Repeat after Me: Your Book is NOT Your Baby

WHAT’S PLAYING: Duffy “Warwick Avenue

A while ago, I resolved to put off having children until I was financially and emotionally stable. I’m well on my way to accomplishing the first task. As for the second…well, let’s just say that I’m not going to be on the cover of Sanity Fair anytime soon. In fact, I’m pretty sure that by the time I’ve worked through all the kinks and snarls in my mind, I’ll be so far past menopause that any eggs I have left will be hardboiled.

But while I’m more than happy to defer childbearing, lately when it comes to my writing, I’ve suddenly turned into some sort of crazy stage mom. Every word is precious, and any hint of criticism is a personal attack. This is a problem, especially now that I’m about to put my book into the hands of my beta readers.

The scenario will probably play out something like this:

WHAT THEY SAY: “I like the book, but I think this scene could use some tightening.”

WHAT I HEAR: “You’re ugly and stupid, and your mother dresses you funny. Oh, and your writing sucks.”

I guess this sort of reaction is natural. I’ve poured so much time and energy into this project that in some ways, it’s more “mine” than any child could be.

But, by investing so much of myself in this book, I’m not doing it, or my self-esteem, any favors. As a writer, I can’t afford to get so wrapped up in writing the book of my heart, that I lose sight of my true purpose: to tell a good story.

The truth is that this book is just a book. Yes, I’ve cried, sweated, and cursed over it into the wee hours of the night, but it’s still a creation, not an extension of my self-worth.

Still, if you happen to walk by and see me weeping hysterically while clutching papers to my chest and howling at an uncaring sky, just… look away.

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Rolling the Dice — Lucky 7 Meme

WHAT’S PLAYING: Michael Jackson feat. Akon “Hold My Hand

The lovely and wonderful Mrs. Janice Heck (http://janiceheck.wordpress.com) nominated me for the Lucky 7 Meme.

I usually try to avoid these things, mostly because I have no idea what I’m doing. But the rules of the game seem simple enough:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS/WIP.

2. Go to line 7.

3. Copy the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs, and post them as they’re written.

4. If your WIP doesn’t have 77 pages, you can post 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs from page 7.

5. Tag 7 other writers and let them know.

In the interests of full disclosure, this novel is still in rough shape. Still, you asked for it….

 

I killed my son today.

Even now, sitting at the same table where I fed him porridge sweetened with honey and figs, where he lisped his way through his very first spell, it doesn’t seem real. His body lay on the floor at my feet, a thin ribbon of blood oozing from the wound in his neck. I made it as quick and painless as I could–he never even saw the blade. I knelt beside him, closed his eyes and tenderly kissed both lids the way I used to when he was just a boy. So few in this life die peacefully, without pain.

My last gift to him. 

 

Now to pick 7 other writers.

 

Subhakar Das

Melinda VanLone  

Jill Archer

S.Z. Williams

Myndi Shafer

M.J. Monaghan

Gretchen Rix

My First Critique

WHAT’S PLAYING: LeAnn RimesHow Do I Live” (iPod stuck on country music today…the music of pain.)

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach

I got the first round of notes back from my new mentor/editor last night, and they were BRUTAL. We’re talking “I must hide my face because I am not worthy to be seen by other people” brutal.

The worst part is that I deserved it. I was so excited about my story and working with her, that I neglected the actual writing part. I rushed through one draft and then sent it off without even bothering to check it over. And the result was a 9,000-word mess peppered with inconsistent characters, setting and details.

For example, I decided to set the story in Mississippi during the summer, August to be exact. And then I turned around and had my protagonist dressed in friggin’ sweater. In August. In Mississippi. The sweater was necessary to the story, but the location and time of year wasn’t. I just threw them in and forgot about it. When she pointed it out, I felt like a complete moron.

 

At least she thought the writing was good. I just need to pay more attention.  It was hard to hear, especially coming from her. I’ve wanted to work with this particular editor for over a year. And now – after she finally makes time for me in her busy schedule – I had to and blow it by making a series of rookie mistakes.

Ah well, the good news is that she’s still willing to work with me. Apparently, she still has high hopes for my work.

Now all I have to do is prove her right.

 

 

How to Get Past Crises of Confidence

WHAT’S PLAYING: Sam and Dave “Thank You”

I don’t have very much confidence in my skills as a writer. As a nuclear chemist? Absolutely. As a friend, sister, daughter, cousin, human being, etc.? More or less. But when it comes to writing, I can never tell just how good – or bad – I really am. Maybe it’s because art is so subjective. There’s no real measuring stick by which I can observe my skill level. (Chemistry is so much easier. If the lab blows up or I die of radiation poisoning, then I’ll know that I screwed something up.)

Case in point. Here is an abbreviated transcript of my latest breakup:

Him: “Jacqui, I’m leaving.”

Me (typing): “OK, have a nice time.

Him: “No, I mean I’m leaving for good. I’m breaking up with you.”

Me (still typing): “Uh-huh.”

Him: “I have a new girlfriend, who is five years younger and fifteen pounds thinner than you are.”

Me (absently): “Sounds like a keeper.”

Him: “Would you please look at me? You’re the worst girlfriend I’ve ever had!”

Me (still typing): “You’re probably right.”

Him: “By the way, your writing sucks!”

Me (turns away from computer and bursts into tears): “You bastard!”

(OK, maybe it didn’t go quite that badly, but you get the point.)

It’s strange really. I’m not particularly sensitive when it comes to other things. In fact, I usually respond to criticism with a snappy comeback or (failing that) an extended middle finger. But when it comes to writing, one negative comment, no matter how minor, is enough to send me into a tailspin. It’s as though someone finally pried my head open and let all the crazy out.

Sometimes I think my writing is good, better than good. I’ve studied with some of the best writers and editors in the business. I’ve tried to take in every lecture, homework assignment and piece of advice and apply it to my own writing. And on a good day, I can almost convince myself that I’ve succeeded.

Then, there are the bad days.

The days when I go back and read the same passage I’d read earlier, only to find that it’s bad. Really bad. Like “Oh my god, I wish I was illiterate just so I wouldn’t have to read this shitty writing” bad.

Writing is one of my chief joys in life, and more than anything, I want to be able to do it well. I don’t know if I’ll ever completely get over my crises of confidence, but I’ve learned a few tricks that help.

1. Stop. Sometimes the best thing to do is take a breath and push away from the computer.

2. Get active. Some might recommend walking or running, but I like to take my frustrations out on a punching bag, or better yet, a sparring partner.

3. Get inspired. This could be anything: a favorite book, an inspirational quote, even some positive feedback from your peers or mentor. Anything to reignite that spark of creativity.

4. Keep writing. And remember that, when it comes to writing, everything is fixable.

And, last but not least:

5. When all else fails, get drunk and try again tomorrow.

Of course, if you’re anything like me, then you’ll probably do this list in reverse order.

Cheers!

Tackling Resistance: First Book Blues

WHAT’S PLAYING: The Red Hot Chili Peppers “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie”

Has this ever happened to you? You’re writing away, and realize that you’re almost finished. Your labor of love is nearly complete. At first, you’re elated. It’s almost over. All the sleepless nights and cancelled dates, they’ve all come down this moment. You let out a whoop, dance a jig, and sit down to finish your very first book.

But then, you check your e-mail. Or play solitaire. Or update your status on Facebook and Twitter. You do everything but write. The next thing you know, four hours have passed and it’s time for bed.

How did this happen? More importantly, why did it happen? What makes finishing a story so hard when starting one is so easy? Short answer: resistance. The dictionary defines resistance as “any force that tends to retard or oppose motion.”

(Baby, you ain’t kidding.)

I’ve come up against some serious resistance in my own writing lately. Words are coming slowly, if at all. I find myself actively looking for excuses not to write. Even this blog has been a struggle. I suppose I could blame it on my crazy work schedule, school, or any number of distractions, but the truth is – on a subconscious level at least – I don’t want to finish my novel.

I want to be a writer more than anything, and I want to share my writing with the world. It’s this particular novel that’s giving me fits. Why? Because it’s my first. Good or bad. Boring or whatever. This is ground zero, from which everything else springs.

Now, I find myself dreading that inevitable next step. The Critique. Yes, I know it’s an important, even crucial, step in the revision process, but I’m still terrified. What if they don’t get it? What if the writing isn’t good enough? Worst of all, what if the story sucks?

I don’t expect everyone to like my writing. (I’m hopeful, but not delusional.) But this is the story I want to tell. If it isn’t any good, well…then I’m screwed. Grammar, voice and technique, I can fix. But if the story doesn’t work, then it’s over. At least, for this novel.

How does one overcome resistance? One thing that seems to work for me is not thinking about what comes next. Focus on writing, choose each word with care and take satisfaction in the craft.

Who can resist that?