Writing Wednesday: Destroying Doubt & Soldiering On with Your Manuscript

The official doubt crow, courtesy of @doubt_crow

The official doubt crow, courtesy of @doubt_crow

With a little more than a month and half a manuscript left to go before my Book to Blurb final is turned in, I’ve found myself in a strange place. I’m getting to my word count goal (though now I think I need to up it a bit to give myself a better cushion) and finding that I have great revision plans for the manuscript that will make it even stronger (I’m not revising much while getting the first draft to take shape). I’ve been really consistent with my writing, getting up when I don’t feel like it and always getting something on the page. Yet, something has been dogging my every step: doubt.

Writers tend to be very familiar with doubt, particularly those who seek publication. There’s always something you can second guess. Second guessing and trying things a different way isn’t bad; it’s when our questioning of our choices renders us unable to move forward, meet deadlines, or even submit our work that it becomes troublesome.

At the moment, I have a myriad of doubts that are difficult to combat:

  • deadline doubt. Sometimes it seems as if the deadline is coming faster and my word count is climbing slower. It seems like I’ll never have the first draft done in time, let alone have time to revise and send in my best quality work. Many other participants have told me about family vacations, births, conferences, and other events standing between them and the deadline that causes them to feel as if they aren’t getting enough done now to compensate for losing that time. No one wants to miss the deadline or feel like they didn’t turn in their best book.
  • balance doubt. Is there enough conflict? Have I shown enough of their budding romance? Is the faith element present enough? Is there enough plot to this story? Did I show enough emotion? Will readers like/relate to/fall in love with my hero & heroine? I always feel as if I haven’t done enough somewhere.
  • word choice doubt. How many times did I say gaze in two paragraphs? Five. Seriously. And I had both my characters think “No, this isn’t happening” ON THE SAME PAGE.If my characters don’t stop looking, staring, gazing, flicking glances, or locking eyes, someone may be arrested for stalking. Finding fresh ways to say things can get stale if you let it, and it will drive you crazy trying to find just the right word all the time.
  • revision doubt. Did I change this enough to address the editor’s concerns? Will changing the hero’s motivation from this to that strengthen or hurt the story? I know I said I was cutting this scene, but maybe I should keep it? Is this scene really advancing the romance like I want it to? Is this subplot adding to things or detracting from them? Should I dial back the faith element here? How do I tie this subplot into the main plot to make it all make sense?
  • doubt scrapping. Maybe I should chuck the whole darn thing and start over.

So what do you do to combat doubt? I keep writing. I skip scenes that aren’t working to work on a scene where the words are coming fast and furious. I type things I know I’m not saying write but also know I can change later if I get the general gist down. I keep myself accountable by posting my word counts each day. I reach out to my critique buddies and writer friends when only a kick in the pants or a good brainstorming session will do. I make revision notes while they are fresh in my mind and plan out how I will address them. And I pray. A LOT.

Your two cents: How do you deal with doubt, in writing or any area of life?

Why Not YA?

When I was a teenager, the summer before I started high school, my Horizons-Upward Bound English teacher read an excerpt from my manuscript, Fatal Obsession (yes, that’s really what it was called; I was tweleve when I started it). She suggested that I should be writing Young Adult Fiction right now (which was, of course, at age 14). I never did that. I don’t know why I didn’t then, but as the years passed, my interest in YA fiction passed as well. Once I wasn’t a “young adult” literature wise (I still consider myself a young adult in real life, LOL), I never read or wrote any fiction in that genre.

The other day when I came across the note my teacher had scribbled on a copy of FO, I wondered about finishing it (I even mentioned it in The Girl Who Couldn’t Commit). The story is good. I love those characters. Why not finish this book? Why not shop it around for publication? Because it probably wouldn’t sell.

I wasn’t a typical teenager (I mean, I was writing a novel at 12! Hello!), and the things I wrote, while about teenage issues, weren’t typical of teenagers I knew. That way more true today. My main characters didn’t have sex or go drinking as a matter of course (although, my victim did those things when she was in her “bad girl” phase); those behaviors were the atypical ones in my story. The trend now seems to be having characters more in line with the characters in the movie Cruel Intentions than the books I grew up with.

I’m not ready to “get real” and admit that most teens are going around sleeping with everyone in my fiction. I don’t want to write what to me amounts to adults with teenaged emotions. Compared to Twilight or the Zoey books that were coming out when I left my YA phase, my character’s downward spiral is akin to her joining the real world.

As a teenager, I felt passionately about things. I wanted to be in love and have a boyfriend (I didn’t have a real boyfriend, someone I went on a date with, until my early twenties…told you I was abnormal). I had a crush I wrote awful poetry about (I’m lying; my poetry was wonderful :D). But to be quite honest, if my crush had become my boyfriend, I wouldn’t have known what to do with him. I would’ve been angry if he tried to hook up with me. I wasn’t that type of girl (and I’m still not). Most of my characters aren’t those types of girls, either.

So I admit it. I’m out of touch. I can write about peer pressure. I know about bullying. I can even write about those soul-rending emotions that we all had as teenagers that we just knew we would die from. But I can’t write about teenagers having sex as if it’s no big deal, as if they are mature enough to decide they want to sleep with all of these people and have babies. As if it’s legal for them to get drunk at 16 and not remember hooking up with that guy/girl last night. If that’s the current market, Fatal Obsession is fatally wounded, and will be buried until I die. I’m sure my well meaning husband (should he survive me) or children will discover it and publish it posthumously, when it’s really antiquated.

What do you think? Have I been given the wrong impression of YA Fiction? Is there a market for old fashioned values? What are you not willing to do to sell a book?

Inspiration Spreads Outward…

Three first editions of Barbie dolls from 1959...

The start of a wonderful story, the original Barbie dolls from 1959Image via Wikipedia

…kinda like spilled applesauce. It’s thicker and slower than, say, milk, but just as inexorable.

I’ve been kicking around some ideas for days about the series of short stories I planned on putting together, many of which are spin-offs of Candy Apples. One of those characters is a teenager, so I was thinking about what her story or background could be. Since the stories all center around addiction, I was trying to piece together why someone so young would be in recovery from an addiction. I put it out of my (conscious) mind when I sat down at work.

The job that I have is one that is repetitious and requires little active thought from me. It’s very easy to attend to my job on one level and let the rest of my active mind wander.

On this particular day, something brought an odd thought to my mind about a Barbie doll. This poor doll was having a rough existence. There are two types of Barbie doll owners (of the little girl variety) that I’ve experienced: one who loves and cherishes her Barbie and one who takes out all of her frustration and anger, along with any maltreatment she suffers, on her Barbie doll. I’ve read that many psychologist/psychiatrist watch children playing with dolls as part of their assessment of them. A barbie doll would know all of a little girl’s secrets.

Of course, I wasn’t consciously making any of these connections sitting in my cubicle. No, I was simply thinking of a Barbie doll in the midst of a tortured little existence. The image persisted, despite my efforts to draw my mind elsewhere, so I wrote it down. As soon as my pen hit the paper, the image expanded. Now I could see different indignities poor Barbie had suffered at the hands of her tormentor, including having her long hair shorn from her well-shaped head. The thing was, this Barbie wasn’t bitter (hello, alliteration; how are you today? :D); she felt she was better off than the little girl who owned her.

All of a sudden, I could see her: my teenaged recovering addict as a little girl, acting out her agression on a defenseless Barbie, as others brought their rage down on her equally defenseless head. I saw, clear as day, her mother, hinted at in Candy Apples, and knew her occupation, where she lived, how she was raising her daughter, and why she was raising her that way. I began to get a picture in my mind of what made this woman tick. The picture went from a close shot of a tortured Barbie’s painted on smile, to a wide angle view of a childhood.

Many times throughout the day, I have thoughts and ideas that seem to have no correlation with the things I’m concentrating on. Sometimes, as I said in Potato Chip Writing, they have to do with other stories I’m working on, or fresh stories I’ve yet to write. But sometimes, when I follow a stray idea down the rabbit hole, I come out the other end right in the middle of the piece I was supposed to be working on.

Sometimes it pays to take the path less traveled by. Sometimes, it makes all the difference.

Have you ever had an image or idea turn out to be the start of a piece you were trying to write, offer you insight into a character, or spark a sequel to a work? Do you follow ideas down the rabbit hole? What are some of your best “rabbit hole experiences”? 

You Got Real People in my Characters!

The Jolly Boat (the respectable middle- or upp...

Image via Wikipedia

One of my biggest struggles with my NaNoWriMo novel has been keeping people I know in real life out of my work. It’s easy to begin borrowing characteristics of people you know or have known, yet in this age of sue-happy people, it is even more imperative to not fictionalize family, friends and acquaintances. But how far is too far to take it?

For example, my NaNoWriMo novel is populated with intelligent, upper-middle class African-American people who graduated from an exclusive private school. I went to an exclusive private school with affluent people. Some of them have names that would be perfect for my book. They were born around the same time as my characters, when those names were popular. I’m not basing the characters off of these people. In fact, they bear no resemblance to anyone I actually went to school with. Should I use the first names or not?

I haven’t used any of them, but I’m unhappy with some of the substitutes. Some may not have even been popular back then. Some of the characters just feel like a name they don’t have. Names are so personal, and do have a bit of an impact on the person. Names can be indicative of family lineage, and sometimes socioeconomic status, particularly in the Black community.

The other problem is my main male character, Nathan. He is beginning to sound a bit too much like my own boyfriend. He has some of the same views he does about marriage, for example. He is not my boyfriend. However, both the Nathan character and my boyfriend are grounded and logical, whereas their women are a bit more free-spirited and whimsical–one of few things I share with my protagonist.

How do you deal with characterization? Do you ever use names or characteristics of people you know? How do you avoid being sued? Am I overthinking it?

Note: I’m not entirely happy with the image, but it’ll work for now.