Celebrating One Year of Insecurity

InsecureWritersSupportGroupSometimes it’s good to look back and acknowledge progress.

Take the case of my insecurity. I’ve been a member of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group for one year now, and I have made so much progress bigstock_first_birthday_cupcake_7328690that I can hardly believe it!

A year ago I was terrified of sharing my writing. In my first post ever for the IWSG, I wrote:

… 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  … 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.

It’s been a whole year, but honestly I never thought I’d reach a point where I could let people, and especially other writers, read my words. Check out these ten, (count ’em ten!) chapters up for critique at Critique Circle:Screen shot 2013-02-03 at 10.44.36 AM

And thanks to this blog, and my classmates at HTRYN, I’ve begun exchanging manuscripts. What a great feeling it is to get feedback on my story, and to know that someone out there likes it!

Image courtesy of Lucy Clark @ Big StockI also discovered a cool side effect to sharing my work. I had reached a point where, though I know there are problems in my story, I didn’t know where to go with it anymore. My writer readers help push me towards a better solutions. They ask the hard questions, but ask in the nicest way possible. They make me think. My story grew, and is growing still.

It feels like I planted a tiny seed and ended up with a beanstalk that grew to the clouds.

To what do I attribute this achievement? Persistence. Determination. And the wonderful support of all the writers who came by to comment and encourage. It really does help to know that I am not alone in my fears. If I screw up I have this great cheering section to come back to.

So, now that I’m beginning to make progress in the area of sharing my stories, what’s my next challenge, hmmm?

For guidance I looked back to the rest of last year’s post:

Why not just leave the whole mess on my hard drive, and keep writing only to please myself?

… 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.

There is a lot of weird stuff on my hard drive that doesn’t fit into stories but that I stumble upon in the course of my journey. Odds and ends of scenes. More character interviews. Strange ideas. Cool quotes.

I’m afraid to share it. Maybe I need to start. This blog would be a great place to do that!

Thank you, all of you who come by every month to cheer me on! You have no idea how much that means to me.

If you want to check out the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, click on this link to join the indefatigable Alex J. Cavanaugh in his quest to free writers from insecurity and self-doubt. Thank you, Alex, for starting up this fantastic group!

What writing challenges have you overcome? What kind of weird stuff lurks on your hard drive?

Related posts: Psst … There’s A Story on My Hard Drive

Images courtesy of Lucy Clark and Ruth Black @ Big Stock

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.

IWSG: Every Word Counts

Hello Insecure Writers,                       

It’s time for more rants about my writing insecurities, courtesy of the inimitable Alex J. Cavanaugh. If you’re not already part of the horde of Insecure Writers that is taking the literary world by storm, click this here linky, where you’ll find some of the nicest writers on the world-wide web.

Now for this month’s rant.

I’m determined to keep this post under five hundred words, and I give you permission to stop reading at word five hundred and one. Why would I do that?

I’m a writer, dammit. I have a lot to say. Is that bad?

Actually, yes. Because I’ve discovered that in my quest to fill the screen with words I’ve  gone a little overboard. I’m wordy, otherwise known as verbose, loquacious, long-winded, flowery, garrulous, chatty, and overwrought. I’m the most talkative person at the novel-writing party. I’m the windbag that talks your ear off, eats the last of the crudités, and won’t go home, even after the party hosts have snuck off to bed.

That was okay for a while. I knew I wasn’t a short story writer, and because of that I even concluded I wasn’t a writer at all. But when I sat down to write the story that I always wanted to read, I ended up with a 126k first draft of a novel. I went on to win NaNoWriMo three years in a row, with a word count of 75k, 122k, and 107k each year. A hundred thousand words in a month doesn’t even make me break a sweat.

I used to think that was a good thing.

But now that I’m trying to revise my novel into something marketable, my hefty word count has come back to haunt me. As part of the process of rewriting, I did some calculations based on what I thought were my better developed scenes and estimated that my average scene length would be about 1400 words. Using that figure I went on to sketch out my scenes for revision and charted a course of sixty-nine scenes for a completed novel of about 97k.

Enter Ms. Wordy.

It turns out my scenes average closer to 2000 words, so if I’m not careful, my mainstream -with-elements-of-paranormal novel will clock in at a bloated 138k words.

Arrgh.

Right now, I’m flirting with 115k, and really hoping some of my upcoming scenes lose some words and stay below their projected length.

I did some homework with Scrivener in Outliner mode to see where things went wrong. (And don’t you just love Scrivener? All those features … but I digress, and the clock is ticking on my five hundred word post—)

Here’s a sample of what this looked like: (click to make it bigger)

(The ‘target’ word count is the count for my first draft of the scenes.)

Does this mean my novel is doomed? Will my word count woes spell the ultimate collapse of my fragile publication dreams?

And, how do these bounteous word counts befall me, anyway?

Allow me, before this post’s word count kicks my prolific butt, to give an example.

Before revision:

“This is going to sound weird,” Nick said. Another wave rushed under Libra’s feet, and Nick pulled her away from the water. “Sure you don’t mind the water?”

“Not at all.” Libra smiled as the sand tickled her toes. “But tell me, what’s weird?”

“I saw you, twice before the night of the accident.”

(54 words)

Warning: My post crossed the 500 word mark in the middle of that excerpt. So, you can stop reading …

But, like the blabbermouth I am, I decided this was choppy and sounded somewhat unnatural. I revised it to this:

Another wave rushed under Libra’s feet, and Nick pulled her away from the surf. “Sure you don’t mind the water?”

“Not at all.” Libra smiled as the sand tickled her toes. She caught sight of Nick’s eyes in the moonlight before he turned to hide his face as if in shame.

“This is going to sound weird,” Nick said. “And I don’t know if I should even tell you this. You’ll think I’m nuts.”

“I would never think you’re nuts.”

“Promise?”

“Cross my heart. So tell mewhat’s weird?”

“I saw you, twice, before the night of the accident.”

(99 words!!)

Oh, dear. My five hundred words came and went about two hundred words ago…

What do you think, insecure writers? How do you make every word count? Anybody got a weed wacker in their novel revision toolshed? I could really use one right now!

Look!!!

There’s a new meme in town, and its name is ‘Look!!!’

(And it comes armed and loaded with no less than three exclamation points to make sure you do, indeed, ‘Look’!!!)

Last week, the talented and soon to be published Jamie Ayres tagged me and my humble blog with this meme, and fortunately for me, the rules are quite simple, straightforward, and involve posting an excerpt of my WIP—always a challenge for me! According to the game, I am to chase down the  first occurrence of this ubiquitous ‘Where’s Waldo?’ of vocabulary words–‘look’–in my manuscript, and post the surrounding paragraphs. Then I get to tag as many other writers as possible. So, ‘look’ out, I’ve got my tagger loaded, and I’m ready to use it!

Okay, I’m going in. Wish me luck! Here’s what I came up with:

(Aw, shoot, the third word in is ‘looked.’ I hate my beginning and I don’t know how to fix it!  If you really must see it, it’s posted here. Mulligan please?) Second try:

Nick looked up, shaken from his reverie, his last chord disintegrating from a D minor seventh into a major mess. “Huh? Sorry, man. What song?”

Stuart shuffled over to the wingback chair and twisted the cap off a bottle of vitamin water. He held it in front of his lips. “‘Thirteen Steps;’ the one I just wrote?”

“Yeah, sure, just gimme a minute,” Nick said. Ever since Stuart had gotten sober, his friend’s ambitions had surprised even Nick.

“I gave you a minute, man. It’s been half an hour.”

“I lost track of time. It happens, alright?”

Stuart grinned. “I can’t stay here all afternoon. I got a date, remember?”

Okay, that was fun!

Now it’s time to spread the love. There are quite a few manuscripts I’ve been itching to take a peek at (or ‘look’ at if you must …), and now I have my chance! Here are my nominees:

Kristina Stanley

Armchairauthor at Ink

Rabia Gale

Nancy H. Doyle

Anushka Dhanapala

Thanks for the tag, Jamie! 

How about you? Want to show me the first occurrence of the word ‘look’ in your manuscript? Any ideas how to fix a clumsy opening paragraph?

March Recap

I had resolved to stop signing up for every challenge that came scooting across my browser, but then along came NaNoEdMo. I couldn’t resist. Though the official website is infected with bugs (don’t go there on my recommendation) the idea of counting my hours in editing and revision and comparing my progress with others was too tempting to pass up.

So I signed up.

As is my usual pattern, I was in a panic for half the month, and stockpiled hours like crazy. I hate losing challenges, and didn’t want to get caught behind because life has a way of cutting into my writing time in the most unexpected ways.Overtime at work. Migraine headaches. Car trouble. House repairs. That kind of stuff. So I had a buffer, and then a bigger buffer. Then I finished last Tuesday, five days early.

I had promised myself that I wouldn’t overshoot the mark, and so I did slow down and ended up with fifty-three hours of editing in March.

I really can keep up, if I want to. I have to ask myself though, do I want to?

These last few days, since I’m ahead, and promised myself that I wouldn’t get caught up in it, I’ve been cutting my editing time back drastically. Yesterday I only did an hour, and then stopped. Tonight I will try to do just an hour and a half, and then stop.

Why?

Because I need to find that happy medium, where I can keep up with reading and critiquing, and side projects like writing short stories—and posting on my blog! If there is anything I should know by now, it is that consistent effort produces results, and I need to put in consistent effort into other areas besides the novel-writing.

Besides, I’m in a happy place with my novel now. I have most of the scenes planned out, most of them written, in fact, and just have to go through an editing pass patching in what I’ve figured out. My story is all grown up now.

Anything else this month?

I wrote a two thousand word short story in an hour. I was inspired, and just sat down and wrote it. I’ve never done that before.

I learned that I can get through a workday on five hours of sleep, but that I can’t do it two days in a row.

I learned that I can read a YA book in one day. (Catching Fire-Book Two of Hunger Games)

I learned that I need to take a day off here and there, or do just a little bit of writing, like my morning words, to keep the juices flowing.

And I need to stop comparing my progress to that of other writers.

All of it adds up to one Big Lesson for March: I learned how to do one thing at a time.

Barefoot

Once upon a time, before I ever thought I’d let anybody see this story, my heroine tucked a daisy behind her ear and kicked off her shoes. I still remember that day, because I was writing in my unlined sketch pad at the Seattle airport, with the sun shining through the five-story picture window where you can watch the planes take off and land.  It was one of those magical days in the beginning where, word by word and page by page, I fell in love with writing.

Many things have changed in this story since then, but my heroine is still barefoot and wearing daisies. This is one of the places she led me:

It was one of the first warm days after a long winter of cold and rain. Libra took her shoes off, and felt the cool cement floor of the sandwich shop beneath her toes, glad that her long skirt covered her feet. Some of the customers frowned on the waitresses walking around barefoot. Didn’t they understand, shoes were stuffy, they hurt your feet, it was so much more natural to be barefoot? Once the bras were burned, the shoes were the next to go.

That was enough to put Libra in a good mood, so when the young man sitting in the corner with a guitar propped up in the chair next to him smiled at her, she smiled back. Not that she usually smiled at strangers. It usually got her into trouble.

She sauntered up to him, avoiding his blatant stare. “Would you like to see a menu? Or are you just here for the view?”

He smiled, captivating, and seeming unused to being rebuffed said, “A beer for now. But keep the tab open, won’t you?”

“Sure thing…” Her feet betrayed her, wanting to stay, when her head told her she had other customers waiting.

She brought him the beer, frothing and chilly between her fingers. He directed her to set it at the end of the table, as far from the guitar he now held on his knee as she could. For the rest of the lunchtime rush he seemed preoccupied with his guitar and his pencil, making hasty scratches on his notebook. Sometimes he held the pencil in between his teeth while he played.

He wore one of those frilly white shirts, a poet’s shirt that some of the folk singers appropriated for their look. His sandy blond hair hung almost to his shoulders, in studied neglect. His skin was too smooth, his muscles too firm, to fully convince her that he hailed from the streets. Another pretender that drifted into the beaches of Venice attracted by the artist vibe, only to be driven away by the craziness. His boots gave him away. Fine Italian leather, smooth, polished, silver-buckled. Far too expensive for a person of the street.

A table full of bawdy fraternity kids kept her busy, calling her back because their french fries were cold, and to refill their seemingly bottomless mugs. They grabbed her sometimes, begging her to join them after her shift, and asked if they could have the daisy she wore tucked behind her ear. The worst part was, guys like this never tipped. They probably thought she liked serving them. Free love didn’t include not tipping the waitresses.

“I’ll take that hamburger now,” the young man with the guitar called as she walked past him, with considerably less bounce in her step than she had before lunchtime.

She spun to look at him. “I’ll be right with you.” She’d spoken too fast, and regretted it when she saw the disappointment in his eyes.

“Never mind then.” He was fitting the guitar back into its case with exquisite care, like one might handle a lady, or a delicate child.

“Sorry,” she said. She grasped the pockets of her apron, searching for the order pad. “It’s been one of those days.” She shook her head as she pulled the pad out of the bottom pocket, rifling through it to a new page.

“I’ll come back another day then.” He smiled distantly, his eyes on the grey ocean only a few hundred feet from the restaurant. The water was dotted with surfers on brightly colored boards, yellow and red and blue.

She closed her eyes, and breathed. She tried to concentrate, like she’d read in the Kama Sutra. Breathing, whispering her mantra. Sky. Picturing the blue expanse of nothing. Emptying the bad thoughts. “Please, stay? The place is empty now. I won’t be rushed.”

He seemed to consider her request. “A quarter pounder then. Well done, with everything, the works. Something easy.”

“Anything to drink with that?”

“Whatever you’re having will be perfect.”

A few minutes later, she returned with the plate, overflowing with french fries and an oversized hamburger and set it next to the two beers she’d brought on her last trip. Without meeting his eyes, she pulled out the wooden chair across from him and sat. Her feet thanked her instantly, the soles burning hot despite the cool weather.

He lifted the beer to his lips first. She didn’t follow suit and watched him drink from the corner of her eye, pretending to observe the surfers, standing on their boards, and then crashing, one by one, into the water.

“You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to,” he said. “We can pretend we already know each other.”

Stay tuned for part two!