Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Facing Fears

On Friday morning I'm going to New York for the SCBWI winter conference. I'll get up, pack the last few things, drive out to the airport and fly ALONE all the way across the United States. When I get to New York I'm going to have to find my way from the airport to the hotel ALL BY MYSELF. Then I'm going to spend the entire weekend with three girls who I email daily, but I've NEVER MET IN REAL LIFE.

I'm a little nervous. Can you tell?

I haven't ever done anything like this. I always travel with someone. I don't think I've ever been on an airplane without my mom or my husband. I've never been to a writing conference. And I've never been all by myself in New York City.

But, I know it's going to be good for me.

If you are writing and planning to pursue publication you've probably done, or will have to do, a lot of scary things. These are just a few:
--Writing, rewriting, and rewriting a book
--Letting someone else read your writing
--Joining a critique group
--Listening to your critique group
--Querying agents
--Getting rejected
--Getting manuscript requests
--Having to talk to agents on the phone

And that's just the beginning. It's quite an adventure.

Every new step has been a little scary for me. I've had to put myself out there, and I never know if other people are going to love or hate (or worse, be indifferent to) what I write. But, it's been a great experience so far. Sometimes the only way to progress is to push ourselves to the next level and do something that scares us.

Do you get scared sometimes too? Is there a step on the road to publication (or after publication) that makes you nervous? Are you going to do it anyway?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Life Without Internet

My unplugged week was extremely productive. I didn't unplug completely (I had to at least check my email everyday), but I did send my ethernet cord to work with my husband, so I had no internet access during the daytime. It was GREAT.

I made a few discoveries that I'd like to share with you:


1. Checking email every half hour is no better that checking it twice a day. It will wait for you--really.

2. Without an ethernet cord my house became clean and my manuscript became longer. It was like magic.

3. I have no willpower. Just like I can't have a piece of chocolate cheesecake sitting in front of me for more than 30 seconds without devouring it, I cannot have a working internet and not check my email/your blogs/Yahoo News hourly.

4. A while back Lisa and Laura suggested trying a program that disables the internet for a set amount of time so I CAN'T get on it (and I can write). Last Friday I tried one. BRILLIANT. I highly recommend this kind of thing if you are like me and have no willpower.

5. When I unplug all the seasoned bloggers out there start writing about stuff I NEED to read. There were some truly awesome posts last week that I missed (until my husband came home with my cord). If you didn't see them you should check out:

Jody Hedlund's series on: Why We Should Blog
Kiersten White's post about Why Being on Submission Sucks
Elana Johnson's post about How She Does it All


It's going to be a really busy week for me (I leave for the SCBWI conference on Friday!) but I'll be back for sure on Wednesday.

Do you accomplish a lot more when you unplug? Have you ever unplugged? (If not--you need to try it!)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

SCBWI and Unplugging

In less than two weeks I'm headed to the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Conference in NY. I am so excited, because not only do I get to go to to MY FIRST writing conference, I also get to finally meet all of the girls in my writing group (Marie, Karen, and Megan) IN PERSON.

We decided that we're going to do a critique session the night before the conference starts. I haven't ever done a live critique, so I'm a little nervous. We promised to send our manuscripts to each other by Monday the 25th. So I'll have to have at least a few chapters from my WIP that I'm not embarrassed to let them read by then.

Which is why I've decided to send my ethernet cord to work with my husband this week so I can FOCUS on writing and editing. I will miss you all, but don't worry I'll be back next week.

Have you ever participated in a live critique group? How do you prepare?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Perspective

On Monday I learned that my daughters preschool teacher is moving--next week. I panicked. If she doesn't go to preschool how will I find quiet time to write? How will she learn everything she needs to know before kindergarten next year? Can I find another preschool in the middle of the year?

Then the earthquake in Haiti put my worries in perspective. I can't think about all the people in Port-au-Prince without crying. I hope all the aid will ease their suffering. Their tragedy has reminded me of how much we have. I should never complain.

If you haven't already donated to one of the hundreds of charities sending relief to Haiti, and if you feel like you can, please do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It Takes Time

My mom is an oil painter. For Christmas this year she gave me this:


The photo doesn't really do it justice, (the colors are much more vibrant), but it might give you an idea of why it's so embarrassing that I can't even draw stick figures. She's a real artist.

Today, she had an art day with my four-year-old daughter. This is what my daughter painted:

What I love about this painting (and what my mom always says about my daughter's art) is that it's so expressive. The extra colors and lines, and the crooked smiley face and tilted eyebrows just make me happy. I think I'm going to frame it.

I like looking at these paintings side by side, because they remind me that we all start as beginners. I've only been writing for two and a half years. I'm still learning, trying out new techniques, and practicing hard in hopes that someday I can become a REAL writer. I think sometimes I forget that writing, like any creative pursuit, takes time to master. I'll read something amazing and wonder if I will ever be that good, but I'll forget that most amazing books aren't the author's first attempt at writing.

I've read on agent and editor blogs that more people are writing books and trying get published than ever before. I think this is good. Some of those people are bound to write wonderful things that I will love in years to come. And some will give up, because they'll learn that writing is hard, and writing well is REALLY hard.

I don't want to be one of the ones who give up.

The other thing I gleaned from looking at these paintings side by side is that even though my daughter is a beginner, her picture is still fun to look at. I hope people feel the same about my writing. Just because we're beginners, doesn't mean our stuff isn't worth reading, right?

Are you just beginning your writing journey? Or have you been on this road a long time?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Maybe They Don't Know Everything

I wrote my 1000 words Monday through Wednesday of last week. I tried to be diligent and not get sidetracked by Twitter/blogs/"news articles" etc. I forced myself not to go back and edit what I'd written. Then came Thursday.

Thursday I had a self-doubt day. Roni posted about her "I am a Total Hack" day last Friday and she pretty much nailed how I'd felt the day before. Do you have these days sometimes too? Days when you feel like you will NEVER be able to write anything worth reading? I have one every few months-- they stink.

Anyway, part of the reason I was so frustrated with my manuscript was that it is a first draft (which means it's crappy). The scenes are incongruous, the writing is weak, and I don't know how it's going to end (because I abandoned the outline before I'd finished the first 5 pages).

I wanted to go back and edit. I felt like I needed to muck out all the junk and fix all the problems with the first half before I could go on. But I felt guilty doing this for two reasons.

1. Every single thing I've read about writing first drafts tells me I shouldn't go back and edit until it's done (and had a month or two in a drawer)

2. I made the goal to finish the first draft by the time I go to SCBWI (January 29th), and if I stop to revise I won't meet that goal.

Then I decided I'd do it anyway.

One of my problems with general writing advice (be it from books, blogs, conferences etc.) is that I take nearly everything I read as absolute truth. I think, "Oh, she says I'll be a better writer if I don't edit until I'm done with my first draft," or "he says adverbs are the devil" and think it must be so. But the truth is there is no "best way" to write. There's the best way for him and the best way for her, but that doesn't mean it's the best for me.

Maybe I need to edit and rewrite as I go in order to find the story. That is what happened with UNDERGROUND. At about this same point I went back and edited the first half before I went on. I'm pretty sure there is someone out there who can use "was" instead of more active verbs, and still write a bestseller. I KNOW there are successful writers who don't write everyday. And I wouldn't be a bit surprised if some people are able to write great stories using truckloads of adverbs (in fact I'm reading a book right now that I think is fantastic, despite--or maybe because of--the adverbs). I think I tend to look at these, and many other pieces of writing advice, as absolute, but they aren't RULES--they're just guidelines.

I'm not saying it isn't helpful to know how one person writes (or how most people write), but I think I need to start taking writing advice with a grain of salt. I am the only person who can write the stories in my head, and I need to do it in a way that works for me.

So, yeah, that's all I got. From now on I'm going to edit and rewrite whenever the fancy strikes me. I think I'll still be able to write 1000 words a day, but I'm going to be deleting a lot of words too. As a result I probably won't make my January deadline, but who cares!

What do you think? Is there a piece of common writing advice that doesn't work for you? Do you feel pressured to follow a certain process because "everyone" says it's the best way?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Tag

I had no idea what to blog about today when I remembered a few weeks ago I got tagged by Kelly Lyman and Southern Princess to answer these questions. So thank you for the blog topic ladies! I don't know what I would have done without you.

There are a lot of them, so skim away.

1) What's the last thing you wrote? What's the first thing you wrote that you still have?

I’m still working on my NaNo story. I wrote 1000 words for it this morning. The first thing I wrote two and a half years ago when I decided I wanted to write was a short story about fairies. It was actually kind of funny-- one of the few pieces I wrote at the beginning that I don't hate now.

2) Write poetry?

Nope.

3) Angsty poetry?

I don’t think I write angsty anything.

4) Favorite genre of writing?

To write: MG.

To read: probably YA or literary fiction.

5) Most annoying character you've ever created?

Gracie, my MC’s best friend in UNDERGROUND

6) Best plot you've ever created?

Written or not yet written (I haven't written all that much!)? I’ve got some great ones in my head right now, but the best one I’ve actually written is probably UNDERGROUND (my MG novel-- it's about tunnels and bank robbers and young love).

7) Coolest plot twist you've ever created?

I wrote a short story last year about a boy who discovers a room in his house where time stops. Let’s just say, it wasn’t as great as he thought it would be.

8) How often do you get writer's block?

Everyday.

9) Write fan fiction?

Nope.

10) Do you type or write by hand?

Type. My hand hurts after about 200 words when I try to write by hand.

11) Do you save everything you write?

Not EVERYTHING, but I do save a couple drafts of everything I’ve written.

12) Do you ever go back to an idea after you've abandoned it?

YES!

13) What's your favorite thing you've ever written?

Probably the short story from last year.

14) What's everyone else's favorite story you've written?

UNDERGROUND

15) Ever written romance or angsty teen drama?

Not really.

16) What's your favorite setting for your characters?

Made up places.

17) How many writing projects are you working on right now?

Uh, do I really have to say—it’s an embarrassingly large number.

18) Have you ever won an award for your writing?

I think I won something for a story I wrote in grade school. Does that count?

19) What are your five favorite words?

Ugh, Bah, Um, Uh, and Huh

20) What character have you created that is most like yourself?

I really don’t know. I think a lot of my characters have some of my personality traits, but I don’t think any of them are very much like me.

21) Where do you get your ideas for your characters?

From people I know.

22) Do you ever write based on your dreams?

Nope.

23) Do you favor happy endings?

Usually. I love ironic endings too, even if they're sad.

24) Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write?

Yes, but I still make TONS of mistakes.

25) Does music help you write?

Not really. I find it a little distracting.

26) Quote something you've written. Whatever pops in your head.

These are my last few sentences from yesterday’s writing:

“Man, are you crying?” A voice asked.

My hands flew up to my cheeks, and sure enough they were wet. I wiped them with my palms, and tried to look tough as I replied, “Allergies.”


I think I'm supposed to tag more people, so I'm going to tag all of my new friends named Sara or Sarah, because they're all awesome:

Sarah Skilton

Sarah Forgrave at Every Woman's Journey

Sara McClung at The Babbling Flow of a Fledgling Scribbler

Hopefully you haven't already been tagged!

Go check out the Sara(h)'s blogs. You won't regret it.


And question for the day: Do you ever have a hard time coming up with blog topics? What do you blog about when you have nothing to say?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Plenty of Time

Okay, so apparently I'm not the only one who struggles to stay focused! Thanks so much for all of your comments on my Sunday post. I laughed, I cried... and then I wrote. So far I've had 2 back to back 1000-word days. The first wasn't too difficult and the second was a fight from beginning to end (there was some definite Twitter and blog cheating before the 1000 words were done, but I did get them written).

Sometimes I complain about not having enough time in the day to accomplish everything I want to accomplish. I whine that if I just had a few more hours I could have an immaculate house, or write a book a month, or make my kids Halloween costumes from scratch (oh wait, that would require sewing skills too). But the truth is I have plenty of time to do everything I want to do. I just waste it sometimes.

I know it's not like this for everyone. I'm sure some of you are WAY busier than I am. When I was in college I didn't have time to waste (or write books--all of you college students AMAZE me). I think I felt that way when I had new babies too.

But now I have the time, and I just need to use it well. I'm pretty sure I could write twice as much AND have folded laundry every week, if I spent a little less time surfing the Internet and watching TV. I'm going to work on that.

How about you? Do you waste time? Is there an time-sucking activity you'd be better off without?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Focus

Well, the in-laws have left, the holiday break is over, and it's time to get back to work. I'm going to start my 1000-word-a-day goal tomorrow morning and I'm looking forward to a month of productivity.

In order to meet my goal, I'm going to have to work on one of my biggest writing challenges: focus. Most of you parents of young children (or old children) know it can be really hard to get a few minutes of quiet time to write. Even when I do get quiet time, it's still difficult to turn off my mommy brain (which is wondering what I will make for dinner and how long I can put off mopping the kitchen floor), and turn on my writing brain (which needs to be focused on how my MC should react when he discovers his mom is an alien).

Sometimes it isn't too hard to get in "the zone." I start typing and immediately get wrapped up in the story. I could go for hours. But often I write a sentence or two and then I wonder if maybe I should check my email to see what my writer friends are up to. And, since I'm online anyway, I read a few blogs. Then maybe I read a few featured "news" articles, because I HAVE TO KNOW where the cast of Saved by the Bell is now. Before I know it my baby is up from his nap, and I've only written 25 words.

So yeah, I need to work on that. The first thing I'm going to do is UNPLUG the Internet until I have my 1000 words done tomorrow (which is good, because I'm pretty sure I could blow the whole morning catching up on No Kiss Blogfest posts--they'll have to be my reward for finishing).

Am I the only one with focus issues? Do you sometimes waste your writing time reading about the fascinating lives of washed up celebrities? Do you have any tricks to help you maintain focus while you write?