Tag Archives: writing fiction

Ahhh…Thanks. I Needed That.

Two little gems found their way into my Inbox today. Rather than me paraphrase their marvelously refreshing perspectives (no time), I’ll leave it to their words. But, really, as a writer, professional, and human being, if you value your time, priorities, and sanity in the least bit, please do follow these links to read both articles.

Because honestly, in the midst of a hectic week, I am shouting from the rooftops a big huge freaking THANK YOU for someone just effing saying what I’ve long insisted to myself yet have dismissed as lazy excuses. Amidst the humming neuroses of others, let’s fight the good fight to keep it real.

Real Writers Write Every Day – from The Editor’s Blog

Excerpt:

You do not need to write every day to be a real writer.

Pilots don’t turn into non-pilots if they don’t fly for a day or a week. Surgeons are still surgeons after a week’s vacation.

There’s nothing magical about writing daily that endows the title writer yet takes it away if a writer doesn’t put pen to paper during a 24-hour period. Writers may be different from other folk, but writing is no wooey-wacky profession. You don’t have to give more to it than is required to do the job, to fulfill the contract, to finish the manuscript.

Two Lists You Should Look at Every Morning – from the Harvard Business Review Blog Network

Excerpt:

[W]e try to speed up to match the pace of the action around us. We stay up until 3 am trying to answer all our emails. We twitter, we facebook, and we link-in. We scan news websites wanting to make sure we stay up to date on the latest updates. And we salivate each time we hear the beep or vibration of a new text message.

The speed with which information hurtles towards us is unavoidable (and it’s getting worse). But trying to catch it all is counterproductive. The faster the waves come, the more deliberately we need to navigate. Otherwise we’ll get tossed around like so many particles of sand, scattered to oblivion. Never before has it been so important to be grounded and intentional and to know what’s important.

Never before has it been so important to say “No.”

Hear, hear! Now I can exhale a bit.


No “Hem”-ing and Hawing About It: Hemingway Speaks in “Ernest” – Part III

Right. So, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t live up to my end of the bargain at the end of my previous post. I haven’t completed any creative writing since then, but I did get through another round of edits on someone else’s super-fun paranormal romance and am taking on some additional freelance work writing/editing commercial documents and web content for a couple small businesses. Hey, it pays the bills. I do find myself in a peaceful sort of limbo today, though, that should allow me a chance to crack open manuscript #2 and crank on its final chapters. But first things first: in getting psyched and inspired to write by those who’ve already done it so well, it’s time to wrap up my little literary miniseries here with some final quotations from Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

On peer critique:

He liked the works of his friends, which is beautiful as loyalty but can be disastrous as judgment.
from “Ezra Pound and the Measuring Worm”

We still went under the system, then, that praise to the face was open disgrace.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

That fall of 1925 [Scott Fitzgerald] was upset because I would not show him the manuscript of the first draft of The Sun Also Rises. I explained to him that it would mean nothing until I had gone over it and rewritten it and that I did not want to discuss it or show it to anyone first.
from “Hawks Do Not Share”

Every writer is different, but hopefully we all understand the value of actively soliciting constructive criticism of our work. That said, I totally share the reluctance Hemingway had when it comes to handing over an early draft, the desire to give yourself the opportunity to critique it first before letting other eyes judge what is surely not yet your best. There does come the time, though, to fork it over, and I’m still steeling myself for this step…I do know a select few friends whose loyalty wouldn’t impair their judgment; they would tell it to me straight without fear of hurting my feelings, which is fortunate and terrifying all at once as I endeavor to shape what I do into something truly good by any measure…but what defines good writing?

On good writing:

[Fitzgerald’s] talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think. He was flying again and I was lucky to meet him just after a good time in his writing if not a good one in his life.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

He spoke slightingly but without bitterness of everything he had written, and I knew his new book must be very good for him to speak, without bitterness, of the faults of past books. He wanted me to read the new book, The Great Gatsby, as soon as he could get his last and only copy back from someone he had loaned it to. To hear him talk of it, you would never know how very good it was, except that he had the shyness about it that all non-conceited writers have when they have done something very fine, and I hoped he would get the book quickly so that I might read it.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

When you first start writing stories in the first person, if the stories are made so real that people believe them, the people reading them nearly always think the stories really happened to you. […] If you do this successfully enough, you make the person who is reading them believe that the things happened to him too. If you can do this you are beginning to get what you are trying for, which is to make something that will become a part of the reader’s experience and a part of his memory. There must be things that he did not notice when he read the story or the novel which, without his knowing it, enter into his memory and experience so that they are a part of his life. This is not easy to do.
from “On Writing in the First Person”

Then I started to think in Lipp’s about when I had first been able to write a story after losing everything. […] It was a very simple story called “Out of Season” and I had omitted the real end of it which was that the old man hanged himself. This was omitted on my new theory that you could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood. […] And as long as they do not understand it you are ahead of them. Oh sure, I thought, I’m so far ahead of them now that I can’t afford to eat regularly. It would not be bad if they caught up a little.
from “Hunger was Good Discipline”

I feel the strong need to emoticon that last one, but will do it here so it doesn’t look like Hemingway stooped to my level. Here it is: 🙂 I think that observation speaks (to an extent) to the debate in my first post in this series about writing to the market…I think sometimes you do have to throw the reader a bone and hand-hold just a little if you want them running along with you and cheering you on—rather than giving up on you because you’re trying to be a profound and abstract literary genius, sitting up there on-high in your little turret all alone but for the company of a story only you could love. 🙂 (There, I emoticoned again! It’s a modern disease!) But to continue…

In writing there are many secrets too. Nothing is ever lost no matter how it seems at the time and what is left out will always show and make the strength of what is left in. Some say that in writing you can never possess anything until you have given it away or, if you are in a hurry, you may have to throw it away. […] They say other things too but do not pay them too much attention. They are the secrets that we have that are made by alchemy and much is written about them by people who do not know the secrets or the alchemy. There are many more explainers now than there are good writers. You need much luck in addition to all other things and you do not always have it. This is regrettable but nothing to complain about as you should not complain of those explainers who tell you how you do it and why, if you do not agree with them. […] Good writing does not destroy easily…
from “Nada y Pues Nada”

I must say, I’m touched by Fitzgerald’s humility regarding The Great Gatsby, as well as the esteem he was held in by his contemporary Hemingway (even when other aspects of Fitzgerald’s life hardly impressed him). What a fascinating time to be a writer back then, when there was still uncharted territory—hell, when there was still un-agented submissions!—and classic American literature was given new voice. So many pioneering and influential artists, right there in Paris at the same time and toasting cocktails to one another…no wonder Woody Allen wanted to pay homage with his recent film Midnight in Paris. An era idealized in nostalgia? Sure. But there’s no questioning the contribution that those people at that time made to what so many of us continue to aspire to today; it was a recipe for greatness whether they knew it themselves yet or not…a wonderful alchemy of talent and ambition that not even the explainers can explain.

In closing:

“Hem, you won’t forget about the writing?”

“No,” I said. “I won’t forget about the writing.”

I went out to the telephone. No, I thought. I would not forget about the writing. That was what I was born to do and had done and would do again. Anything they said about them, the novels or the stories or about who wrote them was all right by me.

from “Nada y Pues Nada”

PART I

PART II


No “Hem”-ing and Hawing About It: Hemingway Speaks in “Ernest” – Part II

Yikes, have I taken long enough to follow up on this? Busy days, folks, busy days, and I clearly lack Hemingway’s discipline…for writing anyway. His discipline seemed to stray when it came to women…

Right, moving on. I left off last time with commentary on how Hemingway’s autobiographical yet “fictional” book A Moveable Feast might have been called The Early Eye and The Ear had its author let himself live to see its publication. To continue:

The Early Eye and The Ear gets at the need to hone your craft, something Hemingway truly believed in and worked at all his life. It implies talent, for you must have a good eye and a good ear to begin with if you are to be successful, but it also suggests that you need experience to develop your abilities as a writer, and Paris at that time was for Ernest Hemingway the perfect place to do this.

Indeed, I imagine Paris isn’t too shabby a place to do it. Especially back then when being an expatriate really would have felt exotic as opposed to today’s globally minded society that shuffles the likes of us in and out the door with more frequency. Not that moving to London wasn’t a massive inspiration for me and my own writing, but I probably hear North American accents here as often as any, and the likes of Starbucks is everywhere (which I’m at peace with because I very specifically love their chai lattes and granola bars).

At any rate, any place is fitting for a writer—or human being in general—that can introduce you to new perspectives, cultures, aesthetics, interesting, worldly if not quirky people, and allow you to expand into a sense of self you might not have realized you could be back home. I’ve learned firsthand how moving away helps you see that home with sharper clarity; as Hemingway said, “Maybe away from Paris I could write about Paris as in Paris I could write about Michigan.” Let’s hear more of what he had to say about those days when he first endeavored to become a novelist…

On starting to write a novel:

I knew I must write a novel. But it seemed an impossible thing to do when I had been trying with great difficulty to write paragraphs that would be the distillation of what made a novel. It was necessary to write longer stories now as you would train for a longer race. When I had written a novel before, the one that had been lost in the bag stolen at the Gare de Lyon, I still had the lyric facility of boyhood that was as perishable and as deceptive as youth was. I knew it was probably a good thing that it was lost, but I knew too that I must write a novel. I would put it off though until I could not help doing it. I was damned if I would write one because it was what I should do if we were to eat regularly. When I had to write it, then it would be the only thing to do and there would be no choice. Let the pressure build. In the meantime I would write a long story about whatever I knew best.
~ from “Hunger was Good Discipline”

Since I had started to break all my writing down and get rid of all facility and try to make instead of describe, writing had been wonderful to do. But it was very difficult, and I did not know how I would ever write anything as long as a novel. It often took me a full morning of work to write a paragraph.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

Now, as he alluded to in that first quotation, Hemingway had lost not only the entire manuscript of his first attempt at a novel but also the majority of anything else he had written, and he didn’t have any copies. He then went on to write The Sun Also Rises. Talk about rallying! That must have taken tremendous drive, patience, and discipline to simply sit down with pencil and notebook and start writing again. Fortunately, he was seated in the midst of life, buzzing around him with inspiration…

On writing from life:

In the early days writing in Paris I would invent not only from my own experience but from the experiences and knowledge of my friends and all the people I had known, or met since I could remember, who were not writers. I was very lucky always that my best friends were not writers and to have known many intelligent people who were articulate. In Italy when I was at the war there, for one thing that I had seen or that had happened to me, I knew many hundreds of things that had happened to other people who had been in the war in all of its phases. My own small experiences gave me a touchstone by which I could tell whether stories were true or false and being wounded was a password.
from “On Writing in the First Person”

A girl came in the café and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin, and her hair black as a crow’s wing and cut sharply and diagonally across her cheek. / I looked at her and she disturbed me and made me very excited. I wished I could put her in the story, or anywhere […]. The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it. […] I’ve seen you, beauty, and you belong to me now, whoever you are waiting for and if I never see you again, I thought. You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.
from “A Good Café on the Place St.-Michel”

So, it seems Hemingway had found a sweet spot in a café where his writing could flourish. I had to laugh, then (but with as much pity as humor), at his agitation when other people disrupted that peace…

On less-than-ideal writing conditions:

The blue-backed notebooks, the two pencils and the pencil sharpener (a pocket knife was too wasteful), the marble-topped tables, the smell of café crèmes, the smell of early morning sweeping out and mopping and luck were all you needed. […] Some days it went so well that you could make the country so that you could walk into it through the timber to come out into the clearing and onto the high ground and see the hills beyond the arm of the lake. A pencil-lead might break off in the conical nose of the pencil sharpener and you would […] sharpen the pencil carefully with the sharp blade and then slip your arm through the sweat-salted leather of your pack strap to lift the pack again, get the other arm through and feel the weight settle on your back and feel the pine needles under your moccasins as you started down for the lake. / Then you would hear someone say, “Hi, Hem. What are you trying to do? Write in a café?” / Your luck had run out and you shut the notebook. This was the worst thing that could happen. […] Now you could get out and hope it was an accidental visit and that the visitor had only come in by chance and there was not going to be an infestation. There were other good cafés to work in but they were a long walk away and this was your home café. It was bad to be driven out of the Closerie des Lilas. You had to make a stand or move.
~ from “Birth of a New School”

It appears he made a stand. It wasn’t pretty. But he made his point. Then there’s that friendly chap F. Scott Fitzgerald, fellow member of the Parisian literati who invited Hemingway and his wife Hadley to join them in the French Riviera.

It was a nice villa and Scott had a very fine house not far away and I was very happy to see my wife who had the villa running beautifully, and our friends, and the single aperitif before lunch was very good and we had several more. That night there was a party to welcome us at the Casino […]. No one drank anything stronger than champagne and it was very gay and obviously a splendid place to write. There was going to be everything that a man needed to write except to be alone.
~ from “Hawks Do Not Share”

I was getting tired of the literary life, if this was the literary life that I was leading, and already I missed not working and I felt the death loneliness that comes at the end of every day that is wasted in your life.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

Not that Ernest couldn’t whoop it up on his own terms, but, when he wore the writing hat, it was all about productivity.

On the discipline of writing:

I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that you knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written. Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline.

It was in that room too that I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything, I hoped; learning, I hoped; and I would read so that I would not think about my work and make myself impotent to do it. Going down the stairs when you had worked well, and that needed luck as well as discipline, was a wonderful feeling and I was free then to walk anywhere in Paris.
~ from “Miss Stein Instructs”

And now that Hemingway has made me feel thoroughly guilty, it’s time to go get some work done. You should, too. Let’s say we write ourselves proud for a while and meet back here when I post the last installment of this series. Deal? Good. Now keep those eyes and ears open…

PART I

PART III


No “Hem”-ing and Hawing About It: Hemingway Speaks in “Ernest” on Writing – Part I

“It is not that things should be published. But I believe now that it is important that they exist.”

Ah, and that quotation wasn’t even Hemingway; it was his friend Evan Shipman. But I figured it made a good segue from my previous post about “When Not Being Published Doesn’t Feel Too  Shabby,” no? Who was Evan Shipman? Alas, perhaps if he hadn’t held the views on publishing he did, his name would be as household as Ernest Hemingway’s by now.

Evan Shipman, who was a very fine poet and who truly did not care if his poems were ever published, felt that it should remain a mystery.

“We need more true mystery in our lives, Hem,” he once said to me. “The completely unambitious writer and the really good unpublished poem are the things we lack most at this time. There is, of course, the problem of sustenance.”
~ from “An Agent of Evil”

Ah, sustenance. Indeed. Well, it doesn’t seem  even the published can necessarily count on that anymore. But this is how F. Scott Fitzgerald did:

He had told me at the Closerie des Lilas how he wrote what he thought were good stories, and which really were good stories for the Post, and then changed them for submission, knowing exactly how he must make the twists that made them into salable magazine stories. I had been shocked at this and I said I thought it was whoreing. He said it was whoreing but that he had to do it as he made his money from the magazines to have money ahead to write decent books. I said that I did not believe anyone could write any way except the very best they could write without destroying their talent. He said he had learned to write the stories for the Post so that they did him no harm at all. He wrote the real story first, he said, and the destruction and changing did him no harm. I could not believe this and I wanted to argue him out of it but I needed a novel to back up my faith and to show him and convince him, and I had not yet written any such novel.
~ from “Scott Fitzgerald”

[After Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby:]

I was trying to get him to write his stories as well as he could and not trick them to conform to any formula, as he had explained that he did.

“You’ve written a fine novel now,” I told him. “And you mustn’t write slop.”

“The novel isn’t selling,” he said. “I must write stories and they have to be stories that will sell.”

“Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.”

“I”m going to.” he said.
from “Hawks Do Not Share”

Hm, and did he? Was Scott a sell-out? Or was he just doing what he needed to do to make a livelihood of his craft? It raises the question that hits me time and again—to what extent do writers need to write to the market if they ever want to be published? Just at the start of their careers to get a foot in the door? Throughout their careers to keep earning a living? Is there a happy medium? And could writing to the market harm your writing if it’s any less than your best? Questions I don’t feel the need to answer at this time. (But see my post “To Market, To Market” if you want to further chew on it.)

Moving on, the bits that I’m quoting here are from one of my latest reads, Hemingway’s posthumously published book, A Moveable Feast. The title, though chosen by his wife after his death, bears Hemingway’s stamp, taking liberties as he did with spelling and punctuation out of an innate grammatical logic of his own—in this case, the “ea” in “Moveable.” In any case, I used to read so much Hemingway in my teens and twenties and had neglected him for a while until recently reading Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife about his days in Paris in the 1920s with his first wife Hadley. This led to reading A Moveable Feast, his own accounts of what transpired in those ol’ Paris days, and then re-reading The Sun Also Rises, which is essentially autobiographical of a group trip at that time to Pamplona, Spain. It’s funny how we readers bring so much to a story’s meaning depending on our evolving frame of reference, because first reading that novel a decade or two ago was a different experience for me than reading it now as a fellow American expat in Europe—especially different after attending a bull fight in Madrid last year (and sobbing like an infant, I might add. I’m not going to run out and join PETA or anything, but I’ll say this: Never. Again.)

Anyway, that’s the side of literature I’ve been embracing again: being a reader. Nonetheless, as I won’t be entirely foregoing the trials and tribulations of being a writer (as implied in my last post), I thought I’d share some insights on writing Hemingway gave throughout his Paris memoirs—Paris being where he was still cutting his teeth on his pencil. I’ll break it up into separate posts as this is already getting long, but before I close up shop today, I’ll share this from Seán Hemingway’s introduction to the book. Regarding how A Moveable Feast was originally going to be titled The Early Eye and The Ear:

The eye, a term usually used in the connoisseurship of fine art, draws an interesting comparison between writing and painting […] Hemingway first developed his eye, his ability to discern the gold from the dross and turn his observations into prose, in Paris in the twenties. The ear, which we think of as more pertinent to musical composition, is clearly important to creative writing. Hemingway’s writing typically reads well when spoken aloud. When complete, his writing is so tight that every word is integral, like notes in a musical composition.

Hemingway’s writing isn’t for everyone. I, too, fluctuate in my response to it sometimes. But I’ll never question my overall love for his storytelling if only for For Whom the Bell Tolls. He brought something different to the table, and even if it isn’t the style other writers or readers want to embrace, the discipline and the principles he abided by were universally sound. Until next time, when we’ll hear more of what Ernest has to say!

PART II

PART III


Keep Calm and Query On

KEEP CALM - CARRY ON

KEEP CALM - CARRY ON (Photo credit: atomicShed)

And at the snap of the fingers, the Primate goes from pensive to proactive…

Last week may have been my time to stop and take stock, but this week I’ve no choice, really, but to throw myself into working / writing / revising / job-searching. I’m leaving for the States next week, you see, for a couple weeks to visit Chicago and New York, and then I’m hosting my lovely sister and niece in London immediately thereafter. With March thus swallowed, my husband and I are also already making travel plans for April. So was I just worrying about finding full-time work? Who has time for full-time work??! 😉

But seriously, before I soon venture where technology goes to die (a.k.a. Mom and Dad’s), it’s full-on git ‘er done mode right now. I nonetheless thought I’d pause from that to share what have been my first non-form-letter rejections! Woo-hoo! Okay, the exclamation points may seem like either sarcasm or extremely unwarranted enthusiasm, but, honestly, after about a dozen standard manuscript rejections, it’s so very nice to receive personalized feedback. Both of these came in recently from small publishers. The first is in response to a re-submission, and, admittedly, shame on me for trying to wedge my octagon-shaped cross-genre manuscript into the square hole of genre fiction:

The changes that you made to the story were great! It flowed much more smoothly. […] Unfortunately, I think that it still won’t work for us. I think that it is a great “paranormal” story but there just isn’t the romantic element that [the publisher] is known for. I do think that you should really seek publication for this though. I think that it is a great story and a publisher that doesn’t specialize in romance would take it.

Fair enough. I knew that mere romantic elements does not a romance make, but it was worth a try. Moving on, I received this at the end of last week:

While your story was very interesting, and at times suspenseful, we have to be very selective due to a high volume of submissions received each week.

The beginning gripped me, and the end had my spine tingling. However, I felt that after the first chapter, the pace slowed quite dramatically. I kept wanting something more to happen, and though it did, it felt like it took a long time to happen (not until toward the later half). Again though, your story as a whole is wonderful, I just feel that another company would be able to offer better representation at this time.

We sincerely thank you once more for thinking of us, and wish you the very best in your journey to publication. We have no doubt that you will find representation with another publisher.

Those are both very gracious, no? It certainly softens the sting and encourages me to keep on truckin’ and strengthen that story. As of now, in the meantime, I have a query outstanding with another small publisher and the full manuscript with an agent. My upcoming travel schedule is probably an aptly-timed excuse to step back from all this for a bit, eagerly await those responses, refresh, and come back swinging in spring—hopefully with a second manuscript to query on behalf. 🙂


The Roads Newly Taken

[Warning: The rocky trail ahead is just me placing the needle back on my same broken record. Am in pausing-to-take-stock mode, and writing is my way of therapeutically reflecting through it, so please don’t feel you need to keep reading if you’ve already heard all this crap. :)]

It’s been a lot of work and reinvention of my professional self this last decade and a half, what with making the Finance-to-Education career move and then the USA-to-UK geographical move that abruptly demanded I figure things out all over again…just when I’d had it all sorted. I was happy as an English teacher, truly, and gave a go at teaching in London. But let’s just say I know the joy to be found in teaching, so when I found myself treading water through an unpleasant situation that didn’t let me fully be who I am, well, signs to move on simply don’t come clearer than that.

I was devastated having my professional playing field leveled on moving overseas, but I find myself looking back on these last three and a half years—which had always felt rather random and drifting—and seeing what I’ve been doing in that time is finally starting to gel. I think. Even when I was teaching and loving it, my primary love for the English language and literature that I instructed naturally fed my dreams of also becoming a writer and editor. So, I’ve been biding my time writing web content and editing fiction on a freelance basis, and I’m on the cusp of finishing a second novel. And while my editing to date has been for the same small publisher, I’ve just been approached for my first outside gig and am thinking of shaping that independent role into something more official.

Baby steps.

The querying and job-searching continues as I seek to ultimately become a published writer and full-time editor. It’s humbling to compete with so many talented writers likewise seeking publication, and it’s humbling to compete with young graduates for the same in-demand entry-level jobs. I’m 35 with a Masters degree and CFA and have applied for an unpaid internship, for cripes sakes. It’s fair to say I officially checked my ego at the door in 2008. And now I’m wriggling and fussing a bit, as we newborns will do while we wait for our sight to sharpen and learn new uses for our arms, legs, and minds.

But in the meantime, best thing I can do is keep cultivating mah skillz, yo—hoping they pave a relevant path toward what I suppose is shaping into a third freaking career. And London itself just continues being its wonderful, literary self for me to absorb and enjoy, introducing me to Charles Dickens’s great-great-great-granddaughter, Lucinda, last week and various publishing professionals last night in the very space Sir Laurence Olivier dressed and rehearsed for his stage debut. Ahh, London. I love ya.

So can you tell I’m just feeling out my sense of validation here? Glad I warned ya? Not to worry—I’m very content. I just need to stop now and then to assess the situation…because I work just as hard now as I ever did, but without the compensation or recognition. Fine, I guess I’m not money-motivated. But I’d also always been one of those people who functioned best within the straight-and-narrow, doing everything I was supposed to with clear goals in mind. MY goals, fending for myself. And then I became someone’s wifey. And then supporting his goals resulted in resetting mine (no small feat when you’re as stubbornly independent and feisty as me and will rage against anything threatening your autonomy and inner life). And now that my never-expected-to-have-to-set-new-goals-so-soon new goals are finally clarifying, the road to reach them, I see, is a little less marked and a lot more meandering than what I’m used to. In fact, it looks to me like there are multiple pathways still lying ahead, some flat, some steep, some wide, and some narrowly hugging a cliffside. All of them, though, appear to converge on the horizon…so I guess it’s time for me to just stuff my yapper with a protein bar and take a hike. 🙂


NaNoWriMonkey – Follow-up Reflections (Finally!)

Just over a month of recovery has transpired since my NaNoWriMo burnout. Like a Roman candle, the concentrated spew of writing was glorious, dazzling my eyes with a populated computer screen after a long stretch of spark-less procrastination. And then November ended and fffffzzztt. So did the writing. For the most part. Just like legs need a rest after a marathon, I needed to retrieve my eyeballs and fingers from where they’d fallen off onto the keyboard and step away from that project for a bit.

In the meantime, I’ve been tweaking my first manuscript and rewriting query letters over and over again to get ready for a much-delayed round of submission. I also headed Stateside for another two weeks for Christmas, which was crazy-busy but magical, just like the Disney trip before that. 🙂 Anyway, I’d promised to follow up on my NaNoWriMo experience, so let’s get on with it.

Writing 50,000 words in one month is a concept that makes folks wary, and understandably—for years I assumed it could only generate pure and utter crap; good writing is not to be rushed. But now having gone through it, there’s no question it was a useful exercise that I highly recommend, and here are some reasons why:

1. NaNoWriMo was like a writing enema. I’d been stopped up for a while in that respect, sitting on a story outline I’d completed in spring only to sputter out one chapter in summer and jack until November. It was shit-or-get-off-the-pot time, and NaNoWriMo was precisely the initiative I needed. So, to run with my disgusting metaphor, even if a lot of my massive brain-dump was crap, it was purifying to get it out of me. I did have an outline to keep me focused, but I think if you’re still in novel-brainstorming mode, it’s a perfect way to write your way into a storyline to run with beyond NaNoWriMo.

2. NaNoWriMo gave me discipline. For as much as I’ve preached on this blog that writing is a discipline, I still tend to fall in with the “I write when I feel like it” crowd. It’s incredibly difficult for me to establish routine in my writing, so having that NaNoWriMo goal was such a motivating force. Not only did my profile stats continually calculate how many words I had to average per day based on my actual pace, but punching in my new word counts and watching those bars climb on the chart was immensely satisfying. It pushed me each day to stick to a daily word goal and punch out a few more sentences just when I thought I had no words left in me. Contrary to such doubt, there’s always more waiting in the folds of our grey matter.

3. NaNoWriMo pushed me out of my comfort zone. There’s obviously no hard-and-fast “right” way to write. Some writers vomit out their stories first and revise later, and others revise as they write. I trend toward the latter category. It has merit, but I found it worthwhile to try a new approach, and the result broke some bad habits I’d naturally fallen into. One of the major flaws of my first manuscript was that its early drafts were overwritten. I pored way too much over every word and sentence and stopped writing new material in favor of revising finished chapters to death first. The writing needed to relax, and, what’s more, I hadn’t mapped out that entire story yet. To so painstakingly revise early chapters when I still had no idea where the later chapters were going was just stupid. It was only when I’d finished drafting the entire story that I realized what needed to change at the beginning to improve consistency. So, not only did I outline my second manuscript beforehand this time around, but NaNoWriMo forced me to keep driving this story forward and not complicate phrasing through over-thinking it—there simply wasn’t the time to. It’s not as though I had no opportunity for some thoughtful wordsmithing, logically thinking through plotting, or researching to enrich descriptive detail and authenticity. I simply mean that, overall, I had to write more off-the-cuff and to-the-point than I’m used to, a risk my writing in particular really needed to take.

4. NaNoWriMo powerfully immersed me in my storyworld. Curling up with a single story for so many hours of the day every day was the deepest sea-diving into my imagination I’d ever done. I was truly married to my characters, setting, and situations at that point; the level of commitment was tremendous when I promised to come back to them every day, and the short gaps between bouts of writing ensured I never really loved ’em and left ’em. It’s essential to at some point step away from a story and come back to it with fresher eyes (as I’m doing right now), but the benefits of sticking with it for better or worse in November included seeing my storyworld more vividly and improving its continuity—I remembered details more clearly and strung them together more efficiently since they were written only a matter of hours/days apart from each other.

5. NaNoWriMo was P90X for my brain. In view of all the aforementioned, my mind clearly got warmed up and broke a sweat trying to keep pace with my required daily average word count (~2,700/day thanks to my late start). The mind is a muscle, after all, and it needs to be flexed in order to grow. Pushing yourself to go as far as you can one day will strengthen you to do the same if not more the next. And haven’t you found that the more you exercise, the more you want to? In the same way, NaNoWriMo energized me to the point where I wasn’t writing because I had to. I wanted to. I honestly woke up every morning excited to get back to my computer to research and write.

Granted, there’s no way I could’ve sustained the intensity of NaNoWriMo beyond that month, but I do think the lessons it taught can be applied in realistic doses going forward on my project. I went into it with 10,000 words, came out with 60,000, and estimate I have about 15,000-20,000 more words to go until my first draft is finished. There’s no question I’ll have to revise the hell out of it, but I definitely don’t discount the earnest progress I initially made on it in a very, very concentrated amount of time—I think (*hope*) going into NaNoWriMo with an advance, focused vision of my story optimized how many of those 50,000 words actually have a shot at remaining in the final draft…the major ideas at the very least.  I tried my best to work smarter, not harder, so we’ll see one day what I have to show for it. 🙂


NaNoWriMonkey

Twelve days into November, I made the idiotic decision to first join NaNoWriMo, and ever since, my desk has been a feces-flingin’ factory of writing. Victory seemed improbable but is oh-so sweet for this now official NaNoWriMo-Fo. Reflections on the experience are forthcoming, but for now I really need to take a shower…


And now a word from our sponsors…

* * BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP * *

This blog is temporarily on hiatus.

The Primate was at first preoccupied with October travels,
and now with November NaNoWriMo.

(see sidebar widget to track my progress…
…and have mercy. I joined 12 days in.) 

Please stay tuned for The Fallen Monkey’s winter season line-up, though, when it returns to its regular schedule.

Same Monkey Time. Same Monkey Channel.

*


On Priorities, Parks, Parents, and Publishing

Yowzah. Sorry I fell out of the tree again. These have been weeks of prioritizing, and unfortunately if I’m to make any blogging a priority, it’s gotta be the one I actually get paid for. 🙂 In the meantime, while I haven’t been the most attentive commenter on your blogs lately, I’m glad to see you all are keeping busy and doing well, too!

I do finally want to pop in this week, though, before going on hiatus yet again. I’ll be heading Stateside in a few days for a brief visit to my sweet home Chicago before then undertaking the grand road-trip with my parents to Orlando for our big family Disney World vacation three years in the making. We made this pilgrimage many-a time as kids, but we started the tradition of returning with spouses and grandkids ten years ago. This is the first time since that all of us siblings are able to make it again. So factor in me, me mum and dad, two brothers, one sister, two sisters-in-law, one brother-in-law, six nephews, two nieces, and my brother’s parents-in-law, and our grand total is nineteen. Could be an even twenty if my husband’s eleven weeks of grad school this year didn’t suck away all his work holiday and then some. 😦 In any case, leave it to my parents to be the only ones choosing to drive, so I’m making the journey with them to help out—they’ve had a rough year of health issues, and it’s the least I can do when I’m otherwise missing out on everything, the bad and the good, while living abroad. Time to shift my priorities to others, finally.

And who am I kidding. I love this stuff. Fire up the Family Truckster! Cracker Barrel, here we come! Marty Moose! Marty Moose! Marty Moose!

This is no longer a vacation—it’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun.”

In literary news, where my freelance editing work goes, I’ve wrapped up the developmental edit of a very fun YA paranormal novel so will await whatever the managing edit may throw back our way. And the second novel I’d edited has just been published! The author has been making a great effort at social media, so it looks like it’s doing well so far. Three-for-three wonderful authors to work with [knocks wood for next time]. And as for my own manuscript, I’ve been revisiting ms #1 after some time away from it and reckon my next step is consulting with a professional editor—I’ve been really envying the process I go through with my authors and would like to see my story get all buffed-n-polished, too. Regardless, I need to get more momentum behind that one; I admittedly haven’t been trying very hard to query. Dare I say it, I think I’ve settled into contentment with just the process of bringing it into being—I’ve entertained the hell out of myself!—so, where priorities go, getting it published has almost come to feel secondary. Or is that what all the unpublished say when they’re in massive denial? 😉

In any case, I’ll try to pop back at least a couple more times this week before the *Disney magic* beckons me…


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