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.

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Writing From the Brink

Before we get into the meat of this post, a swift recap on my April goals:

  • Get (more) feedback on Delivering Justice. Nothing yet, but I’m hoping that’s a good sign. Tomorrow marks three weeks since I sent in the manuscript, and as this wasn’t a fast track contest submission, I’m settling in for a longer wait. I’ll diary ahead to check on this once the normal window is up, fourth of July weekend (which seems SO FAR AWAY).
  • Finish judging my contest entries for Touch of Magic. I judged them, but have to make a few tweaks to formatting and labeling and send them back in tonight.
  • Finish rough draft of Love Thy Enemy. I’m over 15k words in and finally able to devote some real time to this manuscript. I lost my way with it for a while, but now I think I’m finding my groove again.
  • Continue Mr. Last Name Basis. Still haven’t done this actively yet. I did, however, come up with an idea for a better beginning than the one I currently have.
  • Create a page for my WIPs for the site. Doing this right after I finish this post.

The past couple of weeks I have been completely off my writing routine. I got a new bed that inspired me to sleep in instead of dragging myself to my writing corner. I’d be more motivated to go to said writing corner to work if I had a desk and office chair where I could work, or at the very least a comfortable papas an chair, but I don’t. So getting myself to write has been a bit of a struggle. But Quentin and Annabeth, my hero and heroine from #LoveThyEnemy, have been giving me insights into their characters lately that have spurred me on, so I’ve been diligently working my way through parts of their story.

Another thing that got me back into writing was getting the victim disposition from the prosecutor in the case of the drunk driver who hit me. He was sentenced on a lesser charge and received probation. There doesn’t appear to be any prohibitions or restrictions on his driving, however. I could feel a bit of helplessness creep in. I may be driving down the road with this guy again. In another year, he will be completely free of any ramifications of his actions if he doesn’t violate probation, and a year after the accident I still can’t drive without being nervous. It’s a hard pill to swallow.

I’m working out my own issues with #LoveThyEnemy. This story hinges on Annabeth not only forgiving Quentin of what he’s done to her family, but learning to love him in spite of what he’s done in the past for the man he is now. Writing from Annabeth’s perspective brings up a bad memory or two, but stepping back and examining it artistically helps me to put it into perspective. Writing from Quentin’s perspective is helping me to understand that even when we are responsible for causing so much pain to others, it’s not necessarily because we are bad people. All of us are in need of grace and should be given grace if we ask for it. The way that Annabeth clings to the wrong that Quentin has done to her has stopped her from moving forward, not him. Quentin has had to fight guilt and shame every step of the way, but he’s in a much better place when the book starts than she is. Hopefully I’ll be in a much better place when I type “The end.”

How is your life informing your writing and vice-versa?

XOXO

Erica

ATGGT…

When I was in high school, I got a scholarship to attend a private school along with several other kids in the Horizons-Upward Bound program. One of those other students was a musical prodigy who played several instruments and was a talented singer. She wore a leather bracelet on her wrist like they make at Cedar Point at that leather making shop that read “ATGGT.” Given her interests, it didn’t take me long to figure out what it meant: And the Grammy goes to… It served, I believe, as motivation for her to keep pursuing her dream of becoming a recording artist and getting that top industry honor.

As I’ve watched her journey through websites, the occasional IM chat, Facebook & Instagram posts, I’ve often thought about that little scrap of leather and whether or not she still looks at it for inspiration. Is it still like a talisman, a physical reminder of her dreams, or is it just a piece of leather shoved into a drawer and forgotten? Is it even the phrase she dreams of hearing her name attached to anymore?

With the recent Oscar ceremony (that always falls around my birthday) and Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest brush with the golden trophy, I’ve been thinking about success and almost getting there but somehow landing just shy of the mark. Someone I follow on twitter said it best: even though Leo has four Oscar nominations over twenty years, he still has the same number of Oscars as I do. Ouch. It must hurt to have worked so hard and end up with the same result as the girl sitting home on the couch whose never even made the attempt.

Well, I can say assuredly that it does, in fact, hurt. Yesterday I received a very lovely rejection letter from the editor I submitted Delivering Justice to a couple weeks ago. Even though she had many positive things to say about my writing, she didn’t think it was a good fit for them. Even though I had crafted a good enough pitch to get an editor’s attention and wrote well enough to garner a few points of praise, I was still just shy of the mark for closing the deal. I now have the same number of manuscripts purchased as the person in living in the jungle who’s never seen a book. Ouch.

Here’s the thing: I can choose to drown in the negative, put DJ away and never submit a manuscript again, or I can focus on the positives of the situation. Since the latter is the only choice that will add to this entry’s word count, let’s go with that one.

During the last six months, I’ve entered three writing contests, wrote and revised a full manuscript, wrote three successful pitches, learned to write a query letter and synopsis, made a ton of writing friends, joined some writing groups, found critique partners, and written more than I have in years. In less than six months of taking this writing thing seriously, I got a full request for a manuscript for an imprint of my dream publisher. Instead of getting a form rejection, I was complimented on having a great premise, snappy dialogue and a well done heroine. I think I’ve found my voice; now I have to find my place.

I told the online writing community of my rejection yesterday. Twice a week we share ~100 word flashes from our current WIPs dealing with a specific topic. I suggested that we do a flash on rejection. The group agreed and the flashes have been pouring in. What I realized in reading and commenting on the flashes is that a) everyone experiences rejection b)rejection comes in many forms, and c) our characters suffer far worse rejections in our stories than we do of our stories.

I’ve decided to put DJ in a drawer for a while and not look at it (although I may allow my beta reader to read a copy of the version I sent out to the editor; she’s earned it for reading through the awful first attempts) until I’m ready to try it again. I’m stepping away from writing new words this week. Instead, I’m unearthing old words–words from when I was a teen and pre-teen and just wanted to get the story on paper. Words from when my classmate’s bracelet set off dreams of NYT Bestseller, Pulitzers, and the Nobel Prize in Literature for me. Words from when nothing was out of reach.

How do you deal with rejection? What keeps you going in the face of rejection?

XOXO,

Erica

It.Is.Finished!

Yes, this.

Yes, this.

I’ve finally completed NaNoWriMo! For the first time in many failed attempts (some NaNo rebel style, some textbook), I completed 50k words, writing each day, on the same story. Mallory and Jake managed to take me on a great ride, one that I’m still taking. But I wanted to take a moment and breathe through this accomplishment, this milestone.

I never thought I could get 50K words on the page in 26 days, and it’s been surreal for me. There were a lot of things that contributed to my success, most of which I’ve mentioned here already, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate.

1. I outlined. This is not only my first year outlining for NaNoWriMo, but my first real attempt at outlining ever. I’m addicted to get the premise and major plot points on paper now. It guides the writing and keeps me focused so that every morning, I have some inkling of what needs to happen in a scene today.

2. I had a reader. My reader/accountability buddy kept me on track in a big way. Knowing that I had to turn over those pages kept me writing, and trying to write well. I felt so accomplished when she laughed at the right lines and threatened to murder me if I didn’t hurry up and write the next scene when I left her hanging on the cliff. I could actually gauge if my hooks worked with a reader, which helped me decide how to proceed.

3. I followed a routine. I got up each morning and put my butt in my writing area (there isn’t actually a chair down here). It didn’t matter what time I went to sleep, how unsure I was of where I was going next–I sat my butt down and wrote. Sometimes, after I got the rusty water words down and ideas were flowing better, I backspaced over the drivel and saved my reader from having to slog through it. I didn’t let a crap storm of awfulness stop me from continuing, but having that reader made sure I got rid of the really crappy stuff.

4. I allowed myself to edit. I’m not the type of writer who can write all the way through without looking back, put the manuscript away, then gasp in horror at what I’ve written a few weeks later. I read my output each day just like my reader. If it’s just a matter of typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors, I fix them immediately. If a key transition is missing, I will either add it or note it for my revisions, depending on the size of it. I took advantage of Saturdays when I had more time to go back and add things in. I did what I knew I needed to do, just enough to keep the inner editor off my back. There are still too many weak verbs and tense things to fix, but making the surface changes helped me not to get bogged down in deep editing. My only rule? Don’t take away from the word count if possible.

5. I chose to write a story that I loved. I loved the idea for Delivering Justice from the moment I began working it over in my head. I loved the characters and the setup. I was excited at the opportunity to write something that was funny and suspenseful and a little cheesy. I wanted to write about cars exploding and criminals and undercover agents. I was looking forward to the challenge of remembering who was injured where. I was also open to the surprises–Luka and his showdown with Jake on the train to Orlando instead of tracking them down in Florida being my favorite–and throwing in more suspense of more kissing when I got stuck (which ALWAYS worked in this story–when in doubt, kiss it out…or blow it up 😀 ).

Bonus: I had fun. I’m usually so concerned about getting a draft right that I never get it finished. My characters are always so serious and brooding, so insecure and a hot mess train wreck. But Mallory and Jake, and their friends, aren’t. Mallory is a little neurotic and afflicted with verbal diarrhea, but she’s also an established businesswoman who will do anything to protect those she loves (including crawling into an air duct with nine millimeter handgun!), and Jake, while serious and by the book, is a former fat kid with a sweet tooth whose loyalty is unshakeable. I let the characters who wanted to be funny be funny. If a character had a thought totally incongruous to what was happening around them, I let them have it. If one went off having epiphanies about their relationship too soon, I kept it (I can move it later). If Mallory and Jake wanted to play kissy face with a hit man on their trail…you get the idea.

I started out the month with the notion that I wanted to laugh and gasp and nearly cry when I read this story, even if it was so awful it never saw the light of day again, and I ended up with a story I think is really special.

The next time I write, I’ll post an excerpt for you guys to read!

XOXO,

Erica

Performance Anxiety

I thought the post before this one was already published two weeks ago. If this post makes no sense because of the high I was on two seconds ago, that is why.

Let me just say that it’s amazing how God causes things to fall in line. He moves fast. I was just saying a couple weeks ago how I had a breakthrough with the marriage kit book (which isn’t much about the marriage aspect at all anymore–hint!), when something very interesting happened.

A couple months ago, I told my minister that I needed help with my book. I needed someone to read what I had so far and to help me develop a book proposal. Instead of helping me himself, he gave me the number of a minister out of North Carolina who wrote for a Christian publication, Bro. Jefferson R. Curuthers, Jr. I was hestitant to call someone I didn’t know and who didn’t know me, someone I’d never heard of before, so I kept putting it off. But I kept writing.

It turns out that Bro. Curuthers is the speaker at our revival all this week. His wife spoke at our ladies’ day on Saturday, and as I sat there, it dawned on me her husband was the guy. Since I had just had my break through with major writing a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like a nod from God to go ahead.

The thing is, now that I have him here, I can’t seem to bring up the idea of my book and pitch it to him. I mean, the guy is here to preach the Word, not read my WIP. I don’t want  the opportunity to pass me by, but I’m having a hard time being “aggressive” with pitching my work. I have always had this problem and I know it will be in the future if/when I get published.

Does anyone have any suggestions on how I can use this networking opportunity? Have you ever pitched a book face to face?

An excerpt of what I’ve been working on will be coming soon! Stay tuned!

Married to an Idea

I have begun to work in earnest on the marriage kit book! I almost have an entire chapter completed as I type (well, more than one has been started, but this one really is almost complete). Not only that, but I have an outline of how I want the chapters to be organized, with specific sections, as well as several chapter outlines that I want to tackle.

For each chapter I’ve thought about doing the following:

Introduction

Worldview

The fact of the Matter (God’s View)

Personal Story

The Other Side of the Coin

In the Meantime

The ones in bold will be actual headings within the chapters; the others just identify what type of writing will be present at that point of the book. This is a preliminary structure, but it works well with the material that I have thus far. It was only after continuing to write after I had starting reading a sample of Reshaping it All by Candace Cameron that I even thought about how I had written down in my chapter outline some things that all the chapters had in common. Yay for inspiration.

I am continually blown away by how this project is unfolding. In all honesty, it looks nothing like the book I thought I was writing.

No NaNo…and I’m Okay with That

I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year, and I’m OK with that. I don’t want you to take that to mean I’m not writing; I am. It’s just that I’m choosing to focus on finishing my marriage kit book instead of heading headlong into the fiction writing frenzy of NaNoWriMo. I’ve committed myself fully to focusing on this one project and actually finishing a manuscript this year as I’ve planned.

Thanks to a new position at work sparking new life in me and conversations and news articles that have kept my interest in this project high, I have a lot written down in various places. Now I’m typing it all up, as well as expanding on ideas and trying to put it in some sort of other. I feel as if I have confirmation I’m working on the right book at the right time.

So I have decided to be fully committed to one project at a time, at least until I finish this one. I haven’t been on the blogs as much and I haven’t been working on other projects. I’m going to give something my all, for once. And so far, it seems to be the best road for me to have taken.

To NaNo or Not to NaNo…

This is the question I keep asking myself this year. The first year I attempted it, I had no internet. Last year, I was preparing to move and had a lot going on personally that prevented me from giving it my best effort. This year, writing might get in the way of…well, writing.

I’m working on the marriage kit project. I’ve actually got the beginnings of a good chapter written and a few others outlined, as interviews and such have been few and far between. I am also transcribing a backlog of interviews onto the computer and selecting quotes, scripture references, and etc. I’m concentrating solely on this project right now, but I’m starting to grow a bit bored with just one thing. I’m starting to wonder if switching gears to fiction, to NaNoWriMo for a month, might be in order.

I don’t know what I’m going to do just yet. Are you going to do NaNoWriMo? What are your reasons? How do you know when it’s time to switch gears and when you just need to buckle down & gut it out?

The Girl Who Couldn’t Commit

That would be me. It seems that lately I have a hard time settling down to work on one thing. I’ve started too many things and they all demand to be finished. Whenever I think I know what I truly want to work on, I casually glance at something while looking for a scribbled note or character sketch, and before I know it I’ve been sucked in to something different. I’ve started too many good things to focus on just one.

I suppose this should be a good problem to have. If I had a bit more focus lately, it would be. I’m guaranteed several good books, after all. It’s just deciding which good book to write NOW that’s giving me the blues.

I already know what your advice will be. “Write what you’re most passionate about right now.” Well, at the moment, I’m most passionate about researching the Marriage Kit book. I’m loving conducting the interviews and trying to figure out what to read to flesh this out. I’m even loving exploring my own feelings about the interviews and articles and bits of advice. What I’m not loving? Transcribing the interviews! I’m so far behind on actually typing up (and posting) all of the interviews that I’ve conducted, I don’t know when I’ll catch up again.

But then, I had a breakthrough on the Some College memoir. I was right; going home made all the difference (mostly because I came across a few more of my journals that fleshed out more of what I was thinking leading up to and during the first few months of that time. I definitely want to include parts of those entries in the memoir. I’ve also broken down the structure into three parts, quite a few chapters. I know where I’m going with it. Now I just have to write it.

I actually have quite a few chick lit/ harlequin type books floating out there. At one point I was all about the love. There’s the class reunion WIP you all are familiar with (my NaNoWriMo novel from last year), there’s one I found a chapter of on Openfiction.com (which I can link if you want me to) and three additional chapters at home,  there’s the one I spoke about yesterday, and at least one other with a really big “this isn’t what it looks like,” moment.

Also while I was home, I found the beginning (but not the whole written portion) of a story about a mystery writer that I started on the large lined paper with the big blank space at the top that they give you when you’re just learning to write (don’t worry; it’s evolved since then, lol) which shows promise, as well as a YA novel about a teen girl who is kidnapped by her best friend’s killer (and ex-boyfriend), who has connections to the mob. I was about fifteen–no, seventeen?– (short at first, then long) chapters in. I lost the first 12 (they were stolen), but had recreated three or more of them (I started this in eighth grade!).

These are just the ones with the most upfront potential that I’ve found. I also found two more YA type of fiction pieces that are pretty lengthy. The only thing is, I haven’t written YA type of works since I used to read YA books…when I was a YA. Still, these books have something…

Of course, of course, there are the WIPs you all are familiar with: the jazz story, the southern gothic novel, Candy Apples and the other short stories in that collection. Everything with the potential to be epic and the pull to get me to reread it and want to write more of it. What to do, what to do? Some of these stories have been with me for years and refuse to leave me alone.  

Aside from these dilemmas, I’m also supposed to be working on a dissertation (editing, not writing). Oh, boy.

***

I promise that my next entries will be more than just me lamenting my good fortune. I am thinking of adding a couple of tabs, one where I help you keep track of the eighty million WIPs I have going on, and one where I make some concrete goals for the rest of the year. Maybe if I commit to it on paper? I’m thinking some NaNoWriMo-esque months are called for here.

Speaking of discoveries, I finally got a cassette player! I can play it through my little boombox, so that’s nice. I’m working towards being able to convert cassettes to digital (read: saving up to buy the software). I’m so excited about this, as I have one of my stepdad’s original recordings that I want to add to my collection. As my stepdad passed away in 2009, you can imagine how dear of a project this is to me. There are a few other things I’d like to convert as well, but this is the most important.

Now, time to brag: tell me about some of your recent successes. It can be anything. Also, tell me your plans for writing world/publishing world domination!

The Day I Realized There Really isn’t Anything New Under the Sun

For years, I’d been working on this idea intermittenly about a Southern woman wanting to write her memoirs and hiring a ghostwriter to help her. In this story, the ghostwriter ends up learning all of these things about herself, what she and the ghostwriter have in common, and it makes everything in her (the ghostwriter’s) world change. It was a novel idea, to me, in both that it hadn’t been done and it should be a novel length thing.

Does this sound remotely familiar to you? It should. This is the basic plot, though not entirely, of Donna Sutterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. I writing the first sketches of my novel, which at the time had nothing to do with a memoir, when I was in high school. The newer,  centered around a writer version began taking shape in the fall of 2003, when I was a freshman in college. I picked up Sutterfield’s book in 2007 from the library. That’s when my literary world fell apart.

How could it be? Someone had already thought up (and written…and published) my idea! What was I going to do? I had spent years starting this story, submitting it to a writing contest at the university I attended, getting a teacher to read an excerpt for me, letting it lie fallow, coming back to it. In all of that time, I thought it was fresh and new and different, and it wasn’t.

That’s not a bad thing, though. Some things haven’t been written about because they don’t make good writing material. Some things have been written about, but not in the way you mean to write about it. As long as I don’t tell the same story, the starting point can be the same. It’s why all of the writing exercises my creative writing teacher gave us led to such varied places when we read them out loud. No two people see things exactly the same. I can still add something to the discussion.

Once I got over my disappointment, I realized Donna Sutterfield hadn’t stolen my novel. ( 🙂 ) Her novel was about a woman who worked in her father’s bookstore and an older woman with a secret she was dying to tell. It was about siblings and family pressure and identity. It was beautiful. But it wasn’t my novel. My older woman isn’t very old, and she is trying desperately to keep her own secrets while airing everyone else’s. Neither the older woman nor the younger have any siblings. Many other tensions and motivations are in play in my story. I’m not telling the same story at all.

I feel better about the story now. I know that it’s a story that still needs to be told, and get it told I shall.

Have you ever read a book that sounded like a WIP you were working on? Did you continue on with it? When did you realize, in a literary sense, that there was nothing new under the sun?