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?

Three Sides to Every Story

My trip back home was fruitful. I found many old journals, stories, and story ideas. I found dictionaries, thesauruses, and grammar books, along with books on writing, complete with exercises. I don’t know what I expected to find, but I found far more.

There’s one story idea that I’ve had for a long time that I wanted to unearth and work on, possibly for this summertime incarnation of NaNoWriMo that is coming up (Camp NaNoWriMo). Through the years, I’ve scribbled this idea out as both a story and a play, never getting very far with it, just writing down the basic premise. I’ve come back to the idea any number of times, and promptly put it down when something else came along. As a result, I am now looking at three similar yet different plot points.

The story centers around a young woman who has a)just lost her father b)just lost her mother, or c)lost her father three years ago. In either scenario, both parents are now dead. She is a)a very wealthy heiress or b)drowning in debt. She’s either very meek and inoffensive or very rude. Obviously, I’ve come to this story with very different things in mind each time.

It’s kind of like what happened with the Southern Gothic novel. It started, in it’s earliest conception, being about the murder of a despised public figure. That idea somehow morphed into a ghostwriter helping a prejudiced woman write her memoirs. Explaining that huge leap is really simple: a minor character became the focal point instead of the original story, then the original storyline was cut away from this telling.

It’s interesting to look back at the evolution of a story, to see what ideas I scrapped that may be stories of their own. At the moment, I’m not sure which storyline I want to pick up in this possible Camp NaNoWriMo story, but the loss of a parent is so searing that it can be used again, taken in a completely different direction. But it does beg the question, which would you rather have: too many possibilities or only one alternative? When are you the most creative–when you have to choose between several options or when you have to make one work?

For me, I like options. I will take one, follow it along until it hits a dead end or I get bored with it, and choose another one. Sometimes, though, one option becomes the only option, the more I get to know the characters. If you ever get stuck, as I do, instead of killing the story, it may be time to go back a bit and take a left where before you took a right. I’m not sure if I’ll finally be able to focus long enough to make a great story out of this idea, but here’s to trying, right?

Wish me luck.

The Bad Beginnings Blues

Pictograms of Olympic sports - Tug of war. Thi...

This is what I've been doing all weekend... Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been engaged in a tug of war with my brain. There’s an idea lurking in there that I have one end of, while the other end is tucked into one of those little squiggly lines on my brains surface. I try to pull it out, but my brain is not letting it go. It won’t allow me to fully realize this idea I have in my head, an idea I know will be epic, if I can just get it out

Let’s back up to the beginning of this tale. I accepted a challenge from Cordelia to write more often and actually finish some projects this year. I was excited at the prospect of having someone to bounce ideas off of, to proofread my work, to tell me whether or not a piece needed to be reworked for the eightieth time, to tell me when something is crap and should be flushed down the toilet. I even had a solid story to start with.

I didn’t think the story needed much tweaking, only, the story I was telling didn’t seem finished. The thing’s I wanted to tell didn’t fit the story I had, though, because of the focus. After mulling this over a bit, I came up with an amazing idea. One that would fix my little dilemma, but create a slew of others.

The story I’m referring to is Candy Apples. Candy Apples is one woman’s struggle with a specific kind of addiction. She is in a support group with other individuals, two of which she interacts with regularly. The problem was, as I reader, I wanted to know more about these other women. The glimpses of them I saw in this story were so compelling, I had to know their stories. But this wasn’t their stories. Through several days of thinking and plotting, I came to the conclusion each woman needed her own story. They were strong enough to stand on their own. If the stories unfolded in such a way, I could even share certain events in Candy Apples from their perspective.

Then my mind ventured on and came up with a frame work for the other stories, which led to the realization other stories, and a little research, were needed. All of this was falling together and working out seemlessly. I ended up starting to examine one of these women’s stories, where I wanted to start, where it fit in my framework, what symbols and motifs would be important, etc. Finally, I was ready to start writing.

Only nothing came out.

This never happens to me.

I usually have spectacular first lines of my stories that start right in the thick of things and really set the tone for the story. This is especially true of Candy Apples. In the creative writing class I was in when I wrote it, one thing everyone agreed on was how awesome that opening line was. But somewhere along the way, I’ve seemed to have lost my first line mojo. I blame it on planning.

I’ve talked about what part of a story I get first here. It’s usually one of two things–a character or an opening line. Rarely is it a plot or a scenario. I’ve also talked about planning ahead versus going with the flow. I usually go with the flow and plan where necessary. This time, I had a strong character, already established in another story. This time, I’ve plotted out many of the important plot points and I know where I want to end the story. This time, I can’t think of an opening line to save my life.

The opening line has to grab the reader’s attention. It has to be interesting and intriguing, yet subtle and alluring. It has to invite you to read more without giving the game away. It has to seduce. In short, it has to work. This is especially true in a short story, as you only have so much time to establish a scenario and characters before you have to get things rolling.

I’m at a crisis point, a major stumbling block, very early in this story. Could it be I’ve lost my first line mojo for good? Does anyone have any tried and true techniques for crafting opening lines? Do you know of any good articles I can read on the subject? How can I wrest this opening line from the slimy recesses of my brain-squiggles?

The Chicken or the Egg?


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What part of a story do you “get” first? What do you choose to develop first? Is it a character, the plot, a setting? How do you begin getting creative?

If you’re like me, there’s no set answer to this question. My first novel attempt, with the working title Colorblind (no, this is not my NaNoWriMo novel), did not begin in my head with any characters or a plot, but with a house. I described the house, then in popped a character. Why was she going to the house? What’s so important about this house?

For my NaNoWriMo Novel, the idea came first. What if someone lied about their lives for years and were about to be found out? Would they just give up and admit it? Once I had my MC, I knew that she might fold and not do it. But then in came her best friend, and I knew I had something to work with.

What comes first, the name or the noun? Do you have in mind a specific type of character or place, then name it, or do you name it first and build around things associated with the name? Again, with me this is far from a concrete process. Sometimes I hear a name and build a character around it; sometimes I develop a character and find a name to suit. Neither way seems to work better or worse for me.

It all depends on the story. There are some stories that I’ve written that I wouldn’t have written had I known at the beginning what they would be about; I have to be eased into the weighty topics. Sometimes, I get ideas and I think to myself, I don’t have the talent/skill set/time to do justice to this. But then I’ll have a character or setting and start writing, and the same idea will work its way in. Now the idea can be worked with a bit. Now maybe I can do it.

Tell me about your writing process. Where do you begin? What do you find works best when developing a story? Do you have a different process for novels than you do for short stories? What about poetry?

Living Happily (Enough) Ever After…

they walked off into the sunset and lived happ...

Image by plousia via Flickr

I have been writing long enough to know that for some characters, living happily ever after is not part of the deal. It’s still one of the things I struggle with as a writer, though. I don’t always like what has to happen to characters, how the stories have to end. I fight with myself, trying to be true to the story and “fair” to the characters.

I’m even conflicted about other people’s endings. When I was in college, we read Edith Wharton‘s House of Mirth in The Nature of Literary Study. While my teacher (whose area of expertise, as I recall, was eighteenth and ninteenth century works like Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke and other such things) waxed lyrical about Wharton’s descriptions people and places, I fell in love with the spirited main character, Lily Barth (I think; it’s been five years or so). She was plucky and manipulative and social climbing. She was the original version of the independent woman, someone who forces her way into society to marry up, but is picky about it. I kept hoping she would give up her social climbing ways and marry the sweet nice guy, but she didn’t. She ended up horribly impoverished. I hoped she would rise up from poverty like a phoenix from the ashes, scarred but all the better for it, but…well, you know what happened.

If you don’t know what happened, suffice it to say, I was unhappy with Edith Wharton for a long time after that. I still haven’t picked up another Edith Wharton book, even though I think she’s one of the best writer’s I’ve ever read. Her command of language is amazing to behold. But she was a Naturalist writer, scientific and removed in her rendering of characters. She seemed to have no problem letting anyone get exactly what was their due.

Luckily, in Chick Lit, it’s possible for characters to get their comeuppance without cutting off the possibility that they could be happy and soldier on. In fact, this is exactly the result of the movie version of Confessions of a Shopaholic (I must confess I haven’t read the book, but I will). SPOILER ALERT: I usually do NOT spoil movies, but it makes my point.

Still reading? OK, then. But you were warned.

The main character’s lies were found out, she had to pay all the money back and go to therapy, but she learned her lesson, grew up, and got another chance with the hot guy.  

I hated how they changed the ending of The Devil Wears Prada when they went from the book to the big screen; I felt the book ending was more empowering and felt right, but Hollywood does that sometimes. But that’s the kind of ending I want for my chick lit book–harsh, but right, with some redemption and hope. Most of all, I want the main character to grow up!

I still don’t know how this will happen; the writing will have to be completed before I know who finds her out and what they will do about it.

It’s nearly impossible for me to successfully complete NaNoWriMo at this point. It’s true I have eight days, six of which I am off work, and miracles happen everyday, but I won’t hold my breath. I will be content with having written well, and consistently. There isn’t much that I would need to trim because it’s just filler, so far. I have a solid first draft. I hope I can continue on and do justice to what I feel is a really good story.

I may change the title to Confessions of a Compulsive Liar–it’s more catchy than the title I have.

How do you deal with having to let bad things happen to good characters? Do you have a problem with letting it happen, or do you just wrap the book up before the worst happens? Suggestions are welcome.