I’ve been working on the same book idea for 4 years now. Some days I’m in love with it. Some days I’m hovering over the delete key. At some point, I’d like to be done. But the more I delve into it, the less likely that seems.
Every new person that reads my work points out, in varying degrees, problems. This is normal. Writing is about drafts, drafts, and more drafts. Intellectually I understand that. But it’s exhausting and disheartening to get crisp white papers back full of blood. Every time. No matter how many good things they say, it’s the bad ones I remember. It’s the bad ones I have to try to fix. And so many times, I have no idea how.
Day after day I pour my soul into my story. And lately, I feel like all I’m making is mud.
This is not a post written to gain sympathy. I simply want to be honest. And this is where I am in my current MFA journey, one packet in and very discouraged. I’m tired, my heart hurts, and when my heart hurts, I write. Thus this self-indulgent, depressing post. 😉
I don’t have any real solutions to add. There’s not going to be a big hopeful but and the end of this. I will, however, offer a small one: even on my worst days, I can’t imagine stopping. Trying to stuff my dreams and my stories back in would be like trying to put a full Kleenex box back together after my two-year-old has ripped out all the tissues and scattered them all over the house.
So I guess I keep going. Maybe the mud will clear. Maybe the blood will dwindle. Maybe I’ll make it; maybe I won’t.
All I know, is there’s no way in hell I’m getting all those damn tissues back in that box.
This is advice I’ve heard several times from a popular radio personality. Sounds great, except he goes on to qualify it by insisting fiction book-reading isn’t edifying. It’s “only for fun.”
Yes, fiction books can be fun. (And he and I both agree there’s nothing wrong with that) But they can also be devastating.
And a great fiction or narrative nonfiction book ALWAYS expands my mind.
Good stories, well told. They influence decisions and view points without effort. Without being didactic. And a story doesn’t have to be “real” to be true. Eleanor Estes’s, The Hundred Dresses, Margery William’s The Velveteen Rabbit, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. These stories shaped the lens through which I view the world.
Yes, you should stay well-informed. You should know what’s going on in your world. Facts are important. But facts tend to fray if they’re not sewn together by a story.
“Top Ten Ways To…” and “self-help” books have value (though in the interest of transparency, I’m usually not drawn to them). But if a reader is really looking to expand their mind, they should reach for a story.
Tips are forgotten. Facts misplaced. Names spend a lifetime wondering around on the tips of our tongues. But stories, stories are remembered.
I am not a prolific author. I am not a world-renown anything. But I’m still betting on my side. Because I work for stories.
A couple weeks ago I attended the Nebraska Writers Guild conference with my dad and sister. It was the first non-pregnancy/birth related overnight away from my oldest children. And so, naturally I was both excited and nervous.
I made an itinerary, promised a special prize for good bedtime behavior, and then I got on a plane and prayed everything would be fine. Those worries however, I’m going to save for a moms blog.
This post is about the writing.
Friday evening, with baby and built in babysitter (aka grandma) in tow, we headed to the conference center to enjoy reading from other Nebraska Writers Guild members and share some of our own. I was actually called second and was able to share one of my favorite moms blog posts: Boy: Why I Cried when I Found out I was have my Third. It was a lot of fun to hear all the different voices and genres, and though we had to leave before my dad could share, I had a wonderful time.
Saturday morning opened with a talk by Sabrina Sumsion about press releases, which I found informative but difficult to write on the spot. (No one’s allowed to read my worksheet 😉 ) Then we were treated to some very interesting stories by retired journalist George Ayoub. He also had some wonderful quotes. Some of my favorites were:
“Don’t be a writer; be writing.” – Faulkner
“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath
“I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.” – Tom Stoppard
My pitch session came during the last (and my favorite) talk of the day. Before you get excited, I wasn’t successful, not in the “Yes, I’m going to sign you today!” way. However, I felt much better about it than I did about my first in-person pitch. For one thing, this time I actually sounded like I was familiar with my book. The agent asked several clarifying questions and I was able to give coherent answers to almost all of them. AND when it was over I got to rejoin a talk about creating compelling characters.
Danny Manus, the final speaker, works in Hollywood, mainly on scripts. But he had some wonderful ideas and specific tools to help any character, whether on screen or in print. I loved that he had exercises and questions I walked out excited to apply to my projects. His presentation was a condensed section of a 4-week webinar series. (Writer buddies, if you’re interested in checking it out here’s a link)
A couple of my favorite character exercises:
come up with 5 core traits/adjectives for protagonist and antagonist
for each, write 3 ways you bring them out in the story
What are 5 things that brought your character to page 1
Create 3 ‘deal breakers’ for you protagonist; make him/her break one
I loved learning new tools for my craft. I loved meeting new people with whom I share a dream. But mostly, I loved being able to go to a conference with my family. More than any book, or lesson, or experience, my family, their writing legacy, has influenced my writing. My dad, my mom, and my grandpa were my first readers, critique partners, and champions.
During his opening remarks, the Nebraska Writers Guild president mentioned our family and the fact that I was a third-generation member. My father took me to my first guild conference and his father took him.