Archive for October, 2012

I finished the three requisite love stories to wrap up my short story collection. They were approved, illustrated, and added to the collection.

This is the first time that I have successfully done love stories as an adult, where it is conceivable that I won’t rip them to shreds when I look back on them five years from now. I look forward to writing more.

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I have discovered the ability to make myself sit down and write something fictional on command. I’ve been haunted by “writer’s block” but this last Sunday, I had to conquer it.

As I posted earlier, I have been working on my story collection to get it ready for the second round of feedback, before I start sending it out to agents, publishers, etc. I have added pressure to get it done because I am all set to attend the upcoming Ventura Writer’s Weekend and I need it done in time.

So I was working on my five stories, and one worked out. The other four, through a series of unfortunate events, did not.

Thus I had two choices: Stick the collection back in a drawer for however many years, or write two new stories. I had people waiting on this, so I needed to make my choice, and stick to it, and choose quickly.

I’ve been trying to finish this collection for thirteen years. It was not going back in a drawer.

So I had one day to write two stories–and I had writer’s block.

I attempted to write a decent story five times, and they were all bad. One became a near rip-off of a series I’ve been reading, so I scrapped it. Another was so overdone in the past I couldn’t stand it. The third was just bad, period–two paragraphs in I was like “ah NO.” The fourth started fine and kaputed after half a page. So I invented a title, hoping I could write that way, and wrote a few lines and quit. The lines were “I couldn’t help it if cats liked me. If they always knew how to track me down. And what was I supposed to do, turn them away? No. So I became what I had always hated, and sworn on my mother’s grave would never be– A Cat Lady.” And then I went “Arrrggghh!” and deleted everything.

Now I had less than half a day to write two stories, and I was convinced that I was the worst writer in history. (I get melodramatic when I hit writer’s block).

So I tried another tact: logic.

Logically, this writer’s block made no sense. I had turned around articles in two hours when I was pressed with a deadline. Of the nineteen articles I’ve published (soon to be twenty) I had never once missed a deadline due to writer’s block. It was like there was no room for it when I had all of three days or two hours to get something delivered. So how was it possible that I could be reliable in nonfiction, and doomed in fiction?

I decided to treat this like nonfiction. The actual subject matter shouldn’t affect the outcome, but I assumed I was psychologically conditioned to believe that I could fail to write fiction but not fail to write nonfiction, so I would approach it as a nonfiction project.

I sat in front of the computer, and stared at the blank screen. With nonfiction, I always had a premise to work off of. OK, so in this project, I needed to write a love-themed piece.

I turned to my previous nonfiction works that I had yet to publish, and I fictionalized one of them. That was easy–I wrote a nonfiction story and changed the names and added a few pieces of color.

And oh my gosh I had written a really nice fiction in under an hour. I even read it twice and couldn’t fault it. I set that aside.

Now… one more…

Unfortunately there were no more nonfictions I could fictionalize in a love-themed story that had a happily-ever-after.

With almost all of my nonfiction pieces I had gotten published, I had pitched the idea first, then written the article once it was approved. So I usually had a vague prompt to springboard from.

I needed a vague prompt about love, one that didn’t make me groan. My second fall-back, when lacking prompts, is to park myself in front of paintings and find the story within them, and tell that tale. So I plunked in front of the most magical painting in my room and forced myself to find the story.

I had two false starts, but I basically told myself “You’ve got to turn in this love story by tonight, and you’ve already promised it so you’re just going to have to do it.” And then the story presented a little tiny toe of itself and I had to tease it into being, but I found it, and I wrote it, and the ending was good.

I’ve got to polish both stories, and I may switch the POV on the first story, but I had done it! In the space of a few hours, I had written two stories, on topic.

At that point I felt like a real writer for the first time. I could actually manage myself in fiction the same way I have to manage myself in everything else. And apparently I can make myself write in genres that are beyond my comfort zone, on a deadline. Now if I can just get organized, and scheduled, and work out how to get those novel ideas properly researched, I’ll be golden!

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When it rains, it pours

It all started with three meetings:

I visited my childhood mentor, who has published an insanely large number of novels in the space of a few years, and I learned her secrets: 1) Focus on writing and 2) Create an assembly line. This matched with what I had learned from my other writing hero, who has managed to write 20 novels in like 15 years. Both of these women that I look up to, however, are solely dedicated to their writing and I am not – nor do I wish to be – in that position. I happen to enjoy my day job, so I don’t plan on quitting it anytime soon.

-I attended a one-day workshop with the SCBWI-LA group, wrote a poem and a short story in a day, and had such a lovely series of conversations and inspiration that I came back home determined to strike out as a children’s writer. (I posted some cool things that happened from that experience—see prior posts.)

-I attended a fantastic workshop for children’s writers and illustrators, given by the exquisite Robert Quackenbush, and I met several wonderful writers who were supportive (and I was staying with my uncle, who helped me work out my genre). I wrote three stories in four days (and discovered I might have a future as an illustrator) and I came back psyched to write and illustrate.

I took out my dusty collection of short stories from my teen years, added a few from my twenties, and edited the lot of them, paring down my original 30 stories to 15 that really felt worth sharing. I got my good friend to illustrate some of the stories, and I illustrated three, and used some fantastic art I had commissioned from my childhood best friend. I got it to the place that I felt it was awesome, and then I sent out a call-out on my facebook to my friends and family that if anyone wanted to read my short story collection, I’d be honored. I was amazed at the flow of support! I still have to print out ten books to send.

While that collection was in its feedback stage, I followed the advice of a fellow writer and dove into my next project to save myself from excessive editing and second-guessing.

I took out my poetry from age eleven onward (roughly half a ream of paper) and I had to cultivate that to 50 poems that had a shot at being published. I illustrated the poetry collection and I was in the editing stage when I got critical feedback from the first two people who had finished my story collection.

I switched gears: everyone had agreed that my writing was beautiful (which right there was worth the last thirteen years that it’s been trying to get a collection together) but it had left the two people who finished the collection “drained” and one person said that they “needed to breathe”. These were two critical points to an author – I had inadvertently not balanced the light with the darkness, and I either had to adjust the collection or adjust my intended audience.

When I brought this concern up with a few friends, I got various feedback, all of which was helpful. Three people told me to write a love story to balance the intense emotions with something light.

I am notoriously disastrous with love stories. I wrote a few love stories as a young adult (teens/early twenties) and one of three things inevitably happened:

1) Mysteriously, someone died at the end or had been a ghost to begin with. One love story literally ended up being called “The Triple Suicide Love Triangle” because everybody killed themselves in the end. (I tore it up into little pieces and threw it into four different trash cans, I guess a bit like the demigods trying to scatter the monster dust to stop the monsters from reforming in the Percy Jackson/Olympian series by Rick Riordian.)

2) The story kept going and going like the Energizer Bunny and became a novel… then a trilogy… and in one instance a series that will someday be a YA that goes on for thirty books (gasp) because the blasted thing will not end. It became a family saga spanning four generations and (literally) 40 main characters. I have a box that probably has three thousand pages, whereupon I gave up to save my sanity.

3) I couldn’t get the ending right. Or rather, the ending felt like it didn’t match the genre. Which led to obsessive rewriting and editing and then ten years (off-and-on with whole years between picking up the story again) passed and the thing was still incomplete, so I gave up on trying to end it.

So what did I do? I sat down and wrote five love stories in one day.

Two of them didn’t make it, but the other three stories feel good. They are not turning into novels, and no one dies, so I’m almost there. It’s finding the ending. (And one is kind of cheating because I took one of my 40 main characters from my YA series-to-be and basically created a spin-off/mini-novella from it.)

I discovered fan fiction! Which, for an impatient reader like me, is like being a person who has been allergic to dozens of food for their whole life and told that they can now eat anything–and just gifted a supermarket and a full-sized celebrity-cook kitchen to play with to boot. It is not something I would spend tons of time with, because I have stories that are based on universes of my own, but I wrote a love story in the fan fiction world and it matched all three qualifiers (no death, not a novel, and with an ending I like).

I also have a children’s story that has been partially illustrated and will soon be ready to send to copyright.

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