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?

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Writing Wednesday: Death by Deadline

January Jones, inspiration for my Blurb to Book heroine, Cordelia

January Jones, inspiration for my Blurb to Book heroine, Cordelia

It’s been a busy month of April for me. I found out halfway through that I had made stage 2 of the Blurb to Book contest and needed to come up with 3 chpaters and a synopsis by May 1st. Cue excitement and basking in the awesomeness that is me. *basking* Then I pulled out my calendar. I had about three weeks to accomplish this feat. Three weeks was plenty of time! I’d written the rough draft of a novel in a month! I could so do this!

Here’s the thing: as great as NaNoWriMo and other programs like it (like Seekerville’s Speedbo in March and Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July) can be, these are goals, not deadlines. We can treat them as deadlines, but they aren’t hard and fast. Neither are my personal deadlines. If I don’t make one, I’m inclined to give myself a break. I will take days off to rest and let the story “flow.” I’m artsy that way, y’all. I can’t rush my brillance (hence why Altered before the Altar was 4 years in the making).

Now I have a deadline from an actual editing team that wants to see my well-written, well plotted, make-them-hungry-for-more proposal. This Friday. As in the day after tomorrow… and everything that has breath inside of me has hit the panic button.

I used to be one of those writers who didn’t sweat a deadline. I was the last minute maverick of all things awesome in 24hrs or less. I pulled greatness out of some sweaty, past their best by date places searching for inspiration in the 23rd hour. I’ve hit print on papers with less than five minutes before class and gotten more than one plus (+) behind my “A” for the effort. But this deadline just might kill me.

I could blame it on being older and knowing that it’s important to have time to revise, etc., but I think it has more to do with the perceived stakes. I’ve never doubted before that I was a great writer; I’ve been told that my entire life. Now I’m not as sure as I was before. I question every word on every page. My perfectionist streak has struck with a vengence. I need every comma to be perfect. This is my LAST chance, you guys!

Except…it’s not. In fact, since I made it to this stage, I’m guaranteed personalized feedback from my dream editors at Harlequin, feedback that could lead to a sale even if I don’t make the next round. I thought that whole “publishing contract by 30” ship had sailed and I was over it, but it turns out that since I’m thirty until February 24th of next year, my brain has picked up on the fact I could still be contracted in that time and is PARALYZED by ALL THE FEARS.

Somewhere in the last few days, I’d stop having fun with my writing. I’d made it into a chore that I’d be graded on. I was making my characters do what I thought might interest the editors even though they were screaming at me they weren’t those kinds of people. Then they stopped talking to me at all. I had to decide that in addition to turning in the requested materials by a deadline, I wanted to turn in something that represented me–my unique voice and characters, give them more of that stuff that sparked their interest in stage one and make it even better.

So…I cut scenes. WHOLE SCENES. DAYS BEFORE A DEADLINE. I slashed anything that didn’t feel write. I gave myself permission to write crap, but crap that at least sounded like me, crap I could make not so crappy. I threw out the rules to write and then picked them up to edit. And by George, I think I’m going to make the deadline knowing I gave them MY best.

What about you? Do deadlines motivation you or paralyze you? How do you ensure that you meet deadlines?

Found an Editor; Now to Write a Book…

I can’t believe I did it again! Someone I follow on twitter recently released a book, and it is selling like ice water in Hell (or like I imagine ice water would sell in Hell if there were ice water and people could buy it). This woman wrote the book in about three months (how, I have no idea) an then had it edited. Since she wrote a Christian non-fiction book, as I am striving to write, I wanted to know who she got to edit her book. Once she gave me a name, I reached out to this editor. I wasn’t expecting a fast response, but I received one in a day or two. The editor wants to see three pages of my work and get the page count to determine price. She will start editing for 2013 on the 22nd. So by my boyfriend’s birthday, I need to have this book finished. That’s 19 days from today.

I always do better with deadlines, so this is good, right? Except I’m not done writing. Or revising. I think that I can be done by the 22nd. I already know what I want to say, for the most part. The most arduous things will be picking the quotes from interviews and revising the manuscript once I have it all written down. I’ve never worked with an editor, so it should be interesting. I know everyone needs an editor, but my arrogance is cropping up again in this area. I feel like she won’t have a lot to do and I will be paying her for nothing. Ha! As many errors as I find in pieces I am “done” with, I should know to be humble and check everything again once I think it’s perfect. I don’t know if this is the right editor for me, but I am excited to get started on the next phase, to delve into what happens after the writing and revising. I am excited for someone else to evaluate my work, even if only clinically and not for enjoyment. The next step will be beta readers, someone to write a forward, and that most dreaded aspect of writing, building a writer platform/getting published.

Does anyone have any tips for working with an editor or any stories on working with one? I’d love to hear from someone who has been there and done that.

Needing Help in a Hurry

Tomorrow is the official start to Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve already been on to the website, filled out my author information. I’ve got my pens and paper ready, and I’m ready to resuscitate a very rusty writing practice. The thing is, I got to that pesky novel information page and realized I still don’t know what I’m writing about.

Since the spirit of NaNoWriMo is to start and finish a novel in the allotted month, I have to start from scratch writing wise. Thanks to my trip home, there are quite a few pieces that I have that I can start over with and make a pretty great story from. There are a couple of choices for this, as I outlined in The Girl Who Couldn’t Commit.

Here are my choices. Let me know what you think I should work on. Keep in mind, now, that since I’d have to start over, some of the ones I wanted to work on, I can’t (A Blues for Zora, the one on Openfiction.com, Class Reunion, the Southern Gothic Novel)

  1. The story I told you about in Three Sides to Every Story. It’s about a woman who has recently lost a parent. In her grief, she becomes a mean, bitter recluse. She meets and befriends a man who is her polar opposite–daring, extroverted, friendly. This is the story of their friendship. At this point, it’s not a love story, but who knows?
  2. The story with the “It’s Really Not What it Looks Like” twist. Amanda is sick and needs a home health aid. Her brother catches the home health aid in a situation that looks really bad and forms a bad opinion about her, despite his obvious attraction to her. Can she prove her innocence and keep her job? It’s very harlequinesque, as you can see.
  3. That murder story I was telling you about. Maria Gonzales is a mystery writer suffering from severe writer’s block under deadline. She just can’t seem to get a good grip on this female familicidal killer. Luckily, her boyfriend Tony works at a maximum security women’s prison that houses a notorious female convicted of familicide. Maria overcomes her writer’s block and pens a bestseller. Everything is going well…until the murderess escapes.
  4.  Something absolutely new that I’ve been playing around with. I’m not sharing it yet. That is all. Well not really. I’ll just say it’s more literary than the others.

Cast your votes now. I’ll let you know what I decided to go with tomorrow!

Too Old for Success?

Sample of old russian сensorship. Book "N...

Will I ever have my name on pages like these? Image via Wikipedia

Someone told me once that if you don’t publish anything by the time you’re twenty-five, then you aren’t any good. All of the greats published before they were twenty-five–some of them were even dead by then, you know. Of course, I knew this was all rubbish, but in the back of my mind, the idea took root and persisted. I had to be published by twenty-five. I had to be published, not because it meant I was successful, but that I was one of the greats.

I’ll be twenty-six in a little over a month. Though I’ve been published in a newspaper and a required reading book for my high school, I haven’t had that great bit of success. I’ve not been recognized as great, despite entering contests, winning medals, getting As. Everyone was shocked I hadn’t been published yet. I remember how well you wrote in high school; when is your book coming out? Have you found an agent? What happened?

Since I’ve been out of school, I’ve seen many people get published. I’ve seen people get published who were only slightly interested in writing. Maybe I’ll write a book. I’ve seen people published whose passions lie in other areas. I’ve seen people published that, being honest, I didn’t think had good ideas or wrote about trivial things.

I began to be a hater of published authors. I could do that and be published, but I’m not compromising my art! I thought. Then I started a book in a genre I never had an interest in writing that sells well. It was something I wanted to write and was still good writing, but I felt like I was writing it now, pushing forward with it now, because it fits the current trend in publishing (and no, there are no vampires, shape shifters, or angels). I was obsessed with being published before twenty-six, even though I didn’t have many things worth sending to a publisher.

The writing wasn’t fun anymore, nor was it rewarding. I wasn’t trying to tell a good story well; I was looking for recognition, for validation. I wanted someone to say, officially, Yes you can write well, and people are interested in what you have to say. I was even developing an unhealthy attachment to my blog stats.

Now I’m settling back down. I’ve refocused myself. Now, I realize I don’t just want to be published; I want to publish something I’m proud of, something that’s ready to be out in the world. I realize that either people want to read what I write or they don’t; it has no bearing on the fact I feel compelled to write, and I will keep writing no matter if it’s published in my lifetime to worldwide acclaim or critically and commercially panned, or not published at all.

What are your thoughts on an “age” for publication? Do you have an age you are aiming to be published by? How important is publication to you?

NaNoWriMo Postmortem

A Ford Escort automobile that has been involve...

Image via Wikipedia

I wonder if failing is like lying. Can you fail by omission? Does it matter if you’re closer to success than failure? What constitutes failure? Is it up for debate?

NaNoWriMo ended yesterday. All of us participants are now wearily coming out of the basement to access the damage this tornado has wrought in our lives. Perhaps yours didn’t end up too bad; you got a good first draft of a novel and kept your sanity. If you made it to 50,000 words, according to NaNoWriMo, you succeeded. I know a few of you who discovered your novels weren’t done at 50,000 words, so maybe you view it a little differently.

I didn’t make it to 50,000 words. I wasn’t even close. So, in that sense, I failed. I knew, in the back of my mind, that with all of the things I had pressed into last month that I would fail. So the goal for me was to learn and let the experience teach me about myself as a writer.

Here’s what I learned:

  • There’s no such thing as a “dead story” when the idea and characters work. I thought because I hadn’t been able to write on a story in a while, or hit a wall that it meant the story wouldn’t work or I wasn’t a good enough writer to write the story. But using an old idea and characters for NaNoWriMo taught me that sometimes I just need to let a story simmer until the ideas are fully cooked.
  • There’s no such thing as a “writing mood.” I don’t have to be in the mood to write. I don’t need a writing desk and the perfect lighting. I can write anywhere at any time. Even when I feel like I have nothing to say, if I sit down and read where I left off, I can usually fall write back into the story. I have no excuse not to write now.
  • I can’t let my deadlines choke me. I’d always heard that if you aren’t published by the time you’re 25, you haven’t got it. I don’t know why I believed that. So many people in literary history have proven that wrong. But, I was so obsessed with getting published this year, while I’m still 25, that I was choking my creativity. I didn’t want to write down anything I couldn’t publish immediately. NaNoWriMo forced me to write everything. Even if I wasn’t sure or didn’t think it worked. Even though I didn’t make the deadline, I am OK with that. I wrote some great things; I wrote some silly things. I didn’t let the deadline bother me. I can still finish my NaNoWriMo story. I will still finish it. In my own time.

How was your NaNoWriMo experience this year? Were you successful? What did you learn about yourself as a writer? What will you do with your novel now?