IWSG: Intervention

InsecureWritersSupportGroupThanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh, I now have an excuse to expound upon my self-doubt without fear of reprisals! If you’d like to join us at the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, click on this linky, and prepare to meet some of the nicest writers on the web. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.

Today, I’m going to share something I’m worried I will never overcome. It’s this: I’m a horrible plotter, and even my characters are getting tired of my haphazard plotting. So fed up …well, how about I show you how fed up they are? Here’s how it went down …

***

Image courtesy of Emiliano Hernandez @ stock.xchng

My footsteps echo in the front hall of the Muse’s palace. “Muse?” I call. “You in here?”

“Over here.” His voice resounds on the stone walls. He’s in the library. Of course.

As I near the room, I hear whispered conversations, snatches of phrases like, “… tears of stars … walk in dreams … rock god …”

Then a loud ‘shhh.’

“What’s going on?” I ask as I enter. The lights come on.

Omigosh. The room is full of people I know, although I’ve never met them in real life. These are the people in my stories. Nick Moore from The Tempest’s Serenade stands near the front of the group, his arms crossed over his chest, watching my reaction with concern. On the opposite side of the group towers Teragus Swansong from The Whole of the Moon. The implacable steadiness of his golden eyes makes me shudder.

“Nick?” I ask, because he’s still the one I talk to most. “What’s going on?”

Image courtesy of 'miamiamia' @ stock.xchngNick takes a deep breath. The rest of the crowd has gone back to conversing amongst themselves. Rafael from Lost Wax, with Abigale wrapped in his arms, is exchanging Italian phrases with Noelle, the lithe ballet dancer from Constants, while Aiden, the numbers-addicted protagonist of the same story is immersed in conversation with Griffin of March, the gem collector and heir to the crown from Bridge of Light. Dr. Andria Morgan from my latest story–which doesn’t even have a proper title yet– looks forlorn as she stands off to the side. Despite the ill-fitting black Regulation uniform disguising her tiny frame, she has managed to attract the roving eye of Stuart Livingston.

“Who’s the new chick?” Stuart, Nick’s sidekick from Tempest’s Serenade, asks me.

Andria, with her as-yet-uncolored-eyes narrowed, faces him and answers, “I’m from her latest project— one that actually has a plot and an ending, I might add.”

“That’s what our Writer told me too when she started,” Rigel Mondryan from A Crown of Thorns sneers. “Just wait until she gets to the middle section. You’ll see. It’ll all fall apart just like it always does.”

Andria gives me a furtive look.“Hey, that can’t be true, our Writer has an outline this time—”

“Silence!” bellows Lord Swansong. He steps in front of the melee, his arms stretched wide. His son-in-law Rigel continues to bicker with Griffin of March until they come to some sort of agreement and break out in guffaws.

I spot the Muse sitting on a bookshelf high above the fray and hope he knew what he was doing when he put this gathering together. This many alpha males in one room can only lead to trouble.

Nick nods in acknowledgment as Teragus Swansong begins. “Writer, (because, to avoid confusion, all my characters simply call me Writer.) We’re here to stage an intervention.”Image courtesy of 'deafstar' @ stock.xchng

“An intervention?” I stammer. “For what? The hardest drug I do is coffee.”

I hear Stuart Livingston snicker. He jumps as his girlfriend elbows him in the gut.

Lord Swansong continues, “It has come to our attention that you are seriously deficient in the plotting department. We fear that you will never tell our stories properly.”

“I’m trying, really I am,” I reply. “I’m taking a revision course. I write every day. I read blogs.”

Rigel disentangles himself from his wife Cerule’s arms and stands. He’s wearing his crown, so I know I need to be careful what I say or he’ll be inside my head reading all my wicked thoughts. “Nick over there—” Rigel indicates the dark-haired, steely eyed protagonist of Tempest’s—  “Tells me you’ve been agonizing over his story for years now. Don’t you think it’s time you figure out how to get it right and get on with it?”

“I would if I could, but a novel is so big, it’s hard to keep track of everything. I’m doing my best. Maybe I’m just not cut out to be a novelist— ”

Nick holds up his hand to stop Rigel from perturbing me any further. “I think she gets the point.”

Cerule Swansong, silent up to now, stands. She smiles at me. With her silver blonde hair and her graceful yet powerful motions, I can see why Rigel fell in love with her. “We only want to help you, Writer. It’s not just about us. It’s about you. We want to see you successful, perhaps even published.”

“That’s what everyone tells me.” I sink onto the chair that Nick has pulled next to me. “I just don’t know how to stop writing and plan something. You guys just spill out onto the page and I write and write and can’t stop–”

“Which is why we’re staging this intervention.” Libra Duvall, Nick’s mysterious Muse, has left her window seat to stand next to him. “We want to be read, Writer,” she says as Nick absent-mindedly strokes her long blonde hair. “It’s why we exist. But your stories need to make sense.”

Nick continues, “We have some ideas for you. To get you back on track.”

I scan the faces before me. Teragus, Rigel, Cerule, Stuart, Libra, Nick and all the rest stare back at me expectantly. Their fate lies in my hands. I feel so helpless.

41GtFMuVhWL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_“I don’t want to let you down,” I say. “But the only book about writing I’ve read is No Plot, No Problem.

“Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered,” Nick says. “We picked out a few craft books for you.”

Aiden chimes in and stands, holding a stack of paperback books. “Here are a few to get you started. Writing the Breakout Novel , Story Engineering,” He winks. “A personal favorite.”

“Well, you’re the numbers guy, after all,” I agree.41zE6Pp83tL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_

“There’s more though,” Cerule says. “Techniques of the Selling Writer, Save the Cat.

41KYQst9aIL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Abigale chimes in, “You’re going to love Bird by Bird!”

“And this one,” Rigel offers, “The Art of War for Writers. And Nail Your Novel. You loved Memories of My Future Life so I’m certain you’ll appreciate Roz Morris’s advice.

I hold the books in my hands, quite a stack, and see the concerned looks on their faces. “Wow, you guys are the best. I really hope I don’t let you down. Wish me luck.”

***

So, writers, any other suggestions to help me with my plotting woes? What’s your favorite writing craft book?

Images: rainbow of books courtesy of Emiliano Hernandez, talk bubbles courtesy of ‘miamiamia’, chairs courtesy of ‘deafstar’, all @ stock.xchng.

IWSG: Driving A Story Off A Cliff

InsecureWritersSupportGroupHere we are at the first Wednesday of the month and it’s time for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group to pull our virtual chairs into a circle and discuss our anxieties. If you want to be a part of our great group, and join Alex J. Cavanaugh in commiserating about all the trials we Insecure Writers endure, click on this linky and join us! I’ve been posting with this fabulous group for almost a year now, and knowing that I am not alone in my insecurities and fears has made a huge difference on how I view this writing obsession of mine.

This month I was certain I would be posting an uplifting story about how winning NaNoWriMo has boosted my self-confidence, how much fun I had writing my story, and how I feel so much more a part of the tribe of writers.

Well, that lasted for about a day.

Then my Inner Editor, who’d I’d sent on a month-long imaginary shopping spree to spruce up her already stunning wardrobe, returned. It didn’t take her long to unpack all the designer duds out of her matching luggage and to add her latest acquisitions to a shoe collection that rivals that of the infamous Imelda Marcos.

She settles in quickly and makes a cup of coffee, black because extra calories do nothing for the hips.

“What have you got for me?” she says. Her desktop is one of those glass ones that only the high-powered executives with nothing to do except schedule meetings have, with only a phone, an expensive pen, and a vase of flowers on it.

I hand her my newly minted first draft manuscript, and she proceeds to look it over.Red Lipstick

“I see that  you wrote yourself in again,” she says as she flips through the first few pages. Her coral-colored lips, the latest Chanel shade, are pursed as she points out the first of what are certainly many strategic missteps on my road to literary abandon.

“Umm … yes,” I reply. “I needed to get into my protagonist’s head,” I add helpfully.

“Have you ever met an adverb you didn’t like?” She turns another page.

“Rarely,” I say and clap my hand over my mouth as I realize I’ve released yet another adverb.

“And what’s this?” She taps a perfectly manicured coral fingernail on the title of a chapter. “A Side Trip to Exalta City?”

“It’s a tour. Of the city where part of the story takes place.”

She pulls out her red pen, a Cross limited edition. “Does it move the story forward?”

“No, I suppose not. But I needed to see what things looked like,” I try to explain. “I might be a discovery writer.”

She frowns, looks annoyed, and goes to the next chapter. “You know, some people write their novels according to a plan. Scenes, character arcs, plotting …”

“So did I!” I reply (defensively.) “I just got sidetracked a lot.”

Question Mark-Red“I can see that. What’s with all this squid? This is a fantasy novel, isn’t it? Why is there squid on the menu for dinner, lunch, and breakfast?”

“Oh that.” I blush. “It was a dare.”

“A dare?”

“To see if I could figure out a way to include a squid in my story.”

“Tell me,” she says and tries to wrinkle her botox-enhanced forehead. “Why is it that you routinely insist on driving a perfectly good story off a cliff?”

I chew my unfashionably un-coral-colored lip. “Because it’s fun?”

“Aha.” She twirls her red pen between her elegant fingers. “Some Nano novels actually do find publishers. Did you ever consider that writing something this bad will never get you published?”

“Well, I was hoping you could help me whip this into shape.”

“Perhaps …” She pulls out her reading glasses, Christian Dior, and begins to pay attention. I dare say she looks interested in what she’s reading.

“Anything worth keeping?” I ask.Exclamation Point -Red

“Who’s this Lyra woman? I haven’t read about her in your outline.”

“She was a surprise.”

“Any other surprises?”

“A few. Some were good though. I think … ”

She smirks. “I’ll be the judge of that.” She pats the comfy chair, and motions me to get the blanket.

“You’re not going to quit are you? Is this story worth saving?”

She smiles a perfunctory smile, the kind the doctor has when he tells you that you’re getting older, and to expect a new ache now and then. “That’s why you pay me the big imaginary paycheck isn’t it?”

I’m so glad the Inner Editor and I have this worked out.

How about you, Insecure Writers? Has your Inner Editor gotten his or her hands on your Nano yet? Do you write from an outline? Do you prefer coral or ruby-red lipstick?Red Lipstick

.

Images courtesy of  Jordan McCullough @ Big Stock, Jean Scheijen, and ‘Widiwidi’ @ Stock.xchng

IWSG: A Cloud of Caffeine And Happiness

Got self-doubt? I do!

On the first Wednesday of every month the inspiring Alex J. Cavanaugh and some of the most amazing writers on the web get together to talk about it. Click this here linky to join me and The Insecure Writer’s Support Group as we circle the wagons to huddle around the campfire and share our stories.

Today, I’m going to talk about National Novel Writing Month and how writing fifty thousand (or more!) words in a month has been a great confidence builder for an insecure writer like me. One NaNoWriMo experience in particular marks an unforgettable turning point of my writing journey.

Two years ago I participated in my second NaNoWriMo and, having clocked a personal-best word count of 121k, I was already feeling pretty happy about my writing prowess. But there was another challenge I had determined to overcome that year: Sharing excerpts of my work.

The NaNoWriMo writer’s profile has a page where one can post an excerpt of the work in progress. I knew I had a problem when I took my excerpt back down after only a few hours because I couldn’t stand the thought of someone seeing it!

Yes, I’m that insecure about sharing my writing.

I persevered and put another excerpt up, but it took all the courage I could muster to leave both the story summary and an excerpt up on the page for the duration of November.

That was why a particular challenge involving a seventeen minute word sprint and a subsequent posting of a snippet from the resulting words was perfect for me. I love word sprints, and the part about posting snippets was a good dare for me–especially because the forum offered no possibility for taking my words back down once they’d posted. I did this four or five times, and each time it got a little easier. I tried not to think about other writers actually reading them. I hoped everyone was too busy with their own stories to care about mine.

Then, at one of the last write-ins, I met a few other NaNoWriMo participants, known in Nano-land as Wrimos. As we talked about our stories, about why Twilight was so successful, what we liked and didn’t like about our protagonists, and various other sundry writerly topics, one of the other Wrimos asked me what my on-line handle was.

“Oh, I’m Larkk,” I told her.

Her response was spontaneous. “You’re Larkk? Omigosh, I love your story!”

I was so overwhelmed I almost started to cry. All I could manage was, “Really? Seriously?”

“Yeah,” she continued. “It’s such a cool idea, and I like your characters. I love the parts about flying, and the fog, and the numbers.”

Floating on a cloud of caffeine and happiness, I pulled myself together as best I could and proceeded to tell her more about it. She liked everything I told her. Never had I expected someone to actually like something I was writing, much less love it! In my insecure world the most I’d ever expected was for people to think it wasn’t horrible.

I can’t say that it will ever be easy for me to post excerpts and chapters–or to publish my stories. But that day, the revelation that someone might actually love my story as much as I do changed my outlook on my writing. These words will always ring in my recollection:

“Omigosh, I love your story!”

How about you, Insecure Writers? If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, how does participating in a crazy month-long writing sprint help you become a more secure writer? Has anyone ever done or said something that made you a more secure writer?

And, if you love someone’s story, tell her! You just might make her day.

Writing On the Road

Life has been rather more scenic than usual, and so I’ve been away from my beloved blog. Fear not; I am back! That doesn’t mean, however, that I haven’t been writing. I seem to take a perverse pleasure in finding places to write that no ‘real’ writer in his sane mind would consider to be good place to write a novel. I’m still mulling over what compels me to write in all the unconventional places that I do, but I’m pretty sure my feelings about being an outsider amongst writers is part of it.

As much as I love my English teacher, my words seem to flow more easily when he’s not watching me. At home, in front of my computer, I sometimes feel that I need to be working on a literary masterpiece to justify my time. Writing furtively almost feels like a surprise date to me—an unexpected rendezvous with my story.

Among places to write, coffee shops have to rank near the top. The people-watching is always interesting, and naturally, there’s plenty of coffee and assorted sugary confections that congregate near the tippy-top of the nutrition pyramid. To avoid distractions, I put my headphones on to communicate in a non-confrontational way that I need to be alone right now. I write with music anyway, so that works out quite well.

Another place I love to write is in the woods—the Arboretum to be specific, which is members-only so it’s safer. I bring a blanket and bug spray and camp out for hours. When I go for walks, I scope out special places that would be cool to write in, so that when I have a tricky scene to write I have someplace already in mind where I can go to work it out. I wrote the ending to my first novel on a bench next to the lake, and now every time I pass it I remember that moment fondly.

When I’m stuck in my story I go to a spot where two trees grew out from under a boulder as big as a refrigerator. Sitting beneath trees that managed to thrive in spite of the rock that stood between them and the sun makes it really difficult to justify writer’s block.

When I crossed the 100k mark in last year’s National Novel Writing Month, I decided to celebrate that milestone at the library. Libraries, obviously, are perfect to write in! I am surrounded not only by books, but by people who love books! The positive energy is hard to beat, even though I do know the expectations would be higher for my prose if someone knew that I’m actually writing a novel. People would certainly expect my words to be so much more erudite than the silly first draft drivel that pours from my fingers during NaNoWriMo. But since they don’t know, for a few hours I feel as if I am a ‘real’ writer.

The strangest place I write is probably the airport. The uprooted feeling I get when I travel seems to free my imagination. I feel that I’m floating in the midst of so many stories as passengers hurry by, on the way from home to vacation or work or family. I never worry if people see what I’m writing, since most of them really aren’t paying attention and most likely think I’m writing a long email or a business newsletter. If they did ask, though, how cool would it be to answer breezily, “Oh, I’m writing a novel!” They don’t have to know that I feel like I’m still a newbie hack (although I’m working on that part. 😉 )

Writing in airplanes is a special kind of fun for me too. Being airborne, closer to the stars than if I were on the Earth below, makes my fingers itch to write.

Sometimes, when it’s raining and it’s too wet to write in the woods, I write in my car. When it’s snowing I sit in the parking lot and write in my notebook after everyone else has gone home from work. And yes, I’ve even written in the car wash, where the water sluices down the windshields while I huddle in the driver’s seat, alone with my words and my notebook and my characters, who won’t stop telling me their stories.

So, even though I do write at home most of the time—and sometimes in bed like Truman Capote, Marcel Proust, Edith Wharton and Vladimir Nabokov— it’s almost like a dare to myself to see if there’s a place I can’t write. Perhaps it’s because I need to prove to myself that I don’t ever have to stop. Maybe I’m afraid that if there was only one special place, one time of day and certain tools I had to use to get a story down, there might come a time I can’t write.

And that, my friends, would make me sad.

What is the strangest place you’ve ever written? Do you take your writing on the road?