Writers are a supportive bunch.

I’ve been told this; hell, I’ve even experienced it volunteering at Writespace. I’ve gone into workshops and had to share my writing, thinking Dear God, please don’t let them laugh me out of the room, and received nothing but supportive feedback and constructive criticism. That’s not to say there aren’t some people out there who take pleasure in knocking other writers down, there are. But on the whole, writers really are good at encouraging one another.

Last quarter I took on a research project exploring Flash Fiction—a genre I had very little background in. I’d recently attended panels on the subject at Writefest, and had just received notice that my first flash submission had been accepted for publication, so the subject was fresh on my mind.

I started scouring the internet: journal databases, library databases, and literary journal archives for research on my chosen topic. I signed up for a flash fiction workshop—even spoke to the instructor a little about my project at the end of the class. She gave me her card, offered to answer any questions I had, and said she would love to read the article when I finished. Wow, I thought, that was really awesome of her! (Unfortunately, I ran out of time and never got to ask her any questions for my paper, but I plan to let her read my finished project and if she’s willing, I’d still love to pick her brain about her experience with flash fiction.)

Another confession: I’m obsessive, I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I have this annoying habit of trying to do everything by myself, so asking for help isn’t exactly easy for me.

I reached a point in my research where I was just STUCK. I had a general idea of where I wanted to go with the project, but couldn’t get it focused. I shocked myself when I reached out to a writer friend who I knew had experience with flash fiction. I just wanted her opinion on the project and her general thoughts on my thesis, but she went above and beyond. She gave me detailed feedback AND sent me specific links of journals and names of leading authors in the genre. I don’t know if she realizes how incredibly encouraging that was…

Then, halfway through the quarter I surprised myself again when I told my instructor that I thought I should interview some authors. She thought it was a great idea, so I looked at some of the flash stories I’d read recently and some that had been recommended to me by other writers. I read additional writing by the authors of these flash pieces and selected four authors that I thought would have informative, varied insights into the world of flash. I didn’t expect anyone to agree to an interview—people have busy lives and I wasn’t even sure if I would get responses, but all four writers accepted my interview request and all four were generous in their responses. One of the writers, Anne Goodwin, even asked me if I would like to write a post on flash fiction for her blog. She has a great blog and I was honored.

I don’t know if any experience to date has shown me the beauty of belonging to this world. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s competitive. Yes, you might think everyone is judging you all the time. But the truth is, all writers are experiencing (or have experienced) the stressful parts of being a writer. That’s why we have to support and lift each other up. I’m thankful for meeting beautiful writers who do just that!

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Confession: I never submit

My writing, that is…

Never may be a slight—very slight—exaggeration, but I didn’t make my first writing submissions until January 2016. My second set went out in March, and I’ve yet to make my third. Six short fiction pieces in all went to a total of eight markets, one of which was accepted.

Why so little? Between mom and wife duties, grad school, teaching dance, a little bit of volunteering, actually writing and reading, time for the submission process always seems to get pushed to the bottom of the “To Do” list. It’s a tedious, not so fun process and time is an issue, but if you dig to the psychological core of my aversion to submissions I’m sure you’ll find insecurity, ego, fear of rejection, fear of judgment, and ultimately fear of being vulnerable. Whatever the reason, I know it’s got to change.

A writer friend shared this Literary Hub article, “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year” by Kim Liao, on Facebook the other day. It was an awesome read and I recommend it to any writer questioning whether or not to submit their pieces for publication. Liao writes, “Perhaps aiming for rejection, a far more attainable goal, would take some of the sting out of this ego-bruising exercise—which so often feels like an exercise in futility.” By failing to submit, not only am I not aiming for rejection, but I’m also not aiming for acceptance.

I’ve got six months to collect 93 more rejections, and hopefully a few acceptances along the way.

It’s time to make time for submitting!

What does it take to complete a first draft?

What does it take to complete a first draft novel?  It’s a question I asked myself for years before I finally took the plunge and just did it.  And it’s a question you may want to know the answer to if you plan to complete NaNoWriMo this year.

You sit down to your laptop (or computer, or pen and paper) and open up your preferred word processor.  Your fingers are poised, ready to begin, itching to turn out the thousands of words it takes to make a novel, and you freeze up.  What if I’m doing this wrong?  What if I’m not good enough?  What if…What if…What if???

Your hands draw back and you slump in your chair, defeated before you’ve even begun.  Why?  You don’t have an outline ready.  You’ve never written so much on one topic.  You might not be able to finish.  You don’t have a writing degree, so you’ve never learned the correct approach.  I mean, do you need an outline?  What if you choose to sit down to a blank slate and just write?  Is that okay?  What if you get halfway through and decide the outline you made isn’t going to work?  Do you stick to the outline?  Do you start over?

I’ve tried writing a few ways now, and honestly, I preferred starting my first chapter with a blank slate and my imagination.  Once I got those first few pages typed I brought out my notebook and started brainstorming.  What is this character’s story?  Where is she headed?  Once I started writing again my outline changed, and it continues to change.  It will continue to change until I get to the last page of the last edit, because stories evolve.  If you can’t deviate from a cookie cutter mold, how will your characters grow?  How will they get themselves into more trouble and how will you find more creative ways to get them out?

The more I research, the more I’m on forums listening to other writers, the more I realize there is no one right way to write.  It’s about the creative process and being creative is about being an individual.  And we aren’t being individuals if we are all following the same exact model, because we aren’t all wired to think or create the same way.

So, forget about waiting around until you’re “good enough” or have the best story brewing in your mind.  Forget about having an outline or not having an outline.  Lift your head up and tell yourself you are going to do this.  Now’s the time to move your hands back to the starting position, forget about the rules you’ve told yourselves exist and just write.  You’ll never get better by thinking about the what ifs, you’ll only improve by acting on what is.  And right now it is time for you to write.

 

Here are a couple of links to articles on outlining that I read before starting 2014 NaNoWriMo (my first NaNo experience).  I thought they were good, but I decided in the end not to do much outlining.  Check them out too if you’re so inclined, maybe you’ll find something that works for you:

HOW TO PREPARE FOR NANOWRIMO: TO OUTLINE OR NOT TO OUTLINE By: Kevin Kaiser
PREPARING FOR NANOWRIMO – ORGANIZING AND OUTLINING By: Jennifer Mattern

Yes, I’m alive…Just have my head stuck in a book.

I’ve been a behavior teacher, a dance teacher, a preschool teacher, a crochet artist, a wife, a mom, a travel enthusiast, an obsessive reader, and a writer…among other things.  I set a goal for myself this year: finish my novel and put in the work to get it published.

That wasn’t happening with the part-time preschool position, the part-time dance teacher position, the home-based crochet business, the long list of books I was working on reading, being mom to a three-year old, and wife to a full-time teacher/grad student.  So, after talking to my super supportive teacher/grad student of a husband we decided to make some changes in our lives to make sure I met my goal.  I resigned from the preschool and did a major decrease to my crocheting time.  I even put away the book list…I may or may not have cried over it.

I kept my job at the dance studio, because I wanted to make a financial contribution–even a minuscule one–and because dance is a passion of mine.  The way some people worship God through song, I worship through dance.  Letting that go wasn’t an option.

I kept my job as a full-time mom.   I love my kid and decided for myself when he was born that when he was at home I wanted to be there, engaged and a part of his learning.  However, we did switch him from two to three days at preschool, which has given me more writing time.

And I kept my job as wife to the teacher/grad student.  What can I say?  He puts up with my quirks, occasional nocturnal sleep habits, and mood swings.  Not to mention, I don’t know too many husbands who would tell their wives, “Baby, I think you should quit your job and work on that novel you’ve been trying to get finished.”  Our budget is stretched to the max, but we make it work.

I’m not teaching anymore or modifying behaviors in a special education classroom, but I find plenty of opportunities to utilize my degree being married to a teacher/grad student/coach and mom to a three-day-a-week preschooler/swim lesson attendee/soccer player.

I can also say I’m now a full-time, unpaid writer.  I started rewriting my first novel from a different perspective after sharing parts of it with my writing instructor and a couple of other writers.  I should be finished next week; just in time for NaNoWriMo.

So, yeah.  If my loved ones find it impossible to reach me I just want them to know I’m still alive.  I’m just lost in a story somewhere.

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Why Do You Write What You Write?

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I completed a twelve week writing course recently to help me clean up my manuscript’s plot and what-not.  The last session was on living a writer’s life: basically setting up a routine, making time to improve your craft, journaling, etc. Our assignment was to tell why we are writing the story we are and what makes us qualified to do so…Easy, right?  Wrong.

My major professional flaw is an inability–or at least a strong resistance–to claim to be, or think I am, innately qualified to do anything.  So I get the same gut twisting sensations saying I am qualified to write a particular novel–better yet to write at all–that I did when I first stepped into the rickety airplane I planned to throw myself out of a few moments later.  I had a parachute to soften my landing and I’d taken the required class, but was I really qualified to jump out of that airplane?  Probably not.  But I did it anyway, and although fear told me I shouldn’t complete this assignment I did it anyway.

No one will ever believe you are qualified to do something if you don’t believe it yourself.  

What I submitted to the instructor:

I hate to start with the cliché I had a dream, but I will anyway because that’s really how this book began—unless you count my Happy Potter induced childhood love affair with all things paranormal.

I’ve always loved writing.  It was my outlet during my parents’ divorce and subsequent custody battle.  It was a way to rationalize through difficult decisions.  It was how I persuaded my mom to buy me my first cell phone, my first computer, my first car, and my first trip overseas.  It helped me earn my 4.0 GPA in college.  It’s how I worked through questions of faith, a form of prayer and meditation.  Writing has always been a part of my life in some form or fashion, just not always with the intent of sharing with others.

My thoughts about writing began to change once I had a child.  I had always been afraid what people would think if they knew I wrote, what they would say.  I tell my son daily to pray, be himself, and always be brave.  It didn’t take me long to realize I wasn’t practicing what I preached.

The first book I started made it six chapters before I lost motivation; I let someone’s comments influence me.  I stopped writing for a while, but then I had this vivid dream about a girl watching her home engulfed in flames and no one could stop it but her.  Her tears were my tears and her pain was my pain.  Figuratively speaking, I had been that girl once upon a time.  I woke up and started writing what I remembered, and the story progressed from there.

A common theme in everything I write, every song I choose when choreographing for my dance students, and every piece of advice I give to my son: accept who you are and what gifts God gave you.  You have to love the person God made you to be and be brave, especially when you don’t want to be.  Fear overwhelms us, it paralyzes us, and sometimes we need some external force to push up toward facing and overcoming those fears.

I think that’s what makes me uniquely qualified to write this story.  I have been this character—minus the awesome paranormal abilities—feeling friendless, struggling with family secrets, and not fitting in.  I learned that most of that isolation was created from within myself.  I had to overcome me.  I love these characters, cried when they cried, laughed when they laughed, and my bravery grew just as theirs did.  Acceptance is something we all crave as humans and something we all fear won’t be given.  We spend so much time worrying about what others will think of us; we base our worth on their opinions.  This book is about realizing it’s okay to be odd, different, and unique.  It’s those things that make us special.  You should embrace that thing about yourself that makes you different, because it is what makes you you.