An Absurdly Good Book

With my daily “read for an hour, write for 2” routine in full swing, I have been eating up books. Most people go to the deli or liquor store to prepare for Memorial Day Weekend.  I went to the book store.

After 20 minutes of searching Barnes & Nobles, I finally gave in and asked an employee where to find the books on writing. Ah, the “Writing & Publication” section. Of course. It’s located at the most inconspicuously low shelf in the store. Why didn’t I think of that? So, I squatted low, beholding the titles until I could no longer feel my legs. And then I sat like a child on the floor in the middle of the aisle and took out the books, one by one.

By the time I’d narrowed it down to two tomes, the clerk was ready to ask if I wanted a part-time gig dusting the floor. It pained me to leave the other, but could not take them both home. You can only share your four-day weekend with one. Books are jealous creatures that way.

But the book I chose rewarded my decision 100 times over.

Inspirational is not quite the right word for Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” That word is better suited for poetry on gardening and B-movies on the American Dream. Not that there’s anything wrong with feeling inspired, but these “feel-good” stories are temporal. The motivation they bring passes away. So, inspiring will not do.

And it’s not an instruction manual, either. Sure, there are useful nuts and bolts in every chapter on dialogue, character, and plot, but I’d hardly classify it as a writer’s reference guide. It is bursting with too many deliciously candid anecdotes for that.

So what sort of book is it then? Like I am having tea with a twice-removed aunt I have never met before, but she knows everything about me from my mother. You know the one. She is in her 4os, maybe, and doesn’t go anywhere without a bottle of red wine and a leopard-print cane. She wakes up to a broken cuckoo-clock instead of the alarm on her cell like everybody else just because it sounds more “authentic.”

Don’t roll your eyes just because she may be off her rocker. She doesn’t have time for people like that. You’ll never get to know the fabulous, mysterious, and relatable truths she has stored in her alligator purse if you don’t reach in.

If you want to rekindle your love for writing and find something out about yourself along the way, she will offer a drink from the well–or bird bath–of wisdom that is oh-so-rich.

Advertisements

5 a.m. is Ugly

My husband is an EMT, so occasionally he’ll work super early hours. He had to get up at 4:45 a.m. today, so I used that as an opportunity to get out of bed and work on my manuscript.

As it turns out, this time I woke up before my creativity did. I spent a good chunk of the time staring at the screen, trying to stay awake. While I am already seeing the value of setting aside 2 hours a day for my story, I am also seeing the value of sleep.

Just one more page…

I’ll get used to this. And I will remember the coffee and wake-up work out for tomorrow.

Rhetorical Routines

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

We’ve all heard it: “Write every day.”

Oh, brother. I know what I am *supposed* to be doing.

Easier said than done, right?

If you’re like me, you’ve got a 99+ things demanding your attention. And they’re probably important. Things like fitting in exercise, or spending quality time with your family, or putting in extra hours at your 9-to-5 job. You can’t give them up, but they seem to do everything in their power to make you want to quit; they won’t hesitate to pry you away from your keyboard with a crowbar and rob you of your energy.

What do you mean ‘do the laundry’?!

And then, when you’re finally ready to open your laptop again, your muses have abandoned you at the dreaded Wall of Surmounting Excuses and Missed Opportunities.

It’s a demoralizing, guilt-ridden place to be.

Fortunately, I’m not the first fool who decided to up and write a novel. Plenty of crazies have gone ahead, and they’ve been kind enough to bring back words of wisdom from the top to those of us still in the mire. It’s their advice I fall back on whenever I run into that accursed wall. And thanks to the powers of the internets, much of this advice is accessible.

Wow, I love YouTube interviews.

So how do they answer the question of daily writing? Writer’s Digest interviewed Alice Walker (author of The Color Purple), and she had this to say:

“… Part of writing is not so much that you’re going to actually write something every day, but what you should have, or need to have, is the possibility, which means the space and the time set aside—as if you were going to have someone come to tea. If you are expecting someone to come to tea but you’re not going to be there, they may not come, and if I were them, I wouldn’t come. So, it’s about receptivity and being home when your guest is expected, or even when you hope that they will come.”

Okay, alright, that sounds fair. I already think of my characters as living, and feel guilt when I ignore them, so I suppose I could be a bit more…hospitable. But how can I possibly set the time aside?

And that’s when THIS “little” infographic hit the net. It depicts the different waking hours of Pulitzer Prize winners. And guess what? Many woke up to write at 4AM.

Were they crazy? Probably! Did they drink a lot of coffee? Most definitely. But to write when the rest of the world is still sleeping? That’s brilliant.

So, I’m starting my new routine: get up an hour earlier to write, and read for at least an hour each day. It’s an uphill battle, but I know I will get stronger with every step I take! Wish me luck!

SCBWI Meet Up: The Power of Peers

A few Saturdays ago–and I say that because I am utterly losing my sense of time– I attended a critique session with the “Mitten Meet Up” for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.

Michigan Mitten
Yes, we love our hand puns in Michigan.

Battling down the usual anxiety of exposing my manuscript to fresh eyes, I decided that it was in the best interest of my story to go–after all, the feedback I’d received from my beta readers had been insightful. Plus, the last SCBWI meeting had been very informative. I thought, “I’m a grown woman, for Pete’s sake. I have no time for these petty insecurities causing me to lock my manuscript away from the world!”

The lovely ladies organizing the event suggested each in attendance bring 500 words to pick apart over a two hour critique session. That’s right, just 500 words. Out of, you know, over 62,ooo.

Suddenly, this didn’t seem like a good idea.

On one hand, I wanted to impress the mittens off of my fellow Michigan peers. But what was the point of that? It really put me in a tight spot and made me reconsider what type of feedback I would need the most.

I wasn’t going to stroke my own author ego; I was going for my story.

Given the twists and turns in my plot, I decided to start from the beginning. I know, I’m so creative. But ch. 1 sets the tone of the story, and it’s where both of my main characters are introduced. I knew already that I needed to develop both, at least a little more. And when better than a first impression? Besides, you need a strong hook to stand out to literary agents and publicists. Mine was somewhat decent, but nowhere near where I wanted it. So, I printed out 5 copies of my first chapter and set forth on the journey that would lead me to oh-so-many revisions…

At the meeting, I quickly settled in with the small group of YA authors. We nestled in at a baroque conference table in a library right off of a page of Harry Potter. Not only was the setting lovely and rich with inspiration, but it placed us far enough from the boisterous laughter bouncing in the hallways (thanks to the illustrators and children’s book authors). It was a nice change of pace; at the last meeting, I slipped away with the quickness only an introvert knows.

#IntrovertProblems

But safe within the library, I was thrilled to talk with “others” like me. After introductions, we took turns reading the stories aloud. The drafts were all in different stages, but all had brought a chapter from the beginning, or near it, of their manuscript. At least we were on the same page! As we went through them, what became apparent to me was that Michigan has some serious talent brewing. Look out, agents! When it was my turn to read another author’s chapter, I cracked up several times throughout my narration and had to recompose myself. I was quite enjoying it all until it was my chapter’s turn. That’s when the anxiety kicked back in.

There is nothing quite like hearing a stranger read aloud your book for the first time. Especially when a middle-aged man with a deep voice is reading lines meant for a 14-year old girl. After buttoning my mouth, I sat in a paralyzed daze. The dialogue sounded so pedantic and heavy-handed. The tone was dark, but not deep. It was like hearing daytime TV melodrama.

Does it really sound like that?

But it seemed so much better on the page!

What is happening?

Despite the mortifying doubts storming my brain, somehow, the group gave me a positive consensus. They were interested. Even wanted to know more about this world in my head. Hey, maybe it’s not as bad as I think? +5 confidence points!

Then they gave me something more valuable–honest criticism. The kind I could take home and chew on. I asked for more details, and they were happy to support that with specific examples.

“At the start, you tell us X, but instead show us Y here, here, and here.”

“I love this character, but I want to know more about them. How can you bring out this quality?”

“How about adding a scene like this?”

It was pretty fantastic.

There are shortcomings in your writing you will most definitely be blind to because it is yours. You know how it is supposed to sound. In your head, you have already filled in the blanks. The author’s omnipotence is dangerous to the story because it can end trapping you in a common pitfall without ever knowing why or how you got there. This peer meeting gave me the invaluable perspective on where to go from here when I thought I had already run chapter one into the ground.

Energized, I got in my car. The muses danced with the turning of its wheels. I couldn’t wait to get home and put these fresh, inspiring thoughts down on paper. This feeling lasted for about 20 minutes. And then I realized that fantasizing about writing is a lot easier than actually putting words on paper.

Chapter one would require more time, careful revision, and coffee.

I am going to write SO many drafts.