April 14, 2016

On Writing (part one)


For those of you wondering what I'm up to in my writing world, here's a little glimpse... 

Soooooo...I'm currently working on three different books at three different stages of the writing process. For me, writing like this is exhilarating and fun and tedious and confusing and infuriating and impassioned and depressing and joyful...all, pretty much, at the same time.

Yeah, writing is weird.

Plus I'm currently reading a bunch of books, which kind of makes it even weirder. I just finished Amy Poehler's Yes, Please! and Cheryl Strayed's Wild, and am in the middle of my bookclub book, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, and a parenting book called Peaceful Parents, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham. I also started Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (then tabled it because I had to start the book club read) and Inkheart (which I tabled because I discovered a plot line too close to something I'm writing and I didn't want it to influence my work).

So my brain is a jumbled mess of other people's voices.

In a typical week, I take my jumbled brain to a local coffee shop three mornings a week, when both kids are at school, and I write. Most days I sit at the same table in a corner by the door and order the same Americano. (The people who work there know my order and my table and what I'm working on. That's how often I am there.) I shove earbuds in my ears and listen to loud music. The Pandora station I listen to varies a bit based on the work I'm doing and my mood. Though, right now, there's a lot of Imagine Dragons.

I also squeeze in writing time anywhere else I can (when I'm not too tired)...like during my son's one-hour gym class, or when my husband has work to do in the evening, or when the kids play well together on a Sunday morning.

I have two middle grade novels (actually I have three, but the third one, Maybelle, I've set aside for a bit) that I'm working on. Both were first written in 2014. One, The Princess Scientist, is nearing the end of the revision process and I hope to take it through my first ever round of agent querying in May or June. The second, The Smart Girl and The Magic Boy, is just beginning the revision process.

I am absolutely sick to death of the first one. I have been working on rewrites of it for a year and I am so tired of revising it. I just want it to be done. I have workshopped the entire book with my writers group and am almost done workshopping it with my writer-niece, Katie. I have reworked characters, created new characters from nothing, deleted entire chapters and plotlines, and written entirely new chapters and plotlines. I have ripped it apart and welded it back together. And it's been exciting. And it's been hard work. And I am tired.

The second one and I are still in the honeymoon phase. It feels new and exciting since I haven't touched it since I wrote it a year and a half ago. But a day will come, in the not so distant future, when I will be sick to death of it too. If that's not the case, then it probably means I haven't done an adequate job of rewriting and revising it. (Thank you, Stephen King, for letting me know that this is normal.)

That is a major lesson I've learned about writing over the last couple of years. As much as I LOVE writing first drafts (most of the time), so much of a good book happens in the rework. I used to think that just sitting down and writing a book was IT.

It is not IT.

It is just the beginning. There is so much hard work that comes after the work of writing a book. At least for a rookie like me.

The third book I'm working on is my new one. It's working title is The Firefly. My first draft is in progress, and at about 55,000 words it's somewhere around two-thirds done. This one is a Young Adult book. And it's very different form the other three I've written. It's far more complex. And I did a lot of prep work before I even started writing it. That prep has helped a ton. And I am absolutely in love with this book. But, I am also terrified of ruining it. Some of the story weaving I've done so far is really good, so whenever I sit down to write more, I worry that whatever I write won't live up to what I've already written.

It's weird. I know.

Plus, another thing I've learned since this writing thing got serious is that what seems awesome when you're writing it, sometimes seems far less awesome when you go back and read it six months later. So there's that to contend with as well.

A few nights ago I had my monthly-ish critique call with my writer-niece, Katie. (Who is awesome, by the way.) For the umpteenth time in a row she tore my writing a new one...in a good way, if that makes sense. I've gotten past the pain of constructive critiques this last year. You can tell when someone is trying to help you and when they're just being mean. Most people are trying to help. It's all good stuff, so helpful for rewrites. But all I could think was, ugh, more work to do on this one.

I just want it to be done.

Then last night I met with my writer's group (4-6 of us exchange about 4000 words each for critique and meet once a month) to go through the first three chapters of the other book. More tearing...but good stuff too. Everybody loves one of the characters, Peter. And everyone liked the dialogue. Both good things. And they gave me great feedback to start revisions. I don't feel so downtrodden after that one because it's all still fresh.

All of this action means I haven't worked on Firefly since last week. I hate that. The longer I go without working on a book, the further out of its world I get and the harder it is to get back in. Especially in Firefly which really does have it's own world. I have to reread multiple chapters to find the flow. And I begin to forget small details. (What did I name the mayor? What did Ben say when he first met Alexa? If I can't remember I either have to go back and find it, or I have to leave a placeholder to be dealt with later. Both I am loathe to do.)

Then, today, the director of my daughter's school asked if I'd be willing to talk to some of the older students at the school about the writing process. I find this prospect both cool/exciting/validating and a bit scary. I, of course, first made sure that she knew I wasn't published yet (I don't want to mislead or disappoint). Then I said I'd be happy to. I have learned a lot about the writing process these past few years. I have a lot more to learn, of course. And a lot of work to do to get better. But there is wisdom to share. Wisdom and a take on courage.

All of this...plus the last three years of regular writing and revising (and revising and revising)...I'm beginning to feel like a real writer. Even if I'm not published.

And since it was my dream when I was writing poetry in my journal at ten, or making up stories and scrawling them in spiral notebooks during sleepovers with my friend Abby at eight or nine, that's pretty cool.

When I let myself stop and really think about it--all the writing and creating I'm doing, I get tingly all over, a little flutter in my chest. And that's really cool.

So, until next time, find what makes you tingly all over and get to it, my friends.