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.

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It’s Sequel Time! (Note to Self: Don’t be Afraid.)

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Recently, I have ventured into unknown writing territory. I am writing a sequel to the manuscript I poured my heart, soul, and sometimes even tears into, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

I also couldn’t be more nervous.

It seems that when it comes to movie sequels, the most common review is something along the lines of, “It wasn’t as good as the original.” And for the most part, I’d have to agree. “Ghostbusters II” is good, but the first is much better. (My brother was a HUGE fan of this series growing up, which made me one, too.) I haven’t seen “Dumb & Dumber To,” but I’d bet money that the original is far superior. Don’t even get me started on “Halloween II” (or 3, 4, 5, 6…) And the list goes on & on. Of course, there are some exceptions to the rule. For instance, in my humble opinion, I thought “Catching Fire” was a bit better than “Hunger Games.” And honestly, my favorite of the HP movies would be “Prisoner of Azkaban” & “The Deathly Hallows” (1 & 2).

When it comes to books, though, it’s hard for me to think of a sequel I preferred over the original. In YA, I’m drawn to a fair share of stand-alones, but give me a interesting, thought-provoking trilogy any day. Over the past few years, I’ve swam alongside the dystopian wave, and most of those, if not all, tend to be trilogies. Three particular series really stuck with me, and I was sucked in from the first installments through their conclusions. I have to say, in each of these three series, the first books were my favorites, the second books held my attention and were good but not quite the same, and the final installments felt satisfying for the most part, though I usually found myself disappointed the author didn’t explain or wrap up subplots X, Y & Z. Of course, I would imagine most readers might feel this way with conclusions to series, and authors shouldn’t have to explain every little thing. Maybe sometimes they want us to think between the lines and make up our own minds about certain aspects of their stories. Maybe they want to leave us with permanent question marks floating above our heads. This, I believe, is one of the reasons I prefer the first parts of series — nothing is concluded yet, and most of them even end with a surprise twist or cliff-hanger I really didn’t see coming!

As far as the manuscript I just completed goes, my hope is that I ended it with the kind of hook that would have readers dying to read the sequel to find out what happens next. And since it’s a duology, the second installment will also be the conclusion. I can’t help but feel anxious about it, knowing the original will probably remain my favorite of the two. But at the same time, I’m excited to try something new, and I plan to give it my all just like I did with the first one. Who knows, maybe it’ll be like Empire Strikes Back and will be better than the first! It could happen, right? (My brother was a Star Wars fan, too. And I may or may not own a Wicket stuffed animal.)

The Survival Guide to Editing

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Writing a first draft of a novel is what I would deem the honeymoon period. Everything is great, wonderful, and spectacular, not to mention you are positive you are writing the next great American novel. Or at least one of the next great American novels. (Or at least a novel.)

But once the dust settles and the newness wears off and you have to actually reread and then revise the extraordinary piece of literature you created… well, let’s just say you might not feel so strongly about it anymore. Which leads me to the point of this blog entry: every writer needs her own personalized survival guide to editing to keep her sanity (and optimism) intact.

If you don’t have your own just yet, feel free to borrow from mine.

1. First, above all else, a writer needs motivators, aka, a cheering section. You know, the kind of person that constantly asks, “Did you edit today?” and stays on you. The kind of person that reminds you if getting published is going to happen for you, then you have to work at it and never stop! I saw a meme the other day that changed the old saying, “Good things come to those who wait,” to a much more appropriate, “Good things come to those who work hard.” To be a successful writer, if you can’t give it your all, there’s no point in trying. Thankfully, I have two motivators in my corner, cheering me on daily – my mom and my husband. I’m more grateful for their constant support and encouragement than I could probably ever express.

2. I get by with a little help from my friends. To be more accurate, my writing weasels, Jess & Rach. When you’re a writer, it pays to be friends with other writers who will read your work and give you honest feedback. Both of these fabulous ladies do this for me, and thank God, because having not one, but two extra pairs of eyes reading over my stories helps me tremendously. You see, they’re able to pick up on issues that, a lot of times, I don’t even notice are there. In other words, they’re awesome, which means my stories become more awesome by proximity.

3. Every girl needs her accessories. Pretty sure that’s a random quote from a Katherine Heigl movie, but let’s move on. For me, the accessories I need to edit are pictured below:

I know what you’re thinking. This girl needs a few more pens. I know, right? Anyway, besides my collection of colorful writing utensils (and believe it or not, I use different colors to distinguish categories of revision), also pictured is a copy of my manuscript (I cannot edit well just staring at my computer screen), “Hold that thought” stickies (which are also color-coded), a colorful pencil case, and a fun Vera Bradley notebook gifted by Jess, which I use to record what revisions I make when and what needs to be done next.

Wow, I’m a nerd.

4. Treat yo’ self. I find that rewarding myself with sweets or wine (or both!) at the end of a successful day of revising really helps motivate me. Today’s treat: cinnamon rolls.*

But anyway, there you have it – my survival guide to the dreaded task of editing a manuscript. If you’re about to embark on your own editing adventure, make up your own. It may seem like colorful pens and stickies won’t make it any less daunting, but I assure you, they will! (And if not, you can always skip to #4 and try again tomorrow.)

*Cinnamon rolls aren’t pictured because I ate them.

Quickly.

 

“Love What You Sow.”

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Last week, I talked to my grandmother on the phone. She recently had her second shoulder replacement surgery and I called to see how she was doing. After we talked about that, she then proceeded to dive into other topics, and one in particular really struck a chord with me. I can’t remember exactly how we got on the topic, but she started talking about sewing. More specifically, she told me how when you sew something, you have to love it. Unfortunately, I can’t exactly relate, because I don’t know how to sew (or cross-stitch or anything else of the sort). But then she said the same thing should go for my writing – that everything I write – every story, every character, every setting, hell every word – I have to love it. Because if I don’t love it, what’s the point? Which in turn got me thinking about everything I don’t love about my current manuscript: the ending mostly, but other aspects as well, even the nit-picky things that shouldn’t bother me but still do.

But oddly enough, I started realizing after I talked to her that one of the reasons I constantly insult my manuscript to myself while editing is because I do love it. And I really do – so very much.

It isn’t perfect by any means. And like I said, it needs work. And honestly, no matter how long I spend editing it, I know I won’t ever be 100% satisfied with it. But that doesn’t change the love I have for it and the potential I truly believe it has.

Before I started this entry, I googled the definition of the word “sow.” The first that came up was, “to plant seed by scattering it on or in the earth.” Replace the word “seed” with “stories,” and you have one of my biggest goals.

The take-away from my conversation with my grandmother was to love what I “sow” – every single part of it, even the shoddy ending, because I can fix it. I know I can.

And so can you. So love what you sow – or sew or write or whatever else it is you do with your time. Because life is way too short not to.

Revising: a Writer’s Never-ending Story

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A few days ago, on Facebook I stumbled upon a quote posted to a fellow writer’s timeline: “How a novel finishes, is there’s a moment when you know it has problems, and you don’t know how to fix them. That’s when you’re done.” – Lorrie Moore

Recently, my friend & fellow writer, Rachel, did me a humongous favor and read my entire manuscript. I asked her specifically to read the ending, as I’m having trouble figuring out how it should end exactly; I know how it currently ends isn’t working. But, being the fabulous friend she is, she read the entire thing instead. Once she finished, she emailed me some global feedback from start to finish, but mainly for the last half (which I knew needed the most attention anyway). As soon as I read her email, I grabbed a notebook and jotted down what all she recommended, while feelings of excitement swam through me. Why, you ask? Why would I be excited to give this manuscript – which has already been completely overhauled twice now (the latter time, I basically scrapped most of the previous draft. Ouch, I know, but it had to be done) – yet another go? That’s a question my past self would’ve definitely scratched her head over – the past self that thought she had finished this bad boy in the summer of 2012 and was convinced there was absolutely NO MORE EDITING needed. But, my present self knows better.

You see, it’s taken me a long time to realize this, but at least as far as my writing is concerned, there’s ALWAYS room for improvement. Sure, it can be frustrating when I want to move on to something new. But if I don’t edit and revise until I’m blue in the face my previous manuscript, all the past time and effort I’ve put into it would’ve been for nothing. And I love my characters too damn much to leave them hanging.

So, back to the quote. I know I’m not there yet, because as Rachel helped me realize, there are problems with my story that need fixing – and, thanks to her, I have a much better idea on how to fix them. That doesn’t mean I’ll fix every single problem, of course. But I’m confident I can now eliminate those that have solutions.

And that, my friends, is why I’m excited to tackle yet another editing session – because every problem I fix makes my story that much stronger.

Climbing Over the Brick Wall

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For those that didn’t watch last night’s episode of “Girls,” the main character, Hannah, started a new job at GQ. Her first day was fabulous – one of her colleagues showed her their “snack room” where all the food and drinks are free! Apart from one coworker who tells her on her second day he hates her face, her other coworkers love her and rave about the great work she’s already doing. Her reaction was priceless to me: though flattered, she tells them no offense, but that she’s a real writer. They each inform her they, too, are “real writers”; one even had something published in The NY Times. But the reality of it crushes her: none of them have time to do the writing they set out to do anymore because of their job.

This part really spoke to me, as I’m sure it did most viewers. I consider myself a “real writer” with unwavering dreams of publication. But in life, there will always be things that keep me away from my office, hammering out a new story, especially now that I’m a mother. Along with the fictitious character of Hannah on “Girls,” I’ve come upon my own brick wall of other responsibilities pulling me in other directions.

But then, one of her coworkers – the one that showed her the amazing snack room – gives her some wise words of advice: she can still write. She just has to make time for it when she’s not working, such as on nights and weekends. Hannah asks him if that’s what he does, too, in which he replies yes, that he did…he’s let it slip, but wants to get back into it. For me personally as a writer, these are the two different phases you can be in at one time: either writing religiously or, well, not at all.

And now, at this stage of the game, I’m choosing the first one. I’m making a pact with myself to write as often as I can, whenever I can. Because if it’s going to happen for me, I can’t let myself get comfortable in the stalled position. I have to keep going… and going… and going.

Did anyone else picture the Energizer bunny just now? No? Just me?

Happy 2013! Yay, the world didn’t end!

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It’s crazy that another year has come and gone just like that. Seriously, it feels like it was only a month ago that I was coming up with resolutions for 2012! While I didn’t exactly meet all four of mine, I did manage to accomplish two of them:

  1. I completed a new manuscript and sent out a batch of queries.
  2. For the most part, I enjoyed life much more.

There were several factors that went into the successful completion of #2, and I have to thank my rheumatologist first and foremost for helping me feel SO MUCH BETTER. Seriously, once my arthritis was under control and my pain was gone, it made a world of difference in my happiness, energy, and all-around attitude!

I also did my fair share of one of my favorite activities in 2012: traveling! Within the year, I managed to squeeze in trips to Austin, TX for a pitch conference with Jess; Wilmington, NC with my BFF, Sara; a trip to see Phish 4 nights in a row in Noblesville, IN & Alpine Valley, WI with Will, Tara, & Bill; NYC with my mom to see Madonna; DC to see Madonna for a second time with Sara; Atlanta with my boss & lovely coworker, Hayley, for market; AND another trip to NYC to ring in the new year with Phish and great friends.

Apart from traveling, I also did something else exciting in 2012: I graduated and received my MFA from Hollins! 

I may not have read nearly as much as I hoped to this past year and I obviously didn’t follow up with my resolution to blog more, but I’m hoping to fix that in 2013. Hey, better late than never, right?

*Switching gears, let’s go back to #1: yes, I did complete a manuscript and yes, I have queried it. However, I think I’m going to fine-tune it a bit more. But I’m still really proud of it and myself for bringing it to fruition! It’s a great feeling.

Now, let’s talk goals for 2013:

Apart from maintaining my previous goals of reading more and blogging more, I also hereby challenge myself to:

  1. Finish a first draft of a new project as well as continue to edit my previous one.
  2. Not sweat the small stuff anymore.
  3. Keep my desk area/work space organized. (Seriously, this’ll probably be the hardest resolution for me to follow. Just ask my husband.)
  4. Stay in better contact with my close friends. Sure, we’re all busy, but I want to put forth more of an effort to stay in the loop with my buddies this year! Especially my weasels. 😉

I could keep going, but to be realistic, I’m stopping there.

Cheers to each of you in 2013! Happy reading, writing, traveling, and anything else you may enjoy! May the new year treat you well.

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