conflict between what you think you are writing and what you are actually writing? How do your reconcile the two? How do you break through?

From Nothing to Chaos

Yesterday I broke my long silence with silliness, and today I face the complete opposite problem–a mind so full of ideas that I have too much to say. So you get the honor (or the torturous task) of following the jumble in my mind as I try to get control over the chaos.

Fiction Fever

My post yesterday enabled me to focus a little. I spent the rest of the morning at one of my local coffee shop offices pounding out a rough draft of chapter one of one of my writing projects. You will be happy to know (or completely disinterested) that I remembered to pee when a kind woman shared the wall outlet near me so I felt comfortable asking her to watch my stuff. ;)

As some of you may recall, I am currently enrolled in a course to help me write this book, because I felt that having deadlines and an “editor” to offer guidance would motivate me more. In some ways it works, but in some ways it doesn’t as the gaps between sending my assignments and receiving feedback leave me hanging in the “should I move forward or wait” mode of writing. These gaps are made a little longer by the fact that the person I am working with does not accept assignments via e-mail. I’ve dealt with it by writing random scenes or simply brainstorming more about the story, and reading a lot of the course material. When I received feedback two days ago about my plot summary, I was excited to dive in. I was encouraged by the feedback, where he raised some interesting questions that I hadn’t thought of yet; the answers of which will only strengthen the novel (I hope).

So, loaded down with my course manual and computer, I headed out, intending to read and write. Of course, I then left my course manual in the car and had already set up the computer and settled down with my drink, so I decided to write first, read later. The end result of that process was interesting, in that I got a “shitty” first draft down, then read about what makes a strong first chapter, and had lightbulbs go off in my head. “Oh, you better fix that! You made that mistake. Go back and make it better.”

These thoughts wandered through my brain last night, to the extent that I grabbed a printout of my draft and started scratching down notes as I waited for Sarah to get ready for school. I think I’m on the way to something decent, or at least I am tricking myself into believing it.

Kitchen Disasters

I confess, I do not like to cook. It’s not that I can’t, I actually make some decent dishes, but I don’t like to cook especially when it is just for two or three people. Nathan likes to cook, so for the most part he does the cooking and I keep the house in some sort of organized state.

Of course, that posed a challenge when he left Sarah and I for a month on our own as he went off to his summer job adventures and Sarah still had school. Suddenly I am the one who has to figure out dinner.

We’ve done okay. I’ve cooked a few meals. We’ve had a few breakfasts for dinners (love that). We’ve gone out a couple of times. But, I have discovered two scary facts about me and the kitchen:

  1. My Rice Cooker Hates Me! I love rice cookers. I have used them since I lived in Japan, where I would cook up a batch of rice that would last me for days. I mixed it with protein (tuna or some other fish) and called it many a meal. So, I thought, I can make rice and that will be good. But no! For whatever reason this rice cooker refuses to behave like rice cookers should. I know the rice to water ratio. I know how to cook rice in a cooker. So why do I keep ending up with a crunchy layer of overcooked rice on the bottom with good rice on top? Is this kitchen karma?
  2. I Need an Air Popper! On my second weekend of being completely alone I decided I would watch something I enjoyed and treat myself to some popcorn. What I didn’t realize is that I don’t know how to pop popcorn on the stove. One smoke alarm and destroyed pot later, I recognize that I either need my old air popper or microwave popcorn. I also have to go buy a new pot.

My popcorn did not look like this.

NPR Thoughts and Career Dreams

I’ve also been doing a lot of serious thinking and self-reflection over the past few weeks, which I believe has caused both the silence and the chaos. I am participating in a webinar sponsored by my college alumnae association on changing careers, which has made me reflect a lot on where my life is heading. Last week we were “assigned” an assessment worksheet to help us figure out what our ideal work environment/dream job might be. The assessment included some interesting questions, and I surprised myself with some of the answers. One of the ones that intrigued me was this:

As I was driving in horrible traffic to get to an unpleasant (lady parts) follow-up doctor’s appointment, I heard some fascinating interviews on NPR:

  • discussions about recent conflicts which are both depressing and fascinating
  • a discussion about a book called The End of War, which I now need to read. The interview made me think about whether or not I believed it was possible to end conflict, and what it would take.
  • an interview with a Minister as she reflected on Obama’s presidency and racial issues in the USA.
  • a report on Aung San Suu Kyi, who fascinates me as a woman who has fought oppression and proven the power of peaceful resistance

As I listened to each story, I thought I want to know more about that. I want to sit and talk intelligently with interesting people. I want to write about the stories of this world. I want to work for NPR!

English: Aung San Suu Kyi meets with crowd aft...

English: Aung San Suu Kyi meets with crowd after house arrest lift on 14 November 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Mind in Chaos

There you have it, a sampling of the chaos going on in my mind these days. I’m not sure which is better, silence or noise.

The Value of a Quality Editor

As you know, yesterday I finished an exquisite book. From the beauty and simplicity of the language to the depth of the personal reflections and messages, Gift from the Sea makes my list of books that I will return to when I am in search of inspiration as a writer and a person.

Today I finished a book that affected me in a completely different way–in the way you can learn from the mistakes of others.  The story was decent in this self-published book, but I found myself wishing that the author had gone through a publishing process, or at the very least hired an editor to guide him through his final draft before he published it.  I am not against self-publishing, by any means, but if I ever finally do it (I know I’ve talked about it as a possibility) I will be sure to look for guidance before I publish. I think that anyone who considers it should make every effort to create a process similar to a regular publishing house in order to ensure the product is the best quality they can produce.

What, you ask, was wrong with The Thirteenth Unicorn by W. D. Newman? Setting aside the typos and spelling errors (which I sometimes have even found in traditionally published works) I found myself editing (in my head) for active verbs as I went, and wishing that  Newman had posted a sign over his head emblazoned with the words:

As I made my dizzying way through the story, I yearned for the author to make a choice of viewpoint, as he bounced from the head of one character to another within a few sentences or words. I don’t mind when viewpoint changes from chapter to chapter or even scene to scene, but this was ridiculous.

Why did I keep reading? For two reasons:

  1.  I thought the story had potential. It was interesting, and would have been even stronger if he had gotten to the story faster, and built up some feeling for the characters rather than spending the first 7 1/2 chapters plus a prologue on minute details that only add a tidbit to the adventure. Once he got to the meat of the story, the flaws became less evident.
  2. I found myself fascinated by reading this book with the eyes of an editor. I think it can only help me improve myself as a writer, if I learn how to see areas that slow a story down or frustrate the reader.

Now I know for sure that if I ever do decide to go the self-publishing route, I am going to make every effort to have some trusted soul edit my work. I know it is difficult to let go of words you have labored on, and phrases you love, but sometimes a fresh outlook can only help improve the story.

A few weeks ago, Victoria over at VictoriaWrites wrote a post called “Can you write if you don’t read?” where she discusses some author who “was quoted as saying she never read as she was worried she’d end up copying other writers.” My response to Vicky’s post was:

Honestly, I wouldn’t want to read anything written by the writer who claims not to read. While some have an innate talent for words, it wasn’t built in a void. Writers learn from other writers. The truly talented develop a style because of other writer’s: seeing what works, what doesn’t; hearing the rhythm of language used by masters; feeling the thrill of a well-turned phrase or a rich inventive metaphor. Writers who don’t read, don’t grow.

I would now add to that response, in that it is also important to learn from less skilled writers. If we can begin to recognize the flaws in some works, we can learn to correct our own.  If we learn to edit other people’s works, we can learn to value the importance of an editor/author relationship and grow in all aspects of the craft.

Do you think it is important for self-published authors to find editors?

Alone But Not Lonely, Writing in a Crowd

“I know I should be working on my book/course work,” I said to Nathan this morning. “But the problem is my instructor chose the story A. I don’t know where that story begins. I don’t really know what the conflict is. I’ll never be a writer.”

“Let’s talk about this,” he said, and started asking me questions about the characters, the world, and anything he thought might help.

This all happened as he was packing up his lunch and preparing to leave for the day, which would leave me alone in a house where you would think I could get a lot of writing done. Except that I don’t. Or maybe I can’t. Or is it simply that, in my current state of confusion, I simply don’t want to write?

No that’s not it. I want to write. I want to create a story, a world. While deep down inside I hope that I write something good enough to be published, I know that I will never achieve that if I don’t sit down and write.

Nathan left for work. A quiet home. Do I sit down and write? No. I lie down and read, not even something new as I am rereading one of my favorite YA fantasy series (the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull). But thoughts begin to distract me, and I just down some ideas on my yellow pad. I finally think I know where the story can begin.

I hop into the shower, and a chapter begins to write itself in my head.

Of course, out of the shower, over at my computer, the first thing I do is check Facebook.  Uh oh! I think, time to make a move away from the lonely so that I can get some actual work done.

I’ve written about before about the pros and cons of a coffee shop office. The truth is there are times when I want to be in the comfort of my own home, locked away in the privacy of my office, working. But, recently I find that I accomplish more when I get myself out of the house, take myself to one of the two or three locations that have internet access and wall plugs, buy myself a warm drink and a little snack, and then face the blank screen.

I guess there’s just something about being alone in a crowd that helps me focus.

Today’s writing location. I’m sure you can figure out where it is.

It seems to have worked. I have managed to write a chapter, edit some others, write a rough draft of a 1500 word summary, and now I am working on this blog post.

I was going to quit after I finished the summary, but I hopped over to Facebook to find that blogging buddy Mckenzie is attempting to write at a bakery in the hopes that it will help her write. We chatted for a minute and I started this post. She is typing away (I hope) on a chapter as we speak.

See, I’m not alone. We had a short chat and it inspired this post. Writing can be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be.

For me, at least, it seems I write better in a crowd. How about you?

Enemies of Progress

Don’t worry, this won’t be a political rant, (although I could easily ramble on about a political culture that is pushing backward rather than forward).

No, this is a post about the silent enemies inside ourselves, that prevent us from taking even the tiniest steps in any direction. Thus leaving us frozen in place, staring at nothing, drooling a little.

These are the enemies I currently face.  But, I want to confront them by bringing them out into the light. We all have our own versions of these inside ourselves. There is no cure-all, like throwing a golden ring into the Mountain of Doom, which will destroy these enemies by destroying their power source. These enemies are subtle and sneaky. They work through quiet manipulation and silent whispers that slowly cause chaos and bring you to a screeching halt.

As I woke up this morning, I realized that I am under attack, but I am counterattacking the only way I know how . . . through honest words.

Enemy #1: The Green-Eyed Monster

Yesterday Sarah had her second play date of the week. I listened to the girlish giggles and squeals as the two adventures fearlessly conquered the mountain in the backyard.  I know I wrote just the other day about Sarah’s fears, that I find frustrating, but in other ways she is fearless, especially when it comes to using her body or being silly.

I found myself envying  Sarah, for the carefree friendship and willingness to get scratched up in the name of adventure. Could I have joined them? Sure, except that in an unprecedented sneak attack my back twinged yesterday morning as I tried to get into my cozy chair.

Yes, my back rebelled about  getting into a chair AND I discovered that I am jealous of my daughter.

A feeling which closely links to . . .

Enemy #2: Loneliness

We all know writing can be a lonely business. That is part of the craft, in a way, but I discovered in my feelings of envy for my daughter that loneliness can also be an impassable barrier. Let me try to explain. This week has been a struggle for me as a Mom. Sarah was home for spring break, but Nathan did not have spring break (nor did I technically, I have to teach today). Sarah and I have clashed in every way possible, despite huge efforts on both sides.  Hence the decision to bring in play dates, a distraction of fun for her and a break from the tension for both of us.

But I can’t deny that her joy in her friends made me feel even lonelier.

Add to that the fact that Nathan didn’t just work his regular schedule this week, but also had to work nights as it was tech week for a production. I am used to that, it is part of the life in the theatre, but it didn’t help my loneliness and frustration.

To combat the loneliness yesterday, I tried to invite my characters in. I wanted to write about them. I wanted to have conversation with them. I wanted to become their friend.

But they wouldn’t come out to play. “Deal with this!” they each said, and hid away from my overwhelming emotional turmoil.

I found myself trying too hard, thinking too much, and staring hopelessly at nothing. Which of course leads to . . .

Enemy #3: The Inner Critic or The Over-thinking Brain

We all know this one. It’s that little critic inside ourselves that says everything we do is awful. My inner critic has teamed up with my Over-thinking brain. When I think too much, I never get anything done. I start doubting. I start second-guessing. Words don’t flow, because I start trying to be creative rather than just being creative. I manipulate words in search of the perfect turn-of-phrase, or a new way of staring on old emotion. [I even just struggled with that, trying to be all fancy with the use of the word delectable–which got me nowhere, as you can see]

IC and OTB are the perfect team to completely shut me down. I run away, afraid to try, and hide behind other people’s writing. I know, reading makes you a better writer, but not when IC and OTB have me under their control. Like puppet masters, they point out the perfection in other words.

“See, this person knows how to create a character without lots of exposition” says OTB.

“This plot is so much clearer and more interesting than yours,” pipes in IC.

The cacophony in my brain forces me to surrender, and I end up watching tv or playing computer games before crawling into bed early to read myself to sleep.

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

Today I am saying to these enemies, “BRING IT ON!!” I know they are there, they cannot sneak up on me anymore. I realize they will not simply disappear, but I will fight their power over me with everything I’ve got.

This is WAR!

Let’s Take Over Freshly Pressed

I admit that I stopped regularly reading Freshly Pressed a long time ago. Partially as a time-saving measure, partially because I have so many fabulous blogs to follow that I barely have enough  time to read them all, and partially because of a few too many Freshly Pressed posts that I personally thought were poorly written and uninteresting.

Yet that page still dangles before me.

I had managed to push Freshly Pressed out of my line of sight, focusing on writing posts I could be proud of and trying to keep up with all the fabulous posts I want to read each day, while (hopefully) contributing comments that helped me grow as a writer and a member of the community. While my blog hasn’t grown hugely, a few new friends join me every once in a while, and I have found some wonderful new blogs to follow myself. Once in a while an FP headline jumps out at me, and I wander over for a look, but for the most part I have been content with my quiet little circle of WordPress universe.

However, recent events have brought Freshly Pressed back into focus.

Perhaps it started when Jim Chaney, over at the Wordslinger had his (I believe third) Freshly Pressed post picked, called “Stop! In the Name Of . . . Terrible Baby Names”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think Jim’s post was fabulously funny, and all the posts that he has written that went on to Freshly Pressed fame were wonderful. But, if (as I thought) FP is selected somewhat randomly, why then do some bloggers get an overabundance, and others get zilch, nada, zip–including posts that really should have their moment to shine?

A couple of days ago I wrote a post about the success of a program I started last spring, and linked to one of my original posts about the program. The fabulous Kathryn McCullough, who loved the original post from the beginning, wrote this:

That led to a Facebook discussion with another blogger about some of the (possible) secrets of Freshly Pressed. I will not go into details here.

I pushed the question into the back of my mind for a while, until I read Kathy’s fabulous post yesterday called, “Top 10 Reasons to Join the Bloggy Blast”. Kathryn has written numerous posts that should be read by millions of readers. This one was timely, as I sink into questioning “why bother” and wondering where all this writing and blogging is even taking me. Her post reminded me of the unexpected rewards of joining and maintaining a blogging community. At the same time, she brought into clear focus the ever-present shadow of Freshly Pressed, by writing

“It used to be that writers and artists gathered at literal locations like the Algonquin Round Table during the 1920s.  Today bloggers gather at a place likeFreshly Pressed—present the best of their work and hone their craft.  I may have felt honored to have my work featured on Freshly Pressed, but more importantly, a forum like Freshly Pressed offers examples of excellent work that other bloggers can strive to emulate.  It demonstrates what works.  It shows us how to be better writers, stronger photographers, more daring and accomplished artists.”

Freshly Pressed came back to my radar.

So I wrote an e-mail.  I made a suggestion. Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

. . . I began wondering if there was a way to make FP more representative of the true quality of work out there. Many times I have read posts that deserve a broader audience, either for the quality of writing, the beauty of the images, or the importance of the message (or some combination of the three). Yet those posts rarely get recognition (although I have indeed called it a few times). Would it be possible to add a NOMINATE FOR FRESHLY PRESSED BUTTON to all posts, with guidelines like: You can only nominate 1 post a day; you cannot nominate yourself (otherwise you will be inundated with bloggers who just want attention); posts must contain original images or appropriate accreditation of sources; and so on (you know best).

I know that doing this would mean you would have tons of posts to sort through, but it would also give some attention to bloggers who are really creating work worthy of their fifteen minutes of fame and fortune (Ha! Ha!).  I also think it would strengthen FP and the  WordPress Community.

And here is the response:

“Thanks so much for taking the time to share your suggestion with us — it’s a fantastic idea! The idea has come up before, and although it isn’t currently on our to-do list, it’s certainly on our radar.

In the mean time, feel free to pass on nominations to editor@wordpress.com

Happy blogging,

Erica
Story Wrangler
WordPress.com | Automattic

So let’s do it. Let’s start sending her nominations for those stories that we feel truly should reach broader audiences. I’m not talking about our own egos here, where we claim our own writing is the most glorious thing in the universe and dangle even the most mediocre piece in front of her eyes. NO! I mean, let’s be thoughtful and nominate posts we read that we think deserve a little moment in the light of the wider blogging universe.

Of course, there should be some sort of criteria. Some of the things that make a post stand out for me, and make me wish others would read it too, include:

  • quality writing and/or images
  • a message that speaks to a wide audience
  • a message that needs to be heard
  • a post that makes you think or feel, whether that feeling is laughter or tears
  • truth and honesty
  • a post that doesn’t try too hard
  • . . .

What about you? What are your criteria for a post that you think should be Freshly Pressed?

I am not saying inundate them with nominations, but lets be thoughtful and really try to promote each other’s best work.  I nominated someone today. I won’t tell you who unless my nomination turns into success.

Anyone want to join me in taking over Freshly Pressed?

UPDATE

It works!!!! The blog I nominated was Kathy’s wonderful post which got Freshly Pressed today (April 17) !!!  They even sent me an e-mail to let me know. Can I have a WOO HOO!

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