I am not a writer

I recently read This Great Article on John Steinbeck, and this quote stuck out to me.

“I’m not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.”

He scribbled it in his journal while he wrote The Grapes of Wrath. Pretty much one of the best books ever written.

We haven’t touched on imposture syndrome here too much (don’t worry we will) but I’d like to actually skip over that conversation for right now because this quote resonated with me for an entirely different reason. Something that occurred to me last week, as I was brooding on my back porch ( a common occupation for me when I’m working on my writing) and Steinbeck’s words brought it all back.

I am not a writer.

I know, I told you I was. I thought I was. I mean I write. I write all the time. But I’m not a writer. Steinbeck wasn’t a writer, King isn’t a writer, no writers are writers.

But it goes further than that.

My brother composes beautiful music. He’s not a composer. My artist friends, they’re not artists. The directors aren’t directors, the filmmakers aren’t filmmakers, the actors aren’t actors and cartoonists aren’t even cartoonists!

Before you get angry, before you click away, please just float with me a little longer on this brooding mind tangent of mine from last week.

What we are, what we all are, us dabblers in the creative, are storytellers. No, not storytellers, translators of stories.

Imagine yourself as Steinbeck, with this beautiful epic, gritty, heartbreaking chunk of America in your head. It’s so poignant you can feel it trembling through your soul and you know, you KNOW it’s powerful enough to change how people think.

But all you have are clunky words to translate it. You might be good with words. You might have the best words even, but are they enough to really convey this masterpiece that has settled in your mind?

This is the challenge, friends. This is the truth. This is why an artist paints and a musician composes. There is a story and it needs to come out and they are only the poor fallible vessels for it, with only their limited skill through which to pour this brilliance that is embedded in their soul.

Translating the story. With these mortal fingers, trying to convey something we don’t quite understand ourselves, we either fold and give up, frustrated that we can never get the image right, the feeling right, the words right. Or we keep practicing. We keep refining our skills. We become writers, artists, musicians so that that next story is translated better. So that someday, when the Grapes of Wrath comes together in our heads, we can torment ourselves long enough to get it out.

When we give up, what happens? The stories stop coming, I think. Or maybe they just don’t ever reach that level they could have reached. I think maybe all of us get those first simple stories and whether we discard them or try to put them down on paper, in the infuriating mangled mess they turn out to be, determines whether we become artists, writers and musicians, developing our creative muscles, or go on to explore other avenues.

It’s just a thought, though. 🙂

Fixing a Climax Chapter

In one of my novels I’m editing there is chapter, a big chapter, an explosive, climactic chapter that is just full of problems. At first I thought it was just the choreography of the final scene. It wasn’t spaced quite right, it didn’t move fluidly, it was confusing and it didn’t possess the punch it needed.

So I set out to rewrite the whole thing, really get in deep and describe every element, every sensation, to really make it hurt.

But something happened in the rewrite. It immediately started veering off in other directions. Every bad thing that could happen in this scene started to happen and I kept trying to steer it back. Only this ONE big bad thing was supposed to happen.

No matter how I tried to steer it, it kept going off the rails. Murphy’s Law wanted to write this climactic chapter.

I kept deleting and starting over. Deleting and starting over. Yes, that really ups the stakes but I don’t know how to fix this if it happens! And if this happens, then all these other dominoes are going to fall.

Last night I saved the chapter with only a paragraph of decent work.

Today I started again, and after grappling with the same problem, I sat back to think for a bit. Or I tried to think, but instead found myself breaking up yet another fight between my kids, who are having a bit of a rough time getting along right now. My house is chaos. It’s hard to find a quiet hour to work. Every five minutes it’s something else with them.

And finally I got it. You can’t avoid the chaos. You just gotta try to swim through it.

I’m being too easy on my characters. This is a climax in the book. The ONE BIG BAD has to happen, but so does everything else. All hell needs to break loose so that we can really feel this Big Bad when it finally comes.

And it will be a relief that we even made it.

So I’m not sure how my characters are going to get out of all the nets that are falling on them. I’m not entirely sure everyone is going to survive. Murphy’s Law wants to write this chapter and I am going to let it. It’s my job as the author to deal with the chaos, not avoid it.

Here’s to hoping I can do it.

Change the way you look at pursuing a career in writing

Maybe you’re not like me. Maybe while you pursue publication of your novel you completely own it. Maybe the time and energy and hard work you put in without getting paid is something your friends and relatives and acquaintances completely accept as what must be done to reach your goal career. (if the last one is true, wow, good for you).

But while I admit I have support from many people in my life, the most important people in my life, I would say the majority of people who know what I do to attain my goal see me as a dreamer.

And while we, as a society, admire dreamers once they have achieved, on the path to their dream we collectively roll our eyes and nod slowly and tell them not to quit their day jobs for their little hobbies.

So, as writers, pursuing an actual job writing books, many of us tend to me a little more humble about our work. After all, we’ve yet to get the advances, the royalty checks, the writing engagements, the book on the shelf at the book store. What do we have to show for the hours we’ve put in, the years?

Would you ask someone who was going back to school to pursue an engineering degree why they were wasting their time chasing their dreams?

Knowledge. Refinement of our craft. Connections. Industry understanding. We writers collect all these necessary things as we pursue writing as a job, and most of us don’t wrack up 50 grand in debt doing it.

Writing books, editing books, participating crit groups, hiring editors, going to writing conference, submitting for publication, these are part of a real world classroom that is no less worthy than a college tuition for a “practical” job.

Publishing a novel, establishing a career takes time and work and energy. It doesn’t happen overnight any more than becoming a doctor does. You have to put in the work, and you have to acknowledge that, in doing so, you are preparing yourself for the career you want.

For some reason, many people think it’s a matter of writing a book, getting it published. They think the writing part is the hard part, and if you can get it done, that first book should sell if it’s worth anything and you will be on your way.

You know that’s not true. I know that’s not true. There is no reason to be humble about having to strive toward what you want.

Patroness: DONE! I’m seeing a trend here

A little over a year ago, I posted This update on April 10th.

A year before that, on May 9th, I posted this.

Today I’m excited to announce my newest novel, Patroness, is complete in it’s first draft.

I have been pounding away at various works in progress since January, but when I returned to Patroness in April it took off. It had a strong start last year, after I finished Summer’s Circle, but life stepped in and put an abrupt halt to my creativity. Funny how that happens.

So now I am seeing a trend in the cycles of my writing. Spring time is writing time. I want to write, I am inspired to write, I am motivated to write and I do write. Even with great shows calling me on Netflix I find the time almost every night. Even when I come up against a roadblock in the work, I find ways to power through it.

If I had this kind of momentum all year I would be up to my neck in first drafts.

Which is probably why it is not the case.

I might power through a first draft, but editing is still a difficult process for me. I have a hard time discerning when I am truly done. I need alot of feedback.

I am currently back to editing The Silent Apocalypse and I haven’t even started hard edits on Summer’s Circle.

I used to get frustrated trying to force my way through a novel that didn’t want to be written. Many writers would caution against “waiting for inspiration to strike”. But, in my life, I am coming to find that there are seasons for different aspects of my work. They may change, but if I stay connected to what is calling me, I will be able to take advantage of when I am best suited for each task.

But let me tell you this, Creation season is awesome.

Second Blogiversary!

Hard to believe it’s been two years since I finally decided I was going to do this. Looking back, I am amazed at what I’ve been able to accomplish in two years, even as I have so much I’m still striving toward.

Pursuing writing is a challenging path and there have been plenty of times over the years that I have set it to the side to focus on more pressing aspects of life, but the truth is, aside from forming my family and raising my children, it is the most rewarding thing I’ve pursued.

I’m a day or two from completing the first draft of my newest novel, Patroness, a historical fantasy retelling, and I have to admit, I am so freaking excited about it. I started it last year before a health crisis took over my life and my creativity completely sputtered out. After a few false starts on other works in progress in 2017, I came back to Patroness and found it was waiting for me with a clear idea where it wanted to go.

Writing has never been without challenges though and while I don’t like to dwell on hardship, it is a good idea to look back on hurtles you’ve overcome.

So, in honor of completing my second year as a blogger, Here are the top ten challenges I’ve faced as a writer.

  1. Taking criticism. Going from “You just don’t get my work!” to “That’s helpful and something I haven’t considered before” is a big shift, but it’s had a massive impact on the quality of my work.
  2. Re-learning grammar. Don’t get me wrong, I know my grammar, but there are techniques I’ve adopted that haven’t been the norm and stylistic choices I’ve made that just don’t quite work. Correcting these in old work and changing the way I’ve done things for my entire writing life is difficult, but finally making progress.
  3. Getting to the end. Oh all my works in progress, languishing with no end in sight. I used to spend so much time tweaking and perfecting drafts as I wrote, adding and subtracting complexities that I never got to the end of the story. Now I power through and do not go back to revise unless it’s to delete what I just wrote to go in a different direction.
  4. Clearing out the telling. Granted I’m still working on this, but when I look back on my old work, I can see the progress that has been made. I used to tell everything and anything that was shown was so subtle that it was practically useless.
  5. Doing the editing work. Note to past Lindsey, you cannot half ass editing. You have to do the rewrites. You have to do the line edits. You have to print the whole damned thing out and slash it to bits with a red pen. Then you need to keep refining as feedback comes in.
  6. Making time to write. Unlike some writers, no matter how I schedule it, it’s not always easy for me to churn out X amount of words each day, year round. But when I am on a project, I need to give myself the time to work on it. When I used to work full time, I barely wrote. When I was home, I wanted to spend time with my husband, go out with my friends, veg in front of the TV. Now I set the time aside. As soon as the kids go to bed, I start to work. I write until i run out of steam and then I turn on the TV to binge watch whatever show is calling me, or pick up a book. Write first.
  7. Making space to write. Another thing that used to stop me? It was too damned hard to write without a quiet place to shut myself in, and in my home, there is no quiet place until everyone is in bed. My current office is the living room couch, with a sofa desk and while my husband watches TV, I put in headphones to drown out the news. Before I had this set up, the writing was sporadic and based on circumstance instead of necessity.
  8. Making writing a PRIORITY! Oh, hello mom guilt, wife guilt, homemaker guilt. I see you are all well, but I would like to introduce you to my friend, you did not write guilt. She’s new, but she’s a lot louder than you all now. She reminds me that dishes can be washed later, it’s okay to let my husband give the kids their baths, and I’d rather be tired tomorrow morning than miss out on this inspiration that is flowing through me tonight. No job should take precedence over family, but just like you might stay up late studying for an exam in law school, you may need to sacrifice a few hours of sleep to get those words down on that page.
  9. Every writer works different. I have a friend who can complete a first draft, have it edited himself a few weeks later and then has it sold or self published within a month. I think he might be superman. I do not work this way. I used to think I should, but should doesn’t do anyone any good. It’s okay to work the way you work. As long as you’re working.
  10. Having confidence in my work, even when it still needs work. This was the hardest thing for me to overcome. When I presented my writing to someone I wanted it to be flawless, but even if I perfect it for myself, it will never be flawless to everyone. To own being a writer is to own that you are working on your writing. Every new thing I write is better than the last, and not a single thing I’ve written is perfect. It’s okay because it all is awesome and I love it.

Share your thoughts! What are some challenges you have overcome as a writer?

Don’t try to write a perfect first draft

After I realized that what I first put on the page was not necessary my best writing (imagine my horror!) I concluded that I would save myself a lot of work and effort if I edited as I wrote.

And so it took me more than five years to write a first draft.

And it still sucked.

The end.

No, but in all seriousness, there is nothing wrong with skimming over your work and doing a little clean up here and there, adding something to clear up the part you are currently writing, adjusting the spelling of the name or including the character trait that revealed itself later. Especially if you are stuck in the scene you are writing.

Just don’t, don’t don’t think this will save you any work in the long run.

I am a person who takes great pride in working smarter and not harder and in many aspects of my life this has served me very well. As a designer I set up a template program that allowed me to drop the print designs into a layout that removed the element of human error while at the same time leaving the original art untouched for future work and cut set up time in half. (it’s okay if you didn’t understand that).

As a writer, however, I have yet to find the easy way around editing the entire manuscript, multiple times.

Ironically, avoiding edits until your first draft is done ends up being your time saver in the long run and there are several reasons for that.

  1. If you are riding on the writing train (writing non-stop) getting off to “fix things” even minor things, means you are getting off the train. Don’t get off the train! You may not be able to get back on!
  2. No matter how much you have plotted, outlined, and prepared, your story is going to take some unexpected twists. Characters will reveal something surprising, people will die, people will live, the ending could turn out very different than you expected. Wasting time on edits before you know how your story ends is wasteful.
  3. Most important. YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO EDIT THE HELL OUT OF THIS DRAFT ANYWAY! No matter how clean you have gotten your writing, no matter how much you have “fixed” you are in for the long haul with edits, IF YOU EVER FINISH THE BOOK.

I know! I know it’s hard to leave that glaring mistake right there in the open! I mean, it is so so so bad! But it is your first draft and no one is every going to see it but you.

There is a solution though, and one I recommend you take. Instead of editing while you write, keep a notebook or file with all the problems you see arising in your story. Plot holes, character changes, misinformation, ect. Make notes of the things you will need to fix WHEN you edit and then get back to writing.

I wrote a story where a girl referred to her prep school by a different name every time it was mentioned. At one point I found myself scrolling through the 237 pages I had already written trying to find every instance. (Geez,don’t I ever learn!?). I think i managed to fix one and waste an hour. Later, when I was reading the completed manuscript, being aware of this problem allowed me to mark and change every instance of this problem when it came up in the reading. Time saver for sure.

The most polished partial manuscript is completely useless.

The messiest finished manuscript has unlimited potential.

Fostering a creative spirit

I was very lucky as a child. My mother was an art teacher and while she taught technique and medium, one of her greatest assets as a teacher was helping develop the confidence of young artists. Kids who were paralyzed to try, kids who’d been ridiculed by friends, parents, teachers, on purpose or accidentally. When she could bring these kids out of their fear, sometimes natural talents blossomed and sometimes they just worked hard and got better, but they all excelled, and not just in art.

If she had not been my mother, there are so many things I would have never done. I never would have formed a rock band and worked as a musician in my early twenties. I never would have competed in voice competitions in high school. I never would have sold my art at student shows.

I never would have let my writing out into the world. Never, ever.

I was lucky to have my mom, because the rest of the world seems to have no clue how to foster the creativity in children.

I see parents giggling about the little stories their kids wrote, in front of their kids. I see teachers tease students about art projects. And when you get to other kids, well they can be pretty merciless with their peers.

My son has been spending alot of time drawing recently. He brings me these insane creations, men with twenty legs and sharp teeth, cats making poops, a rock man who is (according to my son) two hundred feet high! They are all wonderful and that is what I tell him.

I know that today there is a conflict in opinion about children and whether we should “prepare them for the real world” or “foster their confidence”. Before you get your back up, I want to assure you that this has nothing to do with that.

This is about fostering creativity.

Do you remember being a child? Do you remember being proud of something you made and then having someone tear it down? Did it hurt you any less because you were a child? Are you grateful for that experience because it “taught you about the real world’?

There is a difference between teaching technique, teaching people to learn how to accept constructive criticism and teaching them that their creations are “dumb” “juvenile” “silly” and generally not worth the time it took to make it.

How many adults do you know that are terrified to write a story, draw a picture, sing a song, dancing in front of other people? I imagine you can come up with quite a few an I will bet you that their attempts to quell any creative urges comes from their childhood.

How awful is that?

Can you imagine laughing at the bar graph your co-worker presented in a budget meeting because it’s cute? Can you imagine writing a proposal and having the recipient roll their eyes at it and ignore it? Or read it out loud, giggling?

Why does anyone think it’s okay to do this to a child who has put their heart and soul into a story about vampire bats who live in the toilet or a picture of a two hundred foot rock man? Are these not the roots of the stories and movies and paintings and songs we crave?

Be the person to encourage creativity. Each project is the foundation for future greatness. Don’t deny the creator and don’t deny yourself.

There is no one way to write a book

A lot of writers have a lot of advice. And most of it is good. But not all of it is relevant every time.

I completed a first draft in record time last year using an outline and it was glorious. Not only was it completed fast, and without any serious plot holes, but clean up and editing have been minimal. I suggest everyone try this sometime.

Unless it’s not working for you.

Like it isn’t working for me, this time around.

When I wrote “The Silent Apocalypse” I didn’t have a good working outline until I was nearly done the book. It took a while to write, but it revealed itself to me as I went along, instead of adhering to a pre-determined plot.

When I wrote “Summer’s Circle” the whole plot laid itself out in front of me at the very begining, with the exception of a few details and the exact specifics of the ending. I didn’t put effort into plotting it, it was more like the completed story was handed to me and I shoved it into an outline so that I wouldn’t lose it before I got to write it.

I thought this method would work with one of my latest projects, a dark urban horror. The outline came along pretty well, but as soon as I started writing it, it veered completely off course and got stuck in a corner. I shifted some things around, blew a few things up and it ran right back into that corner again.

The novel wants to go it’s own way and, at present time, I can seem to figure out what that way is.

You will find thousands of articles, books, quotes, on how to finish your novel. All of these things have worked for authors at some point. Maybe they work for certain authors all the time. But even Stephen King ends up putting manuscripts away that he can’t seem to finish.

Don’t tie yourself to one method. Don’t insist there is only one way. If you are struggling to complete a novel, read all the advice you can find and try everything. If it still doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to shift your focus to another project.

Sometimes a novel needs a little time to cook before its ready to move forward. Sometimes your brain just isn’t ready for where the book has to go. Sometimes you need to try something new.

Writing is an art. Don’t try to be a scientist about it.

If you love a character, break their nose

I recently read a great short story with a great premise and a great character and when I was done, I just wasn’t satisfied at all.

Because, while the conflict was there, and it was pretty rough, things kinda just worked out for the character. She never had to take a hard stance. She never really suffered. And so her victory was kinda boring.

It’s a weird thing, as a reader you like a character, you want them to succeed, you even might get mad at the author if they torture them too much. But you’ll probably like the story alot more if they do. Just look at the popularity of George RR Martin’s books.

It’s even weirder for the writer though, because you don’t just like your character. You love them. They are your baby, a reflection of yourself, and this completely alien unique entity all at once and all their glorious faults and failings just make you want to wrap them up and protect them from this hellscape you dropped them into.

But they’re not your baby and it’s not your job to protect them. It’s your job to toughen them up to the task at hand and if you don’t, your readers will resent their victory.

I ran into this first hand with one of my characters. Although she’d suffered, she was a sensitive soul and  I didn’t want to hurt her too much. I wanted to preserve her dignity and show that she’d overcome it. Because she moved past it, though, the readers saw it as a non-issue.

So I had to show her damage, because, in the long run, the damage justified the hard choices she had to make, the mistakes she floundered through, and made her victory at the end something that she’d earned through her suffering.

Fiction is not real life, Thank God, but it does act as a mirror. If Katniss can survive tracker jacker venom, you can survive a tooth extraction. If Buffy can go on after killing Angel, you can survive breaking up with your boyfriend. The suffering and perseverance of our favorite characters inspires us to be strong and over come the obstacles in our life.

So if things are going too easy for your character, it might be time to lop off a limb or kill their girlfriend. Your readers might hate you for it, but they’ll love your character and your story so much more.

Just a little Tuesday Tip: Creating is the best

We all spin our tires. We all get bogged down with fear or rejection or the “reality” of what it means to pursue a creative career. It can be nasty. It can be incredibly discouraging when you look at the big picture, when you have 385 pages to edit. When you are just punching out keys to try to make your project move forward.

Inspiration isn’t always at hand. Previously great ideas don’t always pick up and soar.

If you’re feeling negative about pursuing the creative arts, stop what you are doing and start a new project.

Right now.

Do it.

Not forever. The hard work has to happen at some point, but it will seem a lot easier when you are gliding on the high of creation.

Because all the work is just work. But creating, that’s divine. That is the awesome and it is supposed to be.

Be excited about creating, even if its a challenge. Even if you’re not sure where its going to take you. Have fun with it! That is the point! Not the marketing plan or the sales charts or the end user. The creating.

Keep that in mind and you’ll find yourself succeeding every day.