Writing Wednesday: Starting Something New

Writing Wednesday The above graphic is the result of several painstaking minutes playing around with Picmonkey. Look on it and be amazed!

It’s been a while, people. I suffered from mental exhaustion and a bout of laziness following Blurb to Book that seeped into posting. I’m super sorry, and hopefully I’ll be able to produce some quality content in the near future. Now that the excitement of Blurb to Book is behind me, let’s talk about starting something new.

I have a problem settling on a new project once I complete something. I was listening to Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert on Ms. Gilbert’s podcast, Big Magic, where they talked about how when you finish a project you feel like you have nothing left to give another project. You put everything you had into the last one. You’ll never have any more to put into anything else. That’s it; you’re done. Finis!

Dani Shapiro talks about the shimmer or little spark of something that she sees that gets a new project started. She also talked about that drained feeling and the despair that accompanies finishing a project, but then she will see or hear or remember something and the ideas will start to come.

I put all the romantic stuff in me into the book I turned in two weeks ago today. Do I have any more romantic stuff in me? Of course! I have at least twelve ideas tied to the one I just finished. I also haven’t the faintest clue what to do with any of them. I’ve researched and made generic sketches of ideas, but nothing was really grabbing me and not letting go. I know I have to let the ideas percolate until the story is ready to come out. But in the meantime, I need to keep writing something. So what?

I had an idea for something completely different. It’s not romance, not Christian non-fiction, and not literary. It’s kind of creepy, actually. It’s a silly idea, at least it feels silly, and so far it’s a little too like Stephen King fanfic (even though it’s totally NOT), but I’m having fun writing it. It’s just plain fun, which is a nice palate cleanser.

I know you’re dying to know what it’s about, right? What I can share: There’s a group of kids who meet in In-School Suspension in high school who make a pact with each other that impacts the rest of their lives. They are brought back together by the death of one of the group, which sets off a chain of events that may be supernatural in nature or may just be some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy based on a pact that they really didn’t take seriously. I don’t want to say what the pact is, who the friends are, what the consequences are, how the friend dies, or anything like that (and yes, I do know the answers to those questions) because I don’t know what I’ll do with it yet. Maybe I’ll put up a bit on WattPad? I don’t know.

So my question for the writers out there: What do you do when you finish a project? How long do you wait to start something else? How do you get back into the writing groove?

XOXO,

Erica

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A Time for Honesty

I’m not going to “win” Camp NaNoWriMo. I am not all broken up about it, either. The point, for me, was to jump start my writing again, to commit to spending more time writing each day. It was more an exercise of butt-in-chair than actually going for the word counts. I also wanted to commit to a first draft, of spending more time writing than I did dismantling what I’d written before. I wanted to develop a routine that allowed me to reread and alter for consistency, but still keep moving the WIP forward, not getting bogged down in trying to produce a perfect draft instead of a first draft.

I have been finding the act of a NaNoWriMo style of writing to be a bit too restrictive for me. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing to give in to the impulses that arise whenever I’ve taken up the challenge. I keep wanting to switch my focus to other stories. I have these elaborate ideas for them, but I try to force myself to only work on the current project (although I do write the concept or a line or two down so I can come back to it). All of my word count must go to this project. The more I try to do that, the less healthy I think that is for me. My creative process isn’t exactly linear, and trying to write a story in a linear fashion hasn’t worked for me since my days of writing FO (another problem I have with my approach to NaNoWriMo months).

Here’s what I know to be true about myself as a writer: sometimes I have to follow the red herrings and see where they’re going, if only to know if the red herring is taking me off course with this story, but leading me to another; working on other projects can clear my head enough that a solution to a blockage with another story can get through; I’m always going to be a quality over quantity writer; it’s no use trying not to self-edit along the way, if for nothing else but consistency’s sake; my goals work better for me when they are less about word count or time spent writing, and more about committing to writing a certain scene or introducing certain characters, and; it’s OK that the way I work may not jibe with what the writing advice people say in some ways, as long as I am writing things of which I can be proud.

For the next six days, I will continue to concentrate on the Camp NaNoWriMo WIP. I will work to get all of the written material typed up and validated, as well as work on progressing to a certain point in the work before the end of camp. I will also begin prepping my next project for the official NaNoWriMo in November. I think that if nothing else, NaNoWriMo is a good way for me to start thinking intensively about projects and to have an official start day and begin setting time aside to at least get as much of the concept on paper as I already have in my head. The next NaNoWriMo project will be the one of the other choices from my Need Help in a Hurry post. Between August and November, aside from prepping for November, I’m going to be focused on whatever project is calling to me. I’ll write on it every day until I’ve gotten as much as possible worked out  and can’t get any more words to come out, then switch to the next project that gets hot. I would love to say that I’m going to see one project to a completed first draft before moving on, but that may or may not happen.

Also, I want to get Candy Apples published…and soon. If any other short stories get finished, I’ll work on getting them published as well. I think it’s time to move forward with my writing career in a way that will eventually allow me to write fulltime. I think that once I can fully focus on my writing, my output will be a lot higher (yet still of a great quality) and I will be that much closer to my dream of publishing domination. I can’t wait to be able to share these characters and stories that I love with readers the world over and have them love and care about them as well. That’s really where my motivation lies.

I just wanted to be honest about all of that. This is who I am as a writer and what I want to accomplish the next few months. What are you guys working on? What do you plan to accomplish the rest of this year? What type of writer are you? I can’t wait to hear your responses! 🙂

Painful Honesty

Image of a stylized eye

The eye that looks inward allows good writing to flow outward.-Me! Image via Wikipedia

I had a story published in Prize Papers, an anthology my high school gave to students to show them models of good writing. They would refer to different types of essays found in the book when teaching, giving an illustration to students how to write well.

I never would have gotten this honor had it not been for Mrs. Jackson. I was in a memoir writing elective class called Self-Portraits. This was my first writing assignment for the class, and I wanted to make sure it was good, so I wrote it a week early and gave it to Mrs. Jackson to read when she had study hall duty in the dorms.

I’d never seen so much red ink in all my life. What is this? I thought. I’m a good writer. I don’t make many grammatical errors or spelling errors. What all did she find that resulted in this massacre? It looked like the beaches of Normandy had exploded onto my personal essay. Never being shy when it comes to my writing, I asked her.

She went over all of her notes with me, pointing out all of the things she didn’t like about my essay. Her main critiques kept coming back to the main issue–it was surface layer writing. I didn’t use sharp enough descriptions. I glossed over how it felt. I didn’t stimulate the reader’s five senses or prick their hearts. It was a good idea for a paper, but not if I didn’t write it well. She said something like If you don’t want to dig past the surface, don’t write it.

After I got over being angry (she obviously had no idea what she’d just read; everyone knows how great I am at writing), I thought long and hard about the story I was telling. It was a true one, as far as that went. I’d faithfully recorded all the pertinent details, but I had to admit to myself it was a little flat. It was like the cold rough surface of a piece of coal; you know there’s a diamond inside, but how do you get to it?

While that realization was painful, her words are not the painful honesty of the title. The essay was about me in elementary school. I had a crush on a boy, and through a series of unfortunate events, he was told I was telling people he liked me. Not only did he disabuse me of this notion, the encounter ended with me being hit with a mud-filled tire, walking home soaked and muddy. It had crushed all of my self confidence, affecting all of my subsequent relationships with family and friends, and I couldn’t get away with chronicling it as if I’m telling you what I had for breakfast.

So I started over. I had to return to that moment. I wrote and I choked on tears. I paced my floor. Why am I saying this? Why am I putting this out there on display? I wrote honestly, crossed it out, wrote it in again. I went back and forth like a seasaw.

When I turned it in, my teacher was amazed. She chose it to be the first thing we critiqued. That wasn’t what I had planned. Everyone couldn’t read it! But they did, and they thought it was amazing. I was relieved. Then she told me she was nominating it for Prize Papers.

Since it was the first semester and they choose Prize Papers at the end of the year, I forgot about it. I’d been nominated before and hadn’t won, so I didn’t put much stock in my ability to win. I was sitting in the principal’s office (someone had opened an orange in class and I’d gotten sick; yes, I’m allergic to oranges) when in strode the best English teacher on the faculty (so I’d been told; I’d never taken a class with him, except a quick AP English Exam prep session). He saw me and put his hand over his heart (no joke). “I just read your piece for Prize Papers,” he said (he was on the review board to choose the winners). Uh-oh. “It was so beautiful. I really related to it. It connected to…”

And that’s when it hit me. All of the choking and pacing and worrying, the struggle to be honest, the great care in choosing words to convey exactly how it was–all of that was so someone could read it and say “she’s writing about me! I’ve been there and done that.” When you write a piece that speaks to people and relays basic human truths, it’s going to hurt a bit. It forces you to look at yourself and make judgments. Whether it’s creative non-fiction or not, it has to be true and genuine and deeply felt.

I read a blog yesterday about finding the lie in your writing. The first essay didn’t work because I was lying, trying to make the whole thing seem like it was no big deal. I was attempting to distance myself from the incident, and ended up distancing myself from the essay.

How do you find the lie in your writing? How honest is too honest? Have you ever wrote until it hurt?