Your Idea: A Birth Story

The idea for this post came to me while I was in a Valerian root/chamomile tea-induced slumber, and I was half-awake. I wrote the entirety of it in my Idea & Inspiration notebook while snuggling and nursing my toddler, so this could either be totally brilliant or absolutely ridiculous. [Let’s just go with brilliant, though.]




It’s only when I sit and think about the process by which a story is born that I realize it’s not unlike a baby. And, yes, authors do consider their books to be their babies. Even if they have human babies of their own. This is that process.

[Please note that this is my process. Not every author follows these steps.]

Before you ever start writing or planning, you have an idea. It’s shiny and beautiful and perfect. Best of all, it’s untarnished by the imperfections that come from being born. It’s the honeymoon stage of a story’sand baby’slife, before you’re elbow-deep in dirty diapers and first drafts. But the seed of inspiration (and we’re going to breeze right on by these parallels) has taken root, and the idealike a fetuswill germinate and grow, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly.

And grow it does. The more you think about your idea, the more it takes shape. Now you can recognize features like theme, characters, backstory, conflict, setting, and plot, just as you’d see arms and legs and ears on a sonogram. If you’re really lucky, you’ll notice the small detailsyour scenesand you’ll delight over them, just like new parent delights over seeing their baby’s fingers and toes. You’re still pretty naïve at this point, even if you have other books or children. It’s simply the creative nature of things.

Your idea continues to grow and morph into a definitive statea drabble, short story, novel, or seriesand the creative energies explode. Suddenly, you’re realizing you have something viable. The idea starts to fill you, spreading to all the parts of your body and mind, stretching you in ways you didn’t know you could stretch. This continues for some timeit’s not always a concrete measure of time, unlike a pregnancyuntil you feel your idea kicking to get out on the page. At this point, you might find yourself writing down some details you think are particularly great, and the idea continues to grow.

That is, until one day you find yourself so consumed by this thing, which has, by now, turned into its own entity, that it can no longer stay inside of you. It’s bursting to come out, to come alive on the page. And one day, that pressure will build so much that you can’t not sit down and write it, just as you can’t help but go into labor. The thing with laborand writing a storyis that some people have short labors lasting only an hour or two and some people have long labors lasting a day or two, just as some writers birth their story in a month or two and some writers take a year or more. [Actually, the great Stephen King recommends you finish your first draft within three months.] It’s all a process, and every book, just like every child, is different.

And, here’s the sad part of the baby-book analogy, not all ideas are born into stories. Some aren’t viable, and some are abandoned. Some have happier trajectories and are adopted out to other writers who may, or may not, be able to come up with their own ideas.

Have you ever heard about someone who was convinced they were having a girl (or boy), and on delivery dayoops, not what they were expecting? They might have put in all this effort for a child who was one particular gender (hey, boys can have pink, and girls can have blue), but now they’re derailed and feel like they need to start all over. Some stories, just like babies, are misinterpreted in the beginning. You might think you have a short story on your hands, but when you get down into it find out that it’s really a novel. Or vice versa. Which, if you think about it, makes a great case for gender-neutral baby stuff and not getting too caught up in one way of thinking about writing.

All of a sudden, though, almost magicallyand by “magic,” I, of course, mean putting in a lot of work and tearsyour story is birthed in the form of a first draft where anything is possible. You’ll reread that first draft like you would stare in your newborn’s eyes. It sounds great at first, but then you start to notice little detailsthe stilted dialogue, flat characters, lack of conflictand it’s kind of like noticing how squashed your baby’s face is or how cone-shaped their head is. And it’s nothing like the perfect pictures of babies you see in the movies or in pictures, just like your draft isn’t like the published books you see on the bookshelf. But it’s your story, your baby, and you love it anyway. (Especially if you wait at least six weeks before reading your first draft.)

You take the next few drafts to nurture your story and, hopefully, refine it through its tantrumsin the form of characters not bending to your willand backtalkin the form of words just not coming out as intended and not-quite-right ideas. After some time, though, and it’s often far longer than the time it took to grow and birth it, your story will find its voice, find its essence, and be ready to strike out on its own in the vicious world of publication. And just like a parent dropping off their kid at daycare or school for the first time, you’ll want to cry, but you know it’s their time for them to get a little independence.

Maybe in that time you’ll find a few trusted readers, called beta readers, to run your story by them, kind of like a trial run and quite like a play date with toddlers. Your story might be wobbly, just as a toddler teeters before landing on their bum, only to get up and try it all over again, but with some gentle reassurance (and some ruthlessness), your story will become stronger and more ready than ever to explore the world.

One day, when you’re least expecting it, or maybe this time you’ve planned it, another idea will come in your mind, and you’ll nurture it, just like someone nurtures the idea of growing their family by having another child while experiencing baby fever. It seems as though authors and parents alike seem to forget just what it’s like to bring another something in the world and help it grow. (But that’s okay because it’s worth it to start all over again.)




And that’s it! Have your experiences writing and publishing been similar to this process? If you’re a parent, what parallels have you drawn between child-rearing and story writing?

May the fourth be with you.

Honestly, I didn’t plan on writing my April recap post on the fourth just to use this title. [But since I procrastinated this long, I couldn’t resist.]

images

April’s Camp NaNoWriMo was a success. In the end, I changed my writing goal from 40,000 words to 20,000 words, but I’m proud of what I’d written over the course of thirty fourteen days. Had I stuck to my writing schedule diligently—meaning call out of my overnight shifts and write in lieu of sleeping—I could have reached my 40,000-word goal and finished the novella, but at what cost? In the end, when I discovered several plot holes that I could fly a plane through, I had to take a step back and realize that finishing the story in a month wasn’t worth it if I turned around and had to trash it. I decided it was more important getting it right the first time. Or at least as right as a first draft can be.

The biggest thing I noticed during the month was that constant longing to sit at my computer and type. I genuinely wanted to tell the story, solve the murder, and give my characters closure. That’s not always the case. Sometimes, I drag my feet through the first draft, and you’d think that I hate to write because I’d grumble the whole time. [Or I’d say screw it and write whatever came to mind, regardless if it made sense.] To come to the IHOP booth, since that’s where I wrote 90% of the words, excited and ready to dive in and further explore the world was both a relief and a joy.

Camp April 2017 success.PNG

The takeaway I got from this Camp was that success is rarely linear. I have all these ideas and goals and action plans, but life doesn’t always accommodate them. Each day, I’m forced to decide between my goal and something else. Sometimes that something else is really important, like an appointment for my kids, and sometimes that something else is a mindless distraction, like binge-watching an entire season of a show on Netflix in two nights. Either way, it’s life, and I’m learning to not get hung up on what the journey looks like but on where it leads. In this case, it led to a half-finished manuscript that began to take shape. [Not to mention tons of morale points for accomplishing a goal.] I’m trying to bring that mindset of how I define—and constantly redefine—success into May and the rest of the year.

leaf-border-top

Looking at May is a little daunting for me. Most of you know I’m also an editor, and May is completely booked with projects. [I’m starting to question my sanity and time management skills.] Even still, with multiple manuscripts needing to be read, critiqued, and returned, I’m working toward finishing this novella by the end of the month. Supposedly, as long as I’ve got fourteen days, I should be all right since I’m about midway through the story. If I finish early [yeah, right], the next project on the horizon was inspired by a Ray Bradbury quote:

Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.

Maybe I’m trying to challenge him and debunk his theory, but I’d like to think I’m trying to work on improving my storytelling skills and find a kernel of talent hidden away. I’ve opened an account on Wattpad that I’ll link to the blog when I’ve published the first of fifty-two short stories so I can share those stories, however bad they may be at first.

leaf-border-top

What was your favorite moment about April’s Camp? What are you looking forward to in May?

 

 

 

 

Beyond Camp NaNoWriMo

It’s the end of Camp NaNo, and you probably have a first draft – or almost a completed first draft – on your hands. Congratulations! But now what? Well, if you’re not finished, completing it is your first step.

If you’re already finished and want to dive into revisions – because who doesn’t love rewriting? – this post is for you. I was looking for ways to jump into revisions in an organized way. [I’m an editor, and I’m constantly trying to learn new ways to edit on a large scale.] Handling plots, subplots, and layers can be complicated and confusing to keep track of, so I read about different authors’ self-editing methods.

By far, this one is the method I could follow. The post is long but detailed. It leaves very little room for questions or confusion. I highly recommend checking it out to help you organize your revisions to prepare to write your second draft.

 

Bullet journal, minimalism, and my to-do list.

I use the bullet journal [bujo] system of organizing, well, my life. Except if you happen to have a preconceived notion of what a bujo is and how it should be used, I probably defy those thoughts. There are as many ways to use a bujo as there are people who use it, and there really aren’t “right” ways or “wrong” ways. Just what works for someone and what doesn’t. What I learned early on in my bujo journey was that the traditional way didn’t work for me, so I had to forge my own path, which was largely determined by trial and error. I also had guidance from several YouTubers and bloggers.

Since I started this system in December, not only have I gone through a full journal [I have lots of collections], I’ve also adapted the monthly, weekly, and daily spreads numerous times. I’ve actually nailed down a weekly spread that works for me, but I’m still tweaking those dailies – and I truly do need daily spreads to keep me focused.

 

weekly bujo spread.jpg

My weekly spread template. I switch out habits as needed too.

 

I’ve been toying around with the idea of minimalism and what it means to me and my life. I know I’m not one of those people who can just walk in a room and toss out 90% of the stuff in there without having a panic attack [seriously, I get really attached to meaningless stuff] and I probably couldn’t just pack up my life and my children’s lives and live in a tiny home the size of a mouse hole [see the comment about being overly attached to stuff], but I can introduce some concepts of minimalism in my life and see where that leads me.

What I’ve been reading about is the power of doing one thing at a time, which is a form of mental minimalism. Having that intense focus on a singular task makes it more likely for that task to be completed. So I’m adopting it! There’s also the idea that we were born to do one thing, but I feel so caged in thinking I’m here only to do that one thing and nothing else. [Actually, there’s a word for people like us: multipotentialite!] I have so many things I’m juggling: being a parent, homeschool teacher/blogger, indie author, freelance editor, writing coach, spiritual advisor, co-editor of a magazine, and a co-editor of dozens of anthologies. It’s a lot to take in, especially knowing I only have twenty-four hours in a day to do things, and my kids take up most of the daylight hours. In reality, I truly only have time to do one thing a day, and if I’m intentional with that one thing I can make a lot of progress with it.

So, how exactly does this translate to my bullet journal and to-do list? 

Before, I used to just make a running list of things I needed to get done during the week, and I’d pick and choose what I’d do that day when it came to making the daily spread. I’d have tasks like “write 2,000 words” mashed between “finish that damn load of laundry” and “buy some butter FFS,” and while having clean clothes and butter helps, it doesn’t exactly get me further ahead with my goals. [Let’s be honest: I walk around home in pajamas all day, and I wear the same two outfits religiously.]

Now, I’m tweaking the daily spread to include those little tasks [like paying bills and house chores], but to separate that really important stuff [like finish editing a client’s manuscript] in what I call “focus tasks.” Each week, I can have one focus topic: writing, editing, coaching, blogging, reading, homeschooling. While I can do more than just one, I’ll be devoting most of my week’s time to the chosen one. Each day, I can have up to three focus tasks, and one of those tasks has to be contributing to the focus topic. If all three tasks relate to the focus topic, that’s even better.

For example, this coming week’s focus topic is editing. I have a few projects I’m juggling and another manuscript will hit my desk in a few weeks, so I’m trying to get a handle on what I do have right now. While I’ll be able to do other stuff besides editing, because I’m not a red pen machine [how awesome would that be?!], my main focus is on editing tasks.

For example, Monday’s focus tasks are: copy edit 40 pages of Manuscript 1, write 500 words, finish reading Grave Measures and review. 

This is a heavy day of stuff for me, but as long as I finish the edits it’s a successful day. Focus tasks don’t have to be so time-intensive and they can include anything to do with my main projects, which can be planning a novel/series, doing research for a novel, researching aspects of indie publishing, updating a blog, reading and reviewing books, Patreon work [which I haven’t launched yet], networking with authors/readers/publishers, etc. The goal is to make progress in an area of my life.

Do you use a bullet journal? How do you track your goals?

Writing and a 21-Day Meditation Experience

This post will be a heavier topic than usual, but I think that’s okay. Life is sometimes profound and deep, and we, as authors and readers, shouldn’t shy away from those ideas.

Of course, it’s April, which means it’s Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve written a few posts on this already. What I haven’t done, however, was keep you all updated with my progress. There are a lot of reasons [excuses] for this: editing contracts, landlord inspection, and a weekend hiking trip are the big ones. Needless to say, my progress hasn’t been what I’d have hoped. In fact, my original goal was to write 40,000 words this month. [Totally unreasonable, by the way.] I bumped it down to 25,000 words, but, after this hiking trip, I decided that 20,000 words was a reasonable goal. Right now, I’m sitting with a paltry 5,496 words. I will essentially quadruple this in the next ten days.

In addition to Camp NaNo, I’m also participating in an annual 21-day meditation experience hosted by Oprah and Deepak Chopra. The topics change each year, and I’ve been participating in this for the past three years [at least]. Anyway, this year, the topic is all about finding hope in everyday life. Hope is something definitely lacking in my life, and it’s something I am trying to work on.

I’m a little behind on the days, and I just wrapped up days 6 and 7 tonight. I decided to do the meditation in a secluded IHOP booth at midnight. Instead of chanting the mantra, I free write during the meditation part. It allows me the space to really connect with the message. After that meditation, though, I was a weeping puddle. I was ugly-crying by the end of it, and I didn’t stop for several minutes. Let me tell you, in case you’ve never broke down at midnight in a restaurant, it was awkward, but I needed that vulnerability with myself.

Day 6’s message was: “I trust in my core self at every moment,” and it talked about how we build trust and belief in ourselves and how we translate that to others. If we have a negative view of the world, we can fix it by examining each belief one at a time, breaking them down to their core and mending them. It spoke of inner trust – and, I’ll be honest, I lack that – and about limiting beliefs. During the free write, all this trauma from when I was younger surfaced, and I felt like I was right there again. That fear, that intensity. I could feel every scar, some rawer than others. Honestly, it was a little overwhelming to experience in an IHOP in the middle of the night. I continued with the next day’s meditation, though.

Day 7’s message dovetailed nicely with the previous one, and it was: “I find a reason to hope in every situation.” It talked about the importance of gratitude as a foundation of hope, that the more gratitude we have the more hope we have. It reminded me to focus on the solution and not on the problem, and that every problem has a solution, which should bring me hope. Chopra went into what happens when we have constricted awareness – which was basically my daily experience of limits and fears and anxieties and a feeling of “lack.” Again, during the free write, all these memories resurfaced, and I just let them. I ended up writing a list of ways I can expand my awareness in my daily life, and I came up with nine practical, easy things. What’s pretty cool is that my word of the year I chose on December 31 last year was LIMITLESS. I didn’t know why I chose this word; it just popped in my head. During the meditation recording, Chopra said that word several times, and I just smiled. I learned how I can experience being limitless, if only I put in a little effort.

I bring all this up because one of my favorite authors, Stephen King, once said, “Writers remember everything…especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones, you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar. Art consists of the persistence of memory.”

All these memories, the scars left behind, helped me develop Aggie, the main character in my cozy mystery series. In it, she and her husband have a lot to deal with. She’s an optimist; there’s no denying it, but throughout the series, she and her husband will experience setbacks that will test her optimism and will threaten to break her spirit. Whether it does or not is something you’ll have to read about, but I can write about her experiences battling hopelessness and feeling limited because I can fully feel my own experiences of feeling the same way. As a writer, it’s sometimes painful to dredge up those memories of trauma and hurt, but, in the end, it not only deepens my characters but it’s a cathartic experience in my own healing process. Hopefully, a reader will read my words and find their own healing as well.

As a reader, have you experienced a sense of healing after reading about a character’s journey? What messages have stuck with you?

As a writer, do you use your personal scars to deepen your characters and give them a purpose? Do you share some scars with your characters, allowing yourself to process your experiences through the lens of writing?

Weekly camp check-in

Here we are! It’s a week into Camp NaNoWriMo, [Has it really been a week already?!] so here’s my check-in. The first three days of Camp, I resisted the urge to dive into my story, and I spent quality time creating an outline. Or, at least, some notes I can use that’ll help keep everything organized. I’m writing a murder mystery, which means I need to know everything from suspects’ alibis and motives to those tiny clues that might end up being red herrings in the end. I needed a way to track all that stuff, so I created some charts to keep handy.

I also created a map for my city! I hand drew it, so I’ll be honest and say it’s nothing to write home about, but it’s functional for now. It also allows room to grow as the series gets longer, which, hopefully, it will. How I created my fictional town was I searched for a real city about the same size as my fictional town. I pulled it up on Google Maps, and I scoped it out – how many restaurants did it have, how many stores, how many houses versus apartments, schools, parks, bus stops? Anything I could think of to research about it, I did. I then manipulated the real city, and in this case I drew a mirror image of it. I filled in what I needed for the first book – the theater that it takes place in, the police department, my main character’s home, and the school at which she works. I didn’t need all of those things, but I wanted to get a baseline so I didn’t have to do these basic things later. [Plus, I had to know how long it’d take the cops to get to the theater, and to do that I needed to calculate the distance to extrapolate the time.] And they said being a writer was easy. [Actually, nobody says that.]

After I had those things, I started to write. [It was the next logical step.] Somewhere in there, I realized my suspects only had a one-word motive without any backstory. I stopped writing again, and I went back to develop that just a little more. I filled nearly five pages of my notebook with their backstories, even though most, if not all, of these characters are making an appearance in this story only. It kind of felt like overkill, honestly, but it’s been helping me a lot while I write.

So I basically saved my entire manuscript by managing to fill those plot holes. Great. I start writing again, and at this point in the story, the ever-inquisitive sleuth has deduced that something isn’t right with the theater actors and she needs to get backstage to investigate. In my original outline, I had her pretend to be a doctor and her convincing the security guard that an actor appeared to be having a heart attack. [Lame, I know. It was probably 3am, though.] As I was writing it, it just felt all wrong, so I stopped writing again to figure out a good reason why she needs to be the one the guard lets through the doors. [I ended up creating a character…and another suspect.] Saved it again! Now, I’m somewhere in between the sleuth gathering information and piecing together the puzzle, which is pretty exciting. [What mystery writer or reader doesn’t like a good puzzle?]

My goal for this story is to turn it into a novella of around 40,000 words. [I’d like to finish all 40,000 words this month, but I’d also like to be realistic.] I’m not sure the story will be stretched out to 40,000 words, though. It’s sounding like it’ll be a shorter story, possibly a novelette, but I’m also recognizing that this is a first draft. My first drafts tend to be shorter, and I add in the details – and subplots – in subsequent drafts when the skeleton of the story has already been written. [I’m really not sure why I write this way.]

So, for now, I have 4,242 words out of a reasonable goal of 25,000 words. I haven’t written today yet, so I’m hopeful I can catch up to par for the day. [I have a home inspection with the rental company on Wednesday and I also have to repair some damages my three-year-old created – as well as messes we’ve all created – so my free time is being eaten by housework, which, let’s be honest, is the worst.]

I did, however, literally double my word count [actually, I more-than-doubled it] in one coffee-infused night at IHOP this past week, so I know it’s possible to catch up.

Current word count: 4,242
Weekly total word count goal: 12,000 [par is 11,666]
Weekly focus goal: 7,800 [actual goal is 7,753, but I wanted to round up and not down]

 

Welcome Camp!

Welcome! Take a seat and get cozy. We’ll be here all month. By now, Camp NaNoWriMo has surely started in your time zone, and it’s off to the races. Well, word races…uh…sprints. Anyway, I wanted to take a minute to offer some inspiration and reassurance.

Whatever happens this month – whether you reach and surpass your word goal, you don’t write down a word, or you write something in between – know that you did well this month. You had the courage to try something new, and if all you did was sign up for the challenge, that took guts. You should be acknowledged for taking that leap.

Writing a book is hard work. Well, it’s work. Novels don’t just appear on the computer without mixing in equal amounts of tears, laughter, and perspiration. You signed up for this challenge because, I assume, you want to write a book. But the thing is – most people want to have written a book. It’s a slight word different, but it’s a huge distinction. Most people don’t want to have to go through to come up with an idea and follow it to “The End” then tear it apart only to stitch it back together. It’s a process, and if sometime during this month you decide that process isn’t for you, that’s okay. The big thing is that you tried. You chased after a dream. And somethings the thing about dreams is that they aren’t always how we imagined them. That’s okay. Keep dreaming, keep trying, keep doing.

Sometime in the middle of the month, you’ll look at your word processor (or notebook) and think you’re the worst writer ever to have written, and everything is shit. [Truly, I think it’s inevitable.] Don’t delete your words! When you find yourself in a mental rut like this – or a bout of writer’s block – take a minute away from the screen. Get up, move around, go for a walk, listen to music, do anything that gets you back in your happy place. Think about why you want to be a writer and why you want to write this particular story. Remind yourself of why you’re embarking on this wild journey called Camp NaNoWriMo.

There’s a great book [I’m somewhere in the middle of it as it’s one of those books I’ll take the entire year to read because I want to take my time] called Word by Word by Anne Lamott. It’s kind of a mashup of a writing tutorial and self-help book. I won’t go into the contents here, but I want to bring your attention to the title: Word by Word. That’s how this thing is done. Don’t look at your entire goal as an entity. Don’t even focus on your daily word count goal right now. Focus on that first word. When you’ve written down that word, move onto the next. Eventually, you’ll have a sentence, which will turn into a paragraph, a scene, a chapter, and, finally, a story. But it all starts with that first word, and, that, you can manage.

If you don’t know how your story will go, that’s okay too. Pantsers, plotters, or plantsers are all welcome. And if your story changes midway because your characters take the reins, enjoy the ride. First drafts are used to explore your story, your world, and your characters. Don’t be afraid of dead ends, and don’t be afraid of straying off course to try something else. This is your time to try new things.

Most of all, just have fun and enjoy the experience. If you don’t end up reaching your goal, there will always be another Camp with another goal. Chin up and continue onward.

For now, though, keep writing, keep exploring, and keep growing.