Juggling real life and writing deadlines can be tricky, and we don’t always make our best decisions in the heat of the moment.
I haven’t written a word since December. Maybe even November. I’ve tried, but I couldn’t squeeze any words out of this brain. There was a lot going on in those last few months, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise.
Since new year, I’ve been trying to write a story for a submission call. I really wanted to submit a story, but between having guests (including my newborn niece) and never ending virus infections (my kids have been coughing their infections back and forth, all the more easily for sharing their room since before Christmas to make room for our guests), the words have been coming slow. I started a few stories and discarded them after only a few words. Same with blog posts.
The deadline for this call came closer and I ran dry on words. My desperation became so intense that, in a crazy spur of the moment decision that I already regret, I went back to waiting tables. It’s not that I have anything against earning money. I already have a list of things to do with all the money I haven’t yet earned, so long that I have to wait tables for five years to make it to the end of that list. I really need new glasses. I want to renovate my little one’s room. And the bedroom. I want to save up for a trip to Mexico. I want to buy fabric (so much fabric) to sew all the things. And so much more.
One day after I started my new side job, the deadline for the submission call ended, and all I had was one half baked story. But better try and fail than not try at all is my motto, so I put together my submission. Reading the guidelines one last time to make sure I get everything correctly, I realized that I could send in two stories.
With the deadline only a few hours away and one story short (hah), it’s like someone pulled out the stopper. I had nothing to lose, so I sat down, wrote till three in the morning, and sent the second story off to my beta (hallelujah for living in different time zones).
“You need more deadlines,“ my guest tells me, watching as my fingers hit the keyboard feverishly. She’s not wrong, but since the lack of sleep had me finally succumbing to the same virus infection my kids had been fostering for three weeks, I’m not sure it would be healthy in the long run. Because now, I’m really having a fever, and this one sadly is no metaphor.
But I also have tapped back into my writing well and discovered new inspiration. So now I’m thinking I might finally tackle some longer projects. Because one thing going back to waiting tables does is taking some of the pressure off. It allows me to give myself more time to let a story flourish.
Since going professional (sort of), I’ve always felt the pressure of having to publish frequently to generate views and an income, however small. I’ve failed spectacularly at this; I resorted to writing shorter stories in order to publish more frequently, but it took me almost as long as a longer story to write a short story in the end. Now my stories and my writing career have time to grow without the daunting shadow of existential dread looming over me.
I still hate waiting tables, but I do love it when the pressure comes off. And I’ve heard it’s sometimes even helpful to leave the house once in a while to refill the well of inspiration.
You don’t have to write every day to be a writer. You’re still a writer when you’re between stories, when you haven’t written a word in weeks. That’s okay, and no reason to feel guilty, because guilt just makes it worse. So this is not meant to be another stress factor by telling you that you have to write in order to be a writer (TM). But sometimes, you want to write, you have the time and you have the ideas, but as soon as you sit down and put your fingers to the keyboard, some great incapability overwhelms you and the resistance is too big to push against. When you know what you should do, and want to do, but for some reason don’t manage to do. I found that the following five tricks helped me when I was stuck in those cruel phases, and in times of trouble, I regularly go back to them. Continue Reading
When I told my grandfather that I am writing romance, he made a face and said I should rather write something real, and serious. As if stories concentrating on love and relationships aren’t real and something you shouldn’t waste your time with. It’s an opinion about genre fiction you get to hear all the time, mostly without having asked for it. It’s so entrenched that I still felt I had to apologize for writing it when I had long realized that those are the stories I’m drawn to. I end up writing them over and over again. It’s also the stories I have been reading all my life, so no big surprise there.
I was ashamed of reading romance all my life, too. The cheesy covers sure were no help in lessening the stigma. Each time I got a new one at the railway station kiosk or the supermarket, marked down in price for being remaindered, I fixed my eyes on the floor and avoided to meet anyone’s eyes – especially those of the cashier – at all costs. But the thirst was real, and I needed a new romance novel every few days. I still have them all, cluttering the lower shelves of my bookcases. They’re hidden behind more *respectable* reading material. For some reason, I don’t manage to get rid of them. I haven’t bought a new romance book in a while, but that doesn’t mean I don’t pull out some Christina Dodd, Amanda Quick or Eloisa James once in a while and reread my favorites.
Those books made me feel when nothing else could. I found comfort in stories of feisty heroines fighting for their right to love and to live like they wanted. I found strength in their defiance, and, let’s be real, I discovered more than one kink between the pages of paperback love. So why should I be ashamed of my love of romance? Why are the words about love and two people finding each other and overcoming their differences and conflicts lesser in worth than other words? Lesser even than other genre fiction like Sci-Fi or Crime? Sure, not every genre novel is a literary gem, but that doesn’t mean that the genre as a whole is trash. I still think that Anne Golon’s Angélique series is among some of the best books I ever read, and it was marketed as romance for lack of a better label.
Romance novels aren’t just about love and, well, romance. They’re about women, and for women, and that’s probably the thing that makes them *less* than your average fiction written by the average white male dude. Sexism is as strong in publishing as it is as anywhere else – just take a look at Young Adult fiction.
It’s no surprise, I think, that it’s my grandfather criticizing my choices in the stories I write. He’s someone who certainly never even touched a romance novel and judges the genre as a whole by its cover. I found the opinion so deeply ingrained in myself that I defended my writing of romance to a former – male – lecturer from my university with the apologetic words of “Someone has to write it.”
“I know,” he said. He, for his part, is an unapologetic, avid reader of romance.
I’m still working on emancipating myself from prejudice. Now that I accepted my fate, so to speak, accepted that stories about love and overcoming conflict are not only my jam in reading but also the thing I write most passionately about, I had to do some soul-searching. I had to face the root of my hesitance and my prejudices and question their origins. Once I became aware of the systemic sexism in the publishing industry and the underlying devaluation of women’s words and stories, I refused to let myself feel ashamed for it any longer.
I’m no longer apologetic of my writing, and I no longer hide the covers of the books I read.
The key to writing a story is routine. The key to routine is discipline. Discipline is a concept I constantly struggle with. Is it such a surprise then that I constantly struggle with my self-esteem, too, when I fail so much at this most basic concept?
I have my self-doubt so ingrained in me that it’s hard to get past it. My inner critic is constantly telling me that I’m not good enough, that I will never succeed. That I’m a failure, and a disappointment. My inner critic is a filthy liar, though, and maybe I just have to give him the face of someone I despise so as to learn to unhear him. My inner critic is a cold-hearted man with a burning loathing of those living in a world of words and stories. He begrudges them their dreams and thoughts because he never was allowed to follow his dreams, and no one ever thought he could have even one sensitive bone under his pasty skin, no thought beyond what’s sensible and pragmatic. He calls it reality, he calls it truth, but it isn’t. It’s his grudge speaking out of him, his disappointment with himself.
My inner critic wears a familiar face, and I must not trust him. My inner critic is a liar, and I have to emancipate myself from him. I have to learn to believe in myself. And anyway, even discipline can be learned. All it needs is structure and time. I don’t have structure, but I do have enough time to build it.
I developed a bit of a condition here… I’m still on my daily wordcount goal of 300 words, and after I had a bit of a slump, not writing a word for several days, I began to count anything into my wordcount out of sheer despair. Blog posts. Emails. Everything. Then I started a short story that has lingered in my head for a while now, but even this didn’t get the juices flowing. Then I decided to write something that haunted me.
You know how you can develop a so called ship? I didn’t know what this meant until I entered tumblr and somehow slid into the depths of a fandom. Well, I know how it felt to ship a character with another, but I didn’t know there was a whole terminology for it (yes, I googled “OTP” – it means One True Pairing, just for the record). I didn’t know this could happen with my own characters. I mean, sometimes it’s intended to happen (writing romance without a ship is not a good idea), but in my case, it’s not. These two characters can under no circumstances end up in any relationship whatsoever, especially since one of them is the villain (yes, my antagonist is also a villain, happens to the best of us) and the other one is the hero of my story. They’re opposed in insuperable conflict that ends with one of them dead. But I ship them so hard. So I decided to give me some writing practice and write my own fanfiction. Let them get hot and steamy with each other without any intention of ever – ever – including it in the book (let alone let it see the light of day). Without any intention of even fitting it into the story.
And suddenly, I write 3000 instead of 300 words a day. Might be that this is without merit, since it’s written with the specific premise of never seeing a printing press. Perhaps I waste my days. But I don’t think so. It gets my creative mojo flowing, and I try to incorporate some writing exercises. I think it’s not the what you write everyday that is important, but the that you write everyday. (Uh, sorry for any deadly grammatical sins I committed here). The more words you produce, the more likely it is there are some gems among them. And if not, it’s still easier to work with already written words than to produce brilliance from scratch.
And it helps me to free my head from any haunting shipper feels that could invade my story. They’re all packed up now, neat and tidy, in their own folder. And hey, if you never write just for your own fun, why you’re doing this at all? Yes, being a writer includes seeing writing as your job, but what good is it if you have absolutely no fun in your job? Right, you’re likely going to quit or develop a serious stress disorder.
So, have fun, stay positive and write your own fanfiction.
Ok, a while back (and it really is a while, was it last NaNo or the one before that? Anyway), the peeps of my favourite Office of Letters and Light asked about our dreamcast, should our novel be made into a film… While I’m not harbouring any hope (well, at least only a teenytiny one) of that ever happening, it can be worthwhile to give your characters a face. Of course you should know how they look like, at least roughly, because it’s never going to sit well with your readers if your hero starts out with green eyes and ends up with blue ones. They notice these kind of things.
Nevertheless, I never really pictured my character’s appearance in great depths. I knew: This one is red haired and has really white skin. The other one has green eyes with golden flecks. And the third is dark haired and big. Period. You think this is not enough? Possibly. But their appearace is not my main focus. I focus on character voice, on how this characters sounds and speaks and thinks. Add a memorable detail (ah, yes, the glass slippers of every story), something that sticks out – Harry Potter had his scar, his always broken glasses and his disheveled hair – and you’re done. Characters take their shape in the readers imagination, through their voice and actions.
Of course, sometimes there is a face that is just perfect. An actor that incorporates every trait you’ve given your character. That’s fine. I’m sure, you could describe said character (with this person’s face) in every last minuscule detail, and he could look completely different in your reader’s mind.
Point is: Your characters have to be as vivid and alive as they can be in your head, to enable you to bring them down onto the page. But that doesn’t mean they require an actual face. You don’t need to paint them in oil. Looks can be means to an end, but your character should not rely only on his outer appearance. There will be people who yell at this “Noooo, you have to picture them down to the last chappy toenail, you have to seeee them, how else can you write them!?” I say: trust your gut. Only you know how much appearance and looks and chappy toenails you need to envision your character. I know how much (or more, less) vision I need. As I said, I’m pretty sketchy with looks. That doesn’t keep my heroes and villains and protagonist and antagonists from being very much alive and distinct, at least in my imagination.
Now, as sketchy as the looks of your character can remain, his bearing – the way he presents himself, the way he moves and gestures and mimics – is something totally different. This is essential. Part of his voice. But I’ll come back to this.
I’m procrastinating. Again, I know what I have to do (oh, and I get to introduce another character, yay), but I’m just a little bit…not motivated. I hoped I could finish my draft in april. But I spoke with a Chemist this week to clear up some of the science-stuff in my book. I learned that a quick and even a not so quick Wikipedia check isn’t going to do the trick if you have no idea what you’re writing about. (Well, I kind of knew that before, since it was the reason for speaking with my Chemist in the first place). Real people explain a lot more a lot better than even the most exhaustive research can do.
But now I know I have to change another large chunk of text. Which is good, really, because I felt that particular strand of my story being a bit thin and shallow and altoghether insufficient. And that talk gave me lots of fresh ideas and input and helped me to give my story more believeability and stability. But right now I’m too sluggish to get it done.
I still could finish this draft in april. I really could. I probably should. Guess I’m riding the downward slope again.
Ok. So, I had a rather hard day yesterday. There was this scene that I had to write, and honestly, I never felt that much anxiety (yeah, it was that “go where it hurts” thing again). I sat there, shaking, sweating, lightheaded. I did everything NOT to write that scene. I emailed every single friend and checked every five minutes if they answered already. I strolled around tumblr, twitter and facebook. I came THIS close to cleaning my kitchen. But finally, I wrote it out of the way.
It was a lot like giving birth. And if you’re sensible or easily grossed out, you should read no further.
Being close to due-date or already past due-date, is terrible. You know it has to happen. There is this person inside you that has to get out.
Of course you could take the “easy” road. My firstborn was a medically induced c-section, but there went something wrong. For months I was in terrible pain. (Well, at this point, my analogy fails a bit…)
I decided to give birth to my second baby at home. I didn’t want to go to the hospital and risk a second c-section. Well, of course, there were problems. The contractions didn’t get stronger, and after two days, when they finally DID get serious, the cervix didn’t open. Try not to press, if everything your body wants to do is press that thing out! (That’s why, after two deliveries, I decided that there’s no possible way for my to get another child)
Afterwards, you forget. The body doesn’t remember pain. And the moment you’re child opens her eyes, blinks and looks at you in wonder is the moment you ask yourself, how it is possible to hold something so perfect, so beautiful in your hands.
With writing, it’s similar. Not the pain, of course. In its pain, giving birth is excruciatingly unique and beyond comparison. But the time before. It starts with light contractions, slowly building up to the point of no return. The point where you feel like you’re getting ripped apart. It has to get out, whether it is writing or a child. You may be afraid, anxious, nervous, but if it is something you want to, you have to write – or something you want to do or ANYTHING – then there is no way to avoid it, unless you want it to eat you from inside.
A friend of mine – a writer – told me, he never experienced such profoundly unsettling writing-moments. Perhaps it was the theme of the scene that made it so difficult for me.
But perhaps it’s me. I’m not an esoteric, and can be quiet rational and grounded. But I tend to feel everything in a more or less excessive way – everything fictional at least. My first till third undying loves were fictional characters, and I still fall easily in love with fictional characters, sometimes even my own. Not so easily with real persons. But someone (who is a shrink, but not mine) told me, that this overly excessive character trait is part of my writer identity and gives me the ability to tell those stories…To fall in love easily, to be easily engaged in fiction. Watch me obsess over my favourite tv show or book – you’d think me a teenager.
However. Now that this scene is out of the way, I’m feeling better. Partly. Part of me wants to go back and feel it again. Not the pain, be it child-bearing-pain or otherwise. But that moment right after. When you hold it (whatever IT is) between the palms of your hands, your sun, your moon, your galaxy, and you realize you’re all dust from the same stars. And you never loved something so thoroughly and absolute.
(Just to be clear, I’m NOT saying that writing SHOULD be this mystical thing, and if it’s not, it’s not real writing. No. (That would be really dumbass of me). I’m just saying it CAN be this way, and if it is, you should treasure those moments. They don’t come easily and they don’t come often. They’re the unicorns of your writing life, but it’s so worth it to endure.)
(AND: Don’t give birth to your child alone at home without help. You need a midwife. That’s their job, to help you and to judge whether it is acceptable to proceed in your home or too risky and you need to go to the hospital. Just to be clear.)
So yesterday, the peeps of Team NaNoWriMo asked on Twitter when we knew we were a writer.
Truth is, I still don’t know. When I was 14 – and that is half a lifetime away now – I decided that I wanted to be a writer. I wrote, I even started my first book. I wrote short stories. One story even involved a love affair of some ordinary girl (me) and a vampire. Gosh, I could be rich by now. But alas. When I grew older, I thought it unrealistic to achieve my goal and really become a writer. I knew I could write, my texts were witty, funny, utterly sarcastic, but I never managed to actually finish a story. When I finished school, I still didn’t know what I could do other than write. I thought about becoming a gardener, a photographer, a tailor. But after my last exams in school I realized I was pregnant. Every dream I ever had came to a halt. And since I didn’t want my daughter to be an only child, I got pregnant again.
Then I had two kids and still no idea what I wanted to be other than a mom. I wrote about my daily adventures with my girls, and this made me realize again what the one thing is I do best. It may not seem that way, since English is not my first language, but I’m really good with words. Written words, anyway. Make me talk in front of real people and I stumble over that slippery puddle of quirky sentences in my head.
So, when I was 25 and my girls both in Kindergarten, I started studying German Language and Literature. Right the first academic told us that we’re wrong here if we wanted to write. I followed through anyway, got my degree with two kids and everything in six semesters like a normal student, and I wasn’t even bad. And although I love books, I love literature, I came to deteste the pretentious academical world.
But that first academic was not totally right with his statement. I learned a few things about writing. Not technique, but how to research and how to endure the bleakest and most stressful times, and those two abilities were the most precious to me. But my final lesson, the one that showed me that I really am a writer came shortly after I finished studying. I submitted a short story to a prose writing contest of my alma mater in coop with a scientific publishing house, and I made third place. My story got published, and so I could call myself a published writer.
The lesson I learned there was that I had to dare to be a writer. The daring part is the most difficult for me. Since I finished studying, I wrote down first drafts for two novels, from beginning to end, and NaNoWriMo helped me a lot there, in showing me that I really could write a book from start to finish. But I haven’t submitted my manuscripts anywhere. I haven’t looked for agents or publishers. Yet. The daring still is the biggest difficulty.
But there is never a challenge so big you can’t get past it. That’s another lesson I took with me from my studies. You may think there’s no possible way you can do this, but you can, if you only dare.
Sometimes, reading about general principles of character developing can give you a moment of epiphany. Oh, how I cherish those moments! Especially when I suddenly know that my character in question is behaving perfectly IN CHARACTER. Nothing more frustrating than those awkward out of character moments.
So today, I trolled the Writer’s Digest site, just to keep me from writing a little longer. Rolling the path my hero has lying ahead of her over and over in my head. I read about reaction to frustration, and then it just clicked. She runs away. She does it constantly, everytime someone brings her near boiling point, she just turns around and walks away. So it was really natural for her to do it again and only get in bigger trouble. Everything clicked. I realized what had to happen, I realized where I had to revise my plot, where my first draft had gone wrong. So now, I’m really happy.
Well, one thing bothers me, though. I hate it to cut words out (just the words – not the scene) during NaNoWriMo, or, in this case, CampNaNoWriMo. It’s ok to revise little chunks at a time, cutting 100 words here and writing 400 there, but this is a really big piece of the cake. Funny, how reluctant I get when it comes to my precious words. But now, with my path so clear before me, I’m in a flow. Until the time comes when I have to reunite my storylines. Then I’m probably stuck again. But I’m not the type to worry about the future. And besides, the more you write and think about your story, the more ideas come to your mind. To get inspiration to visit, you have to work and set up a nice home.