The Peaks and Valleys of Writing

Every profession has its peaks and valleys – those crunch times when a person wonders just what the heck s/he was thinking when s/he started down that path. CPAs must shout “Free at last! I’m free!” as the office closes on Tax Day. Teachers certainly find their happiness once they turn in their keys for the short weeks of summer. Actors party wildly after the set is struck. And so on. Not all professions have such dramatic highs and lows, but they all have some sort combination of stressful time and not-so-stressful time.

Writing, of course, is not exempt of the stresses.

A few weeks ago, one of my Twitter folk asked if I’d want to participate in a blog on writing. I’m typically up for most anything so I agreed. Abigail Bromilow didn’t say exactly what the blog was going to be about besides “writing” and I figured I could lie my way through anything she might be pondering. (Go and check out her blog. If nothing else, check out her lovely background photo of all those books. I can smell the sexy book smell right now.)

Low and behold, she actually wants me to honestly answer some questions about my own writing process and stuff I’m writing. As if any fool is going to be interested in reading about that. But, I’m a believer in making good on a commitment so in a wee bit, I shall answer the questions she so sweetly presented me with.

But first off, I should thank Abigail because these four questions actually made me spend time thinking about my life and experiences as a writer which is not something I’m prone to doing — mostly because of that whole peaks and valleys thing I mentioned above. (You thought I’d forgotten that bit, didn’t you? How well you know me, dear reader.)

Interesting Questions and My Not-So-Interesting Answers:

  1. What am I working on? Oh dear. I did say I wouldn’t lie, didn’t I? Currently, I have 4 projects in my Scrivener application. The one most pressing is my major revision of the novel formerly known as The Blue Dress. Why a major revision, you ask? Mostly because I got tired of agents requesting partials or fulls of it and then not loving it enough to represent it. Which, in other words, meant that they saw something lacking in it. Then, after enough time passed and I reread it, I saw the lackingness of it myself. Also, a book is coming out this fall that has too much in common with TBD for my comfort. Hence, the big revision. When all this poopiness came down the pike, I was pretty upset but then Biggest set me straight. “Mom, you just have to make your book so awesome that no one connects it to that other book.” Good advice, young pad wan. But the whole write/revise/write/revise/query/revise/query/revise process really made me start feeling like one big, fat, failure which settled upon me like a malaise. I was in a funk that couldn’t be unfunked. In addition to my revised TBD, I have a New Adult (which means the protagonist is in her early 20s) that I started for NaNoWriMo that is set partially in Paris, I’ve got a YA dystopian, and I have a new YA that is super new and mostly just a few ideas scrabbled down on cocktail napkins and old receipts but which I think could be a really, really cool book–someday.
  2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? Before I answer this, I write YA which itself is an age-range, not a genre. My most complete novel is a historical fiction, my second is a contemporary/historical fiction, and my third is a dystopian (a sub-genre of Science Fiction), and my fourth is a contemporary YA. So I’m not as much of a genre writer as I’m an age-range writer. First off, I’m not much of a writer of romance. It’s not that I’m opposed to kissing and stuff, it’s just not where I’m most comfortable. Oh stop, you try writing a sexy-times scene and see how easy it is for you. First off, there’s lots of physics and logical stuff involved in a good make-out story and that’s harder to do than you’d think, without adding an extra hand or arm in a scene. Let’s see, he’s stroking her face, holding her back, and unzipping her jacket. So he’s a three-armed alien? Anyway, there is this notion that young adult fiction is all about love triangles and that’s not my voice. Obviously, the need for love is a huge part of the teen experience so I write about it, but romance for the sake of romance is not my focus. I also am not a huge believer in the HEA (happily ever after). My characters reflect the teens I knew when I was a teen as well as the teens I’ve known as a professional in education and ministry. They certainly don’t all have HEAs, even if they wish they did. I wouldn’t say my books are all Debbie-downers, but I know I’m going to get some crap about the lack of sunsets and horse riders heading towards them.
  1. Why do I write what I do? Every story I have ever written was inspired by a real person’s fear or pain. I majored in English Lit and History with a focus on WWII. My minor is in Political Science. You wade through all that required reading and you notice one thing: people screw things up because they want stuff. The truth is, I am fascinated by how people survive that which breaks them. I suppose the very brokenness within me is attracted to the process of seeing how a person is broken and then rebuilding the self in order to not only survive but to thrive as best one can. This fascination with our brokenness probably colors my writer’s voice more than anything else. I write because it’s my version of Kintsugi – the Japanese art form that fixes broken pottery into something even more beautiful. I suppose I write in order to find the “kintsugi” in people.
  2. How does my writing process work? As a writer, I can be defined by Dickens’ words, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” When things are going well in my life, I easily plunk out between 1000 and 1500 words a night. But when things aren’t so great, I may not even touch my laptop for weeks at a time and when I do, the words just don’t come. Talk about peaks and valleys. I seem to either be speeding along or basically ground to a halt. It helps when I force myself to write everyday – then it’s like a leaky faucet–the words pour and drip out, even when the tap should be off. I am a big believer in a blended plotter/pantser format. I make a decent outline and then let the story grow as it wishes. I write to music almost always. I know some writers swear by playlists but I just listen to stuff I like and get into the zone. (But I never blog to music–how funny is that???) The part of my process that has been the most helpful is I like to spend 5-10 minutes outlining what I’m going to write that day–just bullet points and notes. That way, when I’m actually writing, my brain already knows where I’m going so I can nudge my characters along the path. I don’t know if this is as much a process as just how I’ve muddled my way to where I’m at. However, I can definitely say that The Blue Dress would already be a better book if I’d been an outliner when I started writing it, and when I started pre-writing, I finally was regularly having 3-5000 word days. BUT, the most important revelation this blog has given me is that if I want to get the words flowing, really flowing, I have to write on a regular basis or else the funk settles in and I get so funky I begin to believe that voice in the back of my head telling me how much I suck. And when I start listening to that voice, I’m a pretty sad sack of taters, let me tell you.

 

The neat thing about this writing blog gig is that I now get to invite some writers to do the same thing I did. And then I’ll read their answers and feel inadequate, but that’s okay. Because of the folks I’m inviting, I’m the only one who doesn’t have a published novel. Yes, I’m published. But my publication history includes two published short stories and none of my noveling. So, my tendency towards inadequacy isn’t 100% unfounded when I compare myself to the following folks. (Oh, and I’m supposed to invite 3 writers, but I’m terrible at these kinds of things and I have 4 and what’s the worst thing that could happen? More cool writers sharing their words with you? Yeah, I thoughts so too.)

Anywhoo, here are my invitees, in alphabetical order. Please check out their websites, etc. because they are more awesome than anything I might write about them. They will be responding to this blog post in the same fashion with their responses due on May 5th. Technically I’m just supposed to put their bios on here and be done with it. And, believe me, I know how labor intensive writing your bio is and I should probably post them for your viewing pleasure. But because I’m such a scallywag, I’m linking to their pages and then teasing you with my own thoughts about them. Because I’m scallywaggy that way.

  1. Bill Cameron. First off, I linked to Bill’s blog on his site because I love hearing a writer’s actual writing voice at times like this. But I have to say, please check out the link to his novels. Why? Well, because if you are a Portland, Oregon or Oregon native, I think you’ll get a kick out of reading about a familiar locale. But mostly, because I love his books. If you know me at all, you know one of my favorite genres is mystery and Bill is a great mystery writer. He’s also a genuinely good guy who quite kindly took this fledgling writer under his wing so I owe him a frosty mug of something.
  2. Sue London. I love that Sue’s web site waxes on poetically about her world of imagination and then tells you that she became an accountant. Yep, that’s life as a writer. We often have rather mundane day jobs but that allows for our fantastic brains to create such great books! If you’re a long-time reader of Ten Minute Missive, then you’ve read Sue’s words here before – she filled in for me back in 2011 when I was traipsing around France (read here). Since pinch-hitting for me, Sue’s writing career has totally taken off with 7 novels listed on her Amazon page. (Holy whoa, girl!) She’s funny, she’s fun, and she’s my friend. What more do you need to know about her? (If you’re really curious, you can read her bio stuff on her website, on her Amazon page, you could Google her, et cetera.)
  3. Julie Particka. Like me, Julie writes a variety of things but I’m excited to share both the YA (young adult) and NA (new adult) stages with her. Originally a teacher, Julie once used her degree in chemistry to enthrall high schoolers with the wonders of science. (She is totally hotter and more ethical than any fictional chemistry teacher you might be thinking of at this moment.) These days, however, Julie creates chemistry on the page (ba dum bum) as well as all kinds of troubling plots for her characters. Her new novel, Fall With Me, comes out TODAY so you could totally click on that link and buy it since it’s a bargain at only .99. So you could say that Julie is having a total PEAK moment today.
  4. Wendy N. Wagner. I suppose I could try to play it cool here and talk about Wendy as if she’s just another writer I know, but everyone knows I’m totally not cool so forget that noise. I’ve known Wendy for all but 10 years of my life because she was the best early Christmas present I ever asked my parents for. (And I did beg them for a younger sibling–for about 7 years. I finally stopped asking and voila! she arrived. And thus I learned a valuable lesson about begging.) Wendy has been writing for forever and has the bibliography to prove it. However, I asked Wendy to participate in this blog because I’m so excited that her first novel, Skinwalkers,  just came out and I think everyone should read it. In fact, you can by following this link.

And there you go people, my 4 invitees to who will share their writing process and experiences with the reading world next Monday, May 5th. I do hope you’ll check them and their answers out. Me? On the 5th I’ll be reading their answers and wrapping my head around being the parent of a fourteen year-old son and trying to wrap his presents. How did Biggest get so big? Talk about one heck of a peak in my life.

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4 thoughts on “The Peaks and Valleys of Writing

  1. I especially identify with “I write because it’s my version of Kintsugi – the Japanese art form that fixes broken pottery into something even more beautiful. I suppose I write in order to find the “kintsugi” in people.”

    There is a Japanese word that describes that feeling or expression of something bittersweet, the sad and the beautiful inextricably grown together, and the odd joy of recognizing that profound balance – and of course I can’t remember what that word is AT ALL, and nobody I asks has a clue what it is either, and it’s kind of a sweet/sad yearning in itself, this longing for the word that means what a perceive, what I taste, in the world around me that seems somehow very important to recognize and perhaps represent.

    Thanks for posting this.

  2. Pingback: Kristina Martin on the Peaks and Valleys of Writing | Bill Cameron

  3. Pingback: To the Write Cave! | Bill Cameron

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