Writing What you Fear

Embarrassing to admit, but two nights ago I awoke in the small hours of the morning to a nightmare revolving around zombies. I have always wondered if it is just the writer in me, or if I dream more frequently, vividly, and with the ability to remember them than others anyway. After awaking a few times, I finally had to get up completely to try and dispel the fear that was overtaking my logical thinking. Why zombies? No idea. While the rest of the world goes on Zombie walks and enjoys all manner of movies/TV, I leave lights on and avoid them.

So there it was 5:30 in the morning, still full dark without Fall Back yet. And I finally sit up, trying to shake off the sleep and fear addled brain. And all I could hear was this licking noise from the recesses of the dark room. My cat. That’s it, out to the living room I go so my husband can still sleep. I turn on the light and proceed to do anything to keep my mind off the dream.

But I have to go back to sleep sometime.

I’ve learned over the years that my mind will quiet down if I come to some sort of conclusion. It’s not too picky on what, any ending will usually satisfy. So half-awake, half-daydreaming, I Mary-Jane an ending good enough to sleep until 9 am.

All of this leads to the true point that as I tell my good friend and writing buddy about this night, he thinks the idea is merit-able. That its writable. That I could really do something with it.

And now I have a Scrivener file for a zombie novel….What the hell?

Case and Point: Brainstorming session today in broad daylight of 7 PM, my friend suggests we watch the first episode of Walking Dead. For those in the know, I barely make it past the part where he gets out of the hospital and ends up with the guy from Snatch and son. For others, probably not even half way.

How the hell am I supposed to write a zombie novel (that I can’t even deny I am slightly curious to try…) when I can’t go out on the my porch to watch the wind whistle through the trees because of hurricane Sandy in the dark without waiting for a rotted hand to reach between the bars…

I don’t know if I can write a zombie novel, especially because doing the research for the genre may well kill any restful sleep I get for awhile. In a morbid way, I want to try. Maybe if I can write through this fear that keeps the hall light on at night for a 27 year old, than maybe I can make it through a show without walking away.

 

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The Countdown

According to the NanoWrimo website there is 09:09:36:… at the time I start writing this. Can it really be just 9 days? Wow, the time flies.

Do I have the outline I wanted to have? No.

Do I have the hordes of notes I had last year? No.

What do I have? An idea, a character, and a place to go. Discovering writing at its best.

But, I did come up with an intriguing theme as I mused last night. Speaking of which, I have absolutely fallen in love with Brandon Sanderson’s Writing Excuses podcast. I just finished the one on character death and due the briefness of the podcast (one of its finer points if sometimes you wish there was more) they left it vaguely pointed in the direction of if you kill them, kill them well, kill them meaningfully, and make it fit within your genre.

The “meaningfully” and “well” caught my attention more than the genre. I will probably be revisiting that one later. But, to kill a character meaningful and well… That seems like a tall order. So I began to dig around in my memory like a child in a closet tossing items behind me as I picked them up and examined them for likeliness of a good example. Besides, I was looking for something specific. Not a major character death. But a secondary character death that makes you cry and jump up wishing you could be the one to pull them from harm’s way. Finally, I found the gem I was looking for.

*  *  *  S P O I L E R   A L E R T   F O R   W H I T E   C O L L A R   (T V   S H O W)   I F   Y O U   C A R E  *  *  *

Second season, Mozzie is shot. Who is Mozzie you may ask, not knowing but still not caring about the Spoiler alert. He is the quirky, conspiracy theorist friend who has bailed the lead and co-lead out of many a jam. Oh, don’t worry, he complained the entire way, but he never once said no when someone needed him. Then he ends up shot, on a park bench, the gun with a silencer, and almost no one caring about the slumped over guy on the bench.

That’s meaningful. Wait, no that’s well. Meaningful is going to be that without this death the lead wouldn’t ever find out what man was actually pulling the puppet strings.

For those who know, Mozzie makes it. So it’s not my best example. But honestly I hate killing characters.

So why I am going on about this then…? Because for NanoWrimo 2012, I am going to kill a character. And I want to make the reader tear up, like I do — sappy me, watching this death happen.

Ah, but the tangent returns me to my intriguing theme: Trust of necessity and trust of generosity. You can trust someone out of need, and it goes so far. But real trust, the kind given in solid relationships, that generosity. It’s a trust that one gives for the sake of giving. Not for further ends.

And that, my friends, is how you make the death meaningful and well: Loyalty. No really, it makes sense. Look at your own examples. Hell, look how most people react when the Pet (mainly dog) has to die in a film: Old Yeller and I am Legend.

Next goal…write loyalty…. Wonder if there’s a podcast on that.

Write long and prosper. ;-P

The Courage to Write

ImageI am reading a new book. I found it in a sporadic stroll I have started recently of “how-to” books for writing. As I slowly wade through, picking my way on each word and paragraph like an explorer through swampy land, I am realizing things. The sedate pace is not because the book isn’t amazing — it definitely is — and I recommend it for any who are struggling to believe in their writing. It’s because something about each phrase resonates so profoundly within me that I cannot rush. There are a hundred things clamoring for my attention right now, and I continue to come back to this book.

“Faulkner had the courage to accept that flawed work (flawed to him anyway) was better than none at all.” – Ralph Keyes, pg 27

That line accompanied by the facts that I respect Faulkner’s work, the section in the book on writing about what you are afraid to write about, and the crazy response to a short, throwaway post here on the emotions I needed to let out to sleep has thrown into sharp relief what I have been hiding from.

Book 1 needs rewriting not editing. 

Let me outline the differences for my own frame of mind. What I wrote last night was emotional and resulted in a gripping snippet. The opening chapter of my book 1, no matter how I edit it, falls flat. Is it bad? Essentially, I don’t think so. There are elements and emotions there that work well, but it was written by a complacent girl who didn’t live or die by her writing. Alright, that’s a bit melodramatic but truthful enough. I lost my job over my writing, I refuse to lose my heart too.

Right now, I am prepping for NanoWrimo 2012. It’s probably cheating to rewrite the book again. But I was worried about having enough prep to write book 2 on a shaky book 1. I think my old-standby will work instead: writing out of order. I will write 50,000 new words for this November, but they officially don’t have to all come from the same novel.

So I will rewrite the first chapter, and hopefully have enough courage to maybe post some examples of the before and after here. Either way my writing has improved and simply re-editing the same words won’t add my heart back into that opening chapter and it needs to bang.

Write what I should write. Write the way I know how. The rest will follow.

Though I Walk thru the Valley

I am back. I have to admit how sad it is that it has taken me this long to come back. I have no excuses really. And, just like a sinner who only talks to God in times of strife, I am back to recount the past few months.

I had found a job. It was wonderful. I carpooled to work every day with a close friend. We had lunch together. I was getting to know people and learning the ropes. It was challenging, it was all new, and it was glorious. Hell, on top of all that, it even paid well. A week before Labor Day weekend, I sat down to lunch with my boss and we talked about my prospects to continue. My contract was going to be renewed. I had the prospect of a full time gig. I had options.

 

Three weeks later I was fired.

 

Excuse me, as I was corrected at the time, my contract was terminated. Fucking semantics.

The reason? The purpose? My writing. No, the irony is not lost on me. And, in the truth of the anonymity, my first draft was bad. It was an attempt at a tone and a topic I shouldn’t have tried. But I was given a chance to rewrite it. I did with every bit of my craft behind me. I even recruited beta readers and critiques to understand where I had gone so horribly wrong the first time. And it hurt, but I went through it all and examined my mistakes and honed my words.

It didn’t matter. After reading through the entire second draft, my boss looks me in the eyes and tells me it’s still horrible. My world shattered, exploding apart like fine crystal in slow motion frames. In the span of 24 hrs, I lost my wonderful job, the time with my friend, and the paycheck that was allowing my husband and I to make progress on our debt. I was damaged goods and the company wasn’t going to keep me if it felt like I couldn’t perform.

So three months before the holidays, I am jobless and searching for meaning. But then, most people are one or the other, if not both. 

My writing…sits. The 76,000+ words of progress I had made on my first, rough draft of my NanoWrimo novel lays unedited. A unknown ground that lays fallow as the farmer has lost the will to deal with the seasons. I can’t even give it a proper title. Ceara’s story is still that “NanoWrimo” work. November itself looms monstrous in my mind. Whereas up to my termination, I was looking forward to triumph again, to continue this novel, and to learn who Nathaniel is and what he means to Ceara. Instead, I dread the 30 days of writing for the joy of writing, because I am too afraid to lock my inner editor away again. I doubt my abilities and the editor keeps me safe.

It’s such a simple thing to doubt, but it grows like kudzu in the heat of a Georgia summer. 

And the hardest part is that to get better I know I need critiques. I need to continue to write, but its something that I hold so dear to myself that it is hard to hold it out for the world to bludgeon. I don’t try to pretend that I am perfect, that I am some artist. I am just a singular soul who can’t NOT write. I only want to tell a story and being told time and time again how wrong the semantics are wear away my foundation to believe I have a worthy story to tell. 

A new job search it is then. Maybe somewhere along the rocky way I will stumble across the sage who knows the words to restore my faith to write again. Ceara deserves that kind of faith. 

The Art, the Book, and the Way

So a few ideas to address today:

First, yes, I am still writing. I have recently decided to change careers. And, so as if I wasn’t doing enough previously, I am now job hunting for a new career. It’s exciting and super scary at the same time. I am leaving the comfort of what I know for an unknown. And worse, an unknown that I don’t wholly feel prepared for. Either way, I am doing it. My resignation paper was turned in two days ago. I am not changing my mind now. Teaching, sad as it is to say, is for someone who cares a little less than I.

Second, the book has morphed in a series. I had the sneaking suspicion that it what is was going to do to me. Not so worried though. It may mean the the end of Ceara’s story is farther off than I expected, but it finally feels like the book is more than a one shot, shallow, cliche paranormal story. Now I just need to write it like it is that unique. Thankfully, someone new, a Nephilim by the name of Nathaniel just walked into the book the other night. So I am going to wrap up book one, set down notes and outlines for book 2/3 (November is coming on fast…), and be prepared to finally read through my first manuscript beginning to end. Ceara, Jean, Koma, and Derrick need a little more flesh on their bones before I go running off half-cocked into a deeper truth. Can I do this before the next Nano? I have no freakin’ clue.

Third, I was able to read an article about the downward spiral of the Arts. That article refers to the original Salon article here. Are we really losing so much of our respect for the arts? The sad part is it might have already been gone. The Greeks and Romans revered their art. I remember sitting in class once, Anthropology 1101 if I remember correctly, stating how societies grew and evolved. My professor mentioned that you could measure a societies achievements in their leisure. Not laziness, mind you — there is a distinction. But the ability to not have to spend every waking second never ceasing towards finding where food would come from, shelter, safety. I agree with the Etsy article point of view that too many people think that art is just a hobby. Music, painting, photography, metal working, glass blowing, we are all considered eccentric crazies that have too much free time. People see us and think, even worse for those that may do it full time, unable to get, hold, or want a REAL job. It’s the same reason I listened to my parents, went to college and received a degree in mathematics instead of trying my hand on Broadway. In the end, I’m still happy with my choices, but it has the same connotation. Now, I’m a writer, a jeweler, a photographer. I am quitting my teaching job to work a 9-5 somewhere closer to home. A job where I won’t have homework to do and I can spend my time at home with ME. The job is a means to an end. Hopefully, one day, enough people with accept self-publishing (respectable self-publishing I will add) and homemade crafts as willingly as we proudly announce our Made in the USA stickers.

Until then, fellow readers, writers, artists, musicians, dabblers, entrepreneurs, experts, and pedestrians we will continue to ply our crafts and find the little joys in the kind words we receive from friends. Coveting the thrill of compliments and critiques of strangers who at least saw our work. For now, that is good. Even if it isn’t nearly enough.

 

The Criticism

The book isn’t done yet. Odd place to start an argument, but I had to throw that premise out there before I went much further. To reiterate, in case you missed it. The book is not done — yet.

Anyway, toddling along as I am in my writing. The fits and spurts that give me a few hundred words everyday are great. I’ve switched to long-hand almost constantly now. It gives me time to look at my writing without feeling the negative connotation of self-editing into making my progress slower. I feel like my writing has definitely grown since the first words were put to paper in November.

Speaking of November, I have a friend who had been reading my writing as I go since then. Some will say shame on me, but having been immersed in that red-headed stepchild of writing (re: fanfiction) I know how great a motivator it is to simply have someone waiting on the next installment of my book. And it helped. I made it to 50,000 words, didn’t I? The best part was the agreement we had previously. He would read it, he wanted to read it, but he wouldn’t give me hints, suggestions, criticism or anything until I was done. Flash-forward a few weeks, I thought he meant until the book was done, he meant until November was over.

So he gives me a critique on the phone as I am driving home from work because I brought up a conversation of the debate in writing in First Person present or past tense. Different post. Anyway — he tells me that a very climatic part of my book didn’t read very well and the important piece of information that needed to be revealed then fell flat (my words). I will then put my reaction mildly: I didn’t take it very well.

Looking back now, I know the majority of the next hour long, upsetting conversation was because I have never taken criticism well. Especially to personal, creative projects. And my writing really embodies all of that. I’m a math teacher for crying out loud. I only write because I have since I can remember and enjoy it too much to fall prey to the old cliche of left-brain/right-brain people. So I’m a little sensitive…a little. In my defense, refer to earlier. I was under the assumption we were doing the critiquing stuff later. Like when the book was done.

All of this leads to one large, arcing question. How true is the myth that once you begin to edit during a first draft, the story will probably end up unfinished? Two recent books about writing I’ve read, No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty (creator of NaNoWriMo) and On Writing by Stephen King both speak of simply writing all the way through. Don’t look, don’t think, just go from beginning to end letting the story grow and contort until you reach the end. Neither completely disregard an outline for those that are protesting in their seats. They advocate just disregarding the desire to check, read over, and edit what you have just written each time.

I, personally, am torn. I feel that I have to go and keep going because I’ve already slowed down too much. But, my friend argued with me that if it truly bothered me so much, that I should just go back and fix it. Then stop and continue writing the rest of the story. I couldn’t quite explain all the intricacies this one plot point effected, but the simplistic premise is to go back or not…

Reading this post from Leo Baubata: How to Accept Criticism with Grace and Appreciation, I realized that I wanted and will need my friend’s criticism later. And later, I will simply have to swallow my fears, mistrust, and low writing self-esteem to get the information I need to be better at what I want to do. But does that mean I have the right(?) to completely shut him out now and the suggestions he offers?

Is it truly so bad to not touch the beginning of the book again until The End is printed?

 

Starting Off

So, actually this is a little late to start off. But everyone needs a kick sometimes, and I think right now I really just need to start kicking myself — hard.

I recently delved into the world of NaNoWriMo this past year and loved every minute of the experience. Unwittingly, being a newbie to the cause, I zealously jumped in not caring that halfway through the month I was only about a quarter of the way finished with my characters. Not too bad, one would think, and as it was, I thought all was well. I hit the 50,000 word marker on November 29th basked in my glory and joy of finishing, posted on Facebook for my online love, and then told myself that a few days rest then back to the grind stone to finish the work.

It is now January 20th. I have only written 4,000 more words since that moment and I weep inside at what that means. The excuses pile up and all I wish for is another 30 days of writing bliss. Sadly, even by waiting for the next November, the Nano rules state that I must start anew, and though people that fudge the rules abound, I simply wish not to.

Therefore, after finding the most amazing independently published book I have read to date (and ranking in the top ten of best books ever for me right now), I have a new desire to finish something. Be it my publishable work, or something that simply got me started, I want those two words every aspiring author/writer wants to type: The End.

Here I will muse about the musing. Is this a stand alone novel or are my characters strong enough to carry a series? Is my heroine, Ceara, believable? Do I farm out the copyediting? to where?  Once finished, where do I go next? Can I really even finish this?

Maybe if I hold myself accountable to someone, even the ever elusive and intangible internet, something will get done. Here’s hoping.