The Magic Formula

I went to my monthly meeting of the Central Florida Romance Writers. A lovely author who writes as Blair Bancroft gave a workshop on The Wise Author’s Approach to Writing a Book. I gleaned several nuggets of wisdom from the talk, but one thing that really stood out to me is that I still have a lot of work to do on this journey to becoming a successful author.

When the presenter was taking questions, I asked her to repeat what she had said about plots having a flow to them. Well, what I actually said was more like: “You mentioned earlier the different points that an author should hit, like the black moment and so forth. Can you list them again so I can write them down?”

The presenter reiterated how she is not a fan of hard and fast rules for structuring a novel, that we have to do what works for us. The discussion was picked up and the chapter president mentioned Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. She mentioned we have to be prepared to write really crappy first drafts.

I know this. I’ve know this a long time. I’ve had my well noted copy of Bird by Bird for about ten years. I saw Anne Lamott on BookTV discussing writing and immediately went out to purchase her much lauded book on the subject of writing. I devoured the pages of this book in much the same way I had The Art of Fiction. But there’s just something…unsettling about writing a crappy first draft to me.

I’m still struggling with first draft perfectionist syndrome. I want to get it just right before it gets to the page, and it slows me down considerably. I was able to put the perfectionism aside and write Delivering Justice. I tweaked and reworked and polished it to a streak free shine before sending it out into the world–twice. It was roundly rejected both times. The perfectionist in me wants to say that I tried the fast and crappy first draft way and it didn’t work, so I should go back to the way I like to do things, but that way hasn’t worked well for me, either. Nothing ever gets finished. Sigh.

Lately I’ve been focusing on entering a few contests for some feedback on my work. I hate working in a vacuum and feeling like I am groping in the dark, trying to get a hand on something solid. I want to know if I’m moving in the right direction. I have about eight months left before my 30th birthday and my deadline to secure a publishing contract/self-publish a book. I’m wondering if I have it in me to even get close to that now. It seemed perfectly doable when I set the goal. Now I am not so sure. Perhaps I need to expand to other publishers or getting an agent. I’m in deep thought about this.

What tips do you have for getting over my crappy first draft phobia?

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When Great Writing Goes Wrong…

I have a confession to make: I have been avoiding #LoveThyEnemy. And Pleasure’s Payne. And a couple other ones. I haven’t been avoiding them for the usual reasons; I didn’t run into an issue with the manuscript that I can’t write past or am unsure what happens next. The problem is that my writing has been scaring me lately. Why? Because I think it’s…good. 

That may seem a little backwards, but here’s the thing: all the writing advise says that first drafts are bad. The great Ernest Hemingway said that the first draft of anything is crap. Anne Lamott has a whole chapter of her popular fiction writing book Bird by Bird dedicated to crappy first drafts. Some random twitter quote said that a writing who thinks he is writing well is probably writing really badly. The encouragement is always to get whatever crap you can on the page because you can’t fix a blank page, but you can fix a crappy one. But what about a good page?

I’m not saying that every word of #LoveThyEnemy or Pleasure’s Payne is golden. I’m not saying that I have proofread and revised the sections I have written so that they look as good as they do. What I am saying is that maybe, just a little bit, I’ve hit my stride and found my voice with these stories. The thing is, I’ve set the beginnings up well enough that I have to deliver something at the end. The thing is, I can feel great within my reach, and it’s a little scary. Intimidating. All of these great words are clogging up the well. I’m finding new and exciting ways to procrastinate…like writing this post. Bah!

There’s also the possibility that I’m wrong. Every word I’ve written could be drivel. It could be moving in the opposite direction of what everyone in publishing is going in. Or it could be to on trend. Maybe what I have is a steaming pile of crap that needs to be excavated for the evidences that at some point a decent story existed. Maybe I’m just a cockeyed novice with her compass all messed up.

So I called in the big guns. Instead of keeping this project to myself as I have been, I am getting my Beta Reader on the case. Having to turn over my words to her keeps me on track and helps me focus. Next week is my week to share writing with my critique partners, and I’ll send them what I have as well. I entered 10,000 words of #LoveThyEnemy into contest, and plan to enter Pleasure’s Payne into a contest as well. I am putting my work out there for both egregious praise to bolster my self-confidence, constructive criticism to help me fix things that are going wrong, and feedback from contest judges, with the possibility of them garnering an editor or agents attention.

Natural Talent: A Blessing and A Curse

*Note: As you are reading this, I’m frantically getting ready for the Love Inspired Luncheon taking place in Tampa, Florida today. I’ll be meeting with several Love Inspired authors (and hopefully an editor or two), taking pictures and collecting swag. I leave this post to tide you all over while I’m gone. Stay tuned for more book reviews, interviews, and more insight into my writing journey!

It was clear at a very early age that I was something of a prodigy. Unlike most prodigies who can solve pie up to eight digits in their heads or play Chopin at three, I was an English language and literature prodigy. I could read and comprehend things far beyond my years. I read at a college level before I was firmly in Middle School. I excelled in grammar classes despite my southern family and their horrendous dialect. Most importantly, I could write anything I wanted to: poetry, creative non-fiction, literary fiction, genre fiction. I was one smart cookie.

Here’s the thing about being a literary prodigy that no one ever tells you: natural talent isn’t enough. In fact, sometimes natural talent can hinder more than it can help. As Adrian Monk loves to say, it’s a blessing and a curse. For me, the curse of natural talent has always been the arrogance of the first take tantrum.

If I were a musical prodigy, I’d probably be one of those artists who liked to step into the studio, lay the track down one time, and move on. I’d be a real one-take wonder. That’s not to say that every take would be perfect, or that I’d be happy with it. It would just be. At least, that’s what I think I’d do since it was what I did as a writer. I never revised. I proofread but I never revised. This is a horrible habit to get into for any writer, no matter how much talent you have, but I was resting on the laurels of natural talent. Most of my first drafts are better than other people’s second drafts and blah blah. Arrogance at its finest.

The only problem with my logic was that second drafts are rarely, if ever, publication worthy. If I want to do my best writing, if I want to take my writing to the next level, I need to revise. Revision is where you put some meat on the bones of an idea. It’s where you make sure the characters are fully formed, the plot is strong enough, the descriptions flow well. It’s where you round the edges and add the icing to a literary cake. It’s where you polish it to a streak free shine. It’s where I run out of horrible metaphors and clichés and run into solid prose.

I’ve been struggling with revisions on Delivering Justice because of the natural talent curse. I was convinced that DJ was ready to publish almost immediately after I finished NaNoWriMo. I’d edited, added in detail, and proofread as I went, so I just knew it would be perfect. I read through the entire thing and thought it was the greatest romantic suspense since they invented the genre. But deep down, there was a niggling feeling that I could do more with this or that. I ignored it and set a hard deadline, but then the revisions stalled a bit.

Thank God for critique partners and time away. When my critique partners pointed out the same areas I had misgivings about, I knew I was on the right track. Reading more about the genre and soaking in advice has really helped me to develop a plan to get the revisions done. I will be able to take this book to the next level–the publication level.

I’m learning with each year of writing that natural talent isn’t enough. Revision is important. Knowing how to connect with readers is important. Continuing to learn about the craft is important. Feedback is important. There’s always room for improvement.

That’s my two cents, anyway. What hard writing lessons have you had to learn?

XOXO

Erica

NaNoWriMo

St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writin...

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I’ve been (in)actively participating in NaNoWriMo this year. This is my first time participating, and the circumstances aren’t ideal. I am moving at the end of the month and have no internet access at home at the moment, so I can’t keep my word count up to date. I’m packing and cleaning a lot of the time. I write at work during lunch and have to type up all the things I write whenever I get access to a computer.

Writing 50,000 words by hand, then typing them out while preparing to move to another city would be hard enough to do if I wasn’t a chronic perfectionist. I keep taking out words that aren’t necessary or cross out phrases to say things more succintly. I can’t make myself skip around in the story when I get stuck in a scene. I have to write in a linear fashion most of the time. I can’t get through a first draft without proofreading. It’s a sickness.

The good thing about this whole process is that it’s gotten me back into the habit of writing daily. I may not meet the word count each day, may fail at the 50,000 word count goal, but I’m writing daily, writing a story that I care about and that’s a lot of fun.

This is my first attempt at chick lit, and I am enjoying it. I don’t have many of the clichés and the story is quite complex. I’m happy with the level of writing I’m doing (even though it is a first draft and I’m rushing, I have some really good things written already). I love turning to the spot where I left off, and falling back down that hole in the page, revisiting these characters.

I saved a story from the DOA pile to try for this NaNoWriMo thing. I started over from scratch with just four characters and a sticky situation, and it’s been evolving ever since. I hope to share more details with you as this journey unfolds.

Other NaNoWriMo participants, what are you learning about yourself as a writer this go around? Would also love some encouragement!