Sunday, August 29, 2010

Always a Next Time

I spoke to a group at the library two weeks ago and had a Q&A session after my talk. One question was: If you write another book, what will you do differently?

I answered that this time I would have a plan before I started.

My first book began with a premise and went from there, evolving as ideas came to me. Some threads led to nowhere and I had to start over. Some led in new directions and I had to rewrite earlier chapters to account for the changes.

I started that novel more than six years ago (or maybe longer, I can't remember) and am still working on it. It has grown completely out of control, with twists and turns in the plot that even I, who should be in charge, am having trouble unraveling. My next step is to create a timeline and get all the action in some kind of order. I am not giving up; I think it's a good story. But in its present form, it is not publishable.

I have an idea for another story and this time, instead of sitting down and typing Chapter One and seeing where it takes me, I wrote a complete synopsis of what I thought the story should be and where it should go. I plan to write a description of each character: physical description, hopes, dreams, fears and desires. A timeline will tell me when each conflict and resolution should occur. This time I will know the ending instead of wondering where the story is going and letting the characters lead me.

Only then will I type Chapter One on my page.

Novel Number One is an adventure and I have enjoyed every minute of writing it. It also is too long, too convoluted and -- well, too messy. It needs organizing. It needs discipline.

Novel Number Two will start out disciplined and I have no doubt I will write it without being sidetracked by a stray thought that maybe this happens and the heroine reacts like this -- no, the heroine will stay on track and not lead me down any false paths. I should be able to complete it in less than a year.

I don't know yet if it will as much fun to write.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Things I Wish I'd Done

I earned a double major in college with credits in both fine art and education. About two years in, I knew my talents were not in painting and sculpture and contemplated switching my art major to English. This was after taking a creative writing class as an elective and knowing instinctively that this was what I was meant to do.

I didn't, however, as the subesquent loss of credits and the need to take a foreign language and a math course deterred me. I might have stumbled through beginning Spanish or French, but I knew I could never pass anything that had to do with numbers.

Years later I took a correspondence course in journalism and followed that with a stay at Duke University for a weeklong writers workshop. If I had had any doubts about my need to write up to that point, they were dispelled then. Notice I said need. Writing isn't something you want to do, it is something you have to do.

I started writing first for a newspaper, and then for magazines. I was thrilled every time I got an acceptance letter. And finally, The Book.

I do think the lack of a degree in creative writing has hindered me in many ways, but I also believe learning to write the facts while facing a deadline taught me something just as essential.

What I wish I had done was taken some courses in marketing. Writing is a piece of cake compared to getting the work out about the wonderful, compelling book you have written. Thank goodness for writer friends who are willing to share their tips. Some I have known personally for several years and some are new friends met on forums, blogs, websites and Facebook.

What I have learned is that I have to toss modesty to the winds; no one is going to toot my horn for me. And if I don't believe in my work, who will? So I blog and brag and sometimes pray that someone will pick up my book and like it well enough to tell someone else...

And try to do better on the next one.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Summer Slump

Maybe it's the heat. Maybe it's the inevitable letdown that follows the attainment of a long-sought prize: what happens next?

At any rate, my energy levels have been so low I haven't accomplished much of anything since our vacation in July. I meant to have my current manuscript in publishable form by September; now it looks as if it may be much later than that, simply because I haven't looked at it in weeks. I have the germ of an idea for a new novel, but I've been too lazy to sit down and write the outline that exists, rather fuzzily, in my brain.

I have managed to keep up with work, and I can point to one rather complicated and long assignment that ate up a lot of my time and left my brain in a muddle.

But, I have ignored some other pressing obligations, such as typing up the minutes of a meeting (I seem to always be elected secretary) and getting my notes ready for a talk I am to give Monday. This is really urgent, and yet I plan on taking my granddaughter to a movie this afternoon. So maybe tomorrow ...

I could name a dozen other things that all cry out for my attention and I am figuratively stuffing my fingers in my ears and pretending not to hear.

This isn't writer's block, it is writer's slump. It's like looking at a basket overflowing with clothes that need to be ironed, and going to the closet to find something else to wear.

Sooner or later, the clothes will need to be ironed and that manuscript will need to be finished.

Maybe when it's cooler.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

This room is getting crowded

I know, both from reading and experience, that writing is a solitary occupation.

I suppose that is true enough. Only one person can sit in a chair and face that computer screen (or typewriter, or pencil and tablet if that is your preferred method of getting your thoughts into some kind of solid format).

And it's true no one else can get into your mind and help you come up with your ideas in the first place.

Nevertheless, I've discovered that there is a lot about writing that is done in and with the company of others.

For one thing, I have had support for over 20 years from the Anson County Writers' Club. The irony is that I started the club because of the very quote I used at the beginning of this blog -- I was lonely and wanted to meet other writers. Our meetings include Open Mic and I enjoy hearing what others have written as well as feedback on my efforts.

Then there is my e-mail critique group. Two I've met in person; the other lives on the west coast. We share our writing and help each other over the rough spots, cheer each other on and act as sounding boards for new ideas.

I also joined the Carolina Romance Writers. We meet in Charlotte once a month and enjoy a speaker or workshop that provides helpful knowledge as well as motivation. There is also the opportunity to talk to other writers and get advice.

To belong to this chapter group, you first have to belong to the national -- Romance Writers of America. The RWA just had a convention in Orlando. I couldn't go, but a CRW member posted a daily blog that made me feel as if I were there. And, the monthly magazine is filled with news and tidbits about writers I almost feel are friends.

Then there are the people who post blogs, newsletters, e-columns, Facebook pages and, I suppose, Tweets if I knew where to look for them. Sometimes this much "company" can get overwhelming. I have to shut down the voices clamoring for my attention and concentrate on getting my manuscript as perfect as possible before submitting it.

Yes, writing is solitary. but the business of writing doesn't have to be. Sometimes it can get downright crowded.