Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Off to the editing cave, or I'm not here today

I’ve run off for the revising caves, and I’m frantically working on my manuscript. I’m so giddy right now, I don’t know that I’m entirely sane. I’m supposed to hate this part, or rather, I usually hate this part. But, But! It’s working.

I’m starting to feel a little bit like Dr. Frankenstein…

I’m just hoping that my monster isn’t as hashed together as Frankenstein’s monster.

Back to the editing cave, because “It’s almost alive” just doesn’t have the right finality to it.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The silent frenzy of waiting: How three months can drain away.

No, I’m not talking about waiting for agents. Waiting for agents is a little like waiting for Godot (the point of the play was that you should get on with your life because no one can give you enlightenment). No, I’m talking about the waiting for things you know will get a response, job applications, scholarships, college applications. The waiting for something that will change your life.  

When I was in high school, I applied to four universities (I had a back up whose deadline was after the reply time for all four). Each had its own special slice of awesome, and I wanted to go to each for a particular reason. I would have filled out the standard requested seven, but who am I kidding, application fees were a lot of money then (like how could I have realized that application fees were just the start), and I didn’t have that many places I was willing to live in since I was from a town of 850 people total.

So my mom and I toured the Oregon and Washington coast in search of the perfect college. I didn’t need much, I just wanted a place with a rigorous physics department and a kick ass creative writing department (nothing much really). We got to University of Washington, and I pretty much fell in love. We saw a couple of liberal arts colleges, but it was pretty obvious that only the big colleges had physics departments, so no liberal arts college for me.

We got home, and I applied to the University of Washington, hot to trot to start my new life as the sophisticated physics student from Washington. The other three colleges were actually second and third choices. I applied to the University of Arizona because they had a big Lunar Program. I applied to the University of California Santa Barbara on a whim because my academic advisor said Sally Ride taught physics there. I applied to UC Irvine because they told me it was rural.

But those other three were just backups in the same way that you sometimes carry back up clothes in your car just in case something happens and you need to change for no reason. Which is to say, they weren’t well researched, or well vetted.

From January till March I checked the mail every single day. I trusted no one to open that mail box but me. What if my mom opened the mailbox and somehow lost the acceptance letter between the mailbox and the house (it was a long driveway, it could happen). Or worse, what if the acceptance letter could sense my lack of dedication to the University of Washington by letting my mom pick up the letter? What if it turned itself into a rejection letter at my lack of commitment?

Needless to say, I fretted a lot about that letter. I had written a good application. I had done everything I could. I had good grades, a good essay (first and last for that), and above all, I was a highly motivated (read: obsessive) student willing to work hard for the greatness of physics. I skipped hanging out with my friends to be the one to check the mail. I opted to do extra chores. I started a novel I didn’t finish. I sent my first short story to collect my first rejection letter. I took it as a sign that I probably wouldn’t make it as a writer, but that didn’t matter. I was going to make it as a physicist. I was going to chase down that dream.

Still I waited. I waited. I waited.

I didn’t do much but wait. I’d check the mail, and even then, even knowing that tomorrow’s mail wouldn’t be there for a whole 24 hours, I waited.

And then the letter came. I opened the mailbox, and there it was, hiding with all the bills. I knew the moment I saw it. I knew. It was a small envelope, and acceptance letters came with a ton of propaganda. Maybe it was an acceptance letter saying my real propaganda packet would be on its way soon, but they couldn’t bear to wait another second to tell me yes. I took two steps with that hopeful lie curled around my knotting stomach.

By the time I was halfway up the driveway, I knew the voice for a pathetic liar. I’d never heard of anyone getting speedy acceptance letter. It wasn’t looking good. So, knowing my fate for that of a walking college corpse, I hid in my room and opened the letter.

“We regret…”

I didn’t read the rest of the letter for an hour. No one regrets accepting you into their college. It was the dreaded rejection. And I’d spent my time waiting for it, pining away and dreaming of a new life.

I’d wasted three months of my life waiting for something that turned out to be a rejection.

If you write, I think you know the moral of this story. Get on with your life, and especially your writing. Waiting is wasting. I wish it were easier to write through the anxiety of maybe.  

I’m going to be better about waiting. You? Or are you one of those people for whom inner grace has already propelled you to the calm steely-eyed missile man NASA wants?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Going public

As I crack down on the last bits of this round of revisions for my soon to be query bait, it's time to get feedback. And because the writing community is incredibly awesome, there are places to get test readers for the first 250 words, query, you know pretty much the works (even betas from beta/CP mixers at Falling for Fiction, and whole forums just for finding a crit partner! Writers are awesome!!!)

This week the fantastic Daisy Carter has gone over my first 250 words! Thank you so much Daisy. And if all y'all aren't reading Daisy's blog, you should be. She is a great writer, repped by the fabulous Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. So check her out and take a hatchet to my first 250 (the question at hand being whether to axe a flash forward, turn it into a prologue, or leave it alone).

How do you guys feel about public lambasting critiquing? I for one am a fan, though it can be hard to swallow. It's certainly not for the faint of heart!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

This is the hard part

I used to think the hard part about writing was when you sat down to write.

I used to think that the hard part was getting up the courage to send query letters.

I used to think the hard part was revising a novel after you got nailed with form rejection letters (or worse, Silence).

I used to think the hard part was carefully listening to the feedback people gave you without becoming a defensive monster of rage.

I used to think waiting was the hard part.

I used to think the soul crushing self-doubt was the hard part.

Now I know that the real hard part about writing is whatever you’re doing right now. It’s all hard. Some of it is harder for some people (I am not a revising fan, for instance), and some of it is easy (courage enough to send my work into the world? Probably not an issue for me—keeping me from sharing has always been the hard part). It’s all hard. This moment is hard, but since we live through it, we start to think, “Oh, querying wasn’t that hard compared to this new hell I’m in: submission!” Or “I used to think writing a rough draft was hard, until my editor/beta reader/wonderful mother who reads all the time suggested that I take out my favorite scene.”

It’s this moment that is hard. Writing is hard. Every second of it is hard. Some parts are more fun than others, but none of it is easy.

But why, Rena, Why is it so hard? I love it so much, and it makes me want to pull my hair out!

I’ll tell you.

It’s not a secret after all.

Writing is hard because it is the greatest thing ever. It is more powerful than any other form of communication (doubt me, read the Hunger Games then go watch the movie; I cried more for Roo's death than the whole movie--though I did enjoy the movie tremendously). It is hard because everyone wants to do it. If it weren’t so hard, you’d never be able to find a good book because—literally!—everyone would do it. If you doubt me, go into any public place and ask if anyone has an idea for a book they'd like to write.

I’m not joking. Writing is hard because it is the greatest pursuit in the world.

And, yeah, I know people are rolling their eyes at me (I mean, shoot, isn’t Halo the most important pursuit in the world?), but it’s true. Writing is hard because otherwise, it’s just words.

Now get back out there and write. This is the hard part, but you can do it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Routine and how it's okay to suck at it

I strive for consistency, but I fail.

I spent weeks gearing up to start revision, and nothing. It’s not writer’s block (something that I don’t really believe in; I mean really? No one ever talks about Sculpter’s block, so why should writers be special like that?). But it was less productive. There were things that I dreaded, so I didn’t start. Once I started, I moved at a slogging, tummy-turning speed. That first day I called myself awesome for making 200 words (go wonder writer!).

The next day it was another 300 words that got me the pat on the back.

Then I turned out 3000 new words, just like that. And since then, I’ve been flying. Of course, it’s a revision, so not everything needed to be rewritten from scratch, but the first 10,000 words are brand spanking new. This is pretty typical for me. Super slow, then super fast.

Getting started was the hardest part. For the beginning, I felt like I’d never get going. I felt like there was no reason to get started. It was like the very idea of working on the project was stupid. I have a Shiny New Idea, surely I should be developing that into a novel instead of wasting my time revising. Does any of this sound familiar? I’m neurotic enough that I know I’ve talked about this before, but sometimes I feel like we have these ideas about how writing should work.

When I draft, I have an idea of how much I should be able to write in a week, a quota if you will. But how I get to those words is a jumble of sprints and flares of note taking, punctuated by long hours of not getting stuff done, doing laundry, and doing the day job. I wish I could say that I really have the discipline to just sit and work, but I don’t. I work hard, and then I don’t. I have stretches of incredible productivity followed by absolutely nothing.

I’ve come to accept this about myself because if you set goals for yourself that you can’t (or don’t) reach, something happens. You get down on yourself, and then it’s harder to make any goals. I know people talk about having a daily quota. I can’t do that, I have to have weekly goals so my goals are flexible enough for me to get lost cleaning out closets or grading exams without going through the I’m-not-getting-work-done crazies.

What works for you, slow and steady wins the race? Or do you take off like the rabbit only to find yourself napping at the end? I always thought it was funny story since they both ended up at the finish line at about the same time…

Friday, February 15, 2013

More Boring talk about my process

I haven’t had a project update in a while.

I spent the first few weeks of revision sort of pretending like maybe I wouldn’t have to actually revise. As in, if I could find enough people who liked my manuscript then I wouldn’t need to fix anything. This is not a productive mindset, in case you were wondering.

What it needed was a rewrite of the first few chapters. So I rewrote them, one sentence at a time. I agonized over the tone and the voice and whether anyone would ever want to read about a frumpy woman who stumbles across something extraordinary. For those of you not familiar with the ordinary character gets sucked into extraordinary circumstances, this is called a portal fantasy. It’s basically the kiss of death. There are numerous agents who say they’ll consider anything except portal fantasy. And worse, it’s actually spec fic. Portal fantasy spec fic.

Sigh. The reason portal stories (a character goes from their everyday normal life through a portal to another world) are the kiss of death is because they are, well, to say the least, boring. They start with an average joe who finds the special book/ring of power/realizes they’re the son of zeus and then the adventure begins.

What’s hard about the portal story is that you have to know a little bit about the character before their choices make sense. Oh, and they’re usually pretty boring because we want them to seem like an everyday sort of person. So imagine trying to pitch a book where the first part is about Joe Nobody who gets lucky enough to find the portal to another dimension/power ring of awesome/suddenly can cast lightning from his nostrils. It’s like trying to sell ice to the Inuits, agents don’t want it, don’t need it, and they have it coming out their ears.  

A lot rides on the first couple of chapters. That means pressure. Pressure means I write like zoo dirt (it’s nasty stuff), and I know it. I hemmed and hawed over my first three chapters. I rewrote them. I rewrote them again. For fun, I gave it one more stab. That’s the hard part of revision, knowing where the most scrutiny will be, and floundering through a revision because of it.

But now I’m in the part of the revision that’s all butterflies and rainbows. It’s the part that I love (I love writing action and anything that should be accompanied by the Bhum Bom Baaah! sound effect).

How about you, are you a portal story fan, or does the stink coming off portal stories make your nose hairs curl? (Don’t worry, I won’t tell the literary luminaries if you like portal stories, and I won’t blame you if you hate them—I’ve read some stinkers in my day too)