Not that I’ve been neglecting my writing, but last month, thanks to a timely Holly Lisle tip in my email, I experienced a bit of a revelation about my habit of juggling multiple projects at once. It seems I am hurting my novel by carousing with every other project that catches my eye, while my revision sulks at home watching reruns. It got me thinking: Are my profligate ways turning my story bitter and resentful, and unwilling to reveal its heart to me?
What’s an author to do when she wants to make amends with her story? How about writing it a letter? Here’s a bit of what I wrote …
Dear Tempest’s Serenade,
It is with trepidation that I begin this letter, but it is only by admitting my transgressions that I can hope to move beyond them. Because, after you’d given me characters as real as the people in my life and an ending worthy of a much better writer than I’ll ever be, I find myself guilty of being a flagrant abuser of your faith in me.
I could defend myself by saying that I don’t deserve you, but that is the defense of the weak and small-minded. You came to me and trusted me to write you down. You gave more than you got, you flowed onto the page when I didn’t believe in myself, you trespassed my dreams, showing me the fears I must face and transcribe to give you the depth you needed to transport my eventual readers.
I remember when I thought you’d be the only one I’d ever love. I devoted myself to you in every free moment, carrying snippets of you in my pockets, leaving a trail of Post it notes in coffee shops and airplane seats. I remember our evening trysts, when I sat in the dark with you, my hands deep in story, my eyes gazing beyond my ordinary suburban life and into yours, fraught with passion and danger and higher purpose. I remember the glorious passage into completion of your first draft, the blizzard of virtual confetti bestowed upon my announcement of your birth, as you arrived kicking and screaming at the brightness of this world upon your awkward shapelessness.
In revision you grew sweeter, and I began to see your beauty in unexpected places. I discovered where you were strong and where you needed guidance, and bid farewell to explorations into forlorn cul-de-sacs. I kissed you there, but we did not linger, as I coaxed you back into the main thoroughfare of traditional novel structure.
But I confess that my first dalliance from you came during this stressful time of revision. I had no idea I even had another story in me, and so I welcomed it with open arms and flying fingers. This story was so different from you; I could not help but be seduced by it. My courtship was hesitant at first, only a few hundred words a day here and there, but soon the story had its way with me, until I was writing thousands of words a day to know the ending. I pretended to be with you, but I know you saw those rings of sleeplessness around my eyes; I know you saw the tremble in my over-caffeinated fingers. Patiently you waited for me to return, only to lose me once more to the rabid beast called NaNoWriMo.
I don’t know what possessed me, my dearest, except a frantic desire to fill that precipitous word count graph. It was only a month’s affair, turbulent and feverish, but it consumed me utterly. That I forsook you, my first and most important project, only to stomp my excessive word count into the annals of plotlessness haunts me still.
There were others after that, many others. Should I recount them? Would it hurt you more if you knew them? Would it help to know that some of them were worthy? There have been other transgressions too– blogging, critiquing of writers in need, explorations of image manipulation. Have you watched in horror while I walk away to pursue activities that take me further and further away from you?
What must I do to regain your favor? Is there any way you can forgive me and welcome me into your pages once more? Can we negotiate some kind of mediation, where I would demonstrate my good intentions? Or is what we had gone forever?
I submit this missive to you, and await your response with a troubled mind. Please do not keep your distraught writer waiting.
So that is what I wrote …
How about you? Have you ever written down your feelings about a project?
Bicycle sign image courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski, SXC, Pen image courtesy of Mateusz Stachowski, notebook image courtesy of Clara Lam all @ Stock.xchng
It’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group, again. I know, don’t remind me– I was insecure two months ago, and haven’t been here since! But it’s the first Wednesday of the month and, thanks in part to the fabulous Alex J. Cavanaugh and the IWSG, I’m back. Want to join the best blog hop on the worldwide web, and share your doubts and concerns without appearing foolish or weak? Click on this linky, and join us!
In the meantime, as my blog reverts to barren wasteland, I’ve been sorting through the dirty laundry of the past year’s unfinished projects, deciding what to pursue and what to leave behind. As I sorted the whites of new drafts from the delicates of abandoned muse rants, and tossed the dark ruminations in a pile of their own so as not to turn my bright thoughts dingy, I came upon a bit of a revelation about my goals.
Because, as I evaluated how I allocate the hours of my day, how I stack up my time this way and that, trying to hack my life to fit more writing in without disturbing all the rest that I hold dear, I felt myself become more and more desperate to get something done, and to have something to show for my efforts. And the greater my craving for tangible rewards, the more I felt the joy slip through my fingers, and the passion flicker and dim. Still, I held fast to chasing someone else’s dream. Joy is well and good, I thought, but real writers get published. Real writers finish stuff and move on.
Then suddenly it struck me: Am I letting fear drive my writing, instead of love?
Is it fear that makes me wonder if I shouldn’t stop this nonsense and do something useful like clean out the pantry or organize my photo albums? Is it fear that demands validation, recognition, or at least compensation?
Fear tells me that I need to write something that will fit into neat little boxes. Fear compares me with other writers who might be doing better than I am, and tells me I’m not worthy. Fear keeps me up late at night as I debate what is best for me to write.
Of course, thousands of years of evolution can’t be wrong. Fear isn’t always a bad thing. Fear also keeps me at a day job to pay bills, and tracks my word count to ensure measurable progress. Fear makes sure I back up my computer and copyright my blog.
But it is fear that sends me into that sinkhole of self-doubt, where I contemplate obscurity, where I question why I even try.
Love is when I forget to watch the clock, and work until I’m exhausted but happy and satisfied with my accomplishments. Love is when passion grabs me by the hands and drags me into my story, and when it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. Love knows I’m doing what I’m meant for, and that there is no other path but this one.
After all it was love that started me down this path. When I first began to write stories, before I even knew where the word counter was, I wrote for the love of it. I need to have faith that love will finish what it started.
Laundry basket image courtesy of Kitch Bain, coffee stains courtesy of Mark Carrel, hearts image courtesy of Brenda Carson all @ Stockfresh
Welcome to this month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group post, which you’ll notice is the only post on this blog since last month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group post. I know. I need to post more. If it weren’t for the IWSG, my blog would probably fade away into oblivion!
But fortunately for this blog the insecure writers meet on the first Wednesday of every month, and fortunately for the IWSG, I am almost always insecure. So thank you, Alex J. Cavanaugh, for giving insecure writers like me a place to share our doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Want to join the IWSG? Just click this linky and hop on over to meet some of the nicest writers on the worldwide web.
Today I’d like to talk about the results of last month’s experiment in literary abandon, a little adventure called NaNoWriMo.
First I give you: Exhibit A
It appears that I won, doesn’t it? Look at that word count! And I’m consistent too, writing thousands of words every day like it’s nothing. In fact, I wrote ten thousand extra words to cover myself as a winner, just in case some of my writing is so awful that it falls outside the parameters of literary abandon. You’d think I’d be exploding with confidence.
But I’ll tell you a secret. I didn’t really write a novel.
Witnesseth: Exhibit B
As may be apparent from the list, I dutifully wrote the first scenes of my novel for the first ten thousand words, but then, because there’s nothing like deciding to write a new novel to make me want to revise the old one, I revised my other story and counted those words toward my word total.
Then revision ended up being really hard and the words didn’t pile up quickly enough, so I ended up goofing off. What kind of goofing off?
May I present: Exhibit C
My Muse drove a mustard yellow pick up truck through the middle of my novel.
Word count: 2718 words
I consulted with an imaginary literary agent about what my novel needed to make it work and why I was having so much trouble figuring that out. I spontaneously stopped punctuating dialogue and left it that way because I thought it would be cool.
Word count: 11,683 words
Then my protagonist from Ye Olde Novel showed up with a switch blade and dared me to start cutting up his story.
Word count: 3092 words
After that my Muse came back and took me for a ride on his new orrery.
Word count: 1390 words
In between all this, I did manage to make significant progress on my revision, but why do I persist in zigzagging back and forth between stories like this? Why can’t I at least stick with one project for a month? Why can’t I write in a straight line like everyone else?
Don’t get me wrong. I had a blast writing during NaNoWriMo. There were times I would sit down in front of my computer bursting with words, and lose track of time while I wrote them. I was laughing at my Muse’s antics, gasping at the revelations I came up with in my revision, daydreaming about scenes for the new story draft. But through all of these words I got nothing finished.
Everything I wrote needs work. It’s too weird. Or it’s too long. Or it’s poorly punctuated.
Which is why I have to ask myself why I feel compelled to write things that defy any sort of publication. Have I lost the ability and desire to write stuff that might appeal to readers? Or have I simply lost my nerve? If this blog is my playground, why am I afraid to come out and play? Is this merely the painful adolescence of my development as a writer?
Will I grow out of this awkward stage and into a real writer? Or am I doomed to write weird stuff that doesn’t fit into any of the proper boxes?
I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t want to stop!
How about you? Do you work in a straight line? Or does your creativity take the scenic route like mine?
Orrery image courtesy of Sage Ross @ Wikimedia Commons
I know you’re staring at your screen thinking, “What’s with all the acronyms? She’s really lost it now. Things haven’t been the same at A Scenic Route since the A to Z challenge.”
I’ll start with the IWSG, short for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. We’re a bunch of writers, three hundred and counting, who meet on the first Wednesday of every month to discuss our fears and doubts without worries about appearing foolish or weak. Want to join us? Click the linky to be whisked to founder Alex J. Cavanaugh’s site, where you can add your name to some of the nicest writers you’ll ever meet on the worldwide web.
Now about this NaNoWriMo thing. You might have heard of it: Fifty thousand words, one month, lots of coffee? So why would an insecure writer like me undertake such a monumental challenge, not just once but every single year?
I’ll tell you why.
First off, there’s literary abandon. At last I can set aside the burden of wondering if what I’m writing has any merit whatsoever. I don’t have to edit; I don’t have to debate whether my structure works or not; I don’t have to vacillate about whether my characters have any business being in my story. I’m free to experiment and I’m free to turn back around and try something different. All that matters is that I keep adding to the almighty word count.
Second let’s talk about camaraderie. National Novel Writing Month seems to have become an annual rite for all writers who have ever considered trying their hand at writing a novel, from beginners to multi-published authors. Here we have a chance to work side by side, at least in a virtual sense, on a crazy project that is equally intimidating to all but the most seasoned storytellers. Together we share the challenge of getting words on the screen. What a boost it is for me to be just another nervous writer, instead of working away on my own as self-doubt perches on my shoulder, pecking at my self-esteem with every opportunity.
And, this might sound odd in a challenge where the daily word quota is 1667 words, but stopping and calling it a day is really encouraging for an insecure writer like me. I suffer from the uncontrollable urge to compare myself with other writers, so looking at my word count and seeing that it measures up is a huge boost for my confidence.
Or it could also boil down to the simple fact that writing at this pace leaves no time to be insecure! Falling into bed exhausted, and doing it all over again the next day is a great way to stop worrying about whether my story is any good and just letting it flow onto the page the way it wants to.
I know there are doubters out there— writers who claim that careful outlining and meticulous wordsmithing are the only way to write a novel worthy of publication. Perhaps that is true, but my contention is that there are many ways to write a story, and drafting at this speed is an incredible rush for me. Just look at my word count and you’ll see: I’m soaring.
How about you? Does NaNoWriMo make you more secure about your writing? Or are you a fan of more leisurely story crafting?
Test tube and book images courtesy of ‘Winner’ at StockFresh.com, clock image courtesy of ‘magicmarie’ @ 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.
This 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.
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.
Finally 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