First Draft Confession

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Oh, the joys of the first draft bubble. You all know what I mean, right? When you’re surfing the wave of excitement and giddiness as page after page flows out of you in record time. All the while you’re patting yourself on the back, your carefree surfer voice assuring yourself with one or more of the following: Holy crap, this is ah-ma-zing. You’re so witty — how did you come up with that? This is the best thing you’ve ever written. 

My personal favorite, however, comes from the little voice wearing an Eeyore onesie with the hood and ears proudly pulled up over her head that keeps screaming, Keep going! Don’t stop now! Edit later! 

But alas, the last voice — the one that wears round-rimmed glasses and a sweater vest even in the summer, whilst using a pipe and exhaling perfect rings of smoke into the air — it always brings me back down to earth and the simple reality that I do need to pause and work on the beginning.

Because the first fifty pages have to be ah-ma-zing for real, though. When it comes to agents and editors, guess what’s the first part of your story they read? If you guessed the beginning, give yourself a high five. The first part of your novel really does make or break your chances of representation and publication. And like the annoying third voice pointed out to me when I zeroed in on page 50 of my WIP, it’s time to print those suckers out and change/add/remove parts to make my beginning the best it can possibly be.

Here’s my confession: I really, really tried to convince myself to keep going and edit later, like the Eeyore onesie voice suggested. I know a lot of writers keep on surfing wave after wave until they get to the dry sand, a first full draft in hand. But unfortunately, this isn’t the way I write, and like the sweater vest voice, I’m too pale to stay out in the sun that long — I need to take breaks now and again to keep myself burn-free.

Every writer’s process is different. For now, though I’m a little disappointed in myself, I’m going to do what I’ve gotta do — go to Staples and waste money on fun new highlighters and pens to mark up my draft  have my pages printed out to make the beginning much, much better.

So, high five to the writers who can finish a first draft in its entirety before looking back. And a salute and hug to those, like me, who can’t. We’re all pretty awesome, don’t you think?



Nocturnal Characters

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve suffered from writer’s block. I once read a pretty accurate definition of the dreaded affliction: when your imaginary friends won’t talk to you. In the novel I’m reading, Pretty Is, one of the characters is a writer herself. She’s working on a sequel manuscript, and she narrates how her main character keeps doing the same repetitive things over and over, but he isn’t actually doing anything that advances her plot at all. And she sums it up pretty well by saying he won’t talk to her — and therefore she doesn’t want to force the story.

Well, right now, I’m suffering from the opposite. My characters won’t shut up. I’m sure you’re thinking, big deal! Why are you complaining? That’s a good thing! And I will concede that it isn’t the worst thing by a long shot. But what it means instead is that I write a few chapters, revise them, send them to my writing buddies, and THEN the characters all start talking at once in my head, pointing out important characteristics of themselves I either need to change or left out completely and can I go back and fix them already? What’s worse is the time they typically choose to speak up: when I’m about to go to sleep at night OR when I wake up in the night and to have to get up and pee. Yep. Those are what my characters consider the optimal times to inform me where their stories need to go. They must be nocturnal.

It’s frustrating, and not to mention exhausting.

But I’m done complaining now, I promise.

Because even though I’m sleep-deprived from listening to these chatterboxes in the middle of the night that practically talk over each other (you’d think my characters would have more manners, right?), that doesn’t mean I’m not also eager to do as they say. Because after all, this affliction might be a bit annoying. But if I don’t keep them happy, they might stop talking at all.

And thanks but no thanks, writer’s block. You are NOT welcome here. BTW, anyone want to get me this button?


Weasels & Sweat Pants

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Last weekend, I had a mini-reunion with my fellow writing weasels, Jess and Rach. It was so fun to catch up with both of them, as we hadn’t seen each other since Jess got married last year! On Friday, we were able to meet up with our favorite professor, Hillary, for lunch close to Hollins University. As always, it was awesome catching up with Hillary and getting a fresh round of advice and encouragement from her as we move forward in our writing endeavors.

After lunch, we walked to campus and found the perfect spot in the library to do what we do best: we each took turns workshopping our projects that we’ve each been able to read and critique. Before we knew it, a couple hours had passed, and we each had a few pages of notes and suggestions to implement the next time we revise. I’ve started editing, thanks to their awesome feedback, this week. I can’t even begin to describe how much their comments have helped me with my WIP. I was stuck on a couple pesky details before the three of us met, but now, my head is clear and I’ve decided where it needs to go.

And even though they really helped me make a few decisions about the plot, it’s not all squared away quite yet.

One of the things I mentioned to them that I know I’ve blogged about before is how difficult it is to nail the beginning chapters of a novel. The beginning is extremely important for obvious reasons: not only does it set the tone for the rest of the manuscript, it can also make or break whether an agent or editor chooses to keep reading. To put it simply: your beginning better rock a reader’s socks off.

But no pressure, right?

This got me thinking about first dates. When you first meet someone you like, you really try to impress. You want your hair to look its absolute best. You want your make-up to be flawless. You want your outfit to be flattering. Basically, you want to come off as the perfect woman. Maybe even at the beginning, you laugh at jokes you wouldn’t normally find funny. You pretend to be interested when your date tells you all about his work’s softball team, even though you couldn’t care less about going to a game. As in the words of the character of Amy from Gone Girl, you pretend to be the “cool girl.”

For me, that’s how I try to mold the beginning of a manuscript. I want it to be irresistible.

But then, a few months (read: chapters) in, that’s when the metaphorical sweat pants can come out and the make-up wiped right off its face. Not that I don’t want the rest of the story to be as impressive. But my goal is for the reader to want to get comfortable with the protagonist and her whole bag of ridiculous issues – to know enough about her flaws at that point that make her human, and want to hang out with her anyway. To see that she doesn’t have to be the “cool girl” to still be pretty amazing.

So right now, I’m still plugging away at the “cool girl” part of the story, laying the foundation for the shit storm coming her way.

It’s going to be hard, sad, and at times, horrible for my protagonist. But it’s also going to be really fun to get to the heart of the real her.

Sweat pants, and all.

Allergies & Writing: the Good, the Bad, and the Sniffly

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Ahh, spring. Sunny weather. Maxi dresses. Flowers blooming. Pollen covering every single surface. Allergies never-ending. I hate to complain, since I was more than ready for winter to end and warm weather to arrive, but wouldn’t it be awesome if that didn’t include constantly sneezing, a runny nose, and sporadic headaches? But when it comes to the changing seasons, just like with most things in life, you’ve gotta take the good with the bad! That’s what I keep telling myself anyway.

As I’ve blogged about before, I’m currently working on a sequel manuscript, which is coming along nicely for the most part. But unfortunately, when I find time to brain storm for this story, a couple new ideas for stories have recently bloomed in my mind and, just like my seasonal allergies, refuse to go away. When it comes to writing, I can’t multi-task. I have to focus all my creative energy on one piece at a time, or else I’d go crazy. I know this about myself. But yet, I can’t help but let my mind wander around with these new ideas, jotting down random snippets of scenes that play in my mind. On one hand, it’s exciting and honestly refreshing to think about new story ideas. But on the other, it’s frustrating, because I know if I don’t work on this sequel and set it aside, it’ll be a thousand times harder to revisit it later.

For now, I’m taking my daily allergy medicine, trying to hold my sniffles at bay as much as possible. And as much as I’d like to dive in to a fresh story — because, let’s face it, the most exciting part of working on a WIP (at least for me) is the very beginning — I’m trying to keep those ideas at bay, too. And I don’t mean actually writing the first chapters, because my writing OCD forces me to go back and edit WAYYYY too much. I’m talking about the pre-writing stage, when my brain tries (and usually succeeds) in convincing me that this new idea is the BEST idea I’ve EVER had. (Yeah, I know, it’s a tad on the cocky side.) As soon as I write, though, my opinion shifts dramatically. But that before stage when the story is primarily only in my head is amazing. For me, it’s the equivalent of running through a field of freshly bloomed flowers, in a long and extremely comfortable maxi dress, WITHOUT an allergy attack. Sounds pretty fantastic, huh?

*reads back through blog entry* Wow. I basically just laid out the argument side to start a new story, didn’t I? Err, just pretend I did the opposite, okay? Great, thanks.

“…With a Little Help from my Friends”

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Recently, I sent two of my amazing fellow writer friends the first three chapters of my sequel manuscript I am currently working on.

…At least, that’s what I thought I did, when in actuality, I sent them the first three chapters of the first installment instead. *face palm* Yeah. That happened. Sure, it doesn’t sound too bad, because I had to have caught the mistake within a day or two, right? Wrong. I realized it a couple weeks later — after one of said friends sent me long and in-depth feedback for the incorrect pages. Sheesh.

Of course, I apologized for the mix-up, and both of them forgave me (because they’re awesome like that) and I sent them the right chapters. And hey, the upside is I have more feedback for the first book, too. These two ladies’ comments and suggestions are invaluable to me, as we have been writing alongside each other now since our first year in grad school. I’m so grateful to them for their feedback, and even more so for feedback on pages I didn’t even mean to send them this time.

This whole mix-up got me thinking about my writing and how it’s really similar. Sometimes, after I’ve written a chunk of chapters and read back through them, I realize several scenes or even whole chapters are “wrong,” i.e., don’t fit and/or don’t help move the story along at the pace I want them to. Just as I re-sent the pages to my friends, I have to re-write pages, too. Writing a manuscript is truly a long, slow process, just like riding a unicycle up a huge hill. (Random metaphor, I know. Let me explain.)

Riding a unicycle is hard enough as it is. (I’m guessing. I’ve never had the pleasure of riding one. If I’m being honest, I suck at even riding bicycles now.) But then throw in a super steep hill, and you’ve got yourself quite a task. But if you’re lucky like me, you have friends who will be there to help you — to keep your balance steady — so the hill seems smaller and smaller.

That’s how it feels for me with my writing weasels. The hill I have to climb feels so much less scary as it would if I didn’t have them.

Some writers may prefer to create alone, and I get that. But me? I’d rather pedal my unicycle with help. So to Jess and Rach, thank you for helping me keep my balance (i.e., sanity) steady through this writing process, as you always have in the past. Love you girls!


Looking From a Distance

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A couple nights ago, I joined some friends at a Paint Nite event, where a group of people all paint the same example painting, while sipping a drink if they so choose. One of my friends and I split a half-price bottle of wine (score!) and went to town. As the artist instructing us pointed out when we first started, no two paintings would look alike. That’s the beauty of art; we all have different interpretations, even of the exact same piece.

As we were going along, the same thought kept popping in my mind over and over: wow, this sucks. I probably had a permanent scowl on my face for about 75% of the night, feeling more and more discouraged by my painting with each brush stroke. This doesn’t look like the artist’s at all, I found myself thinking. But after the wine started working its magic, my opinion began to shift little by little. And as I was leaving, I even thought, hey…maybe it’s not that bad after all.

About midway through, the instructor gave some encouraging words that if we weren’t pleased with our paintings at the moment, to just wait until we can look at them from a distance. And she was exactly right; when I got home, I placed my painting across the room, and my opinion of it improved more and more. Sure, the alcohol could’ve pumped me up a little, but even the next morning when I came downstairs, I still found myself pleased with the finished product. Not that I’m a stellar painter by any means, but I do think it’s something to be proud of.


And here I am while painting (after the wine kicked in, of course), clearly blown away by my natural talent:


All kidding aside, the whole painting experience reminded me a lot of my love/hate relationship with writing. Take, for instance, the manuscript I’m working on now. I’m wrapping up a quick round of edits for the first 50 pages (it is impossible for me to write an entire draft without a quick revision session, at least of the beginning), and as expected, the first couple chapters made me cringe. I made several notes, even contemplating scrapping them and starting over. But the more I read, the better I felt about it. And since I let it sit for a couple days to digest what I’d written, I feel even better. What I’m trying to say is that writing is a very frustrating form of art, and that some days I think, over and over, wow, this really sucks. But just like with my painting, the negative feelings float away by thinking about them from a distance.

And as was said in (I believe) season 1 of the amazing TV series, Gossip Girl: “You can’t rush art.”

Though I believe the characters were talking about sex at the time, but that’s neither here nor there.

Broken Eggs in Writing

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During undergrad, I took a detective fiction class to fulfill a requirement for my minor. At that time, I was a newbie to the genre, but after reading an Agatha Christie mystery or two, I was hooked. For me, starting a murder mystery is the same as seeing the opening scene to an episode of Law & Order: SVU: I gotta know what happened and who did it and why!

Recently, I blew through Gillian Flynn’s three novels, beginning with Gone Girl, then Sharp Objects, and finally Dark Places. While they all have mystery elements, Dark Places was my favorite. The main character, Libby, is trying to solve the mysteries surrounding the murders of two sisters and her mother when she was a small child. Soon after the murders, Libby ID’s her brother as the killer, presumably because the lawyers coached her into saying so. Now, several years later, she discovers she might have been completely wrong. I don’t want to give anything else away plot-wise (because you need to read this book ASAP–yes, you!), but I will say Gillian Flynn blew me away with not only her stellar writing, but also the way she weaved so many subplots together, tying them in a neat bow at the end that truly shocked me. I did not see the conclusion coming at all. But once I finished the novel, I thought back on the tiny breadcrumbs of hints she subtly sprinkled throughout. Though I didn’t put it together as I was reading, I loved how I could go back and see Flynn did show what happened, even if I hadn’t picked up on it.

For Christmas, my mom gave me another riveting murder mystery novel. I’m not going to reveal the title because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it surrounds two dual murder mysteries: one that takes place in the present, and one that took place twenty years prior in the same place. What tied the two cases together was one of the detectives. When he was twelve, two of his friends vanished while the three of them were playing. He was found alive, with no memory what-so-ever of what happened. Now, going by his middle name, he’s on the murder squad, trying to solve the murder of a young girl while also trying to conjure up memories of what happened all those years ago. The stories are so intriguing, and the characters are so compelling that when it’s revealed who’s behind the present day murder, I realized there’s so much more to the story than I originally thought. But my beef with this novel is that, while one of the murder cases is solved, one remains a mystery. Even when I was down to the last three pages, I held out hope the detective would discover the truth surrounding the other one. But this, unfortunately, didn’t happen. As a reader, my initial reaction was anger with the author. I couldn’t believe it! How could this writer not reveal this? How could she just leave me hanging?

But then, I remembered what one of my thesis advisors told me once: don’t be afraid to leave some broken eggs. She was referring to my thesis at the time, explaining that I didn’t have to conclude every single plot point of my novel. In fact, doing so would be boring. And this is exactly what my mom told me while we discussed the ending to this novel: sure, it made me mad not to know what happened, but on the flip side, I’ll probably always remember it. And now that I’ve had more time to think about it, I’m not so angry anymore. I’m not thrilled, mind you, but I can appreciate the author’s decision to leave this case unsolved.

It’s not as if detectives always solve murders anyway. Except if you’re Detective Olivia Benson, of course.

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