Web surfing morning-after guilt, or inspiration?

Abandoned structures, particularly when surrounded by nature that’s trying to reclaim its real estate, are a big inspiration for me. This one’s in Snowdonia.

I realise we’re already on day 8 of August, but I’m going to post my writing goals for the month. This #writemotivation goal-posting habit I’ve is now becoming vital to upping my productivity. So I’ll just carry on and see if I can attain the same level of …a-hem… self-discipline (I can hear you snorting. I know… last month wasn’t a winner for me in how much I checked off my list, but I DID make some important progress).

So, what do I plan to accomplish by the end of this month? A much shorter list. This:

  1. Write to the halfway point of my WIP’s first draft.

That’s it. No overinflated idealistic notions of reading X amount of blogs, replying to emails in a daily, timely fashion (some of you have been waiting quite awhile – I seem to have an inbox/ADHD problem lately, and I do apologise! I read emails, plan replies in my head, and then, oh! Look! It’s not raining, I better go for a run! I’m so sorry!).

No pushing myself with a specific word count or hours spent writing per day. I would love to be like Stephen King and promise to have my first draft completed in 3 months (or was it 3 weeks? It’s been awhile since reading ON WRITING. Loved it, though. This made me laugh until I cried for a full twenty minutes one day, much to my husband’s confusion).

Last month I managed to finally squeeze out a synopsis from start to finish, making some major changes to my WIP and its world. Great! Now I need to implement so I aim to get to the midpoint (described in my new synopsis) – no matter how many chapters that makes it. If I can get to that point, I’ll be thrilled with myself. I’ll keep you posted.

As for the blog title, I love hearing about random things that inspires others – and by inspire I mean infuse your mind with scene and setting inspiration, character motivation, storylines, images … AS WELL AS the stream-of-consciousness clicking for which we all tend to have a bit o’ morning-after guilt.

Example: I just completely nerded out for the last 2.5 hours pouring over websites about the London Underground’s disused stations, abandoned buildings, old signage, and so forth, and this lead me to a whole host of articles and websites about air raid shelters during the Blitz which then lead me to read up on one of my favourite films and books, ATONEMENT (Ian McEwan), and Balham Station (who can forget that horrifying scene), and then I thought I’d check up on what Saorise Ronan and Romola Garai are up to over on IMDb. One thing leads to another and then I’m faced with the fact that I stopped writing about 3.5 hours ago.

I won’t go into too much detail, but it did remind me of how certain images seem to have greater power than others – not just to evoke emotions during films, a la the Balham Station scene in Atonement, but also to create one little idea that leads to another that leads to another that inevitably inspires a whole world in our head.

It reminded me of an article we read on my film course at uni by Barbara Klinger about the “arresting image” in film, referencing The Piano shortly after we watched that. (BTW, I just re-read this article now, 5 years later, and it reminds me of how much I wish I could get paid to analyse films from a theoretical standpoint for a living). So while I might feel guilty in the morning that I didn’t get as much writing done as I’d hoped tonight, I acknowledge there are times where this clicking around has triggered integral fodder for my imagination. Just don’t get too carried away, or you’ll be like me and wonder how WW2 research and the London Underground brought you here.

 

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Down to business

That door could go *anywhere*. Imagining where it’ll lead is fantastic. But eventually you have to get off your butt and find out.

After months of editing, re-reading, editing, and re-reading some more until I find another 200 things to edit, I’m setting my first manuscript aside. I recently changed the tense from past to present, and in doing so, believe I found lots of areas in which to strengthen the story. The characters, their motivations, and the story arc. I’m sure I could work on it til Kingdom Come, but the truth of the matter is, there are way more stories in me. As much as this first (completed) one is my baby, it’s time to get moving on another.

WIP.

It’s been on the backburner for months. I came up with the basic premise last March, and now a year later, it’s only a halfway-done draft. If that. I worked on it extensively during NaNo this year and reached the word count, but it still has so far to go. It’s weird. I feel the same way about working on a painting: I am so excited to see it done, and I have such hope for where it can go, and really feel it can be something special. But it’s the actual sitting down and working on it that I find so difficult.

Why is it sometimes SO hard to do the very things we want to do the most?

To anyone reading this, I wish you the best in tackling that project – whatever it may be – that you KNOW can be great but you’re almost afraid to focus on it, as though your attempts might not live up to your projected hope for it. Don’t let those nagging, evil, bloodthirsty hurdles stop you from just sitting down and working. Because the only thing they want from you is to stop you doing it at ALL. Don’t listen to them. 🙂 I’ll try not to, too.

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People-Pleasing: Just Say No (nicely).

That was me, far right. While I love playing bass, I think more often than not I wasn't pleasing other people with my performance--especially my band mates 😉 Joke. I wasn't that bad.*

My characters have become unintentional catalysts for learning about myself, and the things I need to work on.

I didn’t sit down to write manuscript #1 (or #2, my current work in progress) with the intention of “finding myself” or examining my own neuroses. Writing is about putting the stories in my head down on paper, and I was simply trying to build character traits, flaws, and interesting bits into the characters who make up the story I want to tell.

But life doesn’t usually work out the way we intend or expect.

In my last post, I talked about this simple yet earth-shaking realisation: No matter how hard you try, you can’t please everyone and you can’t make everyone like you. Humans are fickle, myself included. I can spend my life bending over backwards and apologising for my existence at every turn, but I still won’t win everyone’s approval. So finally, after 33 years, I’ve decided I need to stop. I need to be me—confidently. I need to stop apologising for every move I make. And I need to stop being so anxious to fulfil everyone else’s expectations, and not be afraid to say what I really think.

That’s not to say I’m endorsing narcissism or bad behaviour! But all I can do is try my best, be respectful and kind, try to treat others as I would like to be treated, and the rest is up to them. If I don’t live up to their standards of perfection & acceptability, there’s not a lot I can do about that.

I’ve come to see that I’ve spent – no, WASTED – so much time in my life trying to be what I think other people want, saying “yes” to every request, in the hopes that other people will like me, will approve, will include me, and will not be angry at me. I’ve used up so much energy trying to keep on top of all this that I inevitably lose sight of what makes me happy, let alone what’ll make someone else happy.

My MC has this problem. She didn’t at first – she had a host of other issues that got her in the predicament that incites the plot. But revisions have revealed that, at her core, she’s a people-pleaser. She will never win trying to juggle the approval of everyone she meets. Not just friends and family, but acquaintances, teachers, employers, customer service reps and delivery men. She elevated the opinions of everyone in her life above her own, to the detriment of her self-esteem and her relationships with those people.

I didn’t write this trait into her because I wanted to write about me. I wrote her this way because it’s how her character evolved, based on herself and the situations around her. And afterwards, I realised that’s how I’ve been living most of my life. While researching this topic, I found this: (from Jen Smith’s blog)

…It is a fact of life that you can’t make everyone happy all the time. What you can do is be authentic and do what you feel is right. We all upset others at times. It is inevitable. Sometimes people are jealous; sometimes they don’t like other people being happy or successful and sometimes they may be upset with you and they just don’t know why! You cannot be responsible for other people’s happiness but you sure as hell are responsible for your own. Start being confident about your decisions and what you want to do.

I think it comes down to say what you mean, mean what you say, and if it’s not said with ill intent but respect, then other people can either accept you, or move on. And the ones who stick around are the ones whose opinion you should count as meaningful in your life. (Isn’t that what Hanson’s “MMMbop” was all about, after all? LOL).

But seriously, you can’t ever base your life solely on others opinions. That’s when it becomes approval addiction, and you end up making yourself and the other people unhappy anyhow. I’m responsible for my own happiness, and while I always want to make everyone else happy, that’s just not in my power. I need to be confident about my decisions, communicate more clearly, and then just accept that other people are responsible for their own happiness as much as I am for mine.

Some people just aren’t going to like me for whatever their reasons (which they’re totally entitled to), and that’s fine. This is when I need to stop losing sleep over whether some random person on the street likes me, or the not-so-random person whose standards of excellence I’ll never achieve is happy with me. Tough. That’s life. Next!

And the side note to all this has actually become Important Point #2. I’m realising that both my MC and I need to have this enmeshed into our skulls: Only you are responsible for your own happiness. Others may want you to be happy, and make efforts to help you be happy. But you have the choice in the end, and if you choose to be miserable, grumpy, judgemental, or pessimistic (as we all choose now & again), that’s completely up to you. But we can also choose to be positive, forgiving, hopeful, sympathetic, and so many other, better, things. That’s my goal, anyhow.

* Photo credit: unknown. I apologise. I was given an 8.5×11 print of this performance, which was a benefit show put on by Fido coffeehouse (where I used to work) in Nashville, Tennessee at the Belcourt. Many a better performer has played that stage, but that was an awesome time in my life. But I am not an amazing bassist. I just had an amazing teacher and fantastic people around me 🙂
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Squeaky Wheel

I’m here! No matter how small and insignificant!

Over the last few days, I’ve been making the most use of the fabulous and handy QueryTracker to organise the dispatch of my newly-polished query to several agents seeking women’s fiction. I’ve sent out tiny batches of queries in the past, but this query has been through the ringer. It’s polished, it feels like it hits the main points of my plot and themes, and the perfectionist in me has stared at it for hours (probably literally) making sure I feel good about it.

I’ve sent about 9 queries over the past week. My top agent of that lot? She responded in less than 12 hours. That’s a record. And yes, it was a rejection. I have to say I’m honoured she took the time to copy and paste my name at the top. The querying process should be renamed the wearying process, because these awesome agents, they all get thousands of emails a week and have to make pretty quick decisions on emails they’ve just skimmed. But us writers? We have to spend days, weeks, months perfecting our letter, tailoring it to them like a cover letter for a job (which I’ve also been doing, for 20 months, without success… but that is definitely another story altogether), making sure it seems perfect. We hem and haw and we take words out and put them back in. And they probably spend about 10 seconds looking at it before sending out the rejection template, or just binning it and moving on.

And I TOTALLY get that — they’re super busy! I’d do the same thing if I were an agent. But so many writers seem to face this process like an endurance test: “If I just keep trying, if I just polish a bit and send another batch, if I listen to whatever every single person tells me to change, I’ll get bites, and one bite for a full will eventually lead to an agent, then a publishing deal, then bingo, I’ve hit my stride.”

But what if that’s not true? How do I know when to pack it in with my first ms, the one I’ve been working on for over 5 years? I’ve learned SO MUCH from writing this, and then editing it, then trashing it and starting over. I’ve dedicated my last 20 months of job-hunting to also reading every blog, article, and book I can get my hands on about writing. I feel like I’ve enrolled in full-time education on the subject of polishing my manuscript. I’ve loved every second of reading about the craft and putting what I learn into practice. I’m *proud* of where my ms is today, thanks to the help of all these awesome writers, agents, and editors who share their experiences and wisdom.

So, after taking a writing/job-hunting break yesterday and editing together audio clips of the Samantha jokes from I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, I’ve decided that the “when” comes when one of two things happens: when I feel I’ve exhausted possibility and nothing’s happening, or when Samantha jokes stop making me chuckle and lifting me up.

When Humphrey Lyttelton’s voice reading off crass-sounding yet ostensibly innocent jokes about the ever-delightful “Samantha” fails to make me giggle after another bad writing day, I’ll know it’s time to move on.

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Everything happens at once… and NaNo.

The lovely English countryside on a walk 2 weekends ago.

What they say is true, that it might not rain for a long, long time, but when it starts going, you’ll get a deluge. So I’m not quite building an ark yet, but some good things have been happening this week. Good news on several fronts – some fronts I’ve been patient on for quite awhile (and sometimes impatient – I’m not going to lie!), and other fronts I’ve just had good news that I needed for reassurance. So it’s been a really great week actually. Health? Check! Personal stuff? Check! Potential job news on the horizon? Check! (I said potential…) and writing?

To that I say: NaNoWriMo!

I “won” last year in that I wrote over 50,000 words in November for my first time in NaNo (my amazing sister has done it something like 7 times!), and I’m the first to say that NO ONE will ever read the draft of the story I wrote last year. I haven’t touched that story with a ten foot pole since November ended because I went directly back into polishing Story #1. But it was a fantastic exercise because it showed me what I am more than capable of – getting ideas down, even if I’m not making the most of them. They can always be tweaked and edited and dumped and re-written later 😉

This year, however, I want to make more of it. I’ve had an idea, some vague characters, backstory and a solid premise for about 6 months and have written only a handful of notes here and there. I began plotting on November 1st – properly plotting, mind you. Then I wrote 5,000 words in one sitting, so the first chapter is good to go, and it feels like I have a real sense of this thing.

Getting everything else figured out, that’s the hard bit. And that’s what I struggled with in Story #1. I knew the characters, I knew the themes, I knew the premise, I knew peaks and valleys of the MC’s journey, and I knew the end, but there is SO MUCH about that journey in the middle I struggled with. Act II. How to get it to flow, how to up the stakes to get to Act III, and how to basically fill it in. But not just “fill it in” like it’s some MadLibs and it would all work out magically by coming up with a few events to plop in the central 50% of the story. I know it doesn’t work that way, but I really, really struggle with getting momentum on the series of events that happen between the end of Act I and the start of Act III. I don’t know why.

I just spent the evening reading some amazing blog posts by Nathan Bransford and a few others, all of which really encouraged me and made sense, and gave me insight into how others work. So I feel a bit bolstered up for tomorrow’s NaNo work. Even if I still have no idea what my MC gets up to in the middle.

And I’ve been using Janice Hardy’s awesome series on prepping for NaNo. I printed the series out, stapled it together, and am basically using it as my guide to getting the plotting down. And I realise I’m kinda cheating by plotting and using that as my word count for NaNo, but I figure since I tend to end up putting a lot of dialogue in my plotting, it’s not the end of the world 😉

Hopefully I can use this NaNo to not only get this idea that I feel is worthy into a novel, but maybe conquer my fear of the middle, too.

If you’re NaNoing – best of luck!

Happy belated Halloween! Mr. Autumnus is here! (taken at Westonbirt Arboretum)
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