Monthly Archives: March 2016

Approval

I entered a short-story contest not long ago, and it completely refueled my passion for writing. I loved it so much – the dedication to a specific story, developing characters and scenes. It was a game-changer for me. Everyone who writes should try this, even if short-stories aren’t your thing.

Truth-be-told, I exceeded the word count (by a bunch) and was supposed to have been disqualified. They weren’t even supposed to read the story at all, yet somehow, they did. And they don’t even know how cute I am, so how weird is that?!

Last week, I received an email from the judges with feedback. Feedback! They told me what they liked and didn’t like about the story, and I was OVER THE MOON. I felt validated and heard and, most of all, valued. They were just a handful of simple words, but they were said in truth and said by successful, published writers. I was reminded that I’m right where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing, and I’m fulfilling my purpose. Yeah, it sounds corny. But I believe it’s true.

I’ve written a lot in my life; I mean, I have a blue binder full of extremely crappy poetry from my teen years (don’t worry, I will never make you read it. So embarrassing, you guys). Farther back, now that I think about it, I wrote and illustrated a story in crayon on folded pages when I was in grade school. I remember drawing a puppy dog and big cartoonish trees on each of the pages, and how proud I was when my “book” was finished. Writing felt rewarding to me. It still does. Most days.

When I really think about it,  I’ve been working on Baby Love – my treasure, my work in progress, my novel – for 15 years. It began as a short story for an English class in college, and then I shelved it for a long while. But something about the story haunted me; the way I wrote it didn’t feel very authentic. So years later, I retrieved the story and started writing it in full-length form. Baby Love deserves to be a book that stands alone.

A funny thing happened, though, that stopped me in my tracks very early in the process. I shared the pages of progress with a handful of trusted friends, and one friend – an aspiring writer – provided some rather harsh criticism. Okay, let me just admit right now: I’m tender. And I’m particularly tender when it comes to my writing.

So, of course, I didn’t write for months.

Admittedly, the criticism wasn’t really all that harsh. But I am filled with self-doubt sometimes, and I’m so terrified of failing at this one thing that matters to me more than all of the other things that I put my heart and soul in to, that I just couldn’t face the pages for a while. It’s so cliche. I’m afraid of failure. I could almost laugh, seeing those words on paper, because OH MY HEAVENS COME ON THIS IS RIDICULOUS.

My friendly critic pushed me down, completely by accident and 100% without malicious intent (I think?), but I stood back up. Eventually. The first thing I did when I found my legs was re-read Baby Love and try to see their point(s) without getting my feelings hurt. Okay, yes, there were flaws. I read it again. Then I read it once more, just for good measure.

And then I started over. I trashed the original pages (or, more truthfully, bound them together and put them in the back of my Baby Love folder), and I started over from scratch – but this time with intent. Before, I had just been typing out a series of events pertaining to a girl, but now I’m writing from within the story. I see the story, and I feel the story, and I am allowing the characters to show the story to the reader.

A big part of the fresh start was creating a storyboard and focusing strongly on character development. Making it real. These were changes that needed to happen, and as much as I hate to admit this, I benefitted from that constructive criticism. As of right now, 8:45 a.m. on Friday, March 25, 2016, it’s going really, really well. I’m happier about this very important part of my life than I have been in a really long time. Okay, probably ever.

Every day I open the document and see my characters and watch them grow, I am filled with confidence. I’m a proud momma! Right now, the stories within the story and the words that string them together are coming to me easily. I know this won’t always be the case, and that there will be peaks and valleys throughout this process. To be honest, I’m not sure how I will deal with those valleys.

But I will tell you that I made a decision when I restarted the process. The one person who needs to feel good about this book is me. If I don’t love it, then I certainly cannot expect anyone else to. My approval is what really and truly matters if this process and this book will have any meaning, and then I can ask for yours. With that thought in mind, Baby Love is all mine (and my future editor’s) until she’s ready to be shared. I’ll know she’s ready when I see the words “The End.”

Jim is a Jerk

I’ve really fallen out of love with one of the characters in the novel. I mean, I feel a little bad saying that. It’s so early in our relationship. Sadly, though, ’tis true. He’s a bit of a jerk. No, strike that, he is a LOT of a jerk.

This morning, as I was writing about Jim, I could see that he was becoming the vessel for an assortment of bad traits that I have noted in real-life folks I’ve crossed paths with in adulthood. Like every fictional character, Jim is a made-up guy. But, also like many characters, he is a little similar to a lot of people that I have actually known. For some reason, though, I am struggling to find something good about him. For me, this is strange. I tend to see the good in everyone (this sounds sweet and lovely, but trust me, it can be so very, very bad).

As I was finishing up writing hour today, I finally realized Jim’s strength and purpose. It felt like a therapy session, or a really good talk with a friend where you have a breakthrough and finally know why something has happened – and, most importantly, what you need to do next. I felt energized and motivated, and then I also realized that Jim was a character who had me “on pause,” so to speak. I know so much about all of the key players, but this guy – I just kept thinking to myself, why is he here, why do I need him to be here, why can’t I just leave him out?

Today I realized that Jim truly does have to be part of the story, because he is essential to the resolution. He was vital to the initial conflict, and now he will become part of the resolution that will bring the story to an appropriate close. Jim is necessary.

That is so stupidly symbolic that I’m almost embarrassed by it.

Almost.

Moving on: Today I also renamed and rebranded another character. Damien Bell doesn’t occupy a central role, but he is important, just the same. He is influential, we shall say. Damien took over the role formerly occupied by Charles. Honestly, I just couldn’t get into the character with that name. It felt wrong, and I don’t know why. Damien suits this character so much better, and as soon as I made the change, I could really see who he is. I could hear his dialect in my mind and see how he dresses. I could see his family life and the reason why he is the way he is. Ah, the mind is a funny, complicated thing. A simple name-change is the equivalent of the wave of a magic wand. *Poof* ‘Charles the Vague Idea’ becomes ‘Damien the Person.’

Goodbye, Charles. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.

Jim, you can stay. Even if you are terribly terrible.