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.

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

January Recap

I’ve decided to try something new here this year, as a way to plot my progress. At the end of each month I’m going to try to sum up what I’ve accomplished in the month, kind of like a NaNoWriMo, but instead of tearing through fifty thousand words with reckless abandon, only to decide that wasn’t such a good idea at the end of the month, I will try to make the equivalent of a word counter for all my writing related activities.

Ah, first draft, wouldn’t I just love to do another one of those…but I digress. So here they are, accomplishments for January:

  • Lesson Eighteen of the How to Revise Your Novel Course is now behind me. My progress in that course has been positively glacial, and assuredly not for lack of effort on my part. The results so far have been worth it, but still, each lesson crossed off is a milestone for me.
  • I put up the first chapter of ‘The Tempest’s Serenade’ for critique at Critique Circle. That was hard for me. I couldn’t sleep the whole night before it went up, firmly convinced that I was making the biggest mistake of my life. No need to tell me, I know—it doesn’t make sense, but I have to be honest about my feelings if I’m to be a writer, and that is what I felt. Some of the critiques I got, by the way, nearly knocked me off my chair. I learned a lot from this experience and am eager to continue putting chapters up.
  • This is a less quantifiable achievement, but feels every bit as important to me. I finally filled in some holes in my revision that I had serious doubts I would ever get right. Well, I got them so right it astounded even me. I discovered, in a nutshell, why this book is so important to me and why I am writing it now. The book is about my present, older, self talking to my younger self, trying to figure out whether I’ve made the right choices in my life. There are other implications as well, our present state of affairs in the US of A, versus what came before, but since I’m not particularly interested in being preachy, I’ll let the story speak for me and leave that open to interpretation. Whew, didn’t mean to get heavy here, but my point is, lots of progress in meaning, theme and world building.
  • I took a challenge at 750 words.com to see if I could write 750 words every single day this month, and, if I write my words tomorrow, I will win this little badge. Isn’t it cute?
  • Speaking of writing every day, I posted three and sometimes four times a week at the Write A Book With Me blog, where I post my progress on my revision. That has been one of my biggest challenges. Hitting that publish button and knowing that my words are going out to twenty-odd followers (don’t laugh, please, those seem like a lot of followers for me!) is one of the scariest and exciting writing challenges I’ve conquered this year.
  • And, finally, I got up the nerve to take a look at my NaNo from 2011, Dragon’s Milk-Crown of Thorns, because I was firmly convinced it was awful. (See above: Submitting chapter for critique) I discovered it’s not awful. It needs revision, but it’s not even close to awful, in fact, I couldn’t stop reading it. I think I’ve got the ‘write for yourself’ thing down, at least.

It might be a good idea to sum up what I’ve learned from each month’s achievements, and for this month, what I learned might be obvious from reading the above list.

I need to learn to say NO!

I can’t do everything at once, so I need to start narrowing down my projects. Not quite sure how to do that right now, but it’s something to shoot for.

To those of you still reading, what were your achievements this month? What did you learn from them?

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(Image courtesy of Cecile Graat @ stock.xchng)

Hello, 2012!

Almost had you going there didn’t I? Betcha thought this blog was going the way of many blogs, a few months of posts, and then nothing. But don’t worry. I’m here, just swamped with the excitement of getting critiques right now.

I know this is the time to make resolutions, but I’ve decided to think bigger this year. When it comes to my writing I do what most writers do best, and that’s daydream. So instead of a list of things to do this year, I’m going to mix them all together and make a comprehensive list of all the goals and dreams I’ve accumulated over my short writing career.

Because, in the words of Henry David Thoreau:

‘In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, they had better aim at something high.’

Here’s what’s in my sights right now:

  • Revise everything I’ve ever written. And I mean everything. ‘Tempest’s,’ of course, but its prequel ‘Lost Wax’ is begging to be revised. I had a blast reading it over the holidays, and only wish I could get to it sooner. Three other drafts await my attention after that; ‘A Bridge of Light‘, ‘Constants’, and ‘Dragon’s Milk Chronicles: Book One’. There are a couple short stories kicking around on my hard drive that I would love to revise too, including, ‘Testament’, ‘A Mirrored Star’, ‘Play’, and another one that I’ve even forgotten the title to and will bug me until I find it on my hard drive somewhere, tucked inside another novel’s Scrivener doc. (Found it, it’s called ‘Galaxy’s Gateway’ and stuck in with ‘A Bridge of Light’.) Looks like I have my work cut out for me in the revision department.
  •  Write a million words. The Mt. Everest of word count goals didn’t actually sound terribly hard for me and seemed more like a fun challenge. And, as you can see by my little meter, I’m inching towards that goal right now, nearing that 300k mark. Words just aren’t that hard for me to get; the time to write them is.
  • Write a trilogy. I’ve made some progress on that with the first draft of the ‘Dragon’s Milk Chronicles Book One’. I haven’t the faintest idea what Books Two and Three will even be about, but I am excited by the characters and can’t wait to stir up trouble for them. There is certainly plenty of it around in post-apocalyptic Earth.
  • Goal four sounds easier than it is. I would love to make my point in five thousand words or less, and learn to write a short story. ‘Nuff said.
  • Goal five would be to submit a short story to a competition.
  • When my revision of ‘Tempest’s’ is finished I would like to hire an artist to make the cover art I have in mind, then print it in hardcover. I even know who I want to dedicate it to:

To my father: Who explained to me exactly how far away the stars really are, but never doubted my ability to reach them.

  • Then I’m going to show it off to everyone I know and tell them I wrote this!
  • After that, the manuscript goes off to agents!
  • While I wait for the check, I am going to read every book on my ‘to read’ list. I know, it’s a good thing my ‘to read’ list gets longer faster than I can keep up, because that check might be a long, long, time in coming.
  • I would love to write my novel as a screenplay. Originally, before I discovered how much fun writing is, I was going to summarize my idea as best I could and give it to a screenwriter friend. In the process of making this summary I discovered that I love writing! To get my story into the form it was originally conceived to be would be really cool, and maybe even help me with my dialogue skills.
  • Someday, maybe I’ll get to go to one of those writer retreats Stephen King describes in ‘On Writing,’ where you write all day and then compare notes over wine and cheese in the evening.
  • Then, once I’m discovered, I will sleep until ten a.m and write until two a.m in my pajamas because I make enough money at writing novels to quit my day job.
  • One day, I would love to see my book clutched between the fingers of someone at the airport as she flips through the pages, desperate to get to the end of the next chapter before she almost misses her flight.
  • I have this weird obsession. It started when I wrote most of my story by hand this summer as part of the revision course.  Now I have this vision of my story written on a huge wall. I don’t know how long the wall would have to be to fit the entire novel, but people could stand and read it and walk along the wall as they got further into the story. I’m thinking it would be a kind of performance art, where people experience the story together, like a movie-going experience, except that the story was created by one person with a pen, to be experienced by so many. I probably won’t ever get to do this, though I can’t imagine why anyone would want to stop me. The idea of one story written by one person, to be enjoyed by many seems to have been diluted between publishing and stories-by-committee and marketing departments. I just want someone to read my story and smile. Would my story lose its copyright if I posted it this way? These are the kinds of questions that make me want to do this.
  • Last, but by far not the least, my goal is to pay it forward. I want to encourage other writers the way I’ve been inspired in the classes taught by Holly Lisle, by writing my first drafts for NaNoWriMo, and by so many others. One of the most pleasant surprises about writing was how much other writers are willing to help me in this endeavor. I intend to do the same.

Let’s see where I am on my list by next year, won’t we? Do you have any goals that seem like dreams right now? Do you have any weird obsessions?

(Images courtesy of Piotr Pawel, Tiago Rio, Atif Gulzar, and Matthew Bouden @ stock.xchng)

It's Five O'clock Somewhere

593 words on my revision today, some of them thanks to writing I did earlier in my notebook to sketch out the scene. The fictional Hacienda beachside bar is one of my favorite settings to write in, maybe it’s the margaritas, maybe it’s the smell of of salsa, tequila, and sunscreen, or maybe it’s the Christmas lights that festoon the roof all year long.

Today as I wrote, my pen lead the way and told me that  ‘It’s Five O’clock Somewhere’ (Jimmy Buffett/Alan Jackson) was playing in the background. Seems to fit at a place where time tends to stand still-and sometimes even warp a little.

Total words today between critique, revision, morning words, and musing on my super secret project: 2615. I think that’s even on track for writing a million words in one year. Not that I’m worried or anything.


A Bucketful of Words

“Take out another notebook, pick up another pen, and just write, just write, just write. In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the center of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write. Say yes, stay alive, be awake. Just write. Just write. Just write.” ~ Natalie Goldberg

After celebrating another birthday, which I admit have been stacking up all too quickly, I came upon a realization. I really want to write a million words. I don’t want to wait until I finish my revision. I don’t want to wait until I’m good enough, fast enough, and have enough time to devote to the project. I want to do this now. Even though a million words in one year is just not something I’m ready to put on my plate right now.

But why time myself? I am, after all, on the scenic route. This is not a race. I just need to log the miles.

So I’ve decided to go for it and post my progress here on my blog for all to see. My conditions for counting words will be tailored to my own unique goals and circumstances, and are as follows:

  1. All words count, not just novel or story words. This includes morning words, critiques, revision words, blog posts, excerpts. I have issues with posting, so I’m letting this pass. If someone sees ’em, I count ’em.
  2. If I edit old words for eventual critique, they count. Same as above, editing is much, much harder for me than writing new words.
  3. If I post words for critique, they count. I don’t post much, so this should be an incentive for me to do so.
  4. No deadline for reaching the million words, no penalties for falling behind. A million words is a million words no matter how I get them.

I’m itching to get started. This should be fun.