Why attempting the perfect novel may be hindering you

Why attempting the perfect novel may be hindering you

For everyone who writes there are a million ways to get those words down on paper. If you’re anything like I am you stress over the perfect word wondering if your reader will get it. 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. 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. 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.

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.

Perfection

Writing is like housecleaning—there 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 developed. 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. 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.

 

When dreams die, they die young: Confessions of a Writer Part I

When dreams die, they die young: Confessions of a Writer Part I

I knew from the first moment I looped twist ties through a thick stack of notebook paper with the edges still frayed that I wanted to be a writer. There was this feverish excitement to watch written words come alive. And when you’re six years old and add a few pictures sketched and colored with Crayola crayons, well you might as well be a NYTBSA.

Yep, six years old with these characters that seemed to come from nowhere. They were my creation, my friends and once they were out on paper they were no longer imaginary, they were real people.amazing_silhouette_photograph_14

I started telling anyone who would listen that I was going to be an author when I grew up. I was going to write fiction. I don’t know where I got such a big, complex dreams but it seemed I knew and understood them intuitively.

After a few years I stopped this ridiculous confession because as I looked around no one in my circle of influence was talking about writing books and authors and such. Do those people even get paid? What would you even write?

By sixth grade grownups were always asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. By the looks on their faces I knew it had to be something that required college and a degree I could hang on the wall in my office.

When I grow up I want to be a psychologist.

When I said this people drew in long breaths and smiled with admiration. Psychologists were smart people. Educated folk, they said. This was a wise choice. With a clear head and a dedication to school I could become that or even an accountant. You see my Daddy said I should become an accountant and I could, once I learned how to be good with numbers. His brown eyes let up as if he could see it in his mind’s eyes.

Yes, I would be either a psychologist or an accountant as Daddy suggested.

My father worked at General Motors for 30 years. On the, weekends he wrote and read every day, for hours. About a year after he retired he died. After his death we found piles of notebooks filled with his writings. I wonder if anyone ever asked him what he wanted to be? I wonder when he sat in the big chair with his tall legs crossed looking over his bifocals writing in those notepads did he ever wish he could do that all day?

Well, I went to college and graduated with honors.  I got a Bachelor’s in Journalism so at least I would be sure to get paid if I just insisted on writing.

I don’t quite remember when my dream to become a fiction writer began to die. I suppose it was a slow process, like someone who is terminally ill and finally stops struggling against the inevitable. It’s almost a relief just to give in. There’s a feeling of satisfying indolence when you’re no longer struggling. I guess that must be what a physical death feels like.

When dreams die, they usually die young.

They die in the womb; at the point when they should be cared for the most, tended to to  make sure the roots are strong.  They don’t usually die brutally; but go the way of neglect. We stop speaking over them, we don’t feed them anymore. We smother them with the expectations from others, disappointments and fears we’ve learned from our environment and all the lies we tell ourselves.

Eventually, as a young woman, I discovered this little seed; hidden and long forgotten.  Stories played in my head, like when I was six. They needed to be recorded.

Whenever there is something still alive there is hope.

Not all dreams die young. Some dreams just refuse to die.

Climb to the top of the rope: staying focused

Climb to the top of the rope: staying focused

rope climbingThird grade gym class is vivid in my mind. I remember the rope; the thick, heavy rope which reached from ceiling to floor. Every gym class we had the opportunity to climb it to the top, touch the beam and descend in victory. It was then we’d have our name written out in big bold letters on a white card and affixed to the wall of the gym.

Man, such high hopes I had of making it. I mean, I’d watched others do it with ease; climb like monkeys and ascend with proud smiles. Dang it, I wanted that. So I tried. I really did and it never failed—halfway up my heart would begin to race, palms would sweat (this is not good when you’re gripping a rope), I would look down and think, oh, crap, I am gonna fall and splatter on the teacher’s good, blue mat. I would quickly ascend to where it was safe and take my place with the others who had failed; and there were many.

Years later and much too late to climb that rope again I realized the key to the success of the ones who did reach the sky: focus.  Those who achieve goals aren’t always looking back, or focusing on how far they have to go, they focus on the moment and keep the goal in their head. They don’t look at the ones who didn’t make it and think it’s cool if they don’t. They know most won’t. They are intent and deliberate in their pursuit.

As a writer there are so many things to distract me. I work a fulltime job to pay the bills and now after finally finishing my novel I must focus on marketing, promotion and everything else. When I look at it in one big chunk, sometimes I just want to take my place on that preverbal mat next to the others and say, done. But I won’t. I can’t. You can’t. You won’t. Here are the ways to stay on task:

  • Write out your goals and add objectives to them; in other words how you will go about achieving the goals.
  • Plan the day. Don’t let the day get a grip on you as you meander wondering what to do. I have a list of things to accomplish each day. Sometimes they don’t always get done, but at least I have a plan and there’s always the next day.
  • Remember that success is not something all will experience. Many times you will have to work while others are sleeping or playing or doing nothing. You will crave their ‘freedom’ at first but will be thankful for your discipline later.
  • Allow yourself room to fail. Sometimes you will fall short—many times you will. Forgive yourself, get up and keep going. Sulking is the enemy of the soul.
  • Surround yourself with people who understand your goals, tune out those with negative input.
  • Pray often. God will direct you and give you wisdom beyond your human imagination. Often He will impart instructions right into your soul; listen, listen, listen.
Black Women Writers to Celebrate

Black Women Writers to Celebrate

zora-neale-hurstonAs I reflect this month in which we celebrate women’s history I feel compelled to share with you a couple of women writers that rank high upon my shelves.

When I first attempted to read, Zora Neale Hurston’s, There Eyes Were Watching God, many years ago, I have to admit I just couldn’t get through it. The dialect of broken English was just a little too much. Some years passed and I don’t remember why, but I picked it up again. I’m glad I did.

For those of you not familiar with it, this is the story of Janie Crawford, the grToni-Morrisonanddaughter of a former slave who rejects the notion of marrying simply to establish a solid home and financial stability. During a time when this was much more than someone of her stature could hope for this was no light matter.

Her grandmother, who she calls Nanny, became pregnant by her slave owner and fears that her granddaughter will become “a mule” by some man if she doesn’t quickly get her married.  She arranges for her to marry Logan Killicks because he will provide the status and financial security she feels her granddaugghter needs; love is neither necessary nor relevant. Nanny’s destiny was chosen for her, she wants better for her granddaughter. Janie has higher hopes. She longs for true love and can’t imagine settling for anything less.

She eventually finds it in Vergible Woods, better known as Teacake.  He is a good looking stranger who enraptures her with his guitar playing and free spirit. He seems to be from nowhere and everywhere.

She is in her forties when her second husband a prominent man in an all-black town in Southern Florida, dies. Despite their age difference and his lack of any type of status, she runs off with Teacake and marries him despite the whispers and gasps of the town folk. Janie narrates the story, which is a reflective one.

Their Eyes Were watching God, taps into the human spirit and the quest in all of us to find that one that makes us have to remind ourselves to breath.

Hurston dared to write such a novel during a time when women and especially Black women wouldn’t think to flaunt their dissatisfaction with traditional roles so publically and unabashedly. She does it uniquely, tastefully and in a way that transcends time, race or culture.

My other look-back is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Morrison is a master storyteller and possesses this ability to tap into the most intimate parts of the human spirit,bluest eye awakening her reader.

This is the story of Pecola Breedlove; the girl is as black as night and equally as ugly– at least in the eyes of others and thereafter, in her own eyes. Taking on the role she believes society has given her, a role subservient to her white counterparts, she desires to be a white girl with blue eyes. For her this seems to be the sought-after standard of beauty.

The story is told mainly from the point of view of Claudia, whose family has taken in TheirEyesWereWatchingGodPecola because of issues she’s having with her family, namely her incestuous relationship with her father. Claudia is proud of her blackness and indignant at Pecola’s desire to be something other than Black.

Although issues of racism and sexuality and self-worth are thematic throughout, Morrison has a way of weaving them into a well-told story.

Take some time to check out both books. And if you have already, they are certainly worth a second look.