February Recap

I have some accomplishments this month. I really do,  I just have to think about it for a moment. Okay, here goes.

  • I did not one, but two, blog hops this month—the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, and the First Page Heather Burch Critique Blog Hop. I learned a lot from both of them, and came upon an unexpected bonus. I discovered that so many writers out on the internet are just like me, and are struggling with similar obstacles. Some are way ahead of me on the writing learning curve, and some are like me and have just begun to write. I feel like a part of a community, which is a wonderful thing when I consider that so much of my writing gig is spent alone staring at a computer screen and thrashing about in my own head in search of answers.
  • I implemented the ideas that came together for my story in January and wrote out a complete index card outline, with one sentence mapping out each scene for my revision. In the process so many more ideas fell into place. It’s been nothing short of magical how the story is fitting together. I always say it’s as if part of me already knows the story I wanted to tell, and I only have to work to figure it out. Yes, there are still some pieces that don’t quite fit, but the way it’s come together for me gives me confidence that I will find answers to those problems too. And, these problems are nothing compared to what I faced the first time through.
  • Based on my resolution to say no to some projects in order to preserve my sanity, I made some progress in the time management area of my writing endeavors. At first, I had decided to stop doing morning words for a while and focus on editing during my morning writing time. By mid-month, however, I realized this was a mistake. Not only did I miss the freedom to think about my story in different ways, just writing whatever came to mind, but I went over my morning words for January and discovered ideas and actual usable material there. So I decided to reinstate the morning words, just skipping one or two days a week based on sleep needs and such, and cut back on the critiquing instead. For some reason I have a hard time saying no to other writers who want my input, but in the name of staying sane, I have to learn to put my own writing ahead of that. My goal in that area has been to do one critique per week to stay up to speed on it, for myself, and to keep my name out there at Critique Circle.
  • I’ve begun working with another writer exchanging critiques of just the first line of each of our chapters. This has been a great exercise, not only to get me to release even just a little bit of my writing for someone else to see, but getting feedback and implementing the improvements on the spot has really sharpened my editing skills. I can sense the confidence with which I change words around, even as I write this post!
  • Partly as a result of the previous exercise, I posted a significantly revised version of the first chapter of ‘The Tempest’s Serenade’ at Critique Circle, and, over my protests, received a critique from my most favorite writing buddy. She said she just had to critique because it represented such a vast improvement over the original version. How could I say no to that? I’m grateful that she did, and am excited to use her suggestions and put the final polish on what might be an example of the best writing I’ve been able to produce so far.

So I guess I did get a lot done this month after all.

I learned two things this month. The first is how helpful another set of eyes—or in the case of the blog hop, many eyes—can be in giving me some perspective on my story. Sharing work brings great improvements to the writing, as well as clarity about where I need to emphasize my efforts. The first page blog hop was a huge part of this learning process, as well as the first line critiques I did with my writing buddy.

The second lesson that I learned this month concerns time management. I was able to ease my stress considerably by cutting out and cutting back some of my projects, but I learned that sometimes I have to rethink which ones I should cut.

Fortunately, writing in my blog is not one of them!

Playlist: Living Proof

If you go to southern California and drive along the PCH-1, somewhere south of Newport Beach, and north of La Jolla you will find the Hacienda Beach Bar, and on most nights they’ll have live music. The house band is called Living Proof, and the other day, when I stopped by, I found their set list from the night before, scrawled in Magic Marker and taped up on the wall next to the stage.

Figures, they’d start with Van Halen. Show offs. But there’s something for everyone here, covers of classics, new songs destined to become classics, and something obscure enough to be written by the guys themselves.

Here’s what it might have sounded like if you’d been there. Enjoy.

Running With The Devil Van Halen Best of Volume I
Never Gonna Stop (The Red Red Kroovy) Rob Zombie Rob Zombie: Past, Present & Future
Champagne Cavo Champagne-Single
Drift & Die Puddle of Mudd Come Clean
Heaven Beside You Alice In Chains Alice In Chains
Battle of Evermore The Lovemongers Singles (Movie Soundtrack)
Devil’s Daughter Silvertide Show & Tell
Burn It To the Ground Nickelback Dark Horse
Breaking the Habit Linkin Park Meteora
Let It Die Foo Fighters Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
Testify Carney Mr. Green, Vol. 1
Bloodhounds On My Trail The Black Angels Passover
Shuffle Your Feet Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Howl
The Godspell According to A.A. Newcombe The Brian Jonestown Massacre Bringing It All Back Home Again
Don’t Fear the Reaper Retromotive Corpses & Tightrope Walkers
Wanted Dead or Alive Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet
Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door Guns N’Roses Greatest Hits

To play the whole list on youtube: click here.

Novel's First Page Blog Hop

Jamie Ayres, fellow blogger and a wonderful writer, is hosting a blog hop that sounded like a lot of fun. The rules are simple. Post the first page of your novel, then read and offer feedback on other participating blogs. Next Wednesday five of the entries will be drawn for a first page critique by author Heather Burch, who has just published her debut novel, Halflings.

Since I’ve just finished a second pass through my Chapter One, this is perfect timing for me. What a great opportunity to post my work and get some constructive feedback. I’ve found that I just love tweaking words! Here are Jamie’s contest rules plus links:

If you’d like to participate, then please email me at info@jamieayres.com & post the first page of your manuscript on YOUR blog. I will compile a list of the participating blogs and post them here. That way, everyone can hop around and post constructive feedback on each others first page. I will randomly draw five names to receive a personal critique from [author] Heather [Burch].”
My entry goes like this:

Title: The Tempest’s Serenade
Genre: Mainstream Paranormal Romance (still working on finding my niche)
Word Count: 95,000

Pitch: After a near-death experience causes him to cross into the afterlife, gifted guitarist meets the angel who has haunted him since boyhood and discovers the secret behind his preternatural talents.

My first page:

Christmas lights just didn’t look right draped over palm trees.

Outside the window of Nicholas Moore’s apartment, the palm tree’s festive disguise reminded him the recording was supposed to be finished by Christmas break. And all Stuart could talk about was his date tonight.

Nick cradled his guitar, more than ever like a living, breathing creature that demanded his undivided attention. He could still remember the day he’d first held it, seventeen Christmases ago, with his fingers too small to reach all the way across the frets of the black Fender Stratocaster. How would he know if this was the one, he’d asked the shop owner. He remembered the man’s words.

You’ve got to hold the guitar in your hands and feel the neck and the action, and how it snuggles up against you. You’ve got to close your eyes and let it vibrate next to your skin before you know…this is the one.

Today Nicholas Moore balanced this love on one knee while manipulating the controls on his effects box.

“Thought we were going to work on ‘Thirteen Steps’ today?”

Nick started, shaken from his reverie, his last chord disintegrating from a D minor seventh into a major mess. “What?”

Stuart sank into the wingback chair. He twisted the cap off a bottle of vitamin water, and held it in front of his lips. “‘Thirteen Steps’ The one I just wrote. I thought we should work on the bridge some more before we take it to the rest of the guys.”

“Yeah, sure, just gimme a minute,” Nick replied.

“I gave you a minute, man. It’s been half an hour. I can’t stay here all afternoon. I got a date.”

Nick looked up from his guitar to see Stuart grinning. The idea of Stuart the ex-drunk sitting next to Courtney for the duration of dinner and a movie would take a lot of getting used to.

A Revision Story

Once upon a time, I decided I wanted a story of my very own. It couldn’t be all that hard to make one, I thought. Like a cuddly sweater on a cold winter night, I’d curled up with so many of them that I had a pretty good idea of what mine should look like—two sleeves to keep my arms warm, a place on top to poke my head through, and just long enough to reach to my hips.

Even though I knew I wouldn’t be very good at it, I started to write. I know the basic stitches-words, sentences-and I had the most fascinating thread-my idea-dark, twisted, and saturated with metaphors.

I discovered loved working on it. I knitted furiously, passionately, and was thrilled with what I was getting. I loved the feel of the finished parts between my fingers, rows and rows of words, taking me places that I hadn’t even known I could imagine.

Then, when I was pretty much out of yarn, it was done. It was lumpy and had threads hanging everywhere, with odd holes between them. It was too loose in some places, too tight in others. The sleeves didn’t match, the neck was too small, and somehow I’d ended up with an extra sleeve on the back. Even though I loved making it, it didn’t turn out like the other sweaters in my closet. It kept me warm around the house when I was hanging out with just me and the cat, but I had to admit, it would be impossible to wear out and about.

It was desperately in need of revision. So I went about the business of learning the basics of storytelling, and bit by bit I figured out where my sweater came up short. I learned about scenes, and made a sentence to organize them all. I soaked up conflict, my best ally in moving the story forward. I learned to love my characters even more, especially the flawed ones, and which characters were good enough to step up to a lead role. I found I had way too much setting and just enough theme. Then I stirred it all together and started over with an outline.

I started planning my new sweater, adding conflict arcs and character motivations, time and place, organizing scenes to exactly where I needed them to be.

Then I plunged into block revision, keeping the parts that worked in my first draft and rewriting the rest. I finally got to pull everything apart and make the sweater I set out to knit. You can bet I was nervous. I was literally cutting my story into pieces, saving some parts, tossing others, constructing new sections.

But, because I know how sweaters work now, I can pull apart the threads and weave them in where they will shine the brightest. Some threads I don’t know why I used and, though they are lovely on their own, I know they have to go back into my knitting basket, maybe to end up in another sweater. All the pieces have a place now. The sleeves match, the neck is big enough for my head to fit through, and the random holes are gone.

This isn’t just any sweater, though. This is the sweater I envisioned from the start. The thread is still there, and this sweater fits me, not any other writer. This sweater is worthy of the yarn I started with.

And that extra sleeve in the back? Turns out my sweater is a hoodie, and it was actually a subplot that I almost overlooked.

Soon, (well, at the rate I work maybe not that soon!) I will have a sweater worthy of taking out into the world. One that I can be incredibly proud of.

What I learned doing revision has helped my writing immensely and I will turn to these tools and techniques every time I sit down to write something new.

Because I have many, many more yarns to tell!

Psst…There's A Story On My Hard Drive

Hello. My name is Kirsten, and I’m an insecure writer.

Though, I confess, insecurity seems a mild word for my symptoms. Any presentation of my writing affects me physically. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. My hands shake. My voice cracks. And that’s saying a lot, because I used to sing in a rock band. I’m used to people looking at me. But every time I send one of my stories out into the world, I feel like my heart will stop beating until I know for sure the world won’t hate it.

In fact, I’m probably not even a very good candidate for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, since I don’t really consider myself a writer at all. Everyone else is putting up work, sending out stories, getting beta readers, blogging…I just write. Quite a lot, actually. But all of it sits on my hard drive, awaiting some miracle that will transform it into a book that is good enough to compete with the ones I read at Barnes and Noble.

People sometimes ask me, why write, if not to share your work?

This conundrum is what kept me from writing for far too long. I feared that if my audience didn’t see what I saw, that the story would disappear from my imagination as well, as if it never existed. Or even worse, that my writing would become the subject of ridicule.

Then, a few years ago, I decided to start writing anyway, with the caveat that I would show my work to no one. I wrote the book I wanted to read, for myself, my private journal filled with the characters that dared me to write them down, living in a world that was a respite from the mundane one I inhabit.

Words poured out. Five novels of them, in fact.

Half a million words don’t lie. I have a lot of things I need to say and I’m afraid this might be what I was meant to do.

I can see that the wall between my fragile ego and making writing my life is built from bricks of insecurity, held together with mortar made of dread. I fear that my words will be incomprehensible, that my plots are ridiculous, and my characters insipid. I fear that I will not find a way to make them palatable to my readers, while staying true to myself.

Which, of course, begs the question of why? Why try to share what I am afraid to share? Why not just leave the whole mess on my hard drive, and keep writing only to please myself?

And, as much as I try to restrain my cynicism, I can see that the whole writing gig is fraught with hardship—the pay is lousy, the hours are whenever I can fit it in between a day job to pay the bills, there are no paid vacations, and the critics are merciless.

The answer wasn’t hard to find.

The inside of my head is dark and lonely, but now that I’ve populated it with worlds and characters, I want to invite other people to the party. If even a few people love my books and live in them, even for only a short while, I will have done something few can. I will have shared my dreams.

I’ve decided this is something worth pursuing. Next month, I’ll share the steps I’ve taken to slay the terrible dragon that is my fear.

Thank you, Alex J. Cavanaugh, for creating a place where those of us who acknowledge that the whole idea of letting our writing out its comfy hideout on our hard drives scares us silly.

For the Insecure Writer’s Group blog hop, follow this link.



(Image courtesy of Mario Alberto Magallanes Trejo @ stock.xchng)