Monday, November 8, 2010

Crisis of Confidence

I’ve been working on my first novel for about four years now and this weekend I decided that it’s awful.

I was in the middle of editing in order to give a draft to my primary beta reader next week and as I read and rewrote and read and rewrote I became more and more convinced that the story is plodding, predictable and just plain boring.

I feel sure that when I give it to my reader she’s going to tell me that the entire story doesn’t work and that I need to go back to the drawing board (she’d done it before).

After this much time spent with this story and these characters I’m not sure that I have it in me to start again. You can imagine how much fun I was to be with this weekend.

So what to do? Go on? Give up? Start another book? Take Kate’s suggestion and start drinking heavily?

To be honest, I don’t know. But I’ve come this far and invested this much that I think I owe it to this story and these characters to keep going and see if I can make it work.

I know that every writer has been at this place in the process before. What do you do when you’re here?

Are there any good restaurants?

Sunday, October 24, 2010


My daughter is a pretty good hockey player.

She enjoys the game and she's better than most of the other girls in her division. In fact, she's in the middle of three try-out practices from which the league will choose players for the "Select" team. If she makes it it will mean more practices, more training but better coaching and more ice time. It will take her to the next level of the sport.

But she's eight. She tells me that she likes playing hockey and she wants to play on the Select team but she's worried that it will be hard. She says that she's not sure if she wants to do it if it's hard.

So what do we do? Do we push her because we know she has the talent to make it and it would be good for her? Or do we let her take the easy route and stay back in the house league because she's just a kid and kids should be having fun?

If I push her, have I become the dreaded "Hockey Mom"?

As I thought about this over the weekend I compared it to my writing - surprise, surprise. If I'd given up on writing because it was hard I would have about two paragraphs of a first chapter and half a title to my credit. For me, writing is pretty much always hard. For the most part I enjoy the work, but it's always hard. And yet that's what makes it so fulfilling. Every time I work through the hard part and end up with something that's better I feel proud.

I want my daughter to learn the same thing. It's a cliche, but it's true that anything worth having is worth working for. And whether it's writing or hockey or anything else in life, the people who are able to keeping pushing through the hard parts are the people who tend to rise to the top and achieve their dreams.

So, we've decided to push her. She may whine from time to time and complain that she's tired and ask why do we have to go to another practice. But I see her face when she comes off the ice and she's glowing and I can only hope that, in addition to new stick handling skills, she's learning a really important lesson about life.

Anyone know where I can get my "Hockey Mom" bumper sticker?

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Importance of Being Regular

It’s been ages since I’ve blogged. I tell myself constantly that I need to get my butt over here and start talking but then I find I can’t think of anything brilliant, insightful and witty enough so I just put it off again.

And I think therein lies the problem.

Do you visit the blogs that you visit regularly because of their deep and meaningful comment on life and/or the writing process? Do you bookmark the sites that provide the best footnoted research?

I don’t. The sites that I visit regularly are the ones that are updated every day and the ones that feel “real” to me. I visit Tawna Fenske’s Don’t Pet Me, I’m Writing almost every day. When I arrive I’m just as likely to find a post about Phallic Squash as I am a fantastic explanation of Show Don’t Tell. And I love that.

The point is that I don’t think you have to worry so much about being brilliant in a blog for people to want to read it. You have to be regular and you have to be you.

So, let’s give it a whirl…

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Rushing The End

So I think that I’m about 5,000 – 10,000 words from the end of the first draft of my WIP.  

It’s taken me months to get here and now I can see the end. I can taste it like mint chocolate chip ice cream on my tongue.  I find myself thinking, “I could probably stay up all night tonight and just finish the damn thing, or I bet if I left the kids with my husband and spent all day Sunday at the library, I could finish it this weekend.”

At this point it’s so tempting to rush, but I’m trying really hard not to.  I’m coming up to the climax of the book and, well, that’s kind of an important part.  Sure, I could stay up all night and just get through it – throw a bunch of words at the page:

 She did this and then this and then he said this and then this and it was really bad but then it was really good and the end.

And I’d be done.  But all that would mean is that I’d have to do twice as much work during revisions when I’d have to actually take the time to think each scene out the way I should be doing now.

So, while my goal is to finish my WIP by the end of this month, my goal is also to do it right.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What Do They Want?

A tweet today from author James Scott Bell gave me chills. He wrote, “Every character in every scene should have an agenda, even if it’s just to close the window.”

Now that is some good advice people.

No one reads a story to hear about happy people sitting around utterly content with everything that’s going on around them. We want to read about desperate people, people with problems, people who want something. Because the reason we keep turning the pages is to find out if they ever get it.

Make sure your characters – all of your characters – want something.

This goes for dialogue as well. A conversation where two people are simply updating one another on facts is booooring. In every conversation, one of your characters must want something from the other character (if they both want something froom the other, even better), whether it’s information or affirmation or adoration. Something.

Thank you, Mr. Bell.

Now excuse me while I go tattoo that quote on the insides of my eyeballs.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

If A Tree Falls In A Forest...

You know the age old question: if a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

A variation on the question could be posed of writers: if a writer writes her heart out and never gets published, should she keep writing?

I know several writers who tell me that they write simply because they love writing. They have no intention of ever submitting their work to agents or editors and yet they work away, year after year, writing and editing, attending critique groups and striving to weave the best stories they possibly can.

I do not understand these people.

I am fascinated by them, I even admire them in a way, but I do not understand them.

I want to be published. I want to find an agent and I want that agent to sell my book and then I want to write more books and have that agent sell those books and so on and so on.

Would I keep writing if I could look into a crystal ball and know that that will never happen? I don’t think so.

Because the thing is, while I enjoy the work of writing and rewriting and slowly chipping away at the stone until the story reveals itself – it’s really, really hard. I struggle every single day to juggle my day job, my family, my friends and my writing work. I stay up late when I’m tired. I sit in the dark basement in front of my computer on sunny Saturday afternoons, I force myself to write even on those days when there’s nothing I feel like doing less in the world.

I don’t do it for fun. I do it because it’s a job. Right now it’s a part time job that pays me nothing, but it’s a job that leaves me feeling fulfilled at the end of each day and my long term goal is to have that non-paying part time job take the place of my paying full time job. But it will still always be a job.

So if, ten years from now, I still don’t have an agent or a book deal, will I keep writing? Yes, I think I will, but I will also keep trying to get published because, for me, they will always go together.

What about you? Do you write with no desire to ever be published? Or, if you are published or trying to get published, would you keep writing even if that was never going to happen?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Reading While You Write

For Mother’s Day this year, my wonderful husband bought me a tiny little Dell mini laptop that fits in my purse. 

He was tired of hearing me whine about how little time I have to write and – being a man – he went into solution mode and decided that if I had a tiny little computer I could get some writing done during my hour-long commute on the train to and from work each day.


It was great for a little while.  I would get my seat, power up my new little friend and I could get 500 words down before we pulled into the station downtown.  The problem was that the time on the train that I was now using for writing was time that I used to use for reading.  I thought that I had just been filling in empty time with all that reading – but I was wrong.

Turns out that I write better when I’m reading a lot.  I read almost exclusively books in the genre that I write (women’s fiction) so with all the reading I do on the train every day, I get to see how other writers are handling story structure and character development.  I also read like a writer so when a book makes me cry in front of my fellow commuters, I think about what the author did to get that reaction out of me.  When I’m board with a book and ready to move on to something else, I think about why it’s not working for me.  I also get to see techniques that other writers use to weave their story and often find myself thinking, You can do that!?!

 I learn so much from reading and I can see the effects in my writing.

I found that while it was great to get those extra words in on my WIP every day, my writing was actually suffering. I was missing the inspiration and insight that I had been getting from my daily reading.

So, for now the laptop stays at home and when I get into my seat on the train I pull out a novel instead.

Do you find that it helps you to read while you’re working a writing project?  If so, do you try to read in the genre in which you write?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Paul the Octopus

I have to tell you that I’m more than a little intrigued by Paul the Octopus.

This is the octopus who lives in the Sea Life Centre in Oberhausen, Germany and who correctly predicted the winning team in all eight matches of the 2010 World Cup on which he was consulted.

The staff at the Sea Life Centre would put the flags of the two countries playing in two boxes and stick a mussel in each box.  He would make his selection on the future victor by eating one of the mussels.

I need Paul.

I would get him a big tank in my living room and I’d put two options for how my current scene or chapter could go (e.g., option #1 - The hero and heroine kiss or option #2 – the hero and heroine fight) into two boxes and put pepperoni slices in each box (I don’t buy mussels) and he could tell me, by eating from one of the boxes, which way my story should turn next.

In the absence of an octopus of your own, how do you decide? 

When you come to a crossroads in your story or your chapter or your scene, what tools or techniques to you use to show yourself the way?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fast or Slow?

I’m about 30,000 words into the first draft of my novel.  My goal is to get the remaining roughly 50,000 down by the end of August.  That’s about 1,000 words a day which is pretty doable.

Doable, that is, if I don’t think too much.

The strategy that I’ve chosen for the first draft of this book is the “Just Get Through It” approach.  I want to get this draft finished and then spend the next three or four months editing new drafts.  Of course as I’m going, I constantly think of changes I want to make, things I need to add earlier on and even whole new locations for the story.  Whenever I’m struck by these ideas, I write them in a lovely green notebook that I carry around with me (or scrawl them on the back of envelopes or junk mail on my bedside table).  My plan is to go back to those ideas once the editing phase begins and make all those changes then.

I think it’s working, but sometimes I wonder if I would be better off taking more time with the first draft, putting more thought in before I write and avoiding a lot of the big changes I’ll have to go back and make later – sort of a Slow And Steady approach, if you will.

Tell me, what strategy do you employ on the first draft?  Are you a Just Get Through It-type or follower of the church of Slow and Steady?



Friday, July 2, 2010


There's a new game on Twitter called #1k1hr. The next time you're there, you should check it out.

The object of the game is to sit down for one hour and write 1,000 words. The catch, however, is that you aren't finished until you've completed both parts of the game. That means that if the timer dings one hour and you've only written 14 words and most of them are the word "just" (purely hypothetical, no reflection whatsoever on my own writing), then you're still stuck there for 986 more words.

And likewise, if you dash off 1,000 words that would make the Dalai Lama weep and it only takes you 22 minutes, you gotta keep churning out that brilliance for another 34 minutes.

The idea comes from Patrick Alan and has been wonderfully promoted by Tawna Fenske and any writer working to get that first draft completed should try it out.

Not only is it fun to be able share the sometimes crushing monotony of getting those 75-100,000 words down for the first draft of a novel, but saying that you're going to give one hour each day to your writing feels a lot more doable than just saying that you're going to "write every day" - whatever that means.

And also - let's face it - there's nothing like a deadline to focus you on getting the job done. As British author Samual Johnson once said:

"When a man knows he is to be hanged, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Can't Have It All

I have come to the rather liberating realization that I cannot have both toned arms and a finished novel. 

Not if I also want to have a full-time job, kids who know who their mother is, an in-tact marriage and a few hours of sleep thrown in.  You just can’t do it all.

Well, maybe you can, but I can’t.

And I need to stop beating myself up about that.  I need to spend less time feeling bad about the things I’m not fitting onto my To Do list and more time being content with all that I do get done.

So, this summer, the first draft of my book will be finished and my arms shall remain flabby and I’m okay with that.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Are We There Yet?

I’m on Chapter Eleven.  A little less than 100 pages in.  Maybe a third of the way.

I’m sticking to my outline and I think I’m happy with how the story is taking shape (although I’m regularly hit with a feeling of total certainty that this may well be the most boring, flat, one-dimensional, pointless story every written).

I try to stay focused on the chapter at hand – better yet, the scene at hand – and not think too much about the enormity of the task ahead. 

Like the marathon runner who thinks about getting to the next lamp post instead of the finish line, or the mountain climber who keeps their eye on the next hand hold and not the peak of the summit, I try my best not to think about how long it’s going to take me to finish this first draft, or how many more drafts I’ll have to do after that, or how long it will take me to write a query letter I’m happy with. I try not to dwell on the fact that even after I do all of that, I may never be able to interest an agent in my work and that, even if I do, I may never find a publisher who thinks it’s sellable. 

These are the things I try not to think about.  But I am very, very bad at not thinking about them.

I try to remind myself that all I can do is write the very best book I can and the only way I can do that is by keeping my mind on my characters and my story and forging ahead – one word at a time.

But on some days – like today – I find myself unable to see the next word because I’m too paralyzed by panic at the idea of running the next 26 miles up a mountain.



Thursday, June 17, 2010

Support? Priceless.

My husband and I celebrated our ten year anniversary a few weeks ago and what do you think he surprised me with all wrapped up with a bow? 










He gave me a candy apple red hp mini laptop that fits in my purse so that I can write on the train during my commute to and from work every day.


How amazing is that?


I was so blown away that I actually cried.  Not because the laptop was pretty and not because it was certainly a more expensive gift than we should really be buying right now.  I cried because of the fact that he supports me, that he understands how important this “writing thing” is to me, that he wants to help me – in any way that he can – get this book written.  That means more to me than anything else he could have ever given me.


Writing is really lonely at times.  And, for many of us, it’s something that few of the people in our lives really understand or appreciate.  I haven’t even told my co-workers that I’m writing a novel.  It’s like leading a double life but without the cool gadgets.  So, when someone - especially someone whose opinion you really value -  shows you how much they support your work and your dream.  Well, it’s priceless.


Friday, June 11, 2010

It Never Gets Easier

I'm on the train on my home from a marketing conference I was attending for work. The conference was good, lots of ideas to take back to the office, but do you know what the biggest thing that I learned during my three days away was? This writing thing never gets any easier.

Normally it's a real struggle for me to find time to write. I work a full-time day job, I have a two hour commute round-trip, I have two young kids and a husband that I want to see when I get home and I still haven't figured out how to avoid activites such as grocery shopping, bill payment and laundry and still keep my family alive and living indoors.

I was sure that these three days away - no commute, no kids, no husband, no grocery shopping, bills or laundry - were going to turn into a little mini writing retreat. Sure, I'd have to go to the conference during the day, but I imagined that as soon as the sessions were over at 4:30 each day, I would curl up in my hotel bathrobe, pull out my laptap and all but finish my novel in the hours of uninterrupted writing time that would lie ahead.

Ya, not so much.

Turns out that the words are just as hard to come up with - for me at least - when I'm in a quite hotel room for hours as they are when I'm sitting at the dining room table with my kids playing "How Hard Can We Hit Each Other Before One Of Us Cries And Runs To Mommy To Blame The Other One Even Though That Was The Game" around me.

It was a revelation for me.

I suppose it's discouraging to learn that there isn't in fact any magical writing spot where the dam breaks and the words come pouring out like water. But it's also nice to know that I'm not missing anything by sitting at my dining room table, struggling through the din of my normal life to find each new word.

Because, in all honesty, those nights alone in the hotel room, my husband and kids hundreds of miles away? They were lonely and awful. And I can't wait to get home, tuck my kids into bed, fall asleep beside my husband and sit down tomorrow at my dining room table, amidst all the chaos of a regular Saturday afternoon.