Live the moment: the writing process

When I first started writing my book back in 2007 it seemed like a process with no end. I was working fulltime as a night auditor; days were for sleeping and nights, after my work was done, were for writing. Perfect. A couple pages a night was all I could manage. I remember thinking how happy I would be once it was done and ready to send to a publisher.

A year later I was finished yah! Now on to a publisher. I would finally feel happy once I found a publisher or agent (I was seeking both). I knew the process would take time, additionally, my novel although one of inspiration was quite edgy. I was delving into places that were kind of taboo in Christendom. But I was determined not to change it. But no one was biting. In fact I couldn’t keep up with the rejection letters. One agent who accepted queries via email sent me a flat ‘no’, the morning after I submitted my query online; it seemed as if she couldn’t reject it fast enough. Sigh. Living-in-the-moment

If only they would request to read it all they would see how good it was and then I could rest easy and finally be at peace that this portion of the process was over. I could finally proclaim that I was a legitimate writer.

Meanwhile I was generally unhappy and restless and prayed to God to just get me published…geez. I walked around with my proverbial head hung, feeling kinda forgotten.

And then, finally, a response from a small independent publisher who liked the three chapters I’d sent and wanted to read the entire manuscript. I was thrilled. This was it. And then it seemed to me that she was taking her own sweet time getting back to me. So what she had other clients? I was the most important one (tears)! I thought; once I hear from her I’ll rest easy.

Months later they made me an offer. They wanted to publish the book. Yah! Now I know you’re thinking this is the part where I was thrilled out of my mind singing and dancing in the rain, putting Fred Astaire to shame. Well, this isn’t that part. I honestly waited to

feel it– that peace that would settle upon me like warm rays of sunlight. It didn’t come. Instead there was this kind of melancholy, a sadness of which I couldn’t find the source. And then the fretting kicked in as I worried about, how long it would take to publish, book sales, whether or not it good was enough and on and on.

It wasn’t until months later that I took time to reflect on how far I had come. I realized I hadn’t lived any of those moments; the peace that comes from putting it on paper, the joy of having a couple of close friends read my work and getting great feedback, the thrill that someone wanted to publish it. I had pushed those moments aside each time, seeking future satisfaction.

Most of our lives are spent seeking and searching; it seems what surrounds us at the moment is trivial, brings no peace to our lives because something bigger, more significant is not too far away. We live for tomorrow because surely it has to be better than this. We will be happy when…

I realized often we fail to enjoy the moments that make life so great and that peace isn’t suddenly brought on by an event, a place or even a person. It’s internal. We already possess it. Everything you truly need or desire is in you, now. Today. Find it and be happy now. Love the one you’re with just as they are. Kiss and hug your babies before they start behaving. Live the moment. It’s really all you have.

 

Why true stories don’t always make for good fiction

Why true stories don’t always make for good fiction

fiction-has-to-make-sense-mark-twain-picture-quoteIf I had a dime for every time I’ve heard someone say, “I could write a book about my life,” I could stop using the cliché, ‘If I had a dime.’ I must confess; whenever I hear someone dishing the intimate details of their life I am always looking for a story in it…because…hey…you just never know.
But the truth is real life stories don’t always make for the best fiction. I think of the infamous James Frey. You remember the guy who wrote A Million Little Pieces, a candid memoir which we later found out was not so much true as it was fiction, hence no longer true by any account. Oprah called him on it because it was one of her book club picks and it went on to become a New York Times best seller because of this. Yet no one could deny that the story was well written. (O.K. as it turns out some thought it read as something contrived.) A few million were moved by the story. The point is, arguably Frey needed to use creative license (make up stuff) to make the story sound, tightly woven and plotted, like well written fiction. As a true story, I’m willing to believe the story would have been lacking…something. And Frey obviously agreed, hence his reason for making up most of it. Here are a few reasons why fiction and true stories can’t always marry.

 

fiction-quotes-10
Fiction is a fabricated truth
It is true that fiction contains elements of truth. We take real life events and then we create a story. We build on that story from bits of our imagination, mingled with what we know and what we want to happen; we completely change the ending, maybe, or the location; we change the protagonist from male to female, from White to Black because, as fiction writer Alyce Miller says, “Fiction…is a method of transforming, not simply transcribing, life.” These liberties are like candy for a fiction writer. We have the privilege to create. Fiction is truth–fabricated.
The truth doesn’t always pan out into a sound story
The other day my brother was over and telling this joke which had him doubled over and I’m thinking, pull it together man and tell the joke we all want to laugh. Finally, he straightened up and told it between fits of laughter. We are all sitting there waiting for the funny part to sink in. Nothing. It was one of those workplace type jokes that just didn’t transfer to the general public. I’m sure if he would’ve told it to one of his coworkers they both would have been on the floor. Sometimes, with true stories, especially incidents which are personal and intimate the emotional attachment is so intense we somehow feel that those feeling will automatically transfer in our writing. But if the characters aren’t fully developed, or the plot is weak or full of holes, we won’t connect with the story. We don’t continue to read about stuff or people we don’t care about. Just because you care about them in real life doesn’t mean your reader will, unless given a reason.
No, seriously this is a true story
The saying that truth is stranger than fiction is absolutely true. But that doesn’t mean that it is good enough for fiction. I know, how ironic is that? But have you ever heard a story that was so absurd you absolutely didn’t believe it until the storyteller showed you proof? Well, real life events are like that. They aren’t tidy and neat. They don’t necessarily have story arcs or plot points or climaxes where the suspense is driving you crazy. Sometimes events shift suddenly without reason. True stories are all over the place rising and falling in the most unexpected spots. Frey said, “I wanted the stories in the book to ebb and flow, to have dramatic arcs, to have the tension that all great stories require.” And dude, I get that. That’s what we all what. But we don’t always get that with true stories. Remember, fiction is about the suspension of disbelief. If it rings as absurd you’ll get called on it, no matter how true it is.
Sometimes you will get to tell that story for which the back cover of the book will read: Based on a true story. But if not, just keep making them up.
What do you think? Are true stories usually worthy to be told as fiction? I would love to hear from you.

Why some writers never become authors

running-uphill1Over a year ago I decided I would become avid jogger. And notice I used the word, “avid” because this is exactly what I’d had in mind. Please know that I have never been a jogger, runner or trotter of any sort (although I can be seen taking the occasional brisk walk). It was on one such walk that I got this great idea to jog. As I am taking my old lady walk up the hill, a virile young jogger, drenched with perspiration whisks pass me. She is glowing and happy and doing it. She smiles and waves as she passes and I thought I want that.

Eventually, I began to notice others in my neighborhood; donned in their workout they were whizzing by, getting in their cardio as they should and making it look as breezy as those grinning actors do in those commercials for the exercise contraptions you see on T.V.

Then, I got myself together one morning, did some extensive stretching and braved the neighborhood. I hadn’t planned to jog for too long maybe a mile or so.

Do you realize how long a mile really is when you’re jogging?

When you’re driving, a mile is not even long enough to finish a Krispy Kreme donut or listen to a favorite song. When you’re walking, jogging or using your legs in any way to get there it is long enough to listen to several songs on your phone or iPod; it is long enough to envision yourself on a stretcher being taken away by EMS; it is certainly long enough to become so winded you are gasping for air and seriously considering calling the hubby at home to hitch a ride back.

About a third of the way my legs were giving and suddenly it seemed as though there was this massive gravitational pull and a threat from my body of actually going backwards even though I wasn’t on an incline.

So much for things being the way things seem.

It’s like that with writing too. Writers read books by their favorite authors who make writing seem as effortless and attractive as that devious jogger I bumped into to. Their words seem to pour out in one fell swoop as if in a dreamlike trance. And so you begin to write. Perhaps you dabble here and there when you get inspired. Maybe you pen a short story or two when the spirit hits you. But it’s once you commit that things change.

Writing isn’t always pretty and inspiration can quickly become a byword. It is in fact more difficult than rock climbing (I’m guessing of course). It is psychologically grueling and intensive. You’ll search for the words to describe a thing or a feeling and it’s as if every coherent thought gets up and leaves.

Oh, so you want to be an author?

Writing takes your confidence for a thrashing. Oh, I see, you think your words flows like the Nile. Wait until you have a deadline in which to edit a chapter or a portion of your masterpiece and suddenly your river of inspiration dries up like an Indian well. It is then you hear the voices that remind you that your sister is the creative one of the family. It is then you will hear laughter from within and that begging question: “Uh…again, who told you that you could write?” Or your Momma will call you out of the blue and ask did you remember to submit your resume to that place because she heard that they have great benefits and it can’t hurt to at least consider working a real job.

Will you ever learn the process?

You hear that you must learn how to plot, whether to outline or not, the 10 rules of editing and how to develop style and voice and theme. Your head is spinning and you wish you were back in first grade when writing was just cute and fun. And just when you think you’ve learned enough to actual do some damage to the literary world you find out you are doing it all wrong. Sigh…And you have to ask why many writers never become authors?

Why do we write?

We would do it for free if we had to. We love it just that much. We image someone getting lost in the pages of our book as we’ve done countless times with the books of others. And the thought of working a 9-5 for the rest of our lives with no creative outlet feels a little like drowning.

You have a story pinned up inside and you can’t rest until you’ve gotten it down on paper. The thought of sharing your stories with the world gives you this indescribable thrill and you image that’s what flying feels like. And because for so many of us, it is a gift from God and writing is like walking in purpose. And who doesn’t want to walk in purpose?

Why writing the perfect novel be be hindering your progress

Why writing the perfect novel be be hindering your progress

For everyone who writes there are a million ways to get those words down on paper. If you’re anything like I was you stress over the perfect way to say everything wondering if your reader will really get the story. Is it as compellingly written out as it was in your head? You may even be tempted to labor over every paragraph for days at a time moving from page to page until the last chapter rings in your head like prose from a NYTBS. And even then, you aren’t sure, so you rewrite it—again. You could take months or even years with this routine and still not have a finished novel. The truth is, although there is no right or wrong way to edit and rewrite, working that prose like a drill sergeant with OCD can kill your flow and leave you feeling creatively bankrupt.

The problem with perfection is that it truly does not exist. But that is not the only problem.  Passion and creativity are the driving forces of fiction. Trying to perfect every sentence will choke the life out of your creativity. Sometimes it is easier to simply let it flow to get it out. Trust your instincts. If you think the first scene is too early to kill of the father, you’re probably right.  You may think, well, I’m new at this so I’ll get the opinion of a couple of other folk. Well, you’ve seen that show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”. Remember the episodes when the contestant asks the audience and gets practically the same margin in response for all choices presented to them?  It is then the frustrated contestant actually has to make his or her own decision. Gee imagine. Go with your flow. One false move, such as fixing it to please someone else well inevitably lead to another false move and then another and then…well you get it the idea.

Frantically writing

I try to keep in mind while I’m writing that I could indeed be wrong. This entire novel could be headed in the wrong direction.  But I also know the worse that could happen is that I’ll have to rewrite. But once the story is done how will you know when you are indeed finished? You will know. The story will be told. The issues will be resolved. You will have created tension and your characters will be developed. When this sense of completion hits you, stop writing. Writing is like housecleaning—there is always something left to do. There will always a paragraph that could’ve be written tighter, stronger. There is always room for more intense character development. Stop. Save it for the next novel. Now it is time to send it off to your editor and let he/she take a stab at it, or, even better, take it to your beta reader s). But stand in the confidence that you have written the best story for the experience and skill and creativity you now possess.

And look on the bright side—the next novel will be even better.

How to best benefit at writers’ conferences

How to best benefit at writers’ conferences

You learn early that writing can be a very isolated and sometimes lonely process. Days at a time in a room with nothing but your computer and your thoughts can get start climbing the walls and dare you to join them. Perhaps that is why social media can be such a gem to writers. (It can also be the bane to your success if you aren’t careful.)

To be involved, to network and to learn your craft takes concentrated effort. Writer workshops and conferences can be a perfect resource for all of the above. Workshops and conferences not only offer a reprieve from the isolation and the “butt-in-chair” experience, but so much valuable and useful information can be gleaned if you go with the right attitude and expectations. Below are some points to keep in mind in order to get the most out of writers’ workshops and conferences.

Set your goals

As I’ve said, mingling and networking can definitely be achieved at these gatherings. But what else do you want to achieve? Are you looking to tighten a particular skill(s)? Are you looking to talk with an editor or agent? Know what goals you have in mind and that way you can make the most out of your time. There will most likely be a bevy of seminars and events happening simultaneously. Your key will be to focus on what you need for that particular time in your writing career.

Be realistic about your expectations

Hoping to sell a manuscript or land an-on-the-spot commitment is not only lofty, but also unlikely. These are not realistic goals for a conference—neither agents nor editors make snap judgments at such gatherings. Most likely you will be able to meet and talk with agents for a short period of time. You may also be able to find out what type of material they are looking for and follow-up with a query if you are invited to do so. Remember everyone is clamoring to sell their work. It may not happen on the spot, but a meeting-even a brief one-with an editor or agent may be the start you need.

Choose the conference based on your needs

If you are a Christian Fiction writer, attending a murder mystery writing weekend will probably not be profitable to you. Likewise, if you are looking to talk with editors and agents look for conferences that specifically indicate you will have that type of opportunity. If you are a beginning writer, trudging through your first few chapters focus on workshops geared toward beginning writers.

If you are in a position where you cannot get away for a conference consider other opportunities like online conferences. The panels and workshops all take place in a virtual setting. You can learn skills and even network in your PJs and slippers. It is completely interactive and can often be much more intimate. Also asking questions may be a lot less intimidating.


 SORMAG Conference registration

Come Prepared

You won’t leave empty-hand, but don’t come empty-handed either. Bring your business cards or copies of your manuscript. Bring pens and notepads or even your tablet. Be prepared to write down questions and take notes. Have your “elevator pitch” in your head so that you aren’t bumbling when it is time to spout a short blurb about your current project. Come prepared to get as much out of the writers’ conference or workshop as you can. And what you don’t learn from this one, you can get it from the next one.

Join me online at the SORMAG Readers and Writers’ Conference, November 1-3.

 

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