Overcoming Fear

45313817_10104694133620575_7497567225709068288_nI’ve written one novel, revised it more times than I can count, and submitted to approximately 28 agents with lukewarm success.

The most common feedback I received was that agents liked my concept, but the opening wasn’t grabbing them.

Which is why it took me so long to start my next project. I was literally terrified of writing another boring opening chapter.

I’ve been planning this book since June… wanted to start writing in July. Didn’t. Wanted to start in August. Didn’t. Wanted to start in September… well, you get the picture.

I signed up for NaNoWriMo because I was so fed up with my fear. I missed writing. I used to LOVE the first draft process. Watching a story come to life after being just a spark is THE BEST.

I finished my opening chapter today. Had my fiancé read it. (I know he’s biased, but still.) He laughed out loud in parts. And his feedback was how impressed he was that it opened with such a punch. (My MC eats alien bugs and then has to race back to the space shuttle because of a tsunami.)

So I feel like I conquered my biggest fear, but also grew as a writer. I’m not doomed to write boring first chapters. I can learn and grow and become a stronger writer. I just need to get my butt in that chair, hands on keys, and WRITE.

So to all of you who have fears to overcome–I feel you! You can overcome them! I believe it you! Let’s create!

Struggling to begin a new project

Writer TearsFor the past year, I’ve been struggling with my writing life. I finished and submitted a manuscript to 28 agents. I received responses with varying degrees of interest, but no offers of representation.

I’m in this weird funk. I want to start something fresh and new. But whenever I go to work on a new project, I can get excited about the concept–but the characters don’t feel real to me.

With my previous book, the characters still feel like real, living, breathing people. They are as real to me as Hermione Granger or Ender Wiggin or Daenerys Targaryen.

In my efforts to begin a new manuscript, I’ve spent a lot of time reading books on character development. I’ve done extensive character planning sheets. My new characters have goals and dreams. I know where they have tattoos and who their secret crushes are. I know what haunts them in their backstory.

But they aren’t real people to me. I don’t catch myself thinking about them as I drive to work. I even get them confused by interchanging their names by mistake. I tried drawing pictures of them so that I would have some clear visuals to keep them all straight.

I’m hesitant to start writing any piece of the actual narrative because I’m worried it will be a total mess. If I don’t know my characters, how can I write anything? It will be inconsistent and confusing.

I wonder though, if I’m not allowing myself to let these characters in. I still yearn to work on my other project. To spend time with the characters I love and know. To finish their story.

But I also recognize that it’s likely time for me to move on to something new in order to grow as a writer. I hope that someday, when a new project lands me an agent and I have a debut novel, I’ll get asked, “What else have you got?” And that will be my opportunity to share this project that I love so much.

But until then I need to find a way to open my heart to something new.

What advice do you have to writers who are struggling to start a new project?

Should I dabble in fanfiction to find my groove again? Should I put my new characters in an empty room and write how they interact?

Any advice is much appreciated!

On Writing: Healthy Masculinity

Healthy Masculinity.jpgHealthy masculinity versus toxic masculinity is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. In the last ten years, the publishing industry has focused a great deal on strong girls, and I’m so very grateful. I’m seeing evidence of this feminist push every day in my classroom. I have THE BEST strong girls as students this year. Girls with dreams and voices and determination.

But our world needs healthy men, too. And I’m growing more and more concerned at what we feed our boys–through media, movies, games, TV, advertising, and literature.

The hardest part of this process is realizing that my idea of masculinity has been formed by toxic messages around me. And that I need to change my own ideas on masculinity.

A moment that woke me up was my general lukewarm feelings towards the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I couldn’t put my finger on why this movie didn’t thrill me like Harry Potter did.

Then I watched this video:

The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander

After watching the video about Newt’s version of masculinity, I learned that Newt wasn’t the type of hero I was accustomed to in film–and yet he was one that embodied many of the traits I wanted in a man. And I suddenly realized that something was wrong with my ideas of masculinity. And it was disorienting. I needed to rewire my brain.

My very first celebrity crush was Han Solo. I watched Star Wars for the first time in 2nd grade. So I was seven years old when Han Solo became the epitome of crushworthy. I know I’m not alone in my crush on Harrison Ford. But that crush gives me a sick feeling these days.

Because this video shook me to my core:

Predatory Romance in Harrison Ford Movies

I’d had a crush on a man who didn’t value consent. Who didn’t listen to women when they said no. Who trapped and coerced women. This wasn’t the kind of man I wanted in real life. I wanted one who listened to me and respected me.

With this new awareness, toxic masculinity was appearing to me everywhere. It unnerves me that my male students are likely absorbing these messages about masculinity each and every day.

What is toxic masculinity? The social construct that defines masculinity as unemotional, violent, sexually aggressive, the lesser capable parent, and more. Any traditionally feminine traits are emasculating. Men cannot: be emotional, show sympathy, need help, like cute things, and more.

I suddenly realized there were ways that, in my very classroom, I was unconsciously feeding my students this toxic masculinity without realizing it. Every year while teaching Shakespeare, I criticize Romeo for how he goes on and on about his emotions. I chastise how moody he is, swinging from depression to bliss and back again. However, in doing so, am I further sending the message to my male students that it is not okay to share how they are feeling? Am I telling them to bottle up their emotions because no one wants to hear them?

I needed to educate myself and do self reflection. So I have been. And it’s made me appreciate so many things about the men in my life.

I love that my boyfriend prefers going to art museums with me than spending his Sundays watching football. I love that he is comfortable talking about how he’s feeling, things that are bothering him, and his dreams for the future. I love that he’s a good listener. And I love that we’ve discussed the possibility of him being a stay-at-home dad. None of these things make him any less of a man to me.

I love watching my younger brother and his wife. He freely expresses how much he loves her. He dresses up as Disney characters because it makes her happy. He frequently plans and cooks dinner. None of these things make him any less of a man.

As a writer, every single thing I experience feeds my writing. How has media shaped my perceptions of the ideal man? I don’t want my subconscious to create toxic men in my books. And so I’m trying to rewire my brain with healthy examples of masculinity.

So in addition to creating strong girl characters in my stories, I will now be very conscious of the male characters I create as well. I want to fuel a new vision of masculinity:

  • Men who show emotion: love, sadness, fear, compassion, and giddy joy.
  • Male/female friendship and companionship.
  • Men who appreciate romance and the slow process of getting to know someone.
  • Men solving problems diplomatically and in non-violent ways.
  • Men who compromise.
  • Men who enjoy childcare and parenthood… and excel at it.
  • Men who ask for help, work as part of a team, and consult others for advice.

I am still learning, growing, and developing my understanding of this topic. It’s going to be a process, but awareness is the first step.

I’d love to do some follow-up posts on books, movies, TV shows that have great examples of healthy masculinity. Comment below with anything you think I should check out!

Here are some additional sources that helped inform me on the topic:

What is Toxic Masculinity?

The Unfulfilled Potential of Video Games

Male Protagonist Bingo: A Study in Cliches

We Need Better Male Literary Heroes

 

 

Behind the Story: Deciding Between Standalone or Multiple Books

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week’s topic:
Standalone to Multiple Books: Making the Decision

When I set out on my current Work-In-Progress (WIP), I was resolved to write a standalone novel.  I am doing an adaptation of a classic piece of literature.  That classic is one, admittedly long, book.  Therefore, I would write one book.  I thought a standalone novel was a good place to begin for a new writer, and I didn’t want to jump on the series bandwagon.  One book.  I could handle one book.

But as I started writing, I began to worry.  My word count was high.  And climbing.  I am not a verbose wordsmith either.  My scenes are quick.  Rarely do I write more than three sentences of description.  I like action.  In fact, while I’m praised for my fast pacing, my advisors and critique partners often want more description.  So the fact that my word count was so high made me nervous.  Because I knew I would need to eventually go back and flesh out descriptions and close plot holes that I sped past.

I was less than two-thirds through the first draft when I hit the max word count for a typical Young Adult standalone novel.  (YA typically falls between 55k and 90k.)  And so I knew I had to do some serious thinking.

Why had I tethered myself to this one book idea?  Mostly, it was because I wanted to be identical to the classic novel I was adapting.  Was that a wise decision?  Can I consider another option?

And when I thought about it, multiple books actually made more sense.

  • My one book is very much divided into three distinct parts.
  • There are three completely different settings.
  • Each part ends with a devastating event.
  • Each part ends with both a resolution as well as a cliffhanger.
  • Each part begins with my character grappling with change and new conflict.

I had three books.  Easily.  In fact, three books made so much more sense.  So I gave in.  And the good side is: I have almost an entire trilogy drafted.  Not just outlined.  Drafted.  And that rocks.

The tough part: it’s all a little more overwhelming.  Because a part of every writer wonders why anyone would want to read their book.  And now I have to persuade a reader to not just invest their time and money in one book, but three.  And that’s more pressure.

But I love my story.  I love my characters.  I love my setting.  And I know this story isn’t like anything else that’s out there right now.

So I’ll ignore the pressure and doubts.  And keep writing.  Because deep down: I just love this story.  And I have to write it.  Even if it takes me three books.

Have you ever had a story evolve beyond your expectations?
Let me know if there is a “Behind the Story” topic you would like to see… Happy Writing!

Behind the Story: Getting Organized

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week’s topic:
Getting Organized

I love using planners.  In college, the first thing I’d do after the first full week of classes is fill out a planner/calendar with all the due dates for the semester.  Often things would be color coded.  I liked to see everything all laid out in one document.  I’ve gone through similar phases with blogging and planning out my posts for the month.

But here is my frustration: planners don’t often have what I’m looking for.  Occasionally I’ve found one.  I really liked a line of planners Vera Bradley made for awhile.  But when I went shopping for my 2015 planner, I could not find what I was looking for.  I like to have both a monthly spread and the weekly spread.  For example, I want to be able to see the whole month of January and then immediately following a full calendar for there to be a smaller weekly breakdown.  Apparently, I am alone in this desire because finding a planner laid out that way is a challenge.

So I resolved this dilemma by making my own darn planner.  Right now it’s in a file folder, but I might move it to a three-ring binder.  I wanted to share the pages I created in case this is a design that others may find helpful.  Below are links to the PDF files.

Month Planner

This page features a write-in calendar, a place to list books I read that month, and a place to record my writing word count for the entire month.

Weekly Planner

This page features two weekly spreads where I can record:

  • Daily word count
  • Blog post published that day
  • What book I am reading

There is also a spot at the end of each week to record what my biggest accomplishment of the week was.  Sometimes we all need to recognize our efforts and give ourselves a pat on the back!

I love that I’ve been able to customize a planner for my own uses.  And this was way cheaper than buying one!

Feel free to save or download the pdfs to use yourself!

How do you stay organized?  Do you use a planner or calendar system?
Let me know if there is a “Behind the Story” topic you would like to see… Happy Writing!

Behind the Story: Journaling Your Writing

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic. Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week’s topic:

Journaling Your Writing

I wanted to share something I started doing as part of my writing routine that’s been helpful for me.  Perhaps it will be helpful to other fellow writers as well!  I’m calling it journaling because that’s pretty close to what it is. Here is what I include in my journaling:
  • Today’s Date
  • Brief Description of Where I Left Off in My Novel
  • What Scenes I Know Are Coming Up Next
  • Surprises While I Was Writing
  • My Final Word Count For the Day
I don’t write a ton for each entry.  A typical day looks like this:
Write Tip Pic
I want to explain what each part does for me, and why this has been a useful tool:
  • Today’s Date: Helps to hold me accountable for writing each day.  And it’s useful in tracking my own productivity.  I also give myself gold star stickers on a calendar for each 1k I write, and if I forget to “star myself” then I can go back here to check.
  • Where I Left Off: I always begin my writing day by re-reading the last scene that I wrote.  I usually try not to do any editing.  Rereading gets me back in the zone and refreshes my memory.  And then writing a brief blurb of that scene in my journaling helps me focus on what about that scene was important.
  • What’s Next: Listing the scenes that are coming up next can serve as an outline, menu, or brainstorm session.  Sometimes it’s a reminder of what’s on my agenda.  Sometimes I can kind of pick from the menu based on what I think comes next organically.  And sometimes I have no idea what comes next and I brainstorm some possibilities.
  • Surprises: This is probably the part of my journaling I love most.  Whenever I sit down to write, something will usually come out that I was not expecting.  An unplanned plot point or an emotional burst from a character or a new quirky secondary character makes himself known.  My favorite part of my writing day has become writing down the surprises, and often I want to explore that surprise more the next day.  I also think it might be fun to share with readers someday… “This character came out of nowhere!” or “I was never planning to do that!”
  • Word Count: This holds me accountable for my writing most of all.  I try to write a 1,000 words a day… no matter what.  It’s a high goal, but honestly, the hardest part is making the time to write and getting your butt in the chair.  Once I’m started, I usually make it.
Not only has this journaling been helpful, but I also think that somewhere down the road, this is going to be a sentimental keepsake.  Being able to look back and see how my story unfolded… I wish I’d done this from the very beginning.
Now I have a beautiful use for all those awesome journals/notebooks that people give me as gifts  🙂
Any other writers do some form of journaling?  Anyone plan to give this a try?
Let me know if there is a “Behind the Story” topic you would like to see… Happy Writing!

Bits of Writing Wisdom (1)

Writing Wisdom
The first of a series of posts where I share writing quotes that inspire me.  Using crafty supplies, I create and mount the quotes in a vintage typewriter style.  Then I photograph the quotes to share with you.

Writing Wisdom #1:

Final Writing Wisdom 1

 

How this inspired me:
I’ve been in the middle of writing something and become totally and completely bored by what I was typing.  And when I stop myself from tapping away at those keys and think about what I’m typing–I usually realize that nothing about what I’m writing is moving the plot along.  Often what I catch myself doing is writing a description passage.  Or perhaps describing mundane details like what my characters are eating and how they’re dressing for the day.  Sometimes that boring stuff gets the words flowing, but deleting, regrouping, and coffee is definitely the best course of action.  Write exciting!  Not boring.

Thanks Maggie Stiefvater (author of Shiver, The Scorpio Races, The Raven Boys) for the great wisdom!

Share this bit of writing wisdom with a writing friend!
Or pin for later inspiration! 

May you have many exciting writing days!