THOU SHALT NOT LET YOUR BLOG–OR YOUR WRITING–LANGUISH

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One of the Ten (or so) Commandments of blogging. I broke it. Sort of. I was still blogging on occasion, but over at Bad Menagerie, the awesome space I share with a few of my wildly talented and creative critique partners.

And then life happened. My father passed away, my father-in-law passed away and my eldest son graduated from college, all in a 6 month span. Those events are all on that “Life Stresses” list, and boy lemme tell you, they belong there. I kept writing, but not with the same vim.

The sad truth was I’d fallen out of love with Cate and Gabriel. There was something wrong with them. Or, it wasn’t them, it was me. Half way through major revisions, I threw up my hands. I was tired of using a crowbar on the plot, tired of Cate and Gabriel living in my head. It became pretty clear there was some super-sekrit sekrit about the revision process, and I didn’t know what it was. So I kicked it off a cliff set them aside.

But the longer it sat, the less interested in it I grew, which was a bit worrisome. I’ve invested years in that book. It had been betaed and worked, and betaed and worked again.

So I did something that would hold my feet to the fire, something I’d never done: I signed up for a local conference and prepared to pitch my novel to agents. Naturally, that meant I had to have my novel ready. So what did I do? I wrote a draft of a different (short) novel. I wrote flash stories and short stories and non-stories from prompts. And then I wrote a novelette. (What is a novelette anyway? We didn’t have novelettes when I was in school. There was novel, novella and short story. But I digress…) I wrote a 20K story. I called it my long-short, and it turned out not-bad. I even subbed it. I got my writing juices flowing freely again.

But still no desperate passion for the novel I was scheduled to pitch, and time was running out. I decided to hold my nose and peek at what happened while it sat stewing for those months. Not much, outwardly,  but it aged better than I’d anticipated. I laughed when I read parts of chapter 1, things looked better than I’d remembered. I kinda liked it again. So I got back to work, whipped things into shape, wrote a decent pitch and synopsis, and pitched the thing. And to my shock, other people seemed to like it, too.

The theme of this blog is kicking myself out of my lane. Take chances. Get uncomfortable. I did that by going to the conference, but also by stepping away from the book I’d been immersed in for so long. I found out something a lot of writers know, but until you’re faced with it, it’s hard to believe: sometimes things have to cook in their own juices for a long time. Which isn’t to say that “stewing” novels don’t turn rancid, or wind up big mold-covered lumps. That happens all too often. But sometimes things just need to be left alone to let the flavors blend. Sometimes all they need is a poke and a stir.

We’ll see if it’s tasty in the end or not, but either way, I’m back in my lane, a fine place to be for now.

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Dissociate Me

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547px-Janus-VaticanSometimes I wish I had a modified version of Dissociative Disorder, a kind I could turn on and off at will. Prolific writers seem to have mastered the ability to dissociate, to turn their minds to disparate worlds, characters, stories as easy as changing the settings on the washing machine. There’s a skill there that is proving gawdawful hard for me to learn.

I’m not interested in proliferation. (Not yet anyway, wheee!) I only want to be able to dig into one story while wrapping up another, to work on them both at the same time. The prevailing wisdom is while the betas have a draft, or while waiting on queries, get to work on your next story. Alrighty, then. Only, now my mind is split between two stories set in very different eras, with characters who would not be friends in real life. I need to be concentrating on one, but my mind drifts to the other. This seems a sure recipe for not finishing either project, and it may be that most insidious form of procrastination I’ve talked about before: procrastination that looks suspiciously like progress. But even this terrible possibility hasn’t forced me to develop a more effective strategy yet. A writer friend suggested that this ability is a habit, one that takes time to develop. In the meantime, it feels like driving in circles.

Learning the ins and outs of creating marketable fiction is a struggle. Just when a writer thinks he’s conquered one aspect—say, dialogue, point-of-view or storytelling—he’s faced with a new, higher-level skill. It’s daunting, and frustrating. No wonder so many people stick manuscripts in the trunk and never pull them out again. There are plenty of resources for learning mechanical skills, but for the more esoteric skills, it’s really a matter of slogging through and figuring it out on one’s own. Because each writer’s process is unique.

No one can actually teach me how to split my brain to manage two (or more) books at once. I have to learn it, develop a working solution. I’m not a naturally effective multi-tasker at the best of times, and when I’m immersed in writing, forget it. I live in my story. Even food and sleep get shunted to the farthest back burner. But to be a professional about this, which is my goal, this skill must be learned.

Like Janus, a writer must be able to look in opposite directions and see two, sometimes opposing, views at once.

Jupiter help me.

 

Photo Attribution: By Fubar Obfusco [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Revision(ist) History

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Book Pic_compressedI’m getting close to completing the 5th draft of the first novel I’ve ever actually finished writing. Yes, you read that right. @_@ F-I-F-T-H

Okay, It’s not quite as bad as it sounds. Draft 1 was completed in 30 days for NaNoWriMo 2012. 107,000 words in 30 days.  Well, you can imagine. It was rough. Draft 2 was complete 10 days later. I had a mission, you see. Avon had made a crazy offer to NaNoers in the Romance Forum. Get us your imperfect NaNo novel by December 10th and we’ll take a look. Too bad my manuscript was at least 27,000 words too long. I cut and slashed and basically turned the story into mincemeat, although I did take care to eliminate at least half of my typos and grammatical errors, if not the required number of actual words.

Draft 3 came after Avon’s Form Rejection, an attempt to rebuild what I’d ruined. I found myself a few beta readers who, needless to say, replied “Nope, not ready.”

At that point I gave up. Even though I’ve been writing most of my life, I simply didn’t know how to go about revising a novel. But people who’d read it kept asking me about it. Something had clicked. After a few months break, it started preying on me like a mutant alien in a recurring nightmare. I’d be weeding, or walking the dogs, and my characters would start…conversing. And they Wouldn’t. Shut. Up. By this time I’d waded into the Water Cooler at Absolute Write, so even though I still didn’t know how to revise, I gave it another shot, and then I got new betas. I still didn’t hit the mark, but this time I’d gotten some terrific feedback. Some direction. And a lot of support. I decided to try again.

Only now…now that I’m close to the end of 5, I’m dragging my feet. Somehow I’m mired in what is for me, a new and insidious form of procrastination: Procrastination by Doing Stuff. My usual procrastination style is, yanno, sitting back and not doing stuff. Fiddling. Twiddling. Ignoring. But yesterday I wrote an entirely new chapter. 3500 words worth. Bearing in mind I need to be cutting, not adding, this was dismaying in the extreme. I resorted to chardonnay.

One of my writer friends said getting to the end of something you’ve worked on for so long is frightening. I thought I was over that after 4 drafts, but no, apparently not. I have Other Story Ideas waiting on the doorstep, in fact they’re pressing their faces to the windows and tapping on the glass, but this unwelcome guest of a book won’t leave. “More tea, dammit?”

So now, this is me, putting myself on DEADLINE and using this platform for a good ol’ public shaming. One of two things will happen no later than May 6: my 5th draft will fly out of my computer and land in the inboxes of my newest betas, or…it’s the trunk for you, baby. This doggie’s gotta get a move on.

I know I’m not alone. Does your procrastination style have a name? Have you had revision nightmares? Share. We can all laugh and cry together.