What Do You Want From Your Writing?

I was emailing back and forth with a friend earlier this month, and as frequently happens, our discussion turned to writing.  She teaches writing at a University and we both have aspirations to write mystery novels.  We’d talked about NaNoWriMo and she asked if she could see what I had for my project so far, so I sent off the first couple chapters.  She responded that my chapters seemed pretty polished, especially for a first draft, and wanted to know my secret.  Did I outline?  Had I planned out the story in great detail before I started writing?  I answered that no, there was not usually a great deal of advance planning for me.  I am a pantser.  I generally go in with an idea of who these people are, what the big problem is, and I have an idea (sometimes a fairly vague one) what the conclusion will be.  My secret, if I have one, is practice, and what I practiced on for several years was fanfiction.

Yes, I said fanfiction.  I spent several years writing fanfiction.  It was actually what got me back in to writing after several years hiatus.  I learned a lot doing it too.  Before I wrote fanfic, I didn’t know how to make chapters.  I just wrote one huge long narrative.  I learned how to put out a polished chapter in a short period of time (whether all those chapters always added up to a good story is another matter).  I got my first real feedback as a writer from my fanfic.  I made several online friends as well, and did my first NaNoWriMo with them.  Most of us are still in touch. Some of them are still writing fanfic.  One is a published author who continues to write fanfic on the side.  Another has pretty much stopped writing altogether.  A third blasted through NaNoWriMo this year, finishing an original fiction project in 20 days.

After I emailed my friend back, I started talking to my husband about my fanfic.  It’s still out there, and I still get reviews on it from time to time.  Reviews are generally something to enjoy, as most times readers who don’t care for the story just stop reading rather than commenting, but when I get these kinds words, I don’t feel happy.  I feel guilty.  My husband asked me why and the only answer I could come up with was that I felt that I should be focusing on my original fiction.  Fanfiction was fun, but it doesn’t help me pursue my ultimate goal of having an original novel published.  My husband, astute man that he is, asked me what I wanted to get out of my writing.  What am I trying to create when I write?  The answer, for me, is to write a story that will entertain a reader, something he or she can get lost in and enjoy.  Saying that out loud made me stop to think.  I did do that with my fanfiction.  I created a story which entertained, and people enjoyed reading it.  They enjoyed it enough to tell me so, which says something.  At least, I like to think it does.

The upshot of all this is that I think it’s time I stopped feeling guilty about having written fanfiction.  It was a wonderful learning experience.  I made new friends.  And I put out stories which entertained and gave enjoyment.  None of that is something to feel ashamed about.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

I love the month of October.  It means fall – changing leaves, bonfires, football games, Halloween, and Magna Cum Murder!  I am happy we’re here, though I am wondering where the heck the month of September went.

I had a lot of hats to wear in September.  There was the runner hat, as I prepared for and ran my first half-marathon.  There was my historian hat as I gave a talk on Muncie in the Civil War at a local senior center.  And there was my writer hat as I registered for the Midwest Writers Workshop manuscript makeover session on October 10th (and needed to decide on, or create, 10 pages of a manuscript for making over).  It was a busy month, but I’m happy to say I survived it all!  The half was quite the experience, especially since it rained for almost the entire time I was running.  The talk would have been more fun with a larger audience (note to people running/volunteering at senior centers – don’t schedule a talk at the same time as euchre club if you want anyone to attend it), but it was fun to go back through all the research I’d done in preparation.

The worst part of the month was agonizing over the manuscript makeover.  I had a great idea to work with when I registered for the session, but nothing on the page, and I didn’t like any of my other manuscripts.  After weeks of staring at a blank screen and going um as all the words disappeared from my brain I finally managed to get a good start to the manuscript and thus the 10 pages needed for the makeover.  Part of the torture was that I didn’t want to tell my husband anything about the story up front.  He has always been the person I spit-balled ideas with, who helped me to figure out what I was struggling with, but that means he always knows what I’m trying to say before he starts to read.  I wanted to know if I was setting a good hook with my start and if he already knew where the story was going, he couldn’t evaluate that.  I had to keep quiet and fight on my own when all I wanted to do was talk to someone about my idea!  But I persisted and, when he did read my pages, he reacted exactly the way I wanted!  Success!

My October will be busy too, but more fun!  In addition to attending the Manuscript Makeover session on October 10th, I plan on going to a couple Ball State home football games, I’ll be running a 5k, attending a Halloween party, and then – the best comes last – attending Magna Cum Murder October 30th-November 1st!  Somewhere in all of that I’ll keep working on the current manuscript, hopefully armed with some helpful advice from the makeover session.

Voices in My Head

I left Midwest Writers Workshop feeling, as always, eager and excited to write write write.  And then… I didn’t.  I got back to my running and biking (and even did some strength-training – owie).  But the writing thing didn’t happen for that whole week after.  In fact, it wasn’t until yesterday that I even opened my manuscript.  I wanted to write, but I cringed at the thought of opening the manuscript file.  There were so many things running through my head from MWW15 – changes to make, revision ideas, thoughts on theme and characters.  It was overwhelming.  Then I remembered one of the great panels from MWW15.  Julie Hyzy talked to us about the voices in our heads.

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As writers, part of our job is to listen to the voices.  However, that doesn’t mean we want to listen to every voice.  We don’t, for instance, need to listen to the nagging voice of the inner critic when we’re working on that first draft (and this goes double if, like mine, your inner critic sounds like your mother).  We don’t need to hear the voice of our critique partner, because as much as that person might intend to help, she doesn’t necessarily share the vision for your story that you have (Julie recommended not sharing your work with a CP until that first draft is finished).  We don’t need to listen to our inner procrastinator, nagging us to wash the dishes or mop the floors or do the laundry.

not listening

We do need to listen to our characters.  We’ve got to let them talk to us, tell us what it is that they want to do and, sometimes more importantly, what they won’t do.  We need to hear them and if we can’t, it could be a sign that we’re trying to force them into something that doesn’t fit them.

writers

The point here (yes, I do have one) is this.  I heard a lot of advice at MWW15.  It was great.  It gave me a lot to think about.  It also gave me a lot of voices in my head.  I mean, A LOT.  All those voices were drowning out my characters.  They were drowning out my voice.

don't panic

I heard a lot of tips and tricks at the conference.  Julie Hyzy talked about locking yourself away from everyone with a timer and giving yourself 30 minutes to just write.  Finding that 30 minutes wasn’t working for me this time.  What did work was letting those voices shout themselves out.  I didn’t fuss about not writing (much).  I went on my runs and my bike rides.  I started reading a new book.  I gave myself some space and finally I am back to a place where I can listen to my characters and move forward again.  And this is, I think, the ultimate lesson of Midwest Writers Workshop.  You can (and will) hear a lot of writing advice but in the end, you have to do what works for you.  If you don’t know where to start then yes, by all means, give someone else’s method a try and see if it works for you.  But don’t be surprised or upset if it doesn’t.  We’re all wired differently and there’s no one-size-fits-all writing process.

Balance

I call this blog The Balancing Act for a few reasons.  First, the old title seemed super pompous to me.  Second, it’s really what I want to write about and third, I think we’re all trying to pull off our own balancing act.

I attended Midwest Writers Workshop this past weekend, and my struggle for balance there was between my introvert tendencies and my extrovert tendencies.  I’m pretty sure I’m an ambivert, because there are times when I do feed on being with a crowd and yet there are also times when I need to run away from that crowd.  It comes and goes.  But for this past weekend, the introvert side of me was definitely taking over.  Part of the conference is networking with other writers, but mostly I wanted to hide in the corner and watch all the activity.  I found Riley, a writer I met last year (when I had an extrovert moment and introduced myself to her) and we went to a lot of the same panels.  On Saturday night a couple of Twitter friends decided to make a “Shelly sandwich” and pulled me out of my shell a bit (and didn’t run screaming in fear of what emerged; thanks Rena and Kathy!).  Despite the wanting to hide parts, I had a good time at the conference and learned a lot.  I will write more about that at another time.

Balance this week is about getting back to exercising.  I am signed up for a half-marathon in September which will be, thanks to the whole stress-fracture-scare of March/April, my first half.  It may be my only half.  It depends on how well the shin holds up to the training.  I am woefully behind in training from where I should be according to every training plan I’ve looked at, but I’m trying not to let that worry me.  I’m mixing in biking to hopefully make up for not having quite as much running mileage and planning on doing a mix of running and walking in the race.  It will be my first at this distance so that’s an automatic PR anyway, right?  Besides, this is TRUE:
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Balance this week is also about accepting that I’m not going to hit my word-count goal for Camp NaNoWriMo and not obsessing over it.  I could drive myself crazy trying to hit impossible daily goals, miss them all, and not get in the exercise I need, or I could let this one go and try to keep the story moving without making myself nuts.  So far I’m doing good on the not making myself nuts part, but not so much on the keeping the story moving part.

And just like that, we’re at the crux of this blog. I seem to only be able to pursue one hobby at a time.  For the second half of last year it was running.  I ran at least 1 mile every day for 177 days in a row.  It was great.  I set PRs in the 5k, ran my first 10k, lost about 20 pounds, and felt really strong physically.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe I managed to write much more than 177 words that whole time and I missed writing.  The year before I threw myself into NaNoWriMo, hit the 50k word goal (writing over 8,000 words in a day to make it) and I don’t think I ran more than a couple days the whole month (and yep, I missed running).  I’ve yet to figure out how to balance getting in my workouts with getting in my words.  And I really want to do that, not only because of the whole punching people thing but because I really want THIS to be true too:

MugI believe that one day I will manage to do both of these things.  I just haven’t figured it out yet.  I’m going to try not to let that make me crazy (or crazier) in the meantime.

Sharing Some More

I wasn’t going to do this quite yet, but I kind of like how this bit turned out so I thought I’d share.  🙂

I was slumped in the chair, my head titled back and my eyes closed when I felt a blast of cold air sweep over me. The hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stood up.
“Wow,” breathed a female voice. “Did you need a chill pill or what?” I pushed myself up with difficulty and looked around. No one was in sight, but I felt the cold air moving, like someone brushing past me. I saw the cushion in the chair across from me dip as if someone had sat down.
“Who…” My voice came out as a croak and I stopped, clearing my throat before trying again. “Who are you?”
“I’m Maggie,” replied the voice, and sure enough it sounded like the speaker was in the chair opposite mine.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m sitting here, talking to you,” the voice answered. “You’re not freaking out on me again, are you?”
“No I just… I don’t understand.” The cold intensified and I shivered.
“What’s to understand?” I could picture the girl shrugging, and then I wasn’t just picturing it but seeing it. There was a girl, blonde hair in waves, wearing cut-offs which showed lots of tan leg and a pink tank-top, sitting across from me in the chair. She wasn’t solid – I could see the chair through her – but she was there.
“Why are you here?” I asked. She shrugged again.
“Search me.”
“But… but that doesn’t make any sense,” I protested.
“Whoa, don’t wig out on me again.”
“Again?”
“You fainted.”
“That wasn’t my fault. You… did something to me.”
“I did not.”
“Yes, you did.”
“What? What did I do?”
“I… I don’t know, but it had to be you,” I said, throwing my hands up in frustration. I quickly dropped them, wrapping my arms around myself in the cold.
“Why do you assume it was me?”
“Because it wasn’t anything else!” I snapped. The ghost girl looked down and I thought I saw her lower lip tremble. I sighed. “Look, I don’t want to argue with you.”
“Well, I don’t want to argue with you either,” she said, looking up. “I’m just trying to talk to you. I don’t know why you’re wigging out about it.”
“Because you’re a gho…” I stopped, biting back the word. I knew from listening to my parents that sometimes ghosts didn’t realize they were dead, but I’d never heard them talk about how you handled that. Did you just tell the ghost she was a dead person? Did you play along?
“Because I’m what? A ghost?”
“Well… yeah,” I said.
“If I can cope with it I don’t see why you can’t.”
“It’s not… I mean… I wasn’t sure if you realized…”
“That I’m dead?” The girl laughed, tossing her hair. “C’mon, how could I not know?”
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I’ve never… I mean…”
“You’re still alive. Rub it in, why dontcha?”
“I’m not…”
“Kidding. Geez Louise, you living people are so sensitive.” I must have looked surprised because she burst out laughing again. “Oh c’mon. It’s a joke.”
“I know,” I answered.
“Being dead doesn’t mean I can’t have a sense of humor, does it?”
“Of course not. I just… I wasn’t expecting… you. A ghost. Any of this.” The girl, Maggie she’d said, cocked her head at me quizzically. “In all honesty, I was never sure I believed in ghosts.”
“Really? Why?”
“I don’t know. I mean, my parents have been ghost hunting since I was a kid. I’ve heard about it forever. I just… I was never sure I bought it.”
“Bought it?”
“You know, believed in it. Thought it was real. It was just Mom and Dad’s weird hobby.”
“Well, here I am. I think you have to believe now.”
“I guess I do.”

There we are.  🙂  Hope you enjoyed.

What Am I Writing?

I’m still working on the story I posted about last time (ie the is it a YA-or-NA Paranormal Mystery).  I’m not going as fast as I’d like, but I’m still having plenty of fun with it.  I thought I’d share a snippet here.  Here goes…

I was doodling on the edge of my notebook page when my skin began to crawl. It started on my left arm and I looked down, expecting to find a bug. Nothing was there. I rubbed at my arm but the sensation only increased, moving up my arm to the back of my neck and down my right arm. I caught a whiff of scent, reminiscent of baby powder, and then the heavy, uncomfortable feeling I’d experienced twice already today settled over me. My pen slipped from my fingers as my hand went numb. The person next to me reached over, stopping it from rolling off my desk. I covered it with my hand, my fingertips brushing against his. The heavy feeling lifted for a second, allowing me to turn toward him and give him a quick smile of gratitude. He smiled back, his cheeks dimpling adorably, and I felt my face warm.
“Ooh,” breathed a voice in my left ear, and a chill shot down my spine. “Dreamy.” I turned my head, but the person sitting next to me was staring at the professor, a confused look on his face. There was a girl behind me, but her attention was on the cell phone in her lap.
“You ok?” This voice came from my right and belonged to my pen rescuer. I turned toward him, my face warming once more.
“Yeah,” I whispered back. I felt the professor’s gaze on me and turned my attention back to the front of the room.
The class dragged on. The heavy feeling didn’t go away completely, but it did lessen. I still got chills every few minutes, usually accompanies by whiffs of the baby-powder-like scent. The guy next to me glanced at me frequently and I wanted to return his gaze, but I was too creeped-out by whatever was happening to me to enjoy his attention. I wanted nothing more than to flee from this room and from whatever was causing me to feel weak and chilled. I just hoped that when the class finally did end, I could manage to exit with some dignity.

So there you go.  I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Writing New Things

I’m working on a new writing project.  My Camp NaNoWriMo manuscript crashed and burned as I grew super distracted by other things (like whether or not I had a stress fracture in my shin which would need surgery if I was to run again).  I got answers on the stress fracture issue and got my groove back at the same time.  Happy happy!

Now I’m stepping back into running, working hard on my patience so that I continue to build mileage gradually and don’t wind up hurt again.  At the same time, I’ve stepped back in to writing.  I’m leaving the Camp ms alone for now because, quite honestly, it was boring me to write so I can only imagine how it would be to read.  My new project is different (for me) and kind of exciting.  I think I have just the right mix of writing what I know (there’s a ghost in the story) and playing what-if (my main character is my imagining of what my daughter might be like if I had one).  I’m having a lot of fun getting to know this character and can’t wait to see how she handles the situation I’ve thrown her into!  I’d like it if this was all coming together a bit faster but, just as with the running, I’m being patient and letting my word-count grow gradually.

The genre on this one is hard to categorize.  18-year old protagonist in her second semester of college.  With a ghost.  And a mystery.  Paranormal YA?  Paranormal NA?  A big hot mess?  I guess we’ll see as it goes what best seems to fit it.

I debated on putting this out here.  It seems like as soon as I talk about a ms it hits a big snag.  At the same time, I hope that by going ahead with this post, I will be kicking myself in the butt to keep going.  It’s public now.  That should add some pressure to keep working at it, right?  I think I need a dose (smallish) of such pressure.  So if you’re so inclined, feel free to poke me from time to time and ask, how’s the ms going?

Road Maps

Would you start a journey without a road map?  Well, in this day and age you might, because you’d rely on a GPS or the mapping software on your smart phone.  But I’m old enough to remember using road maps to find my way to places, and I still have a bunch of them in one of my cars.  Many of my road maps are tattered and worn.  They got quite a lot of work during the many years I spent traveling to Civil War reenactments.  I hold on to them, partly out of sentiment and partly because paper maps never need recharging or lose signal.

The other week our cabin leader for Camp NaNoWriMo asked everyone to share their synopsis for their story.  Many of my bunk-mates did, and I was really impressed with what they shared!  Then I was really upset, because I don’t have a synopsis for my current project.  I’m sure I had something in mind when I started, some key ideas and some plot points I knew I’d want to hit, but I had nothing in writing.  That’s usually how I operate.  I am a pantser, not a plotter.  But I forget – when you have a road map you are not limited to taking one route to your destination.  A good map shows you multiple routes.  You can figure out your own detour or, if you make a wrong turn, you can find a way to get back on track.  I went into this writing journey with no road map, relying on the GPS of my brain, but it seems like my brain has lost signal.  I’m feeling a bit lost and I really could use that road map right now.

So I’m creating the road map now, even though I’m a bit late.  I’m hoping it will help me get back on course so I can finish this first draft AND complete Camp NaNoWriMo successfully.  And stop being the slacker in my cabin.  So here we go – here’s my synopsis:

After an investigation at a local community theater, ghost-hunters Kate and Alex must work with their team to determine if the threats directed at them have a paranormal source, or if the danger they are facing comes from someone living. 

There we are.  It’s written down now.  And typed on a blog.  Now to see if I can get myself back on course.

Heading to Camp!

Camp NaNoWriMo that is! That’s right – you don’t have to wait for November to do NaNoWriMo. The great folks at the Office of Letters and Light offer Camp NaNoWriMo as well. This year there are camping sessions in April and July. Camp is a bit different than November’s NaNoWriMo. For one thing, you choose your word-count goal. Want to do 50,000? Go ahead. Want to do less (or more) than that? That’s fine too. You decide! The other thing that’s different is that at camp there are cabins. A cabin is a group of fellow writers. You can create your own cabin or join one with friends, or be randomly assigned to a cabin (or, if cabins aren’t your thing, you can go it alone).

I’m very excited to be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this April. I’m using the camp to complete my first draft of my current manuscript, tentatively titled Ghostly Witness. I’ve set my word-count goal at 30,000 and I think that’s realistic both to complete in April and complete the first draft. I’m also excited to be part of the Cabin of Creative Misfits, started by Natasha Raulerson. We’ve got different genres and different word-count goals, but that doesn’t matter.  We’re all in this together.  I’m looking forward to getting to know my bunk-mates, cheering folks on, and seeing all of us succeed! I’ve seen some of my bunk-mates descriptions of their novels and I want to read them all! It’s going to be a good Camp!

Ready to Stop Going it Alone

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the introvert-extrovert dynamic lately, and how it applies to me.  If you’d asked me growing up (at a point when I understood the terms) I would have called myself an introvert.  These days I think I’m closer to an ambivert.  I get energized both by being around people and by getting away from them – I hit a saturation point with either activity and need to switch things up.  Keeping things balanced is key – just enough socializing, just enough time to myself.  Finding the right balance is the part that’s challenging.

I used to have a friend to run with.  We’d meet up on Saturday or Sunday to run together.  Our pacing was similar enough that we could run together.  Sometimes I had to push a bit harder to keep up, sometimes she did, and some days we spent a lot more time walking and talking than we’d intended.  It worked.  It was especially nice when she was training for a half-marathon and had some long runs to get in.  I wasn’t training for that distance but I joined her for her first 7-miler, 8-miler, and 9-miler anyway.  Unfortunately, after her half, she quit running and I’ve been on my own for the past year and a half.  That’s been fine – I run at the time that works best for me and I don’t have to worry about pacing with anyone else – but now that I’m training for my own half-marathon and have my long runs looming, I find myself wishing I had someone to run with me.  It’s not a matter of accountability – I manage that part just fine on my own – but company on these long runs would be appreciated.

My writing situation is similar.  For years I wrote fanfiction and was part of a group of supportive writers.  I did my first NaNoWriMo with them and had a blast.  Over the years several of us have drifted away from fanfiction, and a few from writing at all.  That support network isn’t there any longer.  For a while it didn’t bother me but of late I’ve been feeling like I’ve hit my saturation point on writing solo.  I miss having that supportive group, miss having people to be encouraged by and to encourage in turn.  It wasn’t hard to find a supportive group in the fanfiction community, but figuring out how to do that outside of it is a puzzle I haven’t solved.  Yet.