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Stories and Trees

October 12, 2014

The arrival of fall got me thinking …Image courtesy of Billy Alexander @ stock.xchng

Since I love walking in the woods, I find it often feels as if my Muse is wandering in a forest full of ideas. Writing these stories down, especially as a discovery writer, feels very much like growing trees.

For example, despite their magnitude when they are finished, stories start with nothing more than a seed, a nut with a soft center but enclosed in a hard shell. In other words tough to crack— but put the seed in the soil, water it every day, and if it rains and the soil is damp and well aerated, over time the shell will crack and sprout.

This is the part where the daily words come in. I write almost every day, preferably in the morning, with a cup of coffee at my side. With time and persistence, the story inside me will reveal itself, and eventually a tiny seedling will surprise me as its green shoot pokes out of the fertile ground of my imagination.

Image courtesy of Billy Alexander @ stock.xchngThis stage of story growth, while exciting, is also one of the most fragile. I must be careful lest a careless stomp of a critical foot presses the tender seedling back into the ground. I must shelter it from storms, from hungry rodents, from drought. Also, tiny as the seedling is, I can’t even distinguish what it might become. I must write a little every day before discovering what kind of tree I’ve got. Is it an evergreen, destined to adorn a future living room’s Christmas? Is it a weeping willow, its roots seeking the succulent earth near a lake or a river? Or is it a maple, turning fiery orange and red every Halloween? The excitement of discovering what it might be keeps me writing. Who are these characters who populate my idea? What genre of story do they inhabit? Before the first leaf shows its shape, anything could happen.

Once the tree has revealed its species, I must remain diligent as leaf after leaf unfolds to nourish the emerging trunk and creeping roots, as the theme of the story sends shoots into the ground and branches into the sky. As with many things in life, one can’t see the growth from day to day, but over months and even years, that tender sapling grows into a sturdy young tree with broad branches gently swaying in the summer wind. I am incredibly proud of it, but at the same time there are some limbs in the wrong place, shoots springing up next to the trunk that don’t belong there, and even the occasional infestation of wood eating pests.Image courtesy of Billy Alexander @ stock.xchng

This is where the pruning shears come in. Knowing where to prune and what growth to promote is an art in itself, one that can be learned through practice and observing other properly groomed trees. It can be wrenching to lop off graceful boughs in the name of stronger tree growth, but it must be done. A good gardener knows that the light and the nutrition must reach the branches that will bear the most fruit. A good writer knows where to cut and where to graft to create a rewarding story.

Image courtesy of Billy Alexander @ stock.xchngFinally when the tree has grown to its full glory, its magnificent crown dappling the garden below in ripples of shade, I invite my friends over to take a look, to admire the symmetry of the branches, the health of the leaves, the depth of the roots. We can picnic under its benevolent shadow, smell its savory blossoms, and I marvel as I contemplate this massive miracle of wood and bark and leaves and seeds that is my own creation. Trees, because they grow so slowly and tenaciously, sometimes feel as if they live forever. Certainly they outlive us, and stories feel that way to me as well. Writers who came before me, Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, have left behind mighty literary forests that still inspire and enchant us today, and that still cast their shadow over lesser saplings like me.

As I look over my orchard of half-finished books I sometimes wonder, will my trees ever bear fruit? Will I ever reap a harvest from happy readers consuming the results of my hard work? Or will my story trees remain forever ornamental, fun for me to look at, rustling at my window as I sleep at night, but never to be shared?

How about you? What would you compare your writing process to? What is your favorite kind of tree?

Leaf images courtesy of Billy Alexander @ stock.xchng

Infinity Edge

September 22, 2014

Since when do Muses need vacations? Apparently mine does, which is why he’s been suspiciously absent from the blog. Oh, wait, here he is …Image courtesy of 'Lightsource' @ stockfresh.com

I brush aside the palmetto fronds to see my Muse sprawled across one of those inflatable chairs in the middle of the swimming pool, his arms outstretched, his wings a sodden feathered mass behind him. His face is turned toward the bright sunlight, his eyes are shaded behind dark silver sunglasses. The wind ruffles the surface of the water as he drifts a little closer to the pool’s infinity edge.

I step closer and crouch next to the pool to scoop the cool water in my fingers. Nice. I’d sure like to take an afternoon off myself.

“Why don’t you?” he asks without moving from his languid position. Sweat glitters along his exquisite jaw line.

“Hello, M. I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

He raises the frothy orange umbrella-adorned drink to his lips without stirring the rest of his prone form. His skin looks frightfully pale next to his black T-shirt.

“You’re going to get sunburned out here if you’re not careful,” I warn.

“I’ve got sunscreen on,” he retorts and slips the drink into a cup holder on the pool chair. “SPF 200.”

“There’s no such thing as SPF 200,” I say.

“There is now.” He eases himself upright and raises his sunglasses above his eyes to get a better look at me. He appears mildly annoyed. “What do you want?”

I settle myself on the ground by the pool and slip my bare feet into the clear water. “I’m not really sure. But I do want to know how you ended up here.”

He lets the silver shades fall over his black-rimmed eyes and paddles closer so that we’re both under the shelter of the flowering hibiscus trees. Their pink petals litter the surface of the pool and he listlessly picks one up to hold it to his nose, smiling. “The owner is out-of-town and needs a house sitter. Fairly easy to arrange, actually.”

“You mean you get paid for this gig?” I ask in astonishment.

“In a manner of speaking, yes. Unlike you, my dear writer.”

“Please. Don’t remind me.”

“Can I get you anything?” he asks, although he appears to be in no position to get me anything whatsoever.

“I’ll help myself,” I say as I rise. “Don’t stress yourself out on my account.”

“There’s a pitcher of Long Island iced tea in the kitchen …” he starts, but I’ve found the facility myself, a shiny steel granite counter topped affair that Charlie Sheen would be proud of. I return with a Diet Pepsi and settle into one of the wooden deck chairs, far enough from the pool to avoid getting wet should my silly Muse decide a splashing of his writer is in order.

“Why don’t you join me?” he asks.

“I’ve got writing to do, don’t you know? The usual suspects, revisions, classes, blog posts.”

Image courtesy of 'Foxuman' @ stock.xchngHe shakes his head and takes another long sip of his orange drink, then picks out the umbrella and lets it float upside down in the water. It drifts away like a tiny lifeboat for his idle thoughts. “I keep telling you, Writer-babe. When are you going to start having fun?”

“Yeah, I’ve thought about that a lot. I’ve got a lot of side trips happening, and even this little foray into the Hollywood Hills is potential blog fodder.” I glance up to check out the white Hollywood letters above the trees to verify that Morpheus really has taken up residence in one of the most expensive zip codes in the U.S. “What made you decide to take off like this?” I ask.

He quirks the corner of his mouth into a half-smile. “You seemed to have things under control, and every Muse needs some vacay once in a while don’t you think?”

“You think I can manage on my own?” I ask.

“Apparently, but then I see you here, longing for some of this, and I have to wonder.” Morpheus frowns. I haven’t seen him think this hard in a long time. While he ruminates I survey the loveliness that surrounds him. Beyond the infinity edge the city is spread out beneath the villa, clay tile roofs shaded by Bougainvillea and pines and palms, lush vegetation incongruous to this sunny desert climate. Here, in this shady yard, it seems as if the world has forgotten us, one distraught writer and her wayward muse trying to figure out if we’re still on track.

Finally he answers me. “Tell me, Writer-babe. Why do your write stories?”

“To try and understand my life.”

His eyebrows rise above his mirrored shades and he chuckles. “Really?”

“Okay, to get away from my life,” I confess. “And to make myself laugh, and maybe make a reader or two smile.”

“You don’t want to be rich and famous like this dude?” he says and waves his hand to indicate the sumptuous villa behind us.

“Sure, that would be great, I guess. But I know I never will be.” I take another sip of my now lukewarm Diet Pepsi.

“Which is my point, Writer-babe. Why do you drive yourself crazy trying so hard, when you’re already here? You’ve got everything you need right under your fingers; all you need to do is call me.”

I stare at my words as the warm breeze wafts the fragrance of hibiscus over my shoulders and swear I hear the soft thump of a reggae beat from the next door neighbor’s yard. I’m not in my spare bedroom anymore, staring out into my weed-infested backyard. I’m here in Hollywood, enjoying a sunny afternoon.

“So, you gonna come for a swim?” Morpheus asks and pushes himself and his floating pool chair back out into the sunlight. “It’s cooler by the edge.”

I eye him warily, imagining myself in a swimsuit that is actually flattering. “Sure, why not?”Infinity edge pool image courtesy of Steven Heap @ stockfresh.com

So that’s what my Muse did on his summer vacation. How about you? Does your Muse need a vacation?

And, would you let Morpheus watch your house when you’re out of town?

Jungle image courtesy of ‘Lightsource’ ,infinity edge pool image courtesy of Steven Heap both @ stockfresh.com, umbrella image courtesy of ‘Foxuman’ @ stock.xchng

IWSG: Enjoying the View

September 3, 2014

Warning: This will not be the usual Insecure Writer’s Support Group post. Believe it or not, this month I’m actually a secure writer. Shocking, I know, but it’s true!

I’ll start at the beginning.Image courtesy of Lance Kidwell @ stockxchng

See these handcuffs? That’s what it feels like to be an insecure writer. At every turn, you question yourself: Am I doing this right? Am I nuts to think anything will come of this? Who do I think I am to put words on the screen, when the demigods on the NYT bestseller’s list, who turn out books with fabulous covers and reviews printed in USA Today and People magazine, would declare this endeavor all but hopeless. After all, I’m just a daydreamer who happens to find words for these pretty pictures floating through my brain.

InsecureWritersSupportGroupThat’s where the Insecure Writer’s Support Group comes in. Founded by the fabulous Alex J. Cavanaugh ,we gather on the worldwide web to share our insecurities and encourage one another to fight the good fight, never surrender, and all that good stuff. (Oh, and it’s free to join, just click on this linky to add your name to the list of some of the nicest writers on the web.)

I joined without a second thought, (two years ago!) back when A Scenic Route was just a place to post my words as I got used to seeing my thoughts up there for others to read. This terrified me beyond all measure, but the kind writers who stopped by and left nice comments gave me a huge boost of confidence. I saw that I’m not alone in feeling this way. Together our collective of nervous writers can slay this beast of insecurity.

But finally, I’ve got a huge milestone to report. Much as I hate talking about myself, I think it’s only right to share this with everyone who has stuck with me through all my whimpering. Remember in June when I fretted about whether a writing contest would destroy my fragile ego?
Check it out:

Shock And Awe

Shock And Awe

I would never have had the nerve to send the first three chapters of this story out if it weren’t for everyone who comments here. All your wonderful words of encouragement mean so much to me. Who are these amazing writers who have unshackled me from my insecurities?  Where do I start?
Alex J. Cavanaugh of course, but there are so many others! Nancy H. Doyle, Melissa Maygrove, Shell Flower at Tangent Shell, Mark Koopmans, Kristina Stanley, Ivan Borodin, Katherine Lato, Peter Cruikshank, Sammy D at BeMuzin,  ‘ArmchairAuthor’ at Ink, Anushka Dhanapala at Finding My Creature, Liana Mir, Amanda Martin, Jamie Ayres, Mike Schulenberg, Will Hahn, Melinda Hagenson, Katie Checkley, Juneta Key and of course, Holly Lisle.

Can you see me glowing? I know there will be more bumps on this exciting journey, but today might be a good time to take a moment and enjoy the view, because as we insecure writers know, the valley of self-doubt is never far away.

How about you? What were some of the most exciting milestones in your writing journey so far? Did something that scared you ever give unexpected results? Let’s celebrate the good stuff this month!

Handcuff image courtesy of Lance Kidwell @ freeimages (formerly stockxchng)

The Meet My Character Blog Hop-Nick Moore

August 18, 2014

The cold wind gives me goose bumps as climb the front steps to Nick Moore’s beach house, gripping my laptop to my chest like a lover. I knock on the door.Image courtesy of 'Lucretious' @ stock.xchng

Will he remember me? Will he be forthcoming? Have I completely lost touch with my protagonist? Have I completely lost touch with the last vestige of my sanity?

The door opens and he grins broadly. “Writer!”

It is the first time I have visited him here in his new home, now several years into his happily ever after. “Nick?” I ask nervously. “Do you have some time?”

He laughs and steps aside to let me in. “Of course I have time. In fact, I’ve been expecting you.”

I look him over curiously. He hasn’t changed all that much since I last wrote him and still has that lean confident bearing that drives the women wild, and he still favors black over all other colors. If I looked closely I could probably see strands of grey in the dark locks that fall provocatively in front of his eyes, but I don’t try too hard to find them. Mortality is hard enough to face in myself—no reason to confirm its existence in my characters. “You’ve been expecting me?” I ask and step inside. The hardwood boards creak under my boots.

“Can I take your coat?” he asks.

A fire blazes in the hearth and soft furniture is scattered in front of it. “Maybe in a bit. But can you find a place for this?” I offer him my precious, my laptop.

He takes it with a smile and sets it on a table behind the sofa as I gaze at the artifacts of my story spread out in the room. The sunburst Strat is leaning on its stand, plugged into a rack with headphones tossed on top. I wander toward it, as if drawn by a magnetic force stronger than my own will. “This is the one, isn’t it?” I ask.

“Yes,” he replies softly. “You want to play it?” He reaches around me to wrap his fingers around its neck, and the scent of his skin and breath surrounds me.

“Oh no. I don’t play. I just want to touch it.” Which I do, and marvel at the smooth cool surface.

“Can I get you anything?” he asks. “Pop? Wine?”

“No thanks,” I reply automatically, recoiling at the thought of too much wine ruining my chances of discovering what secrets I’ve left unexplored behind those stormy eyes.

“You sure? Cuz I’m getting a beer.”Image courtesy of 'Homydesign' @ stockfresh

I settle into the sofa and open my laptop. “Okay, just a glass of water.”

“That’ll work,” he says and scoots into the kitchen while I pull up the questions for the Meet My Character Blog Hop. Since I see that I’ve already wasted four hundred words summoning him up, I’m determined to keep the answers short and sweet.

Nick returns with a frosty Corona and a glass of water. He leans back on the sofa across from me and lifts the Corona to his lips, taking a long drink while I finish typing. “So, what brings you here tonight? Got more Larry Brooks questions?” he asks.

“Nope,” I reply. “I haven’t given up on those yet but I’ve got some other questions for you. It seems I was nominated for a blog hop.”

He laughs. “Not the blog again.”

“Yes, the blog Nick. They love you over there, you know.”

“Course they do …” he says without a trace of irony, then takes another drink of the Corona. “What kind of blog hop?” he asks.

“It’s the Meet My Character Blog Hop. Urban fantasy writer Juneta Key  nominated me last week, and it seems I’m supposed to post on August 18. So here I am.”

I can tell he’s repressing a smile, but seems willing to play along. He sets the beer on the coffee table and runs his fingers through his hair. “What about that guy you’re writing now? Tristan something or other? Can’t you interview him?”

“I thought about it Nick, believe me. But he’s in first draft, and I tend to leave first draft behind the closed door.”

“Okay, fine, but you do realize that our conversations tend to meander?”

Oh, do I ever. “Yeah, but I’m going to do my best. And then I’m going to edit like a banshee.”Image courtesy of 'Homydesign' @ stockfresh

He nods and the smile escapes at last. “Okay, shoot then. What do you got?”

I look over the questions and paste the first one onto the screen.

What is the name of your character? Is he fictional or a historic person?

“I think we’ve covered that one, haven’t we?” he points out.
“Yes we have, but for newcomers, I should mention that you are indeed fictional, in spite of all my attempts to portray you realistically.”

He snickers. “Next?”

I whip another question on the screen:

When and where is the story set?

His eyebrows rise. “You want me to answer that one?”

“Sure,” I type.

“Okay. So most of the story takes place in modern Los Angeles, where dreams are supposed to come true but often don’t.”

“And?” I prompt.

“Of course there’s the back story. The Summer of Love, the acid tests, and the music.”

“You know they say the best thing about the Sixties was the music,” I observe. “Do you think that’s true?”

He gives me that skeptical grin. “And what’s wrong with the music of today?”

“Nothing at all, Nick. It’s great,” I say. And because I know that a discussion about music can eat up hours of story writing time I toss the next question on the screen before he can delve any deeper into his favorite topic.

What should we know about him?

He eases back into the sofa, setting his feet onto the coffee table. “Well, they say I’m pretty good with a guitar…” Then he frowns. “Not so good with the ladies.”

“What are you talking about? You’re brilliant on guitar, and the ladies like you just fine.”Image courtesy of 'Homydesign' @ stockfresh

“See? I’m modest too.”

“Anything else?”

“Well there’s that dying thing. You know, about the ghost and stuff.” He avoids my gaze and grabs his beer. “You going to write about that on your blog?”

“Maybe, but I won’t give too much away.”

“Good writer,” he says.

“I try,” I type. But we have more questions. I paste the next one up.

What is the main conflict? What messes up your life?

He rolls his eyes. “Where do I start?”

I sit with my fingers poised over my laptop. “At the beginning?” I prompt him.

“Yes. There’s Stuart, who was a certifiable drunk, not to mention all that other shit—“

I cut him off. “This is a family blog.”

“Yeah, all right. But Stuart. And then there’s Libra. Every time I tried to talk to her, she disappears on me …” He stops, unsure if he should continue.

“Perfect, Nick. We don’t want spoilers. And we are taking your story to Jami Gold, the book doctor, so anything can happen. How about another question?”

This prompts another long drink of his beer. He wipes his mouth on his sleeve and I slap the next question on the screen.

What is the personal goal of the character?

“You mean my goal, right?” he asks.

I nod.

He takes a deep breath, then fixes me with his dark stare. “I think you know what that is. Same as yours, Writer. To share my music, my art, with the world.” He laughs. “Screaming fans. Late nights making music. Touring with guys I can get along with.”

“Babes?” I ask tentatively.

He smirks. “Maybe. You’ll have to write me to find out.”

I pause and think about that for a moment, and I’m relieved to find that the next questions are easy.

Is there a working title for this novel and where can we read more about it?

Nick sits with his arms across his chest and asks, “You can field that one, right?”

“Yeah, okay. The working title is THE TEMPEST’S SERENADE, and you can read more about it on my blog. Maybe start with The Next Big Thing, and Black Hair, Grey Eyes.”

“Are we done?” he asks.

“We’re never done, Nick,” I type, glancing anxiously at my word count. “But yes, this post is almost over. There’s one more question, but it’s for me.

The question everyone seems to be asking these days appears on the screen.

When can we expect the book to be published?

“What do you think, Nick?” I smile at him and he grins back.

“The book will be published when it’s ready to be published,” he states.

Image courtesy of 'Lucretious' @ stock.xchngI nod gratefully, accepting that another round of revisions, followed by some vigorous querying lie in this story’s future. But yes, it will be published when it’s ready.

So that’s my bloated, rambling character intro. Do you get carried away with your characters like I do?

But wait, don’t go yet. I have nominees!

The fabulous Will Hahn whose fantasy novel Games of Chance is now available on Amazon.

My fellow How To Revise Your Novel survivor and sci fi aficionado, Nancy H. Doyle.

The super-talented Kristina Stanley whose manuscript Descent was nominated for the Crime Writers of Canada Unhanged Author Award. Its sequel Burnt was nominated for the UK’s Crime Writer’s Association Debut Dagger.

Look for their Meet My Character posts next week. I can assure you they will be much shorter than this one! (Okay, maybe not Will’s …)

Water images courtesy of ‘Homydesign’ @ stockfresh, masks courtesy of ‘Lucretious’ @ stock.xchng

IWSG: It’s Alive!

August 6, 2014

It lives. It breathes, and it’s ready to take on the world.Image courtesy of David Jones @ Stock.xchng Or is it?

No, I’m not talking about my lifeless blog–although I can see why you might think that. I’m talking about my novel, and I’m worried …

This InsecureWritersSupportGroupmonth’s insecurity is brought to you by the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a whole bunch of awesome created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers (like me!) who have issues with their self-confidence. Are you insecure too? Fear not! Just click on the linky and add your name to the list of some of the nicest writers on the web.

So, about my novel.

Last month I got back the last of my reader critiques for The Tempest’s Serenade and was thrilled that everyone seemed to like the story. Some readers were confused– some were very confused– but in general they found the characters to be compelling and the concept interesting enough to keep them turning the pages. I’m excited to start in on my next revision. It was scary to share a story that I felt was so broken, but I’m really glad I took the plunge.

Except …

Courtesy of 'magicmarie' @ stock.xchngeSomething surprising came up in the critiques. I’m finding that more than one reader has strongly suggested that, after nothing more than a polishing pass and a run through spell check, I self-publish The Tempest’s Serenade as it stands right now.

That’s wonderful, right?

Then why do I want to curl up into a ball muttering, “No No No No No no nonononononono …”?

How could I in good conscience perpetrate this mess upon the world? My readers are confused by the story. Hell, I’m confused by the story.

I had to walk away from my computer after I read that suggestion and do something else. I pulled the weeds out of my front yard. I took a long walk in the woods. And I pondered. Should I take that advice? Am I simply dragging my feet on this story? Should I let it go and move on to something else?

Eventually after consulting my playlist (where my Muse lives), I pulled myself together and realized that, ultimately, I am the warden of my own stories. No one else, not even writers I respect, can tell me what to do with them. I don’t even think an agent or a publisher can push me in a direction I don’t want to go in. I need to learn to be true to my vision, even if that vision is still fuzzy.

Does that make me an uppity artisté? Does that mean I will never make a dime writing fiction?

Good thing I like my day job, isn’t it? Because I’ve decided to be true to myself and proceed with another revision. I didn’t sit down to write A Story; I sat down to write this one. And I need to stop and think before I do something that feels wrong for me. Putting The Tempest’s Serenade out into the world with so many loose ends is something that feels wrong to me on a fundamental level.

Will I know when it’s finished? I think so. I hope so.

How about you, insecure writers? How do you know when it’s time to send your story out into the world? Am I crazy to keep banging away at this story?

Toy image courtesy of David Jones, thumbs up image courtesy of ‘magicmarie’ both @ Stock.xchng

Believe

July 20, 2014

No, I haven’t utterly disappeared! But I’ve been pulled head over heels back into my writing as I’ve fallen in love with my story again.

What’s it like to be in love with a story? Is it like the puppy-love infatuation teenagers have when they hold hands for the first time or cast shy glances across the classroom at their new-found crush?Image courtesy of Sandra Cunningham @ stockfresh.com

Maybe. Because that’s how it was in the first draft of the story, when everything was rosy and bright and the words flowed onto the page like cream into my coffee, and tasted just as sweet when I read them back to myself. This is when characters lead me by my furiously typing fingers into their world, and didn’t let me go until a hundred thousand or so words later I looked up breathlessly to find that I’d filled another Scrivener document with their adventures.

Now I think my love might have matured into the real thing. This is the love that cleans up the dirty dishes after dinner and mows the lawn on Saturday afternoon. This is the love that gets up early in the morning to cook breakfast before heading off to work, and that welcomes me into its arms telling me I’m beautiful no matter how sweaty and mud spattered I look when I come in from working in the yard.

Revision is this kind of love. This love reads craft books like Save the Cat, Writing the Breakout Novel, and Story Engineering. This love is working with book doctor Jamie Gold  (thanks to a lucky break and a blogiversary prize) to bang out my plot inconsistencies once and for all. This love painstakingly enters each and every comment from my critique partners into worksheets in preparation for yet another draft.

Still, there are moments where my passion for this story makes me feel like a teenager in the throes of her first crush, and that calls for a playlist, don’t you think?

I’ve called it Believe. These are the songs I’m listening to as I keep the faith and finally put together the story I’ve dreamed this would become.Image courtesy of Konstantin Kirillov @ stockfresh

Believe

Click here to visit my playlist on YouTube.

Have you ever fallen in love with a project you thought was past hope? What do you do when you want to restore faith in your abilities?
And, is this leap of faith the real reason they call it ‘make believe’?

Watering can and daisies image courtesy of Sandra Cunningham, daisy image courtesy of Konstantin Kirillov, both @ stockfresh.com

IWSG: Dear Future Self

June 4, 2014

InsecureWritersSupportGroupGot insecurity? We’re here to help!

Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. If you’re not yet familiar with this fantastic group, we’re a bunch of writers, three hundred and counting, who are brave enough to air our insecurities on the worldwide web the first Wednesday of every month. Want to join? Click on this linky, hop on board  Alex J. Cavanaugh’s blog, and put yourself on the list of some of the nicest writers on the web.

This month I did something a little crazy. Whatever was I thinking? But I’ll let my post, (which was inspired by the How I Found the Write Path Blog Hop courtesy of Carrie Butler), explain …

 

Dear Future Self,Ink Blot 2

Hi, it’s me, your Past Self. Remember me? The one who thought it might be fun to enter a writing contest? The one who thought there was a remote possibility you’d impress anybody with those miserable three chapters you sent out?

So by now I’m pretty sure you’re really distraught about the results. When you look at your scores and think it was a stupendously stupid idea to try to write a novel, much less to try to make it publication worthy, I want to make sure that you aren’t entertaining even the slightest notion of ever quitting this crazy gig.

Images courtesy of marija jure @ stock.xchngIn fact, I want you to remember how much you love writing. So many thrills on this storytelling road have nothing whatsoever to do with what a professional editor thought about the ponderous beginning of your novel.

Remember that sunny May morning, when for the first time you banged out a thousand word scene in one sitting—a scene that had a beginning, a middle, an end, and best of all, a point?

Remember the first time you ‘saw’ your protagonist leaning against your car with his hands in his pockets, smiling shyly at you from underneath his dark locks?

Notebook PageRemember hand writing scene after scene in your sketch pad because that’s all that you had to write on during a plane ride from Chicago to Seattle?

And those low scores?

Wear them like the badge of honor that they are. You took a chance and let your words shake out on the screen of someone who knows what they are doing. Not only did you finish this novel, but you revised it, and revised it again, and then dared to give it to someone who can point you in the direction of a better story. You took this clumsy misshapen early effort and allowed someone wiser to have a look and poke at it with a red pen.Image Courtesy of 'MPMthe1' @ stock.xchng

I know. Sometimes those pokes will draw blood. That can hurt and weaken your resolve.

But I want you to see how blood can be beautiful, given in sacrifice to a new and better version of yourself. Those red marks show your dedication to your craft, your willingness to take a bit of pain in order to grow stronger. As you learn to fix mistakes, you will cover them with bandages while your bruised ego heals. Wear those bandages proudly. It means you’ve taken steps to become a more proficient writer.

Does your feedback tell you that you started the story in the wrong place? Great! Next time you’ll start it somewhere else.

Does the protagonist have murky stakes? It’s time to bring them into sharper focus.

But whatever you do, Future Self, don’t despair. There are many who have taken this road before you and emerged a stronger writer. You will too.

And one more thing … check the fourth drawer from the top of your bookshelf, where the colored pens are. I stashed some chocolate there for you. If all else fails, ingesting large quantities of that will get you through.Image Courtesy of Antonio Jiminez Alonso @ stock.xchng

With highest regard,

Your Past Self

Images courtesy of marija jure @ stock.xchng

 

 

How about you, insecure writers? What would you tell your future self about the steps you’re taking now to improve your writing? Have you ever entered a writing contest?

And, where do you hide your chocolate?

Ink blots images courtesy of marija jure, blood image Courtesy of ‘MPMthe1′ , pen image courtesy of Antonio Jiminez Alonso all @ stock.xchng

Write Much Lately?

May 18, 2014

Image courtesy of Elena Elisseeva @ StockfreshI hear a loud slurping sound as I open my morning pages. Suspiciously, I type, “What is it now, Muse?”

And there he is sprawled in the middle of my screen, legs askew, wings spread out behind him. He looks up at me with dark-rimmed eyes and blows another stream of bubbles through the straw in his daiquiri. At least half a dozen empty glasses lie discarded beside him.

He finishes his drawn out bubbling, then wipes the foam from his mouth with his sleeve. “Write much lately?” he asks.

“As a matter of fact,” I reply, “Yes, I have written quite a bit. I put together a post for the How To Think Sideways Boot Camps blog, and wrote another wrapping up the A to Z Challenge, and there’s that critique I need to do. I know—” I stop typing when I realize that none of these endeavors involves writing fiction of any sort. “Okay,” I concede, “I get it. You’re feeling neglected. That doesn’t mean you should start drinking.”

He takes a long slurp from his straw, emptying the glass, then says, “It’s Friday night. Party time.”

“Not for me it isn’t. I’ve got a night of revision ahead of me.”

“How’s that going, Writer-babe?” he asks and rises unsteadily to his feet, then stumbles off the screen and into my office. He grabs the corner of my massive bookshelf as he peers over my shoulder at the words that stutter onto the screen. “You’re getting out of practice,” he observes.

“I know, but you’re not helping.”

All I get in response is a loud belch.Image courtesy of Anton Balazh @ stockfresh

“Tell me something, Morpheus …” I type. He straightens at the sound of his name. “Why is it that I always get pulled away from what I love the most? How do I always end up feeling detached from the stories that brought me here in the first place?”

“You know the answer to that,” he slurs. Clumsily he edges down to the floor, and with uncharacteristic awkwardness, leans against the wall.

“I do?” I ask. “Tell me: Why can’t I be focused and calm and happy and write nice words that don’t sound awkward? Why can’t I bang out blog posts and then switch over to writing a scene or two of my novel, then kick out a few short stories for good measure?” I wait for his reply, although he’s right: I do know the answer. I just want to hear him say it.

“Because you get so hung up on being a writer that you forget about the writing.” He sags back against the wall from the effort of speaking and closes his eyes.

“Yes.” I sigh. “Remember when I first started writing, and all I could think about was the words I was going to write when I got home from work? I didn’t worry about whether my scenes made sense, or if my antagonist was ever going to show up, or if my story would be relevant, or marketable. It was all about the story and the characters– chocolate cake every single time I sat down to write, no soggy vegetables or meat by-products. All juicy steak and fine wine.” As I was making myself hungry I looked over at Morpheus to see that he’d passed out, his silver crown fallen haphazardly over one eyebrow.

“Morpheus?” I type and then reach over to poke him. “We’re not done here.”

“Huh?” He hiccups and then rubs his bleary eyes.

“I was trying to talk about why I can’t find that special writing place anymore.”

“Sure, yeah. That special place. When you gonna finish some of those stories I gave you?”

He looks so forlorn down there on the floor, his eyes bloodshot, his clothes wrinkled and dirty. “You’ve been letting your hygiene slip again. You look like a homeless person,”Image Courtesy of Feng Yu@ StockFresh I remark.

He grins up at me. “Who says I’m not?”

“I do. You have a home right here next to my writing desk, and in my heart.”

“My head hurts,” he replies and rubs his temples.

“Why don’t you take a nap then? And come back later once I’m done with all my blogging?”

“Blogging,” he mutters as he shuffles into the bedroom to curl up next to my cat. “World’s most stupid invention.”

“I heard that!” I call after him, but close my pages and head to the worldwide web.silver-swirls

How about you, faithful friends and followers? Are you hung up on being a writer? Or are you too busy writing? And, what is your muse’s favorite beverage?

 

Daiquiri image courtesy of Elena Elisseeva, letters courtesy of  Anton Balazh,  heart on a chain courtesy of Feng Yu, all @ Stockfresh, my new favorite stock image site. :)

IWSG: The Month My Blog Ate My Novel

May 7, 2014

Image courtesy of 'Maja ...' @ stock.xchngOtherwise known as the A to Z Blogging Challenge.

People sometimes asked me why I would undertake something this crazy. What benefit could I get from posting something, anything, about every letter of the alphabet on successive days in the month of April? What could that possibly have to do with writing novels? Which, I should remind you, is the stated purpose of this blog: Postcards from my Journey to Noveldom.

Novels, not blog posts …

The reason I decided to take this on has everything to do with my insecurity, which is why I’m reflecting about the experience for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group this month.InsecureWritersSupportGroup

The IWSG, by the way, is founded by the fabulous Alex J. Cavanaugh, and is a place where writers can freely air and discuss their writing insecurities without fear of appearing foolish or weak. If you want to join us, click this here linky and add your name to the list of some of the nicest writers on the web.

Though I realize that it may sound as if I regret participating in the challenge, I’m incredibly proud to say that I managed to write and post for all the letters, getting my words out there–as Kristen Lamb writes:

… we must learn to keep pressing forward and ship.

from Writing–So Easy A Caveman Can Do It by Kristen Lamb

Image courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski @ Stock.xchngFor an insecure writer like me, putting up a blog post every day except Sunday is huge.

So, how has all the commotion around here impacted my attitude towards my writing—even though I haven’t even done that much of it?

I’ve gained confidence! And I finally understand why I keep piling on all these different projects: Gotta finish that next revision. Gotta write another draft. Gotta finally get that other book out the door, after fixing all the holes my sharp-eyed beta readers pointed out. Gotta learn to write short stories.

Gotta read craft books. Gotta read regular books. Gotta read my writing friends’ books. And leave a review, a good one if possible.

I could go on, but the point is, I do all these things because I’ve been told that’s what good writers do. And that’s true, they do. Just not all at once.

Knowing myself and that I’m a person who tries to play by the rules, I can see that doing everything for everybody all the time is my way of trying to follow all the rules and thus become successful.

Image courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski @ Stock.xchngWhat I’ve forgotten is that I didn’t find the stories I wanted to tell until I concluded I’m hopeless as a writer anyway so I’m going to write whatever the hell makes me happy. Damn the torpedoes. Forget the markets.

So I wrote that and, lo and behold, people who’ve read it like it. It needs work, but I can do the work. I’m not afraid of work.

I think I needed to surmount the A to Z Challenge to prove that I can do something really big and scary. As a result, I built up some confidence, the kind of confidence that will allow me to look at my array of projects and say, “This is what I’m going to focus on, to hell with what everybody says I have to do.”Image courtesy of Roberts Ratuts @ StockFresh

Maybe my blog didn’t eat my novel after all. Maybe focusing on one thing–writing a post for every letter of the alphabet– forced me to set everything else aside, and now that that the challenge is over I have a fresh start. I can choose one thing I really need to work on.

Yes, I’m revising my first novel, post beta readers, again.

How about you? If you did the A to Z challenge, what did you learn about your writing? What are your goals for your blog?

 

Mug image courtesy of ‘Maja …’  @ stock.xchng, Cheese and meat plate images courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski @ Stock.xchng, strawberry image courtesy of Roberts Ratuts @ StockFresh

Backstage at the Blog: Z is for Zero

April 30, 2014

Z © A Scenic RouteZero is what I started this blog with. In fact, it’s what we all started with.

Zero words. Zero posts. Zero views. Zero followers.

Honestly, I pretty much stumbled into blogging. (And novel-writing as well, but we won’t go there today …) WordPress makes it easy enough to come up with a name and sign up, so I did that. I mostly just goofed around with it, putting up pictures, writing silly posts.

It didn’t bother me much that no one came by to take a look (in fact, it terrified me a little to think about it!) because I was having fun just making blog posts. For some reason the concept that someone would actually be interested in what I have to say seemed incomprehensible. After all, I’m not really a writer

Little by little though, with the help of a side project called Write A Book With Me, people started to swing by. The Insecure Writer’s Support Group gave me another boost of followers and, post after post, month after month, building confidence, building writing chops, I’ve put together a blog I can be proud of.

I know that a blog with followers comes with certain expectations–things like regular posts of a manageable word count, as well as a commitment to check out the sites of commenters and followers once in a while–but I sometimes wonder what it might be like to start over with zero.

Imagine the freedom I would have! I could dream up a new blog name and create a whole new blogging bubble. No one would expect a certain kind of post from me, or a schedule, or anything at all. I could blog once a month, or twice a day. I could write ten word posts or three thousand word posts. I could post time-lapse pictures of my sleeping cat and quote random excerpts from my morning words.

But then, isn’t every new project, whether it’s a blog or a story, the beginning of a new adventure? Isn’t every zero the beginning of infinite possibilities?

The thing is, I’ve also come to realize that I would miss you guys, my patient followers. So, I think I’m in this for the long haul.

But if you ever stumble upon a really weird blog, with posts of wacky photos, odd character excerpts, punctuated by the unmistakable rants of a contentious muse, beware. It might just be me, having fun all by myself.Image courtest of 'Leonardini' @ stock.xchng

How about you? What made you decide to start a blog? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start all over with zero?

(Here’s your link back to the A to Z Challenge Sign Up list.)

Image courtesy of ‘Leonardini’ @ stock.xchng