Fall Back Five and Punt

That’s what my husband always says when we have to come up with an alternate plan. I don’t even know what that means, since I don’t watch American football, but I imagine most of you do.

Turns out, it just wasn’t realistic for me to write 50,000 words in July when I was gone for a third of the month and also had a presentation to prepare. I got over 20,000 words written, and that’s not nothing—just not what I’d hoped for.

However, that particular novel is going to have to wait a little longer because my top priority now is getting short stories written and/or revised for my upcoming anthology. Last night I dived back into a story I started in March but have really struggled with. And you know what? It was almost finished. I finished it. Whew!

Today I went through a few of older stories and revised them, bringing them up to a higher standard (I hope). Having done that, my only option is to come up with some new ideas and write some new stories—at least three more, I estimate. Usually not a problem for me—but a road trip would help!

 

Making Progress

Just not enough progress! I now have to average over 3000 words a day if I am to reach my goal. It seemed like I wrote a lot today, but when I did my final count it was only 2,664. So close! Maybe tomorrow I will be more successful.

Slow Start

It’s kind of not fair that this writing month starts off with a holiday weekend. On the other hand, November, when the “main” NaNoWriMo happens, has Thanksgiving in it, so that’s hard too.

I have a handle on my story and I’m 6195 words in, but if you have even a tenuous grasp of math you no doubt realize I am about 3000 words behind already—and I’m getting ready to go on a road trip.

I have a feeling that the bulk of this novel will be written during the last two weeks of the month.

Baby Steps

I started my new novel last night but the problem was I had no idea what the impetus for the plot was going to be. So I only got as far as the important phone call before I had to stop and figure out what on earth the phone call was going to be about.

This is a weird profession, where daydreaming counts as “work.” But you know what? I did figure out what this story is going to be about. In fact I am pretty jazzed about writing it now. I’m only 1889 words in, but I know I’ll get some 3000 word days so I’m not worried.

I’m Back!

My writing has really suffered due to my “real-life” commitments over the last few years, but after an incredibly stressful school year I am taking a break from teaching and plunging back into writing with a vengeance. I plan to chronicle my adventures here as a way to keep myself motivated.

In the past, July was always my “writing intensive” month, where I tried to write a full novel—as many as 80,000 words. The last few years I have been teaching too much to make that possible, but guess what? I’m back, baby! This year I’ve joined Camp NaNoWriMo and am hoping to write the second book in my middle grade series this month.

But that’s not all! I have a publisher who wants to publish an anthology of my short stories. Huzzah for that! But, ahem, he doesn’t have enough to fill an anthology yet. So I’ll be “cheating” on my novel project this month to write more short stories, which I find much more challenging than novels, to be honest. I have written two new stories in the last few weeks and am almost finished with a third. I have two older stories that I can expand/revise to bring them up to my current standards. And I figure I need to come up with at least two more killer story ideas to round out the collection.

So, lots going on here. My creativity is surging and I am so ready to get back to work!

Back On the Horse

When I was a teenager, we lived several miles outside a town in Africa, in an area where most of the properties were farms. The farm next door was a favorite haunt of mine, because it contained two teenage girls and five horses. The girls had both qualified as riding instructors in Scotland, and were eager to teach me how to jump.

The prospect of jumping on a horse simultaneously thrilled and terrified me. They put me on the horse they felt was the most reliable jumper, a gelding named Brandy. Brandy and I cantered right up to the jump and then Brandy changed his mind quite suddenly, as horses are wont to do. He stopped abruptly and I kept going, sailing gracefully through the air before landing in the dirt with a thud.

Were my friends concerned about me? Not at all. All they cared about was that I get right back on the horse and attempt the jump again, for both our sakes. If Brandy thought he could get away with throwing his rider, they’d have no end of trouble ahead of them. And if I was allowed to freak out for even a few minutes, I might not get up the courage to try again.

So I had to climb right back into the saddle and try again. I was thrown again, a little less violently. And yes, it was right back into the saddle for the third attempt. This time Brandy and I made it over the jump together. After two failures, the successful jump was exhilarating.

In my writing life, I’m still waiting for that successful jump. My recent submission has already been rejected. No specific criticisms, other than that they just didn’t “connect” with the story. Of course they were right to reject it. No one wants their book published by someone who is lukewarm about it. The search continues for someone who DOES connect with my stories. Rather than wait months to submit again, I’m trying to make a priority of getting right back in that saddle . . .

When Star Trek Drops a Truth Bomb

My husband and I are watching through the Star Trek: Voyager series (again) with our sixteen-year-old son, who had never seen it before. It has been an enjoyable experience, especially as we come to our favorite episodes.

Currently we are in Season Five, and last night’s episode was “The Fight,” where aliens attempt to communicate with Chakotay using boxing as a frame of reference. Boxing is a sport in which I have less than zero interest. However,  during one scene, Chakotay’s trainer says this to him: “It all comes down to the heart. Do you have the heart for this? That’s the contest. It’s not against him [your opponent], it’s against your own natural human desire not to get hurt. That’s the real fight.”

I have seen this episode at least a couple of times before (not one of my favorites), but this time the trainer’s words stopped me dead in my tracks, because they are so applicable to writing. Once you’ve written something, and you want to get it published, you find out that you are in for a world of pain (unless you are very unusual).

I get looks of disbelief from those in the industry when I admit that I have completed seven novels but still haven’t sold a single one. The reality I’ve been forced to admit is that this is due in large part to my natural human desire to not get hurt. Every time I mentally strap on my guns and gird up my loins for another round of submissions, I find out yet again that I’m just not “enough.” Over the last ten years, editors and agents have told me the following:

  • You’re not special enough.
  • You’re not funny enough.
  • You’re not Christian enough.
  • You’re not quirky enough.
  • You’re not creative enough.
  • You’re not contemporary enough.
  • You’re not American enough (my personal favorite).

After the first few years, it’s harder and harder to go back and knock on more doors, knowing that you will most likely get the same types of rejections, and knowing that your writing has improved dramatically but will most likely not be given a chance. This would be easier to take if my test readers were lukewarm about my stories, but almost all of them have really loved my stories.

The amount of resolve required increases exponentially when no one in your life believes you will ever succeed, and when you face ongoing disapproval for your dogged determination to keep trying. So my natural human desire to not get hurt has led to my neglecting the “selling” side of writing. Instead I’ve focused on writing more and better stories—but of course those stories will never see the light of day if I don’t keep sending them out.

In a little over a week, I’ll be attending a new writers’ conference in Dallas. These days, I can only afford the cheapest of conferences, and this one looks like a great value. And, despite my natural human desire to not get hurt, I have signed up to pitch one of my books to a newly-formed small press. I no longer have any expectation of success, but I am increasingly aware that failure is guaranteed if I continue to do nothing.

It brings to mind another movie quote, this time from Chariots of Fire, when Harold Abrams whines to his girlfriend, “I won’t run if I can’t win.” And she comes back with, “You can’t win if you don’t run.”

True words.

 

Changing Rules

Over the last couple of years, I have occasionally been chided by critique partners for writing sentences that were too long. The limit, I’ve been told, is two lines. If I write a sentence that is over two lines long, I should split it into two. Sometimes I kind of balk at this, because there are occasions when a three-line sentence is really much more elegant than two or three shorter sentences.

So I had to laugh the other night when I read the following sentence. It was written by Captain Frederick Marryat in 1937 and quoted by Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi:

“Pouring its impetuous waters through wild tracts covered with trees of little value except for firewood, it sweeps down whole forests in its course, which disappear in tumultuous confusion, whirled away by the stream now loaded with the masses of soil which nourished their roots, often blocking up and changing for a time the channel of the river, which, as if in anger at its being opposed, inundates and devastates the whole country round; and as soon as it forces its way through its former channel, plants in every direction the uprooted monarchs of the forest (upon whose branches the bird will never again perch, or the raccoon, the opossum, or the squirrel climb) as traps to the adventurous navigators of its waters by steam, who, borne down by these concealed dangers which pierce through the planks, very often have not time to steer for and gain the shore before they sink to the bottom.”

Eleven lines long! Those Victorians were so verbose. And let’s be real: Marryat was a rank amateur compared to Victor Hugo.

 

When Does the “Law of Diminishing Returns” Kick In?

A couple of days ago, I finished a project I had been working on all summer. I had taken it into my head to revise one of my earlier (unpublished) novels. It had finished going through the critique process but I hadn’t kept up with all the critique suggestions, so that was my first task.

Meanwhile, I believe I have actually increased my writing skills considerably this summer, thanks to a new critique partner who has pushed me hard. As a result, what I thought would be a two or three-week project ended up taking the entire summer. Hours upon hours of scrutinizing every line, every word.

I hardly believe this story is now “perfected,” but it is certainly better-written than it was, and I derive some satisfaction from knowing that, even if it never gets published.

But this experience brings up an interesting point. At the same time I was working on the revisions of my “old” novel, I was and am continuing revisions on my newest novel. This one started off in better shape and this first round of revisions is taking it to a higher level than any of my “old” work.

So, I have started revising another older story. This story has also been through the critique process, yet I am finding plenty of ways to improve the writing. But at what point do you say, “Well, I’m done with this and I’m going to send it out and stop revising it.”

I can easily see this turning into a never-ending process. As my skills increase (assuming they do increase) I just keep subjecting all my novels to another round of revisions and upgrades. Of course, unlike some writers, I do keep producing new material—which just means that each round of revisions would take longer than the one before it!

What I’m asking myself now is this: at what point do further revisions become a bad investment of my time? I’m not changing any of my stories in any substantial way. I believe the stories themselves are pretty good. But I’m going through and eliminating pointless words and passive constructions and “telling” and unnecessary dialog tags. None of these things would bother the average reader if they were interested in the story. However, all of these things are very important to the gatekeepers: agents and editors, and I am much better at finding and fixing them now.

So the conclusion I’ve reached at the moment is that my skills have probably increased enough to make another round of edits worth the time and effort before I start querying again. I still am very anxious to start two new stories, though, so I may have to play a game with myself, where I reward myself with “new” writing for various milestones in my revisions.

The Passive Aggressive Poem Post

When I was fourteen, I wrote a poem. It is not a particularly good poem, even for a fourteen-year-old. However, I have a relative who likes it and who thinks I should have included it in my memoir, because the poem deals primarily with my years at Sakeji School, as does the memoir.

Then last week when I posted on my personal blog about the fiftieth anniversary of my arrival at Sakeji, I got another reminder that this too would have been a good time to share my mediocre poem with the world. So I’m giving in. Since I wrote it (albeit as a very immature teenager) I am posting it here on my writing blog. I will try to remember to also add it to my website.

Memories of Childhood

by Linda Moran (aged 14)

I like to remember the feel

Of my bare feet in the mud:

Splashing in the oozy mud,

Nice and wet and deep and cool—

Lovely mud, brown mud

On the playground at school.

And I like to remember

The climbing of the trees,

And the swimming in the river,

And the skinning of my knees,

And the riding of my bike,

And the eating of candy,

And the playing of “Adventures—“

Oh, childhood was dandy!

Memories, too, I have

Of sitting in a classroom:

A big white classroom

With small brown desks.

That classroom was a happy place

That smelled of books and ink;

A whitewashed, happy, quiet place

Where one could sit and think.

I remember, childhood, childhood;

Crawling on my hands and knees;

Studying with great intentness

Frogs and snails and ants and bees;

Wading in the shallow river;

Catching tadpoles with my hands;

Picking flowers in the forest;

Reading tales of distant lands;

Sliding down the slimy clay bank;,

Rolling down the grassy hill;

Making mountainous sand-castles;

Throwing away my calcium pill.

I remember, I remember

Spinning roundandroundandround,

Spinning till I got so dizzy

I fell, exhausted, to the ground.

I remember telling stories

To the other girls at night;

I remember playing hopscotch;

Jumping rope with all my might;

Crying over a dead bird’s body;

Laughing at a monkey’s tricks;

Falling, clothed, into the river;

Climbing fences, just for kicks.

I remember lots more things,

Lots more things I’d like to tell;

But now I’m at the end of my paper

Which, I think, is just as well.

 

Note: I think it’s hilarious that at the age of fourteen, I thought I was old enough to “look back” on my childhood!