Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My writing journey thus far

On Monday, I popped off about why I never post on where I am in the publishing progress. Commenter JEM had a great point: maybe I could post on my writing journey thus far in general. It was a suggestion that smacked of good sense. Not just because it meant more posts all about moi, either (okay, that was mainly it), but because I realized I could talk about what I write and how I came to write it without talking about the specifics.

So, assuming you don't click right the heck away from here, and assuming I won't lose several Google followers over this, here is my story.

I have always written stories. And when I wasn't writing stories, I was thinking them up. I used to fill notebooks full of ongoing sagas when I was in school. This really started in middle school and I continued right into high school, often trading off story writing duty with a friend to create an awesomely fantastical series of our imagined adventures. These usually involved us, rich, living as roommates in a mansion (because, obvs, that's what you'd do if you're rich), with a load of hot celebrity men who all seemed to love us back instantly and unequivocally. It was great reading--to us. These notebooks we filled were highly guarded, but that didn't stop my friend Anita and I misplacing one of them one day in our junior year.

I remember opening my locker and feeling a hot flash of horror and shock as I realized the notebook wasn't there. The nearly complete notebook. Full of hideously embarrassing stories involving sex and adoration and madcap adventures. If it fell into anyone's hands, it would be over. When Anita got to school, I fell on her and asked her if she had it. But she didn't. We retraced our steps of the day before, terror squeezing our hearts, and finally decided we must have left it in our US History class. We ran there, and our teacher, a Mrs. Barkley, who ran her class with somewhat military style, was waiting.

"I expect you want this," she said. She handed over our yellow notebook, and we took it, cringing and red-faced. I prayed she'd been respectful and not read anything beyond our names; the stories were dense and comprehension was dubious, anyway.

And then I remembered that there was a story with HER in it as a character. It was about military petty officers, and we had her in it as a drill sergeant...God, it was really bad, actually. The idea was she came to visit us as adults in our mansion and...anyway, I've repressed much of this now, but what I do remember is her saying casually as we tried to scurry away, "Oh and girls, 'petty' is spelled with a 'y' and not an 'e.'"

She'd read it. She'd read the whole thing. God, God.

Apart from that hideously embarrassing incident, I wrote short stories throughout my twenties, although I never thought of them as short stories. I don't think I ever finished them. The only thing I knew was that all my life I have had to write stories with an urgency--I needed to get scenarios and characters out of my head and on paper, in order to articulate some feeling or passion I had inside me. Beyond this, I didn't give writing or stories much thought. I'm not sure why, except perhaps deep down I thought I couldn't pull it off.

Then, when I had my whippersnapper, everything changed. I spent his first year very much mired in being his mother, but then a switch was flipped at almost exactly a year. I needed me back. I needed my mind. I wanted my stories, my hopes, my yearnings back. Perhaps as a result, I had a vivid dream, one of my fantastical story-style dreams (the kind where you're in it but you're also kind of watching a movie and it's fantastic and there's a love interest and the dream sticks with you the next day and you sort of float along in a cloud of the feeling the dream produced). I wrote it down, and then I didn't want to stop where the dream had stopped. The story intrigued me. I wanted to find out what would happen to the characters. I wanted to capture the feeling the dream imparted to me, which dealt with themes of protectiveness and fraternity. So I kept writing, and as I did, I realized this was different. This story was stretching out, longer than I'd ever written anything, and I began to get excited.

I said, "What if I could publish this?"

I had no idea then of course that dreck is not published, and we mostly write dreck when we don't know any better. Well, I did, anyway. I had a lot to learn.

Eventually, I discovered that my dream novel was not only dreck, but poo-covered dreck. This came mostly when two people who read it for me were like "Ummmmmm....." and said they were suddenly busy when I asked them to read a second novel I'd written.

Never one to sit back, I started learning as much as I could, as fast as I could. I started this blog. I read. I followed agents and soaked up everything I could about anything to do with writing and publishing. I joined a writing group, which was one of the most nerve-wracking things I'd ever done. You had to submit a chapter to get in, see, and that chapter had to be deemed good enough by the group. I read the email trail in the group about me after I had submitted and joined them for one meeting, and they all said I was an "excellent writer." That meant more to me than any praise I've ever gotten for anything. I rode high on that for a long time.

The second novel was a novel of my heart, involving a lot of my experience in Greece. It was much better formed, actually had a plot (albeit a troubled one), and was more commercial. Alas, it too was dreck. Another beta reader said, "I think you may have to self-publish this," which was one of the worst things anyone ever said to me.

The third novel was one I loved deeply. I loved the concept and I loved the characters. Alas, there are problems with it that might not be solvable. But this third novel was miles and miles beyond the first two in terms of how I wrote it, crafted it, and revised it. This novel got good beta reader feedback, but my critique group went absolutely toxic over it. (I'll post an update on that someday.)

The fourth novel....I'm in revisions on. This one is miles and miles ahead of the third one. (I'm not even counting the first two because I wrote them with blinders on. The first one I wrote with blinders on in the pitch dark, while deaf.) The revision process is miles ahead. Everything about it is miles ahead, including some very key understandings on my part of character, truth, and storytelling. I'm sure I still have lots to learn. We'll see. No one has read it yet.

All of my stories have taken about a year to write, some more and some less, and each one is in the women's fiction genre. The genre has never been negotiable for me. I just love it. There is a lot to learn about the women's fiction genre, and that has been part of the process, too. I love stories about women who face changes or journeys and emerge changed or stronger or better--and they get the guy in the end, too. Oh, that part is key. They must get the guy, because that's the kind of story I like to tell.

Well, if you've stuck through this little ego-fest this far, then you might be moved to leave a comment. Questions? Anything need clarifying? I'm all ears :)

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