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.

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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.

Dear NSA: There’s Another World in my Head

Dear NSA Agents,

It has come to my attention this week, while monitoring my browser history, you may have been baffled. Yes, I binge-read interviews with Madeleine L’Engle. It was me who watched video after video of cartography instructions, and then looped back to gifs of black holes. Between the hours of 8pm-11pm, I did indeed frequent the Jewish Virtual Library website.

Then you realized I came by none of these places via Reddit. Imagine your surprise!

Allow me to clear the air–I am not starting a time-traveling Kosher cult in space. I do keep a top secret sketch diary of my findings in these gems, but my scribblings have little to do with this great nation’s security. I know, I know–you’ve heard that all before. I can feel your eyes glazing over as you read this note.

But what if I told you there is a perfectly good explanation for all it?

There’s another world in my head.

Like this one, it has texture. It has color. Although its borders are names on paper, its core is made of the richness beyond the curtain of my imagination.

I am exploring this world for the first time from the eyes of my beta readers. It is a deepening. A reshaping. The answering of “what” and “why” and “how” this came to be. An unveiling.

I admit, while I hated history class in grade school, the more I investigate social conventions, technological advances, and aesthetic values, the more I am fascinated by all history has to offer. I never thought writing fantasy would lead me down this path.

I am willing to bet that you, dear agents, also did not expect it, either. You do not understand this spontaneous combustion of topical interests. Anyone working a proper government job wouldn’t (I hear the tie cuts off all whimsy before it can reach the brain).

This world building may seem a bit unhealthy, but I don’t want you to fuss over it. So, here’s your out. Chalk it up to a “broadening of horizons.” Maybe I’m in a mid-life crisis in my 20-somes. You can never tell with us Millennials, am I right?

I won’t even be upset if you decide to not read my book once it’s published. There’s dragons, and all kinds of other nonsense in it.

All I ask is that you don’t shut off my internet when the research gets even weirder.

Love,
M. Sanborn Smith

Novel Update: Beta Reader Testing

Let me tell you about the best feeling in the world: two and a half year’s work, printed and bound in my hands.

Me: “I could die right now.”
Printing Services Employee: “Please don’t do that.”
Me: “No, it’s okay. It’s a good thing.”

I wanted to hold it up right there in the store like Rafiki presenting Simba. In the amphitheater of my mind, I heard the music.

See? THIS is what I’ve been working on!

2nd-draft

So high was my exuberance leaving Office Depot that I even followed the receipt online and gave the staff 5-star quality reviews.

When my husband took my printed copy to work, my heart swelled with quiet pride. But handing this same manuscript over to my mother was another matter. She’s the one who taught me to love books and introduced me to fantasy. She also teaches middle school language arts, making her a shrewd editor and an excellent judge of my work hitting the target audience.

I promise, you’ll like it!

Meanwhile, I have a few other beta readers, all with varying schedules and reading speeds. I just found out one is already half-way through the story–I emailed her the copy 4 days ago.

Wut?

So, while I put my foot in my mouth and attempt to give my beta readers the space they need, I will be researching agents. I already feel like I’m in over my head.

I’ll just keep busy while you judge my precious life’s work. Yup.